Evidence-based coaching psychology and how it can help you lead

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In 2013 I coined the term “transition fatigue.” I had just relocated to San Francisco after many years of living abroad for different periods before returning to my native Sydney. I never intended to leave Sydney again, but now here I was, in San Francisco and starting again, once again.

Even just giving a name to what I was feeling helped. The next year was spent integrating and I’ve flourished ever since. But those years of adaptation had taken a toll on me, and it took energy to get through it.

Since then I’ve found many of my clients respond with an instant sense of recognition when I’ve shared “transition fatigue” as a possible name for what they are also experiencing. Being able to describe what we are feeling is often the first step in making sense of it. And making sense of our experience is instrumental in determining what to then do about it. As we know, the first step in solving a problem is defining the problem, but it’s so easy to forget this at times.

If there were ever a time for global “transition fatigue” it’s now; months into lockdown with no change on the horizon. For that reason, I’d like to share with you some things you may find helpful, as a human being and a leader during this time, based on almost two decades of coaching experience, and my education in evidence-based coaching psychology which I draw from heavily in my work with leaders.

1. The first step in becoming productive and resourceful, when you’re otherwise stuck, is to investigate and Name How You’re Feeling. Stay with me here; I’m sharing this for good reason. It’s so easy to judge and disregard our emotional lives, and those of others, but getting curious about how you’re feeling, and ideally naming those mixed emotions, in writing if possible, can be tremendously effective. Don’t stop at one; it’s normal for there to be a stack of words that describe how you’re feeling at any given time. Naming them, and recognizing that “aha!” moment when you truly find the thing you’re feeling, will help you make sense of your experience, and that recognition brings instant relief. Counterintuitively, this is the fastest way to get yourself out of your feelings of thrash and into a state of mental clarity and productivity. This approach is based on Eugene Gendlin’s work on Focusing. Using this with your team, particularly in 1:1s, will also help enormously, and will help you define what problem you’re truly solving before you even start. I’m not a touchy-feely coach by nature, but have learned this is the #1 fastest way to get my clients into a productive and creative state. I can talk more about this, and how I was forced to learn the value of it, in a future article if you’re interested.

2. Cultivate Hope. Many people and teams would love an injection of hope right now. Hope is not only a feeling; it is a mental construct, and there are three things you can put in place in your life, your team, and your organization that will increase it, based on Charles Snyder’s research into Hope Theory.

  • The first is setting achievable goals. If your organization is kicking goals consistently don’t worry about this so much, but if they are needing to get their mojo and confidence back, be sure to have them set achievable goals that they know they can hit and watch their motivation rise. Or take that big ugly goal you’re all addicted to and break it down into smaller ones. Keep it close. Keep it real. Keep it possible.
  • The second is to increase their sense of agency (aka self-belief). Remind them individually, or as a team, of what they’ve achieved before, what they are capable of, and set them up to succeed in a lot of small ways (including having them nail those achievable goals). Step by step build their agency.
  • The third is to create multiple pathways. I’m reminded of a high performing organization that uses evidence-based coaching psychology to never set a goal without including multiple pathways to achieve it. The more possible pathways you can use to reach your achievable goal the better. Be clear to work on one at a time, but knowing that if Plan A doesn’t work, then Plan B and Plan C are waiting in the wings, will increase hope. Just be sure to have everyone commit to one pathway at a time, or from the beginning be super clear on who is working on which. The former is my recommendation.

3. Focus on Good Habits. When it’s hard to picture the future, let alone control it, you’re experiencing what William Bridges would describe in his work on Transitions, as “the Neutral Phase,” when things aren’t the way they used to be, but the new beginning is not yet clear. So while you focus on achievable goals, what can be even more valuable when things are truly unwieldy, is to focus on good habits. Times of transition are by nature ambiguous, and it’s okay to not have a clear sense of where you’re going. Most people will react by trying to manufacture certainty when there is none, but by paying attention to your daily good habits, as an organization or team, you’re setting yourself up to hit the ground running when the future becomes clear again. Peak performance athletes focus on good habits, and truly they are the most useful thing you can focus on even at the best of times. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” If there were ever an opportunity to focus on good habits, as a leader or an organization, it’s now.

I’m hoping “transition fatigue” gives you a name to describe what you and your organization or team are likely experiencing right now, and that these evidence-based approaches will support you in new ways.

Finally, as Churchill said, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” My guess is that the opportunity to evolve into a more “complex adaptive leader” that thrives in ambiguity is what’s being thrust upon you now. Every challenge is a gift when you take responsibility, and if you’re interested in learning how you can become a complex adaptive leader let me know. The future is here.

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