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Panic and the coronavirus pandemic: short burst coaching in chaotic times


In her sixth article in a content series on panic and the coronavirus pandemic, Rachel Ellison MBE discusses the need for stillness during this time of crisis, and why leaders need to stay mentally supple. 

22nd Apr 2020
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We continue to acclimatise to the professional and domestic chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic. Top executives have swapped their sushi-and-FTSE lifestyles for gardening fatigues and working from home.

Offering leaders help right now, however, even if it’s just 30 or 40 minutes, could emotionally reset their whole day – and with it, their quality of leadership.

The spring sunshine, birdsong and pristine blossom is certainly helping many of us adjust, but beneath it many people are still in shock. Either they are without work or overwhelmed with the volume of tasks required by their job. Laptops glow well into the night.

Anxiety levels are being felt in waves. Sometimes dealing with the practicalities block out time to emotionally process what is going on.


Disruption and derailment is great management speak, but only when nobody’s actually in trauma. Phrases such as ‘lean into the challenge’ and ‘lessons learned’ seem like indulgent luxuries of peacetime. Covid-19 is dangerous. Whole countries are in lockdown. Scientific expertise and government directive bring home the scale of this pandemic.

I find it remarkable how measured and sensible millions of people are being in their responses to what is going on. There is no hysteria, but inner chaos can crowd out our best thinking. Decisions made on adrenalin can be inspired ones – or conversely, can seem sound at the time, but are not.

Too chaotic to coach

Some employees are asking for support, others feel too pressured to coach. They’re already working 12 – 16 hour days and can’t see how they can fit in another meeting.

With impressive speed, certain companies are throwing together instant access coaching programmes. Holding acute awareness of ethics and best practice, they are minimising process and dissolving barriers to access.

Short burst coaching

We know that rushing people to think faster doesn’t usually hasten the onset of brilliant ideas. Offering leaders help right now, however, even if it’s just 30 or 40 minutes, could emotionally reset their whole day – and with it, their quality of leadership.

The existential philosophers tell us never to assume that a small action only has a small consequence. Creating a moment of stillness and space every other day or every other week might be what C-suite executives need most from their coach and their company in the Covid-19 environment.

Maintaining flow

We need to keep leaders mentally supple and dexterous. We need them to stay open, able to contain and able to tolerate the varied spikes of emotion associated with their personal and professional lives. We definitely need them to keep ‘feeling’, and staying in tune with their psychological state. They need to be able to be in flow so that they bend like a reed in the storm, rather than snap like a wooden stake. This is what gentle yet enduring resilience looks like. We need it for our organisations, our teams and ourselves.

Coaching and leadership conversation themes

  • Feelings
  • Flow
  • Chaos
  • Disruption
  • Adrenalised thinking
  • Rushed decision making
  • Quality
  • Tuning in to one’s psychological state

Duty of care caveat: This article shares ideas and suggestions but does not represent official advice. Individuals need to make appropriate decisions in relation to their safety, health and psychological wellbeing, according to the latest medical and scientific knowledge in their locale and from government or the NHS.

Rachel Ellison book coverRachel Ellison MBE is a former BBC news reporter, now executive leadership coach. She was awarded an honorary doctorate for her book, Global Leadership & Coaching – flourishing under intense pressure at work. She takes a beneath-the-surface psychological approach to leadership challenges and events in the world around us.

Rachel is currently offering short-burst 30 minute virtual ‘emergency coaching’ packages, for leaders and those supporting them during the Covid-19 pandemic. Visit

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