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How Can You Be Sure Your Company Has Exceptional Leaders? A New Study Boils It All Down to 1 Skill

If you’re waiting until a crisis strikes to help your employees rebound, you’re already too late. Complex change is now a constant feature of our personal and professional lives — as infectious disease, global conflict, layoffs, and record inflation have indicated.

As a company’s growth potentially slows and budgets shrink, organizations will ask their people to do more with less under continually evolving and unpredictable contexts.

Unfortunately, most companies’ interventions to mitigate these challenges aren’t providing sufficient support for their employees struggling with burnout and decreased well-being.

When leaders feel like all they can do is react to constant change and uncertainty, how do they go on offense and lean in, no matter what comes their way? 

Science found a solution

New research from BetterUp reveals that employees who received personalized coaching in the early days of the pandemic were more likely to develop an internal “resiliency buffer” they could tap into during the resulting times of tumult and change.

Following two cohorts of 1,000+ people in total over several months, researchers learned that coached individuals were four times as resilient as those in the uncoached cohort.

“This is good news for leaders struggling to find interventions that can boost organizational agility without compromising individual well-being,” said Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, M.D., chief product officer at BetterUp, who led the study.

1. Coaching empowers employees to be resilient resources

Coached individuals are adept at coping and thriving through change and uncertainty because coaching bolsters resilience. When “macroenvironmental” uncertainty — like a global pandemic —  threatened to destabilize employee performance, the study showed that those with coaching support experienced four times the growth in resilience.

Essentially, coaching has a significant impact on people’s’ ability to cope with unexpected and stressful situations in both the short- and long-term, making it an effective and ongoing intervention for building resilience. Coached individuals also experienced a significant edge over uncoached individuals in other important areas like optimism (+112%), and life satisfaction (+129%)by a large margin.

On the other side of the coin, uncoached workers experienced declines in all these outcomes. Put simply — as the world was (in many ways) at its worst, coaching helped employees to reframe their life circumstances as opportunities, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

2. Coaching boosts well-being, even in tough times

The building blocks of well-being are intricately linked to attributes like connection, optimism, and authenticity, all of which are in short supply as people navigate difficulty. However, according to the research, coaching helped people build psychological capital that enhanced their well-being and kept them grounded, even as the world changed around them. For example, while most people generally needed more social support as COVID began, those with a coach experienced a 2.3x increase in connection during this time.

3. Coaching cultivates productive, high-performing teams

When workers build resilience, they’re better equipped to prevent some of the detrimental effects caused by unpredictability. But as the past few years have indicated, life still throws many varieties of curveballs that stand in the way of us achieving peak performance. Employees without coaching saw a sharp hit to productivity at the outset of the pandemic, while coached employees saw a surge — a relative difference of +129%. The advantage coaching offers is invaluable to building agile, effective workforces as organizations drift deeper into unknown waters.

4. Coaching helps stabilize employee gains later

The study also showed that coaching is so effective at driving lasting behavior change because individuals learned to do more than just prevent feelings of helplessness and despair; they also developed coping skills such as reframing and self-compassion, which in turn spurred subsequent growth (data shows a +22% difference in post-COVID productivity scores between those with coaching and those without). This means employees not only gained the strength they needed to bounce back from challenges — they grew more effective because of them.

“Well-being and performance are inextricably linked,” said Alexi Robichaux, BetterUp’s CEO & co-founder. “How you prepare your people to handle adversity has an outsized impact on whether your organization can do the same.”

Business success now rests on leaders’ ability to tap into team resilience and innovation. There’s proof that coaching offers an effective antidote to depleted organizational agility and individual employee well-being.

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