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Improve performance and progress will follow

  • Date: Wed, Jul 15, 2020

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In the world of leadership development, there is an acronym to address organisation and performance in the face of adversity. Vuca stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It has never seemed so apt in a world fighting against a pandemic. However, a key strength of leadership is turning an increasingly challenging situation – whether that is managing staff remotely or dealing with financial difficulties from the Covid-19 outbreak – into an opportunity.

Vuca also encompasses this positive side of adversity. “Vuca becomes vision, understanding, clarity and agility – all the things required for making sense of a crisis and coming out on top,” said Colm Murphy, head of coaching programmes at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.

“Over the last few months, we have seen both sides of Vuca and the key thing is to see what positives can come through from this disruptive environment. Taking the coaching conversation approach is about asking and listening to people and helping them to see things differently.”

Murphy is well placed to talk about Vuca, not least because as the owner of his own coaching business,, in addition to teaching, he is in a position to test his own advice as well as imparting his leadership knowledge to others.

“I had my own wobble in March when Ireland went into lockdown and I was suddenly faced with the prospect of not being able to see clients or make money,” he said. “But very quickly I put my coaching hat on and realised how I had made it through the last recession and how I could use those skills to get through the current times.”

The three coaching diplomas at Smurfit UCD (business and executiveadvanced coaching and team coaching) have all proven extremely popular with senior management in organisations seeking to liaise better with staff and colleagues, while encouraging progress.The aim of the diplomas is to equip experienced coaches and leaders with the competence and confidence to provide a high-quality coaching approach that can help an organisation see its strengths. 

“We have senior leaders looking to hone their coaching skills, said Murphy. “A ‘command and control’ approach simply doesn’t apply during the Covid-19 crisis when people are working from so many different locations. This is not the time for tracking employees and their work habits. It is a time to trust and give staff clarity on how to behave when working away from the office.

“We also get a lot of HR leaders on our coaching programmes who want to improve how they interact with business partners or internal stakeholders. We also see a lot of people in the third chapter of their working life, who have had enough of what they are doing and see coaching as an alternative career where they can help others.”

Coaching is about personal development and is based on people learning to help themselves as well as others. In Murphy’s own practice, he has found the pressures of Covid-19 and managing staff remotely has created one of the most difficult processes for management.

“There needs to be a good level of empathy and sympathy for people working in the current climate. That goes from management down because this is new for all of us,” he said. “There is a worry with empathy for leaders because if they are empathetic with a staff member, there is a concern that they are colluding. So, there has to be a way of acknowledging how a staff member is feeling without the feeling of collusion – I don’t have to agree with you, but I do need to understand what you are telling me.

“There is still a tension in some organisations on doing versus being with an emphasis on task and action and speed. I think that is still there with remote working and there is that suspicion for some of whether staff are productively working or not. But we need to remember that remote working now is not just about working from home and sitting at your computer all day. It is also about childminding from home and living with others working from home. It is about living and working in the same room and I think that aspect has been lost. As a leader in an organisation, you need to understand the challenges facing people who are working remotely.”

This article was written by Siobhan Maguire and first appeared in The Business Post on July 12 2020.

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