Can leaders work remotely and still be effective?

Sitting at the dining room table, logging onto yet another Teams or Zoom call, it’s easy to understand why people’s energy, resilience and motivation starts to lag. Technology has helped us to stay connected but it hasn’t necessarily helped us to stay engaged.  So how do you continue to coach, support and develop people when you’re not in a room with them?  How do you know when they’re struggling, excelling, performing, underperforming, distracted, lacking motivation, feeling down – the list goes on?  If someone switches off their camera, how can you make sure you are picking up on the subtle clues about how they feel?  And crucially, how do you know they are looking out for and noticing the same clues in the people who they lead and manage?

We’ve seen a move towards online learning and have discussed the challenges of this in our previous blog: In L&D, can online learning work? Or did we ask the wrong question?  Much of what is available online is passive content – easy to disengage from and dismiss.  So what can you do to offer personal, tailored development for people who are working at the dining room table?  How can you make sure your leaders are still leading well, despite the lack of contact, despite the distractions and despite struggling with their own highs and lows of motivation and performance?  We believe that coaching is the answer.

As experienced coaches, we know the power of holding a space for someone to explore the issues that are real and present for them.  We also know that coaching is one form of learning that can work just as well remotely as it does face to face.  In fact in some cases it can work even better.  Some people think more effectively when they aren’t in a room with someone.  They rely solely on listening – to the questions from their coach and to their own thoughts.

We’ve seen an increasing number of clients turning to us for coaching in recent times.  They recognise that they can’t offer the level of support and development that people may need when everyone is geographically spread.  And through this work we’ve noticed that many people have become more extreme in their characteristics and preferences because they are working far more in isolation.  And the work that we can do with them can help them to notice these behaviours and moderate them where appropriate to ensure that they remain engaged and effective.

We’ve written previously about the three distinct groups of people who arrive for a coaching session: sceptics, perfectionists, and risk takers.  Shoe-horning coaching clients into a box is never going to work out well. Yet having an awareness of types can help to keep you focused as a coach and – paradoxically – focused on helping your client get the best outcome for them, especially in this new world that we are operating in.  Here’s a reminder of the most frequent types of client we coach and some thoughts to consider when working with people who may show these tendencies.


Sceptics are the first group that became apparent. There’s probably a sceptic in your team, in your friendship group, in your family. Maybe it’s you! All things unknown are regarded by the sceptic with mistrust. And in a corporate environment, where people haven’t necessarily chosen to be coached, they are fairly common.  Now imagine the sceptic sat at the dining room table – they can switch off their camera and roll their eyes.  They can more easily choose to disengage from whatever project or task you need them to do.  And they can become more and more sceptical about your intentions or the intentions of the company they are working for.  So what’s it like to coach them?
The sceptic doesn’t skip into the virtual ‘room’ – Nor are their hands tied. This is a common coaching scenario in the corporate world. Often people will be put forward, or coaching will be presented as an opportunity. And the sceptic will agree to take part – sometimes begrudgingly.
They tend to be self-reliant – The sceptic often doesn’t like to ask for help. They’ve got to where they are on their own and that isn’t going to change now, thank you very much. You may notice that they express the sentiment, directly or indirectly, that coaching is all very fluffy, that it doesn’t really work, and it’s not for them. And this is even more likely when the sceptic has been sat behind a computer screen at home for the last 6 months.

Our learning

It’s totally normal for people to feel sceptical. The best course of action is to respect the mindset that they’re in and hold the space for them.

We’ve also learned that when somebody is doubtful about the value of what you do, or whether you’re able to help them, it creates temptation on the part of the coach… The temptation to say, “Look at me, I’m a brilliant coach! Look at everything I can do to convince you…” Resisting that powerful urge is tough!

From a positive perspective, coaching a sceptic during this time of more isolated working can help them to re-engage with the world and with their colleagues.  It can help them to moderate feelings of scepticism and recognise the positive things that they and others can offer.  It can also help to ensure that they don’t pass on their scepticism to others.
The perspective that coaches need to remember:
Don’t be tempted to try and win a sceptic over. That’s not your job. Stay with them, hold the space for them. After all, why wouldn’t they think like that? Remain present, and create the right conditions for them to have a breakthrough. You might find that backing off does just that.


Ah, perfectionists. Of all the ‘types’ that we come across in coaching, at first glance perfectionists appear to be the ‘best’. The hardest working employees. The most dedicated. The most open and committed to coaching. The perfectionist gives their everything to, well, everything. This group has brought us some of the world’s most remarkable gifts, from music to architecture, literature to technology. Yet perfectionism in the current climate is dangerous to people’s mental health and well-being.  Without people around them to moderate their striving tendencies and to help them to recognise when something is ‘good enough’, perfectionists can spiral into a place of never switching off and never believing that their work is of a high enough standard.  And you run the risk of them burning out and suffering from anxiety and depression.

Our learning

The coach’s job is to help perfectionists create a realistic not an idealistic panorama. Be careful of inadvertently giving the impression that coaching will provide a quick fix. If they arrive with this notion, let them be under no illusion that you can help them be perfect all of the time.

Coaches can help perfectionists to be comfortable where they were previously uncomfortable. Primarily, that means helping them come to the realisation and to accept that eighty percent is alright from time to time!

From a positive perspective, coaching a perfectionist during this time can help them to be kinder to themselves, to switch off and to recognise their many great achievements.  It can help them to strive less and to find ways to accept that good enough is exactly that – good enough.  And through this they can learn how to look after their well-being and mental health in a way that allows them to be their best selves at work and at home.

The perspective that coaches need to remember:

Perfection doesn’t exist. Not in coaching nor in life. And for people who are chasing the perfection which is never going to be attainable, especially when they have other people to work with or they’re managing a team or juggling expectations, they’ll quickly become frustrated. Getting things done puts the perfectionist in a much more powerful position than seeking the impossible.

Risk takers

The last group of note, perhaps because they are often the least common in the corporate world, are risk takers.  Risk takers who are left to their own devices at home can become quickly disengaged because they may feel that the pace of decision making and the business’ willingness to take some risks becomes even lower than normal.  Either that or they become more inclined to take risks because they aren’t being balanced by more cautious or reflective people around them.  If risk takers are frustrated, they will check-out.  And if risk-takers start taking more risks, the likelihood of them bringing other people with them on the journey becomes less and performance becomes unpredictable.  So what do we know about coaching risk takers?

These people move at one hundred miles per hour, all the time – They have a lot of ideas, they want to act on those ideas, and they want to act on them now.

They care very passionately about their ideas – Risk takers recognise not only what is broken, they see how to make it better. They have a grand vision for where they want to take the organisation and they can’t wait to get there.

Risk takers can struggle to get buy-in – They wonder why the rest of the world – including the people around them – is five years behind.
They’re unaware of the collateral damage their behaviour causes – Having a unique perspective can mean that they fail to see the way others do; this difference of viewpoint can cause tension.

Our learning

For lots of people, constantly moving so fast, lurching from one idea to the next, is exhausting. Some people want to see an idea through to completion, let it settle in and analyse how it performs, before moving on to the next thing. This is the antithesis of the risk taker, and it’s where problems arise. When people who aren’t risk takers are constantly tasked with new ideas, new directions and new initiatives, without ever finishing one, it’s incredibly draining for them. That’s collateral damage.

On the other hand, the innovative quality is one of risk takers’ greatest assets. The point isn’t to stamp that out, it’s to bring awareness to how that quality is perceived. By helping risk takers understand how other people in the business view their behaviour, we help raise their awareness of how other people see the world. A breakthrough for a risk taker is the realisation that other people aren’t stubborn or awkward or uncaring for the organisation’s future. Slowly, we’ve seen risk takers realise that characteristics they perceived as ‘boring’ or ‘backward-looking’ are useful in helping to bring their ideas to life.

The perspective that coaches need to remember:

Risk takers naturally want to chase the next great idea. Helping them to maintain that level of innovation and energy, whilst taking everybody with them on the journey, is a key factor in the coaching of risk takers.

And the worst ‘group’ we as coaches allow ourselves to see?

As coaches, the worst thing we can do is to view people as a homogenous group and to treat them in that way. If we only think of coaching clients as one type or another, we risk turning individuals into a faceless, nameless crowd.  And during this time when coaching necessarily has to be on the phone or video, it’s even more important to remain cognisant of this. When we see only types and not individuals, we do our clients a disservice.  Coaching people remotely, wherever they are working, is a powerful way to maintain a sense of the individual and the unique set of challenges, struggles and issues that they are facing.

So if you want to ensure that your leaders are supported to remain productive, engaged and feeling good about themselves and their work, wherever they are having to operate from, perhaps it’s time to consider coaching.  If you’d like to explore how it might work for you, please do get in touch.  We’d be happy to share more about our experiences and approach.

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