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In the Face of Adversity

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

Survey suggests leaders aren’t getting the support they need

Business owners and leaders today continue to fight for the survival of their companies and protect the jobs of their people. The pressure of that is huge. How does the individual leader find support in what is probably their most critical leadership mandate?

Not long after the pandemic set in, it became abundantly clear that leaders were going to need support. Conversations and coaching sessions with my clients confirmed it in very personal and stark terms: people were being tested like never before, facing a myriad of unprecedented situations and decisions.

The pressure on leaders was immense, and unrelenting. Now, months later, it drags on. The pressures and situations may be different, there is still uncertainty and stress and seemingly without end. Leadership today is especially lonely, acutely tumultuous and incredibly hard.

I’ve written before about the importance of seeing a silver lining – the real strength and resilience in optimism, and how that mindset is empowering for me and my clients. One of the silver linings in this crisis for me was knowing that executive coaching could help so many leaders, so many organizations, find their way. We not only help leaders focus and grow, but we can be a valuable and objective sounding board.

I was curious: in the face of this adversity, would others see that, too?

I turned to Knorket, a company that helps businesses leverage data and insight to make critical decisions. Knorket provides the technology that powers Pivotal Coaching’s online Diagnostic Tools that provide a comprehensive view of the attitudes, capabilities and competencies in leadership as well as sales effectiveness. The tools help us effectively identify strengths, gaps and provide development recommendations to address them.

Many leaders are struggling, many managers are struggling. They're trying to make sense of what and how to handle this extremely stressful period.

Knorket created and analyzed an online survey of attitudes toward leadership coaching today. The responses were fascinating.

Nine out of 10 leaders agreed that coaching would help with their success, while even more – 95 percent of respondents – believe that coaching would contribute to the growth and financial performance of their organization.

Those are extraordinary numbers, and underscore for me that leaders and organizations understand the power of coaching. It confirmed my belief that people were confident coaching could help them, particularly through these times.

Yet, I knew from another poll that 86 percent of entrepreneurs were not currently working with a coach. And further probing with this survey were also telling: When asked if they personally plan to invest in coaching in the next six to 18 months or if they believe their organization will, slightly less than half the leaders agreed they would, and one-third were uncertain that their organization would.

Organizations that have a vision of the future, the ones that have a medium- to longer term view of the world, will invest more now in leadership and organizational development priorities…

I had my own views as to why that would be but I asked Venkat Chandra, Knorket’s founder, for his thoughts. With a long and diverse career as an entrepreneur, a management consultant and performance manager, I was curious about his view of not only the findings but his view of the leadership landscape today.

“Many leaders are struggling, many managers are struggling. They're trying to make sense of what and how to handle this extremely stressful period. If you are, for example, in the retail business, the entire business model is changing and rapidly,” he told me.

“If anything, they need more coaching now maneuvering through what looks like will be one of the longest economic downturns we've had in a long time – and the survey results show us that they see that too,” he said.

“When things are good, coaching helps. But when things are bad and are dramatically changing, it helps even more. Organizations that have a vision of the future, the ones that have a medium- to longer term view of the world, will invest more now in leadership and organizational development priorities like coaching. The organizations that are looking to just survive are going to invest less, if at all, than they were pre-COVID.”

Venkat’s observations confirmed my own, and underscored for me the need to raise awareness around the return on an investment in leadership coaching. As someone who values the importance of data in decision-making and results, I wanted to source hard numbers on the ROI of coaching.

I turned to Dave Veale, founder and CEO of Vision Coaching Inc., who has examined the returns to organizations and leaders of investing in coaching services. He shared with me some studies of the impact coaching has had on some leading organizations. Two stood out for me.

A demonstrated return on investment

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, one of the world’s leading cancer treatment and research centres, recruited a coaching firm to help it coach some of its managers and establish in-house coaches beginning in 2005.

An evaluation of the effort found a return of $4.2 million US on the health care centre’s investment in coaching – 39 times its upfront investment. Driving the returns were a wide array of factors from improved retention and job satisfaction to significant productivity and efficiency gains with a direct impact on revenues and employee time saved.

Another return on investment study looked at the impact leadership coaching had on an undisclosed Fortune 500 firm that had launched an innovative leadership development effort to accelerate the development of next-generation leaders.

Anecdotally, the managers and rising stars coached during the program spoke highly of their experience. MetrixGlobal LLC was engaged to conduct a formal assessment of the effectiveness and business impact of coaching.

The study found that coaching produced a 529 percent return on investment as well as significant intangible benefits to the business. More than three-quarters of participants indicated that coaching had significant or very significant impact on at least one of nine business measures. Overall, productivity and employee satisfaction were cited as the most significantly impacted by the coaching.

There is a wide variation in the return on investment between the two studies, but that’s not surprising given that different organizations and people were involved. But they do provide evidence of significant benefits in areas of heightened focus for most organizations, especially today.

In this changed world, employees are especially emotionally vulnerable….

For me, the numbers speak volumes. But there are also the intangibles that are harder to measure.

In this changed world, employees are especially emotionally vulnerable, and the ability to be a successful leader is really about how you connect and interact with people in a flexible way so that you're appealing to a diverse group of people.

The Center for Creative Leadership notes that 70 percent of leadership is realized on the job, with 20 percent from developmental relationships and 10 percent from coursework or training.

Coaching, particularly leadership coaching, is uniquely positioned to influence that 70 percent by working with leaders in real-time to improve their leadership skills, to reach personal and professional goals, and to improve the effectiveness of the people they lead.

With this kind of evidence, particularly the remarkable return on investment, what is holding leaders back from making the investment? I look forward to your thoughts.

Thank you to Vision Coaching and Knorket.AI for partnering with us to gather the data and insights for this article!


Lisa W. Haydon is a high business acumen leader, credentialed sales professional, and executive coach. Lisa has led teams and clients in industries such as banking, commercial lending, capital markets, technology, consulting, and professional services. Her hands-on experience in executing change and growth mandates enhances client results.

She is known for delivering transformational results with diagnostic tools, consulting and coaching.

Lisa is the founder of Pivotal Coaching, which specializes in sales effectiveness and leadership development services for companies optimistic and ambitious about growth.

More information is available on the Pivotal Coaching website. For more on its proprietary diagnostic tool, visit our services page.

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