The manager as coach: helping your team find new meaning

By Elisabeth Goodman, 6th July 2020

The pandemic is by no means over, and everyone is experiencing it in different ways and at different paces. Whether your team has just kept going, somehow, or is only just beginning to emerge into a different way of working, two articles in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review have some great insights for your role as a manager.

Recognising that what we are all going through is some form of grief

David Kessler (2020) puts it with great humanity: we will all be experiencing this pandemic in our own ways. It is a trauma, and each of the ways in which we are experiencing it can be legitimately described as a form of grief.

There are the worried well who are healthy, have not experienced sickness or bereavement, but will still be grieving losses in various aspects of their way of life.

The affected will have been ill themselves or know someone who has. They have recovered or are recovering. They have suffered trauma and will be looking for ways to deal with that.

And there are the bereaved who will be mourning someone who has died, and will continue to do so for quite some time.

I’ve written about how managers can support people through grief before (Goodman 2019). Kessler, who was a co-author with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s (2005) of the five stages of grieving, adds something more.

He suggests that we can help people move beyond acceptance to find new meaning: a sixth stage of grief that has been accepted by the Kübler-Ross foundation, and also features in Richard Tedeschi’s (2020) article in this same issue of HBR.

First connect

Reaching out to the members of your team is probably something that you have already done, and are continuing to do. It is a common theme in both HBR articles.

I was fortunate to be able to work with some of my clients in the early stages of the pandemic. They recognised that bringing people together, whether at work or furloughed, through some form of learning over the internet, would help them to connect and continue to feel part of a community. I certainly saw some of that connection in practice, and indeed have benefited from it in working online with my clients, and through other communities that I am a part of.

Tedeschi (2020) suggests that your connection with your team can go further. It takes courage, and it involves communicating at many levels. And it’s the kind of thing a manager can do with a coaching mindset.

In the last part of this blog I take Tedeschi’s (2020) five steps and put a bit of my spin on it: how you can make this connection with your team, and how it can lead to finding new meaning.

Five steps to healing, meaning and growth

1. Learning and re-imagining.

What we have all been through has been a tremendous time of learning at so many levels: about ourselves and our values, as well as what we’ve discovered is and is not possible. Managers can act as coaches in helping the members of their teams reflect about these things, derive strength from doing so and take their learning further in terms of what might be possible going forward.

2. Emotional regulation

This is about being aware of and acknowledging how we are feeling (as managers) and giving ourselves the time, space and resources (e.g. mindfulness, focusing on successes, exercise, sleep) to help ourselves recover. This bring us to the next point – disclosure and listening.

3. Disclosure and listening

It takes courage to communicate how we are feeling and what we are doing to help ourselves. Doing so will help others too. And of course so will just listening – such an invaluable coaching skill for managers. Just having someone hear how we are feeling is an invaluable step towards healing.

4. Develop your stories

Turning this whole experience into a story for yourself, your team, the organisation – what happened and what emerged from it – could be a great source of inspiration going forward. Tedeschi (2020) references “stories of crucible leadership” such as those around Nelson Mandela and Johnson & Johnson as examples of people and organisations that have emerged more strongly from crisis.

5. Find new meaning

Tedeschi (2020) suggests that finding work that benefits others can be a great source of strength after a trauma. We’ve seen and heard lots of examples of that in what key workers have done, and how others have supported them. I have found it in just being able to continue to provide training and one-to-one coaching online to some of my clients during this time.

As a manager working with your team, you might want to tap into the ideas that people have to do things differently, or to do new things. As Tedeschi (2020) says: coming through a crisis can be a bonding experience; look for personal and shared missions that will energise the team further and help it to find meaning.


What are your thoughts on the above? What have you found useful that you might follow-up on?

But also, be aware that people’s experiences of the pandemic are not yet over – they may be at an earlier stage of the grief curve. If that is the case, give people time.



Goodman, E. (2019) The manager as coach: when your direct report is grieving –

Kessler, D. (2020) Helping your Team Heal. Harvard Business Review, July – August: 53-55

Kübler-Ross, E. and Kessler, D. (2005) On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. Simon and Schuster

Tedeschi, R.G. (2020) Growth after Trauma. Five Steps for Coming out of a Crisis Stronger. Harvard Business Review, July – August: 127-131

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.  She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management, interpersonal and communication skills, and to deal with change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth is also a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.

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