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  • Writer's pictureBenoit Hardy-Vallée

On leadership, coaching and resilience, a conversation with Shonna Waters (S01E12)

A conversation with  Shonna Waters, VP Behavioral Science, Professor, Author, Certified Leadership Coach at BetterUp. 


· How BetterUp uses behavioral science to help employees and organizations to grow

· Why resilience is increasingly important for organizations 

· How to build resilient organizations and resilient leaders

· How coaching improves resilience and other benefits of coaching

· The future of leadership development


  • Using technology allows BetterUp to unlock the coach workforce from around the globe - using humans wher eit's most effective to do so, but also using technology to augment those humans in ways that make them even more effective

  • Tesilient individuals are more able to update their information, adapt their thinking, rapidly address new and evolving challenges and they are more creative and innovative at work.

  • At the team level individuals with greater resilience report that their work teams are more agile, creative and innovative

  • Some of our recent work has shown that organizations with higher resilience have 42% higher return on assets and 269% higher return on equity.

  • Resilience is your ability to bounce back. Agility is adding onto that your ability to scan the environment, understand what's needed and then adjust in a way that is productive.

  • Change can result in negative consequences, but it can also result in growth, which is referred to as posttraumatic growth or PTG - a form of development that stems from disruptive or difficult events.

  • Whether someone will be faltering or growing depends on five of the most important drivers of resilience: cognitive agility. Emotional regulation, self-compassion, optimism and self efficacy.

  • These traits can be learned. People may have a natural tendency to be a pessimist but there is also a phenomenon called "learned optimism" --- we can teach a pessimist to be more optimistic.

  • BetterUp recently compared coached employees to non-coached employees over the COVID crisis; people who were not receiving coaching had no change in their resilience over this time period, but coached members actually grew their resilience. The group that did not have coaching had no change in resilience after COVID, but the group that had coaching grew their resilience levels by 17%. Employee experience is another impact that coaching can make in response to stressful situations . BetterUp compared people who had and did not have coaching before and after COVID; people who did not have coaching saw their employee experience decreased by 2%, whereas employees who did have coaching increased by 7%. Focusing on foundational mindsets and skills has a buffering effect in response to crisis. Therei is a great meta-analysis by Vanhove and colleagues in 2016 that also pointed to coaching as the most effective intervention for building resilience.

  • Coaching can have an impact on over 130 outcomes that BetterUp is tracking - from goal progress and productivity to wellbeing, life satisfaction, physical health, and even sleep quality.

  • In professional sports, it's common to have multiple coaches, which you don't necessarily have in the corporate world - yet leaders are expected to have sort "game day performance" with no practice and with minimal developmental support. Coaching provides a safe space where leaders can learn, explore, practice and get feedback.

  • The future of leadership development will be much more agile and distributed in the flow of work, and will rely on more data to uncover blind spots for people. As technology continues to improve we can get more objective data and real time feedback when we can provide opportunities to practice in a safe environment - whether it's coaching or virtual reality that help provide lower-stakes opportunities to practice.

  • With regards to leadership, the corporate world will have to catch up with the military. Military leadership development starts on day one and is not just tied to a particular role or hierarchy, but has this inevitability-- if you are still a service member eventually you will lead. The modern corporate environment doesn't have the luxury of that hierarchy anymore either. Every employee is going to need to build leadership skills and that is going to require scalable solutions. We don't have the luxury to wait tos end something up and back down "the flag pole" anymore. We've got to make decisions much more quickly. The question is then how do we equip people with the skills they need to do that?

  • For new leaders, the challenge is to make that shift from being the one who is producing and whose value proposition to the organization is through directly delivering products and work, to relinquishing that control and empowering others to do it. Leaders need to identify their value in the organization and feel a sense of job security around that.


Shonna Waters (Linkedin)

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