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Leader as Coach in a Virtual World

by | Jul 6, 2021

Leader as Coach – How do I do this virtually?

One area that my coaching clients still struggle with is how to be an effective coach to their employees in this new world. 

Many have had enough of working remotely and they miss the informal coaching conversations, along with opportunities to really focus on employee challenges and help someone solve their problems. 

What is Coaching Leadership?

A good coaching leader does the following:

  • Listens to understand
  • Reflects back what they are hearing to check understanding 
  • Summarises 
  • Asks questions
  • Builds trust
  • Demonstrates empathy
  • Helps the person solve their own problems where possible
  • Seldom gives direct advice
  • Demonstrates curiosity 

These behaviours are still all true when we are coaching virtually – either phone or video – with a few tweaks to ensure they are effective. 

10 Tips for becoming an effective virtual coaching leader. 

It may go without saying that to get the tech right is a good starting point. Wherever possible be on video, but if you can’t both be on video it is better for you both to be on audio. That way there is a level playing field. 

Ensure you are in a quiet space and suggest prior to the meeting that your coachee also finds somewhere quiet. This can be challenging at the moment – but even coaching from quiet kitchen may be better than a noisy living room

Here are some 10 tips for effective coaching conversations in a virtual world

  1. Build trust – at the start of the virtual coaching session, take time to connect with the person. How are they? What is going well? What are their current challenges? Share a bit about yourself and what is going on in your world. Spend more time that you would normally to create trust across the distance. 
  2. Agree the agenda – ask your colleague what they would like to take from the session. Share your own agenda for the session. 
  3. Focus on one topic at a time – choose the topic most important to you both to start with. We tend to jump around – stay focused and discuss something until resolved.
  4. Ask questions and be curious – it can be tempting in a virtual call to ‘get things done quickly’. We need to allow enough space and time for a good conversation and exploration to happen.
  5. Listen intently – perhaps hardest in a virtual world – we are distracted by our emails, phones, children. Turn off all your alerts and only open the documents you need. Be sure to be in a quiet location so you can focus, focus, focus on the person you are with. Give them your full attention.
  6. Allow silence – this can feel awkward on a call. However, some people just need a bit of time to think about something before responding. Allow them to do this. One rule is to keep silence for twice as long as you are comfortable!
  7. Reflect and Summarise – Using ‘what I heard you say was….’ can be very helpful to check you are both ‘on the same page’.
  8. Demonstrate empathy – we seem to be more task focused in a virtual meeting. it  is important to intentionally be curious about how the person is feeling and what they might be struggling with. Show empathy and compassion for them before helping them move towards resolving their challenges.
  9. Resist giving advice – I don’t know what it is about virtual meetings – but we all seem to be more in advice giving mode. Coaching means we stop giving advice and help the other person work out what is best for them. 
  10. Be endlessly curious – Hold a spirit of curiosity about what is best for the person you are with. They will know that you have their best interests at heart!

After each call follow up with an email to summarise and let your coachee know that you were fully present with them.

Being intentional about having good virtual coaching conversations can make an enormous difference to the engagement and experience of our employees.


We will shortly be launching our new Introduction to Coaching Skills course. To be kept informed of this and other courses please sign up to our mailing list below or follow us on Linked In.

Jean Balfour ICF Accredited Professional Coach and Managing Director of Bailey Balfour

Jean Balfour

Founder & Programmes Director


About the Author

Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes. Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.

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