Leadership Coaching through Turbulent Times: Playing with eFIRE

Virtual business meeting

A recent Harvard Business Review post (April 27, 2020) stated that prior to the impact of COVID-19, people used to interact and converse with between eleven and sixteen “casual acquaintances” daily. Compare that to today – the world has been thrown into lockdown – terms such as social distancing, quarantine and isolation have very much defined organisational life for many.

Unsurprisingly, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for these types of casual conversations as we struggle to transform our way of being and familiarise ourselves with a “new normal”.  The indicators though, suggest we are missing these regular interactions.  For instance, the results from the COVID-19 Monitor research project, conducted by Vox Pop Labs, in partnership with the ABC, stated that Australian’s are feeling the impact in the following ways:

The number reporting poor mental health has more than doubled compared to one month ago. The number feeling despair has more than tripled. Loneliness is up by 14%, stress by 15%, anxiety up 9%; with a decrease in optimism of 15% and happiness of 14%.
(Vox Pop Labs/ABC, April 28, 2020)

Without doubt, now more than ever, we are faced with the reality of operating in an increasingly unpredictable, ever-changing environment, encapsulated by the term VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.  In response, many people understandably report they are struggling to cope, feeling disconnected and confused.

We know, however, that there are powerful benefits from connecting. In fact, the benefits from casual interactions can be as effective as the support we receive from people with whom we have stronger ties and typically deeper discussions (Sandstrom and Dunn, 2014).  Fortunately, advances in communication and connectivity, brought about by the fourth industrial revolution, provide a rich environment for flourishing. Leadership is after all, about conversations and by engaging with your team, you are providing an opportunity for them to open up to a sounding board.  We position coaching conversations, which Zenger and Stinnett (2010) have described as ‘any interaction that helps individuals to expand awareness, discover superior solutions, and make and implement better decisions’, as an essential and attainable element in these complex, yet technologically connected environments.  Even more significant is that these types of conversations with your team do not need to be planned nor diarised, they can be unprompted and informal.

Be curious about what you are noticing because by doing so, you are establishing the underlying characteristics of a coaching conversation.  To support leaders further, QUTeX has developed eFIRE (Abbott, 2017), a dynamic methodology and mindset for Leadership Coaching in a complex world. It is an approach which aims to provide a framework for leaders wishing to engage in powerful conversations with their team. The goal is to hold conversations that get beneath the surface of issues to ignite powerful change processes.  Embedded in the model is the assumption that organisational life is not predictable. Leadership requires agility and flexibility in order to be effective.

eFIRE draws on multiple coaching, change and leadership models, and is consistent with Intentional Change Theory (Boyatzis and Jack, 2018; Boyatzis, 2006).  During rapid and intense change, individuals are often in the dark and must feel their way around to get a sense of what might be going on. As leaders, the timing is perfect right now to reach out to your teams and offer opportunities to connect, because life has changed, and is unlikely to return to the same place we left it in. A leadership coaching conversation with your team enables you to gain a greater understanding of how you can support them to make a positive difference both professionally and personally.  In essence, these are the conversations that promote interaction, connection, collaboration, reflection and action; the powerful benefits that result when leaders ask, rather than tell and listen intently.

As a leader, look for opportunities to engage in conversations with team members which provide them with a space to ‘check-in’, reflect upon the various systems at play, and prompt them to be daring – experimenting for maximum impact.

A great place to start is to ask your team what’s something they’ve learned about themselves during this crisis that was unexpected? Then ask what is possible for them today? What is exciting? And, thinking forward to next week, ask them to share something with you they commit to doing differently, just to see what happens.  And then ‘curiously’ check back in with them to see what did happen.

This is the start of great leadership coaching conversations, where we can bring out the best in self and others, particularly in these highly challenging times.


Use eFIRE, a coaching mindset and methodology, to make better leadership decisions in the face of a complex and challenging world with the Leadership Coaching through Turbulent Times: Playing with eFIRE free online course.



Abbott, G. N. 2017. Third Generation Leadership Coaching: Playing with the eFIRE model and mindset. Unpublished paper adapted from a paper presented at the 2017 EURAM Conference. Glasgow, Scotland. (Paper available from author upon request).

Boyatzis, R. 2006. An overview of Intentional Change Theory: A Complexity Perspective. Journal of Management Development, 25 (7): 607-623.

Boyatzis, R. E and Jack, A. I. 2018. The Neuroscience of Coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 70 (1): 11-27.

COVID-19 Monitor. 2020. Vox Pop Labs. McMaster University, Canada, in partnership with The ABC (28 April, 2020).

Sandstrom, G. M and Dunn, E. W. 2014. Social Interactions and Well-Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (7): 910-922.

Sandstrom, G and Whillans, A. 2020. Why You Miss Those Casual Friends So Much. Harvard Business Review, (22 April 2020).

Zenger, J. H and Stinnett, K. 2010. The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow. New York: McGraw Hill.

QUTeX Leadership Coaching Practice




Fran is passionate about developing exceptional leaders. She has an extensive background in Leadership and Executive Coaching, holding senior leadership positions, including as Director, Leadership Coaching and Executive Programs within the QUT Graduate School of Business and QUTeX Executive Education. Fran is responsible for successfully delivering global Leadership Coaching education as Course Coordinator for the Executive Graduate Certificate in Business (Leadership Coaching) and establishing The Leadership Coaching Practice within QUTeX.

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