What Your Client Needs from You Right Now - International Coaching Federation
COVID-19 Resources for ICF Coaches

What Your Client Needs from You Right Now

Posted by Lillian LeBlanc, PCC | April 24, 2020 | Comments (3)

As the global COVID-19 pandemic upends business in every country, many coaches are searching for ways to support clients and continue to add value for the people they serve. Some coaches are creating virtual learning, while others are offering free or discounted coaching sessions. Although strategies like these may seem to make sense, they could be counterproductive.

The best way to help your clients is to understand exactly what they need right now. This is a tenet of great coaching in any situation, not just in the unprecedented environment that we now face.  Meeting clients where they are, probing to understand a situation from their perspective instead of our own, and serving as a thinking partner versus a problem solver are all foundational coaching skills.

If we combine these skills with our genuine desire to help our clients, we won’t spend time trying to convince them why they need us right now. Instead, we’ll ask, “What do you need most, right now?”

As I think about this question while mentally transitioning from my current role as a coach to my former role as a head of HR in a health care system, I realize that many coaches are missing the mark with well-meaning free coaching programs or virtual live learning focused on topics we think our clients need.

So, what’s a coach to do?

Ask the question: “What do you need most, right now?” Then, consider these dos and don’ts:


  • Offer support for your clients, with no expectation of a response. Even longstanding clients with whom you have deep relationships may be “radio silent” right now. They’re not ignoring you. They’re busy in a way that few of us have ever experienced.
  • Provide all resources with no strings attached and full ability to modify. Medium and large organizations have their own learning and development teams who want to stay productive and add value. They’re likely creating their own brand of learning for employees, and your material can be helpful, but probably won’t stand alone.
  • Remember that there will come a day when the pandemic is behind us and life will slowly change for the better. The pandemic will serve to showcase those business partners who took time to understand, appreciate and respond to the client’s unique needs—even if that need is simply for space.


  • Fail to understand and accept that, as valuable as coaching is, your client may value the opportunity to redirect coaching time to critical organizational needs.
  • Think that “working from home” simply means understanding how to leverage technology. Right now, it means that plus juggling the needs of loved ones, wearing multiple hats, and adjusting to rapidly changing priorities.  It may also mean that your client has little control over their schedule and can’t commit to coaching appointments or virtual workshops.
  • Cross the line between therapy and coaching.  When clients talk about extreme anxiety, depression or hopelessness, we need to refer to mental health professionals. Especially in this unprecedented situation, we can unwittingly step over professional boundaries by thinking that stress is simply that and failing to recognize signs of deeper issues.

There is no doubt that coaching has tremendous value to help individuals and companies manage large-scale change, make good decisions in an environment of ambiguity, and operate effectively under unusual circumstances. However, in the COVID-19 climate, coaching is competing with many rapidly shifting and high-level priorities. We can deliver the most value for our clients by honoring their wisdom, and by understanding that they know best what they need from us, right now.

Lillian LeBlanc headshot

Lillian LeBlanc, PCC

Lillian LeBlanc, MBA, PCC, is the principal of Ibis Coaching, LLC. An experienced leader, Lillian is a past president of the ICF Central Florida Chapter, and she served as a global board director and officer of the inaugural ICF Coaching in Organizations Global Board of Directors.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (3)

  1. Francis Gallagher says:

    Thank you for your insights,

    Although I have been working in the community for over forty years as a Community Development Worker, I never cease to learn. I can totally relate to your point regarding the client and being ‘brave’ enough as a Coach in a climate of ambiguity to say ‘the client knows best, I must honour their wisdom and understand what they need from us right now’. It doesn’t mean they don’t value us, it mearly means they are busy with issues few of us have ever experienced.
    In relation to myself, I have always been eager to jump in when I believed the community needed me (sometimes right into the deep end). These actions lead to burnout at a personal level and I wish I could have worked smarter rather than harder. I fully take onboard your advice, I need to learn to understand what the client needs, not what I think they need.

    Lesson learnt.


  2. david@premeragroup.com says:

    Thanks Lillian — this is so helpful with many good reminders. The observation that many well-meaning coaches are either crossing the line or venturing outside the distinctive elements of what define coaching is powerful and should be taken to heart. I needed to be reminded of this as I reflect on how best to serve clients at this time.

    Our desire and motivation to help others is especially strong during these times of great need, but that must not trump our obligation and responsibility to uphold the professional standards and codes of ethics to which we have committed.

    We CAN continue to be of great assistance and value to our clients simply by doing as you have suggested — letting THEM tell us what they most need right now and then responding accordingly within the scope of our professional capacity as coaches.

    Much appreciated!

  3. JESSICA says:

    I just wanted to browse this website and wow, you guys are amazing! Thank you for creating a great website! Take care!

Not a member?

Sign up now to become a member and receive all of our wonderful benefits.

Learn more