The September 5, 2011 issue of Forbes magazine had an interesting article about how the use of coaching is surging. The article by Vickie Elmer states that, according to a July 2011 survey done by the American Management Association, about half of the membership companies of AMA use coaching as a tool to prepare individuals for promotion or a new role. The rationale for coaching is leadership development, optimizing strong performers, and remedial help for potential leaders. In the past, when I have worked exclusively with the 360-degree feedback process for high-level executives, we always tried to emphasize that the coaching they received was a positive experience, even though many executives saw the process as remedial. Often they were fixated on their improvement needs rather than capitalizing on the many strengths they showed. All of us have both strengths and improvement needs and it helps to know both.
So how does coaching apply to the non-profit world? In my experience, few non-profit Boards seriously consider who might succeed the Executive Director. So for starters, coaching is an excellent tool to accompany any succession planning that is and should be done. If there is a bright star working in the agency that has future potential as an E.D., it is important to see that that person can be developed as a successor to the E.D. The E.D. should be encouraged to include the coaching process in the performance goals for the next year. But foremost, the Board might encourage the Executive Director to avail him/herself of the opportunity. At the very least, coaching offers the experienced E.D. a neutral and objective voice, a sounding board, for handling challenges and making wise decisions. For inexperienced E.D.’s the coaching strengthens leadership development and gives guidance in staff and Board governance.
I have learned that there are some excellent management development courses offered by Foundations. This is a wise and wonderful use of philanthropic monies, to provide the basics. But it is often difficult to teach tact and political astuteness in a course, and these qualities are very important for a successful executive. This is where the coach is of benefit. I like to see my executives in their working environment – running staff meetings, attending Board meetings – so that I am able to suggest different ways of responding or answering questions. Most often I can give them positive reinforcement on their handling of circumstances because I have learned that in the non-profit world, how an Executive Director rises to that position takes great tact and political skill to handle all of the people issues that arise. The non-profit world requires solid people skills, so the feedback and support in these areas is of necessity for the success of the agency.
So as coaching is coming of age, I encourage you to be a part of a positive and beneficial process for your agency – coaching.