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Nonprofit Leaders, Let’s Level Up


Normalizing the Benefits of an Executive Coach in the Nonprofit Space

Most entrepreneurs intuitively understand the value in leveling up their leadership. They cognitively grasp that if they don’t grow, their business doesn’t grow. In the nonprofit world, the correlation between the limits of the leader and the limitations of the organization is rarely made. Suggesting that the leadership (gasp) spend money on themselves is near sacrilege.

In the nonprofit space, we’re used to making cuts. Most of us cut until it hurts. If you're at a conference, you may overhear Executive Directors and CEOs trade sacrificial stories of salary freezes and executive pay cuts in the efforts to continue their good work. This isn't necessarily bad or wrong. Cutting expenses or freezing salaries may, at times, be necessary. Recognizing whether it's time to cut back or time to invest is an art that a lot of us haven't yet mastered.

To take this a step further, it's one thing to invest in the organization via operations or fundraising. It's quite another to prioritize leveling up our own leadership. In my opinion, making the investment to take the limits off of ourselves as nonprofit leaders is a far more effective and permanent solution than any pay cut.

Here’s why. In life, it’s hard to make a change in our outer world when our internal programming is the same. What’s true in life is also true in business. We can go through the external motions to do all of the things we’re supposed to do, but when we do them with the same limiting beliefs, we don't see the results we need to see. So, we cut expenses to the point of organizational ineffectiveness. We badger our Boards to fundraise more. We publish blogs that disparage funders who don’t fund overhead costs. We often do everything except change. It’s time we take personal accountability and work on the only thing we can control: ourselves.

Blaming funders, staff, or the Board won’t fix our leadership problems. These personal, internal challenges are often masquerading as organizational ineffectiveness. It can be hard to see that our problem is us. That's where a coach can come in handy.

Consider the following scenarios. If they resonate with you, you may benefit from working with an executive coach:

  1. If you’re working really, really hard but not seeing very many results, you may benefit from external coaching. The reason is that there may be some unconscious blocks that you don’t realize are holding you and your organization back from success.

  2. If you’re feeling unfulfilled in your work, you may benefit from an executive coach.

  3. If you’re frustrated with your team because they lack direction and seem to need constant input, this could be because you yourself are unclear about the direction and future vision of the organization. Someone else’s guidance may help here.

  4. If you have unrealistic expectations of yourself and your goals, you may benefit from external coaching.

  5. If your Board is disconnected and your staff is leaving (or worse, they're disgruntled and NOT leaving), these could be indicators that you could benefit from leadership development. Learning about yourself will not only help you as a leader but filling in the gaps will help your organization grow.

Be forewarned, having a coach is hard. Receiving feedback is hard. Performing the introspection that opens us up to our flaws is hard. But, as my coach says, “It’s the hard that makes it great.” Besides, want to know what else is hard? Constantly worrying about making payroll. That's hard. A never-ending frustration with Board and staff is hard. Not making the community or global impact we need to make is hard. When faced with these choices, we just have to choose our hard.

Let’s take a page from the entrepreneurs on this one remembering that if the leadership isn’t growing, the organization isn’t either. Consider reframing the expense of hiring an executive coach and shift it into an investment. The dividends are plenty:

  • No longer being in our own way means that we can more clearly see our business objectives and pathways to their attainment.

  • Investing in our leadership means that we won’t continue to lose good people due to our personal blind spots.

  • Getting clear on our vision will energize and inspire us around strategy, fundraising, and people development.

  • Hitting our goals and having a positive impact on the community will leave us less stressed, more fulfilled, and thriving in our work!

I said it earlier but it bears repeating. Not taking a raise or cutting your salary to save money is a fine display. However, investing in your own leadership is a far more powerful solution. I encourage you to interview some executive coaches and invest in one that will challenge you into becoming the leader you’re capable of being.* Consider the impact that the best version of you can make through your organization.

*If executive coaching is an investment that your organization can’t afford right now, that doesn’t mean you don’t need it. Consider sharing the investment cost with your organization or even funding it yourself. If anyone deserves your best investment, it’s you.

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