Home > Articles > What is executive coaching?

What is executive coaching?

GCN Nonprofit Consulting Group's Neil Sklarew provides answers to the questions: What is executive coaching? How does it work and what should I look for in a coach?

Executive coaching is a facilitative one-to-one, mutually designed relationship between a professional coach and a "key contributor" who has a powerful position in an organization. This relationship occurs in a nonprofit organization where there are multiple stakeholders and board sponsorship for the coaching assignment. In smaller nonprofits, this typically occurs at the executive director level, but can be at department or division head level in larger, more complex systems. The coaching is contracted with and for the benefit of the client who is accountable for complex decisions in his/her organization.

Coaching is a powerful means to enhance a leader's ability to understand and to effectively use self  in a nonprofit context.

The focus of coaching is usually on organizational performance or development, but usually has a personal component to it. The coach accelerates the leader's progress by providing greater focus and awareness of possibilities leading to more effective choices. Coaching concentrates on where the leader is now, and what he/she is willing to do to get where he/she wants to be in the future. The coaching focuses on the leader's personal and organizational life as it relates to goal setting, outcome creation and personal change management.

Examples of the kind of focus for the coaching are:

- Leadership presence
- Team development
- Board development
- Planning
- Performance problems
- Implementation challenges
- Career development
- Inter-personal relationships
- Sounding board

Some of the ways that a coach can support the leader are as follows:

- Heighten self-awareness and learning in order to take action
- Address breakdowns and blocks to achieving personal and organizational results
- Assist leaders in seeing patterns in interactions and understanding how they contribute to the situations
- Look at system issues and those of organizational alignment
- Determine how to manage change
- Work with resistance in both the client and the system
- Support with communication, decision making and conflict management skills

What are the steps in the coaching process?

1. Leader self nominates or is nominated by board or staff leadership to participate in a coaching process
2. Leader with input from board or staff leadership where appropriate establishes initial goals for the coaching
3. Leader completes style surveys and reviews results with coach to understand personal orientations
4. Coach collects input from the leader's key organizational stakeholders and provides feedback to the leader
5. Coach and leader revisit initial goals and establish development goals and plan for the coaching
6. Coach and leaders work together in coaching sessions on these goals, between which the leaders implements what is learned in those sessions
7. Coach and leader evaluate work together and celebrate accomplishments
8. Leader prepares a summary of his/her learning, and if nominated by board of staff leadership, prepares feedback to that leadership
9. Coach and leader establish follow up after designated period to assess impact of the coaching

What should you look for in a coach?

- A basic level of competence in listening, asking powerful questions and enhancing client self-awareness
- Take a system perspective to help the client understand self in context of organizational challenges
- Willing to partner with the client to build trust and shared responsibility for the work
- Share models and metaphors with the client to support learning
- Comfortable with supporting the client with his/her anxiety in challenging situations
- Willing to share own perspective and making oneself vulnerable with the client
- Provide challenging feedback in a non-judgmental way to support the client
- An understanding of nonprofit organizations
- Data gathering, analysis and feedback process

Coaching is a powerful means to enhance a leader's ability to understand self and to effectively use self in a nonprofit organizational context. By forming a strong coach-client relationship and focusing on what is important to the leader, personal growth and organizational accomplishments can occur.

GCN provides coaching regularly to clients and would be happy to discuss any of your consulting or coaching needs.

Let us know if we can help. For more information, contact our Nonprofit Consulting Group team at [email protected] or 678-916-3082.

Neil Sklarew is an organizational psychologist with more than 25 years of experience in organizational development consulting and management for both the for-profit and non-profit sectors.


Subscribe to GCN Articles RSS