About the coaching I do
Coaching means it's your turn.
I bet you can tell me what your nonprofit needs, and your community, but...
This is where coaching begins, by asking:
And what do you need as a leader?
Take a moment to sit with these questions if you like. They can be welcome and unwelcome at the same time.
Thirteen years ago when I became a coach, I decided to focus on the personal side of leadership because it's your inner game that determines how well your outer game works.
You are the source of your leadership, so it matters who you are and what you're called to.
And you are the instrument of your leadership, so it matters how you're doing day by day.
Which is why you get to ask yourself...
What makes my heart sing?
It feels so good to know the answer to this, to really know it, and then go for it, not holding anything back, because...
The more you ring true, the more your leadership rings true.
What is coaching?
If you asked me for my favorite one-sentence definition, I'd say...
Together the coach and client create a safe and courageous space.
I heard my teachers repeat this many times in my classes at the Coaches Training Institute. It's a basic principle of human development that...
The more safety and support you have at the core of your life, the more courageous you can be when you go out in the world.
But let's look deeper. If you asked me about the soul of coaching I'd say...
It's a loving thing to challenge yourself deeply,
And it's a challenging thing to love yourself deeply.
During my time at CTI, fellow students told me, "You have a very gentle way of doing very powerful coaching." I didn't really pay attention until the fifth time I heard that same thing almost word for word.
This wasn't something I was trying for consciously. But when I thought about it, it made sense, because more than anything I believe in the power of love.
I don't believe that love can always work miracles. I don't believe that it can't be defeated. But I do believe that living by love is a good way to live no matter what.
So when people ask what kind of coach I am, I tell them I'm intense. I'm serious about my clients getting what they need. But I'm not a kick-butt coach, because one thing I know for sure is...
The most effective coaching is also the kindest.
Sometimes I think of a coaching session as sacred time, because...
You don't have to put your game face on.
You get to tell the truth about what you need. You get to say it simply and directly. You don't have to dress it up or justify it.
You get to take a break from your inner critic.
You get to stop and think and think deeply.
You get to surprise yourself with the things you hear yourself say. And those surprises turn into your future.
The way I see it, my role as coach is to be...
An advocate—someone who is on your side.
An ally—someone who stands with you on the edge of the tough breakthroughs so you can stay the course when it would be so easy to give up.
A champion—someone who keeps seeing the best in you, especially when you forget.
A witness—someone backstage with you. Someone who doesn't just see the results of your work, but sees who you had to be and what it took to get those results.
The point is not to fit yourself into one particular model of coaching. Exactly the opposite. The point is for us to discover together how the essential spirit of coaching can serve you.
Next I've got stories for you so you can see what coaching feels like when you focus on yourself and your operating system.
And there are many more examples of coaching on other pages throughout this site.
Coaching, though, can be surprisingly different for different people, so please consider these stories as just a hint of what might happen for you.
If you don't have time to read what's here,
please feel free to give me a call instead
and let's talk personally about what you're looking for...
Or if you want to jump ahead, here's what's coming:
Start with your talents
The more you know who you are,
the easier it is to know what to do.
Ready to pop
The pleasure of quick surprises.
Claiming your calling
Big changes can come from just a few minutes of
looking at what's really true for you.
The deeper breakthroughs
Sometimes you have to take a serious journey
to get where you want to go.
In the lion's den
Tough, ugly, hurtful situations.
You're welcome to call me for a free session
or up to an hour of conversation
to see if coaching is something you want.
Okay, let's dive in...
Start with your talents
In our country, when a problem or a challenge comes up, the first question is usually, "What should I do?"
But it's jumping the gun to immediately leap into action. A better first question is this one...
"Who am I and what do I need?"
That's because you're your own person with your own unique constellation of natural talents and core strengths.
And what you need may be very different from what someone else needs.
For example, both a shy person and an extrovert can be great fundraisers, but they're each going to have to find their own approach...
Instead of looking in the fundraising books for how-tos, we looked at her life. Just the facts. For example she said, "I have a circle of friends I've been close to for decades. Ever since college."
And we looked at her leadership. Again the facts: "My staff and I go camping together four times a year. A bunch of us take classes together during the week. We've all been here for years. It's really rare that we have any turnover.
"It feels like family. I know that's a cliché, but it's really true for us. And I mean the happy version of family."
So I asked her, "What if you started using your talent for intimacy and connection to bring your major donors into the family in some way? What if you did that instead of keeping them at arm's length?"
She said, "Oh, I get it. I could do that. I really could do that!"
And she did. She deepened her relationship with her donors and was surprised at the size of the checks they started writing. And how much they liked staying in touch with her. And how willing they were to take her to meet their friends.
It was the opposite with Tony.
I went with him to a Chamber of Commerce mixer to watch him in action and give him feedback. We walked in the door, I turned to say something to him, but he waved at someone across the room and was gone. It cracked me up.
For two hours I watched him moving from group to group and wherever he went there were bright bursts of laughter.
Tony loves being the center of attention. He's a great storyteller and people love to hear him talk. He thrives on the challenge of charming a bunch of different people all at the same time.
At the end of the evening, I told him what I had seen and asked him how he could turn his talent into fundraising.
He said, "I'd talk people into setting up house parties of 12-20 guests and then I'd show up and do my thing with them. Would that work?"
I said, "Why not run that experiment and find out?" So he did. Now he's in his element and the checks are rolling in fast enough to keep him happy.
So we're talking about personalized leadership. And why not? Why would we ever think that a single brand of leadership would be a match for everyone?
Carla called me and said, "I just got back from a workshop on team building and I realize I'm a total failure at this. Can you help me?"
I asked her a bunch of questions. I found out that Carla likes working independently. That's when she's at her best. She's not a team player in the conventional sense.
And guess what? She had hired seven staff, all of whom have a talent for solo work. Everyone follows the game plan of the mission, but they do their own projects.
And what's their work? They do assessments, evaluations, and reports for foundations and municipal governments. Their funders are happy with them. And they're happy with each other.
When Carla was done answering my questions, she sighed a big sigh. "So what works for us works for us and that's okay?"
"That's what I'm seeing here."
"And we've invented our own kind of team?"
"And all I need to do is relax?"
"Yes, and enjoy what you've created."
"I get it. Using the wrong how-to is like wearing someone else's shoes, it's like wearing someone else's glasses, it's like using someone else's toothbrush, and yuck to that, unless it's my sweetie's."
And one more example...
Jeffi went to a workshop on strategic planning. The trainer told her that if a plan was more than three years old, you had to start from scratch and do a complete formal process. And involve all the stakeholders. That's the best practice, so that's what you had to do, no exceptions.
Who makes up these rules?
When Jeffi called me her mood was so down it kind of took my breath away. She had been at her nonprofit for six months. She had gotten it back on its feet and they had a lot of momentum and morale going for them. But now she was freaked about having to put on the brakes and spend a year on strategic planning.
And I understood why. I knew the community she worked in. It was contentious and argumentative. A process involving all the stakeholders would have been a nightmare.
So I asked her if the organization already had any kind of strategic plan. She had never seen one, so she took her cell phone and, while we talked, went down into the basement, searched around, and dug out a plan that was five years old.
As she went through it, she decided that this ancient plan had a lot of life left in it. She saw she could just take each of the five key strategies to the next level, enhancing each one and bringing them up to date.
She, her staff, and her Board could do that in two hours, make it official, and they'd be cool. They'd have something accurate and inspiring for their funders, and something to show to the community if anyone ever asked.
She sounded like a different person when she finished the call. She told me as she signed off, "All gain with no pain. I like it!"
In my experience, starting with needs is so much kinder and more powerful than starting with shoulds.
Ready to pop
Sometimes quick surprises happen in coaching because a leader is so very ready for a change. It's in them just waiting for the right question or the right perspective or the right touch.
I love these surprises.
And it makes me sad when a client says to me, "I should have done this years ago." If you have some sense that you're on the edge of a breakthrough, let me urge you not to wait. Don't postpone the fun that you could be having right now.
Maybe you just need a shift in perspective...
When I began working with Zoe, she was struggling to get out of start-up mode with her nonprofit, which did policy work and lobbying on early childhood education. She was doing all the classic stuff, putting in the long hours, not getting enough help from her staff, and feeling resentment.
But all this was not sitting well with her. So we talked about what sustainability would look like, and once she got her own personal picture of it she was off and running.
Then one morning she called and said, "I'm an emerging leader."
"That's what everybody tells me, meaning the other EDs in my field. And that's how I've been thinking about myself. But sometimes I feel like I'm the pet. Like I'm a junior version of a leader and they're the real leaders. It's like, she's so young and there she is running a nonprofit and isn't that cute?"
"So I don't know. I don't like it."
"Let's see: You started this organization yourself. In three years you've taken it from start up to soaring. You've now got staff you love and active Board members who adore you. You're doing great work and you're in the national spotlight for your work. True?"
"So are you done with being an emerging leader?"
"Wow. Yes, I am. I've accomplished way more than some of the people who talk down to me."
"What do you need to do to own that you're a full-fledged leader?"
"Hmmm, let me think...Okay, I know exactly what I need. I have three best friends and sometimes we go away for a long weekend to our favorite cabin in the Adirondacks. We're going up there this weekend.
"So I see us sitting together in this cozy spot we like by the lake, inside a circle of white pines and paper birches. You know how crazy I am about rituals, but this will be very simple.
"We'll each have a lighted candle and I'll ask them to help me tell the story of my coming of age as a leader. They've been on this journey with me so they'll have a lot to say.
"I want them to take this step with me. To cross over with me. And when they do, that's what will make it real for me."
Maybe you just need to break the spell...
Morgan told me, "I've been the ED here for two years now. When our last ED left, the Board talked me into taking the job. They gave me the full-court press. It was impossible to tell them no. And I thought I should do this for the good of the organization.
"But I have to tell you, I used to be a glass-half-full person and I'm not anymore. That's long gone. We're doing really well. The programs are stronger than ever. The funding is as good as anyone could expect. And yet I'm not happy. I feel like Eeyore. But how can I go around complaining when things are good?
"This morning I groaned as I picked up my briefcase to walk out the door. My husband looked at me with a big question mark on his face. A month ago he told me he misses me. He couldn't explain what he meant, but it was unsettling.
"So what should I do?"
I asked Morgan to tell me a dozen stories of her best work moments from throughout her career.
Every one of them was a story about doing clinical work, either directly with clients or mentoring interns.
When I mentioned that fact, her eyes filled with tears. "I miss the direct work. So very much. We're starting up two new programs. If I could have my choice, I'd be the one who runs them."
We talked about that for a few minutes. Then she said, "But I can't go back to clinical work. That's going backwards. And this place depends on me."
I looked at her with a big question mark on my face.
"Okay. Maybe I can. But what would people say?"
"What would you want them to say?"
She took a deep breath. "I'd want them to say, 'Be happy, Morgan. Do what you love doing.'"
"The people who love you, how would they respond if they knew why you want to make this change?"
"They would support me. And my husband would cheer. He'd buy me presents to celebrate."
"And what about the organization?"
"It will be a shock to them."
"The staff that you've hired over the last two years, what are they like?"
"Wonderful. That's the thing I do best as ED. I've got a knack for recruiting the best people."
"What if you used that talent to hire a new ED, someone who would love being ED and someone you'd love working with?"
"But wouldn't she feel strange supervising the past ED? You're not supposed to do that are you?"
"How good are your communication skills?"
"I think they're really good. God knows I've spent years learning about good communication."
"So do you think you could find someone with the moxie to be okay with you as clinical director? And who would talk things through with you if any feelings came up.
"And then together you could make sure the staff really get the change, so they make the transition too, instead of running on old habits."
"I don't see why not."
"In my experience, the trouble comes when the past ED steps down but doesn't let go."
"That won't happen with me. I'd be glad to dump it all on the new person at 9 a.m. on day one."
"So would you say you've got what it takes to do this transition?"
"Yes I do. I'm ready to step down from leadership."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm stepping down. I'm not going to be a leader anymore."
"How about reversing that for a minute? Tell me the ways you're being a leader by making this transition."
"Jeez. Well, I'm going to hire a new ED. That's a big deal."
"I'm actually going to reshape this organization. It's going to be even stronger after this change. That's leadership."
"And in your new position?"
"Oh, yeh, I forgot about that. I'm going to start up our two new programs. I'm going to hire eight young clinicians. I'm going to train them and supervise them. There's going to be a whole lot of leading going on."
"So you're cool with all this?"
"Very cool. Perfectly cool. The minute we're done here, I'm calling my Board Chair. No, I'm not. I'm calling my husband first and then my Board Chair. I need to give my husband time to go start buying me presents."
Maybe the nonprofit culture is the problem, and you just need to take a stand for yourself...
Genelle called me one morning for her session and said, "I must be doing something wrong. I'm getting home on time. Actually, two days a week I leave early for my African Dance class. I'm about to take a three-week vacation on an island in a lake in Canada where there's no phone and no e-mail. It's the first time I'll ever be out of touch with the office.
"I'm still working hard and this job still has plenty of challenges, but I'm not stressing anymore, not like other EDs I know. I'm actually having fun being the leader. I feel weird. I feel wrong."
This was after a year and a half of sustained work transforming her nonprofit, bringing it from deep dysfunction and deficit to sustainability and surplus. A foundation president told Genelle, "I've never seen anyone turn an organization around like you have."
So I asked her, "Do you feel wrong enough that you would give up this progress you've made and go back to how things were?"
"So what does that mean?"
"I guess it means I'm still feeling sector pressure, like I should be sacrificing, because if I don't I'm not the kind of noble leader we're supposed to be."
"And your answer to that?"
"Leading like I'm leading is good for me and good for my organization."
"And the sector?"
"I hadn't thought about that. Yes, I'm doing a favor for the sector, too. What I'm doing would be good for lots and lots of leaders if not all of them."
"So you're leading on two levels at the same time. You're a role model. You're a meta-leader. You're like a pioneer or something. There ought to be a name for this."
Maybe you've got a serious problem but the last thing you need to do is take it seriously. Maybe you need to play your way out of it...
Ginny was at her wits end with Brad, the first director of her agency's newest program. She called him a "puzzling pain in the butt."
She had hired him into a great job, so why was he giving her attitude instead of gratitude? She had tried different communication techniques with him to no avail. Argghhh!
In our coaching session, I said, "I'll be you and you be Brad and let's see what happens. Let's not solve anything, let's just play."
In a flash, she dropped her super-responsible leader persona. She got into the character of a puzzling pain in the butt. And she was good at it. She said whatever popped into her mind.
We got goofy and then goofier and in the middle of her laughter, Ginny suddenly stopped and said in a calm voice, "Oh, I get it. I bet Brad's in over his head with this program and he's scared and taking out on me. I bet he doesn't even know he's scared.
"It's suddenly so obvious. I can look back and see so many clues over the past few weeks. I've been too mad at him to empathize with him, so I couldn't really see him.
"Now I know what to do. Now I can be his ally instead of struggling with him. And I know I'll like myself a lot better this way."
It turned out she was right on all counts.
Claiming your calling
When you're exhausted or struggling or being put down, it's possible to forget who you are, and that's when a little bit of championing can make a very big difference...
Gabriel was a program director who got into coaching to work on team building which I have to say it seemed to me he was already very good at. He jumped in with both feet and was making the kind of progress he wanted.
Then one morning he called and said, "Five minutes ago, I walked into Bob's office and quit my job. I know we had it on the agenda to talk about my future later on, but I couldn't take it anymore. I'll be gone in two weeks."
This was easy to understand. Gabriel had brought in the biggest grant the organization had ever gotten and the ED found fault with him. Gabriel doubled the productivity of his department and the ED found things to criticize. In two years of working there, he never got one thank you from Bob and it had worn him down.
Gabriel immediately started looking for a new job. But the wind had been knocked out of his sails, so he set his sights very low. He was willing to take just about anything.
I asked him if I could give him a "slide show" of himself...
"In the two months we've been coaching, you put together professional development plans with each of your staff and they've loved it.
"They've each told you how much it means to them to work for you.
"Three of them were in tears when you told them you were leaving.
"People tell you that when you run meetings, they not only get a lot done, they have fun doing it.
"You've been elected chair of the Board of Trustees at your church six years in a row. You've brought the church out of debt and it's thriving.
"A foundation officer told you that you were the most enjoyable person she's worked with from any nonprofit ever.
Gabriel told me, "I don't know what to say."
"Take a minute and get cozy with this picture of yourself. Don't try to figure anything out yet, just be with this picture."
He was quiet for a bit, then said, "The truth is that I would like to be in charge of my work. I'd like to be the top leader. It really is true that people like it when I lead. Maybe I should look for an ED job. Or find an ED to work for who respects people as much as I do.
"In this past job, I was like an artist making a beautiful painting and then someone has the right to come in and trash it.
"You called me a people artist once, and maybe that's true, because I like it when people enjoy each other instead of struggling against each other. I like bringing people together in service of something bigger. I like creating that kind of beauty in the world. And now I want to be able to protect it once I've created it."
Sometimes the most important thing to do is just to stop and listen to yourself...
I asked Jordan, a very successful ED, what he wanted next in his life.
"What I want is impossible so I try not to think about it."
"I'd really like to hear it if you're willing to tell me."
"If you're willing to listen to mere fantasies, okay."
I suggested that he close his eyes as he talked so he could forget about the real world for a bit. I said, "Put your hand over your heart, take an easy breath, and listen. When you can hear your heart talking to you, just simply tell me the truth about what you want."
He said, "I get rave reviews for the policy work I do. And that's the part of the job I like best. That and my staff. I'm deeply bored with the administrative work.
"I have daydreams about being in DC right in the middle of the policy work. Being there in person. I want to have a personal connection with the big-time policy mavens in my field.
"When I fly back there for a day or two, I go with them to their late-night dinners where they have these rock-and-roll conversations. I never feel so alive as I do then. I want to be part of that circle. I want to have influence there.
"But I don't want to leave my place here. And I really don't want to leave my staff. We've been through so much together. I can't just walk out of here and start a new life."
I said, "I'm hearing two different needs, stay and go, both very strong. Imagine they've been strangers, but now you introduce them to each other and ask them to talk over their differences.
Jordan's enough of a ham that he did two different voices back and forth and in three minutes he had his conclusion.
"Here's the deal. I'm going to rent a tiny studio apartment in DC so I can live there for a couple months a couple times a year at the key times. I'll keep my place here. We have one position vacant. I'll shut it down and hire an operations director. Or maybe I'll hire an ED and promote myself to president. It would be great to have that on my business card in DC.
"Now that I'm allowing myself to want what I want, the details seem easy. Well, not easy, but doable. They're not a problem."
Within six months, Jordan made a place for himself in that circle of colleagues. Within a year his increased presence in DC brought in a modest chunk of new funding to his organization, so the change was a financial gain instead of a loss.
And even though his staff get to see less of him, everyone gets to see more of him, meaning more of who he is and what he can do in the world.
The deeper breakthroughs
Many situations are more complicated than the ones I've just talked about. For some of us, the things we need to work on go deep and take time. That's how it was for me when I was a leader. So I have a special affinity for people who are taking the longer journey of self-development.
In our culture which promotes a model of instant success, you might feel pressured to make big changes overnight.
But please remember, there's an important difference between forced change and authentic change.
The idea of coaching is to work with yourself in the spirit of compassion instead of forcing yourself to do what you're not really ready to do.
You get to change in your own way at your own pace. You get to go as deep as you need to go so you can be who you want to be...
Paula said, "I've got it all figured out. I let my staff perform at a much lower level than they could. That's because I want them all to depend on me. I don't prevent crises because when I step in and save the day, I feel like I am somebody. I'm an approval junkie. I want all the big praise for myself.
"I know this is wrong. In fact, I think it's disgusting. But it's how I've been since I was a kid. I have it all figured out but I still haven't been able to stop it. Is there any hope for me?"
"Tell me about the part of you that wants things to be different."
"Last week I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream where I was in a paper sack like a giant garment bag zipped closed. It was only paper, but I couldn't get out. It was suffocating me. When I woke I started sobbing."
"So thinking about that, is there hope for you?"
"I really hate the way I'm living. I'm all thin and stretched from trying to do too much. I'm exhausted from chasing crises. And making people depend on me hurts my relationships. Not just with my staff, but in my personal life, too."
"And what about hope?"
"I guess hating this is hopeful. Is that what you're seeing?"
"Then what do I do to break free?"
"What's your happiest vision of leadership?"
"Hmmm...it's actually what we do with the kids. That's weird. I don't rescue our teens. When I was program director I insisted on them finding their strengths and learning how to do as much as possible for themselves. I believed in them.
"But I treat my staff as if they're babies. Wow. It's like there are two completely different sides to me."
"What does that say about hope?"
"It really gives me something to work with."
The first thing Paula did was assess her staff. At the end of the first month, she said, "I've now had forthright conversations with each of them about the changes I'm making here. Four of them are eager to step up. Susie actually told me if I'd just get out of her way she could do a whole lot more.
"The other six staff want nothing to do with change. There's serious resistance there. It's kind of overwhelming."
"What matters most?"
"I know you're going to say I'm what matters most."
"That's what I'd say. What would you say?"
"Oh, if you really press me I'd say the same thing. I'm starting to get that."
"What if you focused all your change energy on the four willing staff and let the others cruise along as they are for now? What would that give you?"
"That definitely works for me. I see the advantage. The first thing I need to do is get this change locked in for myself, before I take on all that resistance."
"That's what I'm thinking. Treat yourself with kindness. This is a very big change. It's okay to take your time with it."
So that's what she did for the next three months: "I really love working with my change team. It's making me stronger in my resolve."
"What's that say about hope?"
"Very good things indeed."
In month four, her program director, who was the most resistant, resigned to take another job across town.
Paula said, "Now I have a big chance for a big change. You don't even have to say anything because I know what question you're going to ask."
"And the answer is that I need a partner in this position. I need someone like my four top staff only even more so. The person in line for this job internally is out of the question. He's not getting with the changes.
"I want someone who can't even imagine letting the staff be babies. I want someone with boundaries in her bones and expectations in her soul."
"What would be the very best scenario?"
"It would be someone I could learn from, someone who could inspire me. And bingo!"
"I know who that is. Miriama is part of our coalition. I've seen her with teens. I've seen her at our meetings. She's very young, younger than anyone here. But she's super responsible and she's got the perfect attitude. She's so supportive, but you wouldn't dream of messing with her. I don't know about the experience thing though."
"What do you think it would take for her to succeed?"
"Lots of mentoring. Lots. Is that different than rescuing?"
"What would make it different?"
"If I don't do even one little bit of her job for her. If I challenge her as well as support her. If I'm her ally instead of trying to take her journey for her."
Paula had three long conversations with Miriama and liked everything she heard. They made a detailed working agreement. And then when Paula told Miriama about the changes she was making personally, Miriama lit up. They sealed the deal.
Paula told me, "Hold me accountable to being a mentor. I'm going to need to watch this closely so I don't backslide."
Over the next six months she and Miriama called the question with the six resistant staff. Four of them got on board, one of them left on his own, and the last one they fired.
Paula said, "Doing that firing, taking that kind of stand for our new standards, would have been unimaginable nine months ago. After that firing was over, when I stopped by the women's room, I saw myself in the mirror, and thought, 'How far you've come, girl.'"
One year after she had first phoned me, Paula called and said, "Last night we got an award from the mayor. But I didn't go up on stage to receive it. I asked Miriama go up by herself and get it."
"What was that like for you?"
"I had a pang, just one, just for a moment. Wanting to be in the spotlight. Wanting that moment of big approval.
"But then I had this rush. Miriama was beaming. She couldn't stop smiling. Me either. She's done so well. I've mentored her like crazy. But she's inspired me like crazy. It's a lovely partnership.
"And her parents and grandparents were there. So very proud. No one in their family had ever been honored like this.
"Her mom hugged me and there were tears in her eyes and she whispered, 'Thank you.'"
"In that moment I got it. What was left of that big garment bag turned to paper dust and blew away. Praise and approval are nothing. Not compared to love. And now I know I'm going to be okay. It's not just a hope. Now I know it."
In the lion's den
Next I'm going to shift the mood and take a look at the really hard stuff.
We want to believe that people in the nonprofit community behave in much better ways than the world at large, but that's not always the case.
What if you were up against trouble like this...
One of your key people is splitting your staff into warring factions. You don't know what her goal is, but it's not good. Firing her would be a very big deal. But you need to take action before the bitterness goes so deep that you'll never get the staff back together again.
You've got an abusive Board and you need to replace at least three members if you're going to be able to stay at your organization. And you really want to stay.
You have two staff who are sabotaging your reputation in the community and have been putting themselves forward as the true leaders of the organization while building a constituency around themselves. You need to put a stop to this and fast.
A competing nonprofit has been lying about you to your key funder who is now refusing to take your calls. You need a way to get through to her.
You're the new ED taking the place of the founder who had been there for twenty years. The major donors are cautious and stand-offish. Some of them are saying that you're not Priscilla and you'll never be able to take her place. Priscilla is colluding with this. You really want those donors to stay with the organization.
One of your Board members says you hurt her feelings, and you don't even know how that happened, and now she's insisting that the Board fire you, even though you're the one who has brought financial stability to the organization by working 60 hours a week and even though there's no one else in your small town who would want your job.
Ugly, hurtful situations. And all too real.
I've helped many leaders deal with these kinds of things and worse. I have to admit this is not my favorite kind of coaching. I wish there weren't ever any need for it. But when a leader calls and she's in the lion's den, then I really want to be there for her.
This is an advanced level of coaching I'm talking about here because these situations can be extraordinarily complex. And if you're looking for help with a tough situation, it's best if you call and talk with me directly.
We'll look at the key players one by one and assess what kind of game you're in, how serious it is, and what the dangers are. Then we'll evaluate your options to see if coaching would be of help to you.
But there are two things I do want to say now.
The tougher the situation, the more you need yourself.
When things get overwhelming and scary, that's when leaders most want to step back and away. Which is completely understandable.
It would be great if there were a remote control solution, something where you could sit safely back in the bunker and fix everything without having to be out there in the middle of the mess. But tough situations don't work like that.
They call on us to be leaders more than ever. They call on us to take a stand and take charge. And at such a time we need all of our inner resources working for us. And we need to gather all our allies.
There are ways to handle tough situations and still take the high-road.
I'm not talking about being a nice guy and hoping that will do the trick. I don't mean that you would ever beg a bully to change his behavior. I don't believe in submissive strategies. You get to be fully assertive. You get to defend yourself and your mission whenever that's called for.
But here's the good news. You don't have to counterattack. You don't have to engage in a knock-down, drag-out war of attrition. You don't have to vilify people or demonize them.
It's quite possible to respond to trouble in a way that's decisive, determined...
And still good for your soul.
When you stay absolutely in alignment with your core values, then who you are shines through everything you do and say. And this matters. It makes you more effective. Way more effective than if you did a conventional counterattack.
That being said, I also believe that there are times when you have such a small chance of winning or when the cost to you would be so great, that you have every right to bail out.
You don't have to fight a fight just because it's right there in front of you.
The leaders I work with are people who have gifts to give to the world. It doesn't matter where they give them...
What matters is that they can give them.
Sometimes relational aggression becomes deeply impacted in the culture of a nonprofit and the key players actually don't want to see that changed. This kind of organization is truly not worth the sacrifice of a leader who could be doing great things elsewhere.
So even in the midst of the toughest situations, and especially then...
You still come first.
If you resonate with what you've been reading on this page...
I'd love to talk with you.
I'd be glad to give you an hour for free so you can ask all your questions or try an actual coaching session or both.
Some of my clients have told me they had no problem picking up the phone and calling me that first time.
Others have said it took them months to call...
"I was feeling shy."
"I was too busy."
"I was so far down I couldn't imagine feeling better."
"I knew coaching was going to take me through big changes and I wasn't sure I was ready for that."
I understand these hesitations. And that's why I want to end by saying again, if you have the desire to move forward in your leadership and your life, even if you've got lots of other conflicting feelings going on, I really would love to hear from you.
I've told a bunch of stories on this page, but if you'd like more, here are four special ones:
For logistics and details about coaching, you can click here:
One more thing....
If you can't afford coaching, click on this page to read about another way you can get support. This is something I recommend to leaders even if they have a coach.
Okay, this is the last PS:
So when I write up stories and scenarios, I change details, lots of them, sometimes every single detail. The fiction writer in me takes over. But I want you to know that the spirit and message of each story is absolutely true to life.
© 2008 Rich Snowdon