I Get By With a Little Help From My Coach

“The very best coaches are compassionate truth tellers. And the very best leaders can hear that truth and make the adjustments necessary to improve their skills as leaders and managers.” Atul Gawande, MD in his TED Talk , “Want To Get Great At Something? Get a Coach!”

It’s tough out there in the nonprofit world. Between raising money, managing staff, overseeing programs, dealing with your board, and a myriad of other priorities, it can get pretty crazy for a leader. When do you know that you need a coach to help guide you through some of life’s ups and downs?

Joan Garry’s recent post in the Chronicle of Philanthropy sheds some light on the myths that many leaders (and boards) have about who needs a coach. Spoiler alert: every leader could use one! Whether you’re a newly-hatched ED or CEO or one who’s departing, whether your organization is doing well or floundering, whether you think you have the money or not, coaches can and should be part of the mix.

I encourage you to read Joan’s post and watch Dr. Gawande’s talk. And then let me know how I can help you become the best leader you can be.

Question: Are You Asking The Right Questions?

Let’s say your organization is going through change. Let’s say there are questions about your mission, or vision, or values.

Let’s hope that you’re addressing these questions. Let’s hope that you’re asking other questions that can provide clarity and direction. What might those questions be?

  • What do we want our world to be? Is there an ideal you are striving for? There should be!

  • What is our why? What’s so important about what you are working toward?

  • How will we uniquely achieve this? What do you do better than anyone?

  • What do we stand for and against? How are you defining the boundaries of what you do for your world?

  • Who do we serve and what do they need and believe? Who will we impact and who will impact us?

These questions are not always easy to answer. They may spur debate, disagreement, and discussion. They should! To get to a place where you’re more certain about why you are doing what you do in the way you do it AND how that might need to shift or change over time is the most important work of an organization. Without it, there can be no change or growth.

If you are ready to do this work, I am ready to help you.

Are You Ready For Takeoff?

What makes a nonprofit willing and able to change and grow? Is there a “secret formula” to this readiness?

In her blog on Social Velocity, Nell Edgington identifies 5 traits that indicate an organization might be a good candidate for change or growth:

  • You have momentum among Board and staff: while not all of your key internal stakeholders need to agree, a significant number of them have to believe that the time for change is now

  • You have a clear idea what the definition of change is: you are utilizing opportunities to consider and discuss what change looks like for your organization and you can set some specific goals for change.

  • There is a belief that change can happen: the collective power of positive thinking creates momentum and enthusiasm.

  • You have the ability to have difficult conversations about potential challenges to growth: you have a group that is able to confront these issues and be honest about how to address them.

  • There is a strong commitment across the organization: everyone participates, everyone has a specific role and a way to be involved in making and facilitating change.

As Edgington says, you either have these traits, or you develop them. But without them, you won’t get too far.

Is your organization ready for takeoff? I can help!

It's All About Change

Back in December, I wrote about my theme for 2019, which is all about change and transition. My new gig as Interim CEO is going well, but not without its challenges for me personally and for the organization undergoing transition.

Thinking about change in your organization? There are many resources out there to guide organizations through the initial stages of succession planning and transition (yes, these two things are different- more on that in a future post). Here’s a good one: Graceful Exit: Succession Planning for High-Performing CEOs.

Please be in touch with questions about your organization’s future. I’m here to help!

Build Your Practice, Balance Your Life Part 1

I had the pleasure of presenting at a conference last week, with the topic, “Build Your Practice, Balance Your Life.” I wanted to share the principles that have helped me approach the work I do in a positive, assertive way that has enhanced my practice and how I interact with my clients.

  • Wanting to serve comes 1st: mission-centricity is hugely important to how I choose the clients I work with

  • I love what I do: that saying “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”? Well, THAT’S not really how I feel, but I do love my work!

  • I have cultivated a niche for myself: working with small organizations feels important for me and for them

  • I enjoy relationship building: networking, collaborating, mentoring- all make it easier for me to do my job well

  • I position myself as an expert: it certainly feels weird to say that sometimes, but it’s true,and I think it makes me credible

  • I am generous with my time and spirit: I am aware that many people took the time to help me while I was building my career and my business, and I try to do the same

  • I am confident: you have to believe in yourself to “sell” yourself

  • I come from a place of caring: I have compassion for others, and for myself

I will share more from my presentation in future posts. Enjoy, and start 2019 balanced!

CEO Transition Made Easier

The first thing to know is, leadership transition is not easy. Not for the outgoing leader, not for the staff and Board, not for the incoming person. But there are ways to make transition easier for everyone.

Take a look at this column from Nonprofit Quarterly which talks about how planning and transparency play a big part in easing the angst inherent in the process. The column points out that transition coaches or consultants can be used to assess where the sticky points might be, and to help move things along. There are some great resources cited here as well.

I’d love to discuss your transition plans with you. Please be in touch!

Giving Warmth

"If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. 
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. 
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. 
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody." 
~Chinese proverb

We are deep into the Season of Giving. Did you know most nonprofits receive half of their annual contributions from October to December? In the U.S., about one-third of all donations come in the month of December, with almost 35% of those gifts occurring on December 31st. 

We all know the saying “it is better to give than to receive.” We are taught to give and it feels good to help someone in need. But what drives people to give? While it is gratifying to know that we are helping, there are times when we ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?

In exploring this question, I came across Jenny Santi’s 2015 book, The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories and Science Behind the Transformative Power of Giving. The scientific answer is that giving stimulates a part of the brain that makes us feel good and gives us that “warm feeling” that reinforces our behavior and makes us want to keep doing it. Even when giving happens involuntarily, there is a corresponding positive neural reaction, but voluntary giving elicits a more pronounced warm glow. It’s the same for volunteering and helping someone in that way. A “helper's high” happens when people perform good deeds for others.

So, not only can you help someone by giving or volunteering this holiday season, but you can give yourself a nice warm glow at the same time!

Happy Holidays!

What's Next?

Here we are in December, after a year of Big Questions. This month, I’m starting a series of posts which will continue through 2019, focusing on change and transition.

I myself am in the midst of change and transition, having decided to become the interim leader of one of my client organizations for the next several months, while they search for a permanent leader. This is a big change for both me and the organization. This type of transition can be both scary and invigorating, and I am excited at the prospect of helping this group navigate a new phase of existence.

This opportunity has reinforced for me that change can be good. For myself, shaking up my consulting practice by taking on this responsibility is taking me into new territory. And for the organization, there’s a whole new world of possibility involved with a leadership change.

Stay tuned for more about my experience, and insights into change and transition. And please let me know What’s Next for you.

Happy holidays!

It's GROW Time!

It's back to school time, or back to reality time for those of us who have been in "summer mode" for several months. For me, it's back to the Big Questions!

This time the question is: How do you want to grow? Where would you like to create change, or create something new, or expand your horizons?

I've thought of a way to conceptualize this and I hope you'll try it as you work on your growth areas:

G = GOAL = where you want to be

R = REALITY = where you're at right now

O = OPTIONS = paths to your desired goal

W = WILL = your commitment to follow the path

You can use this as a template or guide in identifying where growth can happen. I hope you will, and I wish you luck along the way!

If you would like help in figuring out a growth plan, please be in touch with me.

Are You Working Too Hard?

This week's Big Question is brought to you by Dan Rockwell, the Leadership Freak, in his recent blog, The Effort Illusion: Hard Work is the Answer.  In it, he breaks down the Big Question into seemingly simple questions which are actually not all that simple.

In the work I do with CEOs, I find that I often ask these questions to help them clarify their role and responsibilities, and to keep them focused on moving forward. Almost always, the message is: More is not always better. As Dan asks, "How does the Effort Illusion hold you back?"

This summer, take a break, scale back, allow yourself to just think instead of do. See what happens.

Please be in touch if you want help with assessing this Big Question, or any of the questions I've been asking this year.


Starting To Improve The World

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."  Anne Frank

Today's Big Question: How are you helping to improve the world? Maybe not the WHOLE world, but your world, or the world of others?

I really want to know! 

What social causes do you support? Are you teaching tolerance or fighting intolerance? What acts of kindness or generosity do you perform on a regular basis? Which community events do you participate in? How do you nurture your employees? How do you nurture yourself? 

You really can start now- without waiting a single moment- to improve the world!

Celebrating Teachers

Today is National Teacher's Day so naturally the Big Question for this week is: Who has been your greatest teacher?

I have been lucky to have many great teachers in my life. One of my most memorable teachers was in 3rd grade. Mrs. Kalichstein was fearsome- in fact, I spent the summer before school making myself sick at the thought of having her- and to many students, she was downright mean. However, the stars aligned and she liked me, and I became "teacher's pet." Along with spelling drills that I can still recite today, Mrs. K was instrumental in making me feel self-confident, even though I was the smallest kid in the class. "Good things come in small packages" was her favorite thing to say to me, and it really made a difference in how I viewed myself.

Further along the line is the person who put me on my career path- Professor George Armelagos, medical anthropologist. His perspective on health, disease, and adapting ancient cultural beliefs for contemporary public health issues led me to public health. The rest, as they say, is what happened next.

I would be remiss if I didn't include my wonderful children in this tribute to my important teachers. Not only because they have actually taught me how to do things (like use a computer, or how to navigate social media), but because see the world through them has taught me so much and expanded my thinking in countless ways. 

Thanks to all the amazing teachers out there! 

The Five Pillars of Personal Leadership

"The greatest source of transforming the world is in transforming yourself."

This great quote is from a great podcast I had the opportunity to listen to the other day, with Professor Hitendra Wadhwa of Columbia Business School.  The 17-minute podcast focuses on personal leadership, with an emphasis on the personal qualities needed to become a true leader.

The pillars that Dr. Wadhwa identifies are:

  • Purpose or Drive: what compels you to do what you do -there has to be something that propels you forward;
  • Wisdom or Mastery: what you contribute to the conversation in knowledge, skills, or experience;
  • Interface between you and the world:  the emotional quotient you bring to your work- kindness, empathy, compassion;
  • Self-realization: your core insights - you don't need others' approval because validation comes from within; and
  • Growth: your potential to learn and discover.

There's also a Q+A part of the podcast, where Dr. Wadhwa gets into how someone knows they are a true leader, and how leaders keep growing (hint: surround yourself with inspiration). 

A final insight: positive change in your self and your relationships creates a concurrent change in structures. So if you are looking to create a great organization, look inside first.

Enjoy listening to the podcast, and please be in touch if I can help you become a better leader!

That Moment When Everything Changed

I'm sure we've all had this experience, though we may not have known it at the time it was happening. It's the moment when you did something, felt something, went through something that made you a different person. Your pivotal moment.

For many people I know, they'd say it was when they were told, "You have cancer." For some, it's when they met their life partner or became a family. For others, it happened upon reaching a particular milestone or goal. Or all of those things. The best thing about a pivotal moment- I think- is that you can have more than one pivotal moment in your life.

For me, everything changed in September of 1973 when I walked through the doors of Stuyvesant High School as a high school freshman. For those who don't know about Stuyvesant, it is an elite school in NYC, for which you have to pass an entrance exam. I was a better-than-average student when I took the exam, but I never thought I'd get in. When I did, there was no question in my mind that I would attend, even though it meant an hour-long subway commute. I even convinced my parents not to move to Long Island so I could go. 

I knew, somehow, that those four years would be pivotal. And they were, for many reasons. Most important for me was meeting friends from all over NYC, many of whom I am still close with, and being challenged by others even smarter than I was.  Although the work was often difficult, I never regretted my decision, and I am certain it was formative for me.

So that's my pivotal moment. What's yours? 

Je Regrette Rien

"One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself."  Shannon L. Alder

Are there professional and personal situations I could have handled better? Of course. Are there people I wish I would have treated differently along the way? Most certainly. But I'm pretty satisfied with how my life has turned out. I can't say that I have no regrets, but I definitely don't live my life looking in the rearview mirror. I look at those missteps as learning experiences and try not to repeat them. 

How about you? What are your greatest regrets?


The Most Important Question

OK, here we go. It's almost the end of February and I've been asking some Big Questions. This week's is : What is the most important question you have ever asked yourself?

This is a tough one for me to answer. I ask myself a lot of questions, all the time. Most of them are rhetorical (Are you serious? What am I doing here?).  But one of the more common questions I ask myself is: What will I learn from this? Sometimes I ask this question before I decide whether or not to do something, and sometimes it's used as an evaluation tool. Success or failure, it's important for me to figure out what the experience has taught me.

How about you? What important questions do you ask yourself? I really want to know! 


What Inspires You?

This week's Big Question is: What (or who) inspires you? What makes it possible for you to hop out of bed each day, ready to do what you do?

For me, it's my clients. Through listening to them, observing them, and helping them I am motivated to keep doing what I've chosen to do. It's a constant reinforcement of why I decided to become a consultant and focus on the specific needs of smaller organizations. 

The leaders of these organizations are not just my clients- they have become my friends and colleagues. Their passion and dedication to making their communities better is all the inspiration I need.

Huge thanks to all of the wonderful people I have had the honor to work with! 

Lessons Learned?

This week we have a double whammy for you: two Big Questions to ask yourself.

Question number 1: What was the most important lesson you learned in 2017?  For me, it was that I am a resilient person. I wrote a blog about this back in September. I'm looking forward to seeing where this new understanding can lead me.

Question number 2 is: By the end of this year, what do you hope to know more about?  In my professional life, I hope to learn more about my clients (and potential clients) and how I can best help them. In my personal life, I'd like to know more about what the important questions are for me, and possibly get on the path to answering them.

I want to hear what you think about these two questions! Please be in touch. 

Life's Big Questions

For the next few posts, I'm going to do something I've never done before-  focus on a theme. I'm calling it "Life's Big Questions," and, like many things in my life, it is inspired by Oprah. Specifically, the January 2018 issue of O Magazine, which is all about asking yourself the right questions and where the answers can lead you. I am intrigued by the prospect of doing this as both a way to dig deeper within myself as well as learn how the process might work for my clients.

So the first question is "Am I fulfilling my potential?"

I'm going to be asking more big questions in the coming weeks, and I'm looking forward to sharing them (and the answers) with you. Please share yours with me, too!