02 Mar Why Executive Coaching is Essential for Nonprofit Leaders
Great leaders. We look up to them, we trust them, we respect them. But how does one become great? Are great leaders simply born that way? Maintaining effective executive leadership in organizations is critical no matter the industry, however, that is especially true of the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit organizations act as a form of public trust, and the public’s respect and belief in their abilities to fulfill their mission are central to the organization’s ability to function and grow. As the nonprofit sector continues to expand, organizations are hunting for ways to stand out from the crowd, and that standout feature can frequently be found in the leader themselves.
Leadership transitions and turnover are expensive for any organization however these occurrences can be especially sensitive for nonprofit organizations to navigate. Many nonprofit executives leave their positions due to two primary causes – compensation (or lack thereof), and a dearth of development and growth opportunities. Nonprofit leaders face challenges and pressures unique to the nonprofit space, such as navigating complex legal and regulatory requirements, managing complex stakeholder relationships, and securing reliable and essential funding in a highly competitive environment. In many organizations, these difficulties are compounded by the fact that nonhierarchical leadership and collaborative environments can at times make decision-making more complex. To make the high-stakes landscape even more complex, nonprofit leaders must identify the best path forward while navigating the constraints of finite (often limited) resources. As too many organizations come to encounter, passion for the mission alone cannot run an organization. Through no fault of their own, today’s nonprofit executive leaders frequently report feelings of stress and feeling that it necessary to work themselves to the point of exhaustion. While coaching executive leaders has long been a core leadership development activity in the business sector, executive coaching is now beginning to gain traction in the nonprofit arena.
Executive coaching is a powerful tool that supports individuals in making conscious decisions and achieving more impactful action, helping even experienced leaders develop the skills and strategies needed to lead organizations effectively. In addition to the external benefits executive coaching brings (i.e., increased effectiveness leading to enhanced service delivery), nonprofit leadership coaching is also a useful way to strengthen organizational culture. When individual employees (including top leadership) feel supported, the entire organization is positioned to succeed in new ways. A healthy, thriving team begins with a healthy, emotionally resilient, and supported senior leader.
The most brilliant and beloved leaders throughout history have often had mentors. These individuals provided context, understanding, honesty, and pushed their mentee outside of their comfort zone, holding them personally accountable at all times. Many leaders today are not so fortunate as to have a mentor already baked into their lives. As such, more and more organizations and businesses are turning to professional development services to support their leaders and empower them with developing new skills and offering new perspectives on old issues. Many nonprofit leaders see their own trajectory rooted in their passion and drive for the mission rather than pre-established or formal leadership skills developed throughout their career. Through coaching and training, nonprofit leaders can identify their strengths and weaknesses, improve their effectiveness, and implement strategies that bring meaningful change to their organizations. From stakeholder management to strategic development to emotional intelligence and resilience techniques, executive coaching has the power to develop good leaders into great leaders.
Nonprofit work has a reputation for employees experiencing common ailments such as burnout and compassion fatigue. These issues are very real concerns for the sector, especially when it leads to senior staff turnover. Coaching and supporting nonprofit professionals tends to encourage a coaching culture amongst the rest of the team and can act as a form of preemptive transition planning. This is especially important when looking for quick fixes for leadership turnover. With forward-thinking, organizations can create a culture of leadership improvement, beginning at the top, that permeates the entire staff. Developing internal talent and opportunities for staff also encourages retention, promoting a culture of personal leadership and career advancement that drives organizational performance and growth. With a well-developed team, finding new leaders internally is made far more achievable, which for many organizations can be the ideal scenario.
Due to the very nature of their service, nonprofit organizations frequently find themselves in a state of change, be it due to shifting priorities or needs, unexpected changes in funding, or the need to adapt to new technologies and trends. This can add to the difficulty of getting executive coaching and support, even when it is needed most. Aside from the financial costs associated, one of the largest barriers to coaching executive nonprofit leaders is themselves. When funds are identified to support executive development efforts, it can be challenging to convince a leader to use the money on their personal goals, growth, and management skills rather than the people or cause they serve. What can be helpful in this scenario is to strategically envision goals and commit to playing the long game – the better equipped a leader is to navigate future complexities, the better equipped the organization will be to succeed in trying times.
Ultimately, by investing in coaching and support for leaders, nonprofits can position themselves for success by helping their executives overcome the unique challenges of the sector. Improving leadership effectiveness and ability to navigate change, along with emotional intelligence learning and strategic support pays off huge dividends in the future, helping leaders enact their primary mission of leading their organizations forward into the future and bringing positive change into this world.
For all your leadership support needs, Scion Executive Search Nonprofit is here to help! We play a critical role in both finding and supporting the leadership of our nonprofit clients. Our clients each receive unparalleled reach into national and local networks, containing millions of executive candidate options. From executive leadership in social services to foundations, Scion Executive Search Nonprofit stands ready to connect you with the talent and resources you’re searching for! Launch a search today to get a search started or visit our contact us page to learn more!
About the Author
Bailey Olderog, Technical Writer (she/her/hers)
Bailey Olderog brings her passion for storytelling and language to her role as technical writer at Scion Executive Search (SES). She is dedicated to telling the stories of others, and it has been her lifelong effort to make contributions that ensure that even the quietest of voices are heard.
Bailey has spent most of her career in service to those who serve. Her extensive public sector experience includes ghostwriting for elected officials and military generals, authoring investigations and public reports, and bringing a voice and audience to those without a platform. She believes language is an art and enjoys using language to advocate for others in ways that are professional, clear, and respectful.
Veterans’ mental health and support have been the guiding star in her career; Bailey volunteers at and has extensively advocated for veteran organizations in her native Texas. She has spent over a decade researching PTSD in veterans, using her research and connections to advocate for positive change and support for military families. She has written extensively on behalf of service members in need of assistance, as well as for military leaders seeking authentic ways to connect with their personnel. She has organized events and supported advocacy efforts for organizations such as Gideons 300 and Texas Veteran County Service Officers. On a nice day, you can often find her volunteering at a park or trail cleanup.
Bailey received her degree in political science from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where she also minored in studio art.