Case Study

Leadership Development

This client had left an organization to become Executive Director of another non-profit. I began working with her in coaching sessions by phone twice a month, with email and short calls in between. She had director-level experience, and her instincts and people skills were excellent, but never having led an organization, she lacked some essential knowledge and skills.

Challenges

Like many non-profits, the organization my client now led was struggling. Funding was a challenge, and over the years it had undertaken more initiatives than it could sustain. Communications, expectations and accountability were also a challenge: employees were distributed across the country and the board of directors had no clearly defined participation in strategy.

Actions

Regular & Open Communication
A first step was to develop clear and consistent communications. Because staff didn’t share a location and because there had been a lack of good leadership for some time, employees felt fragmented, had anxiety about funding cuts and felt a persistent, threatening uncertainty about the organization’s future.

Prioritizing Resources
Within one session of coaching, it also became clear that the organization’s current scope of operations wasn’t sustainable. Together, we began the process of examining ways to trim costs. Coaching helped shape this new leader’s process, grounding her assessments and prioritizations in the organization’s core strengths, mission and competencies.

Shared Decision-Making
One of the biggest challenges new leaders struggle with is recognizing when it’s appropriate to share information and solicit input. Together we implemented a protocol for sharing information with the board — an initiative designed to build trust with that group — and identifying which issues were appropriate for staff input and/or merited shared decision-making with the board.

Outcomes

Because this new ED had excellent instincts, coaching sessions lead to quick and significant changes.

The new approach to internal communications kept employees across the country informed and allowed them to refocus on their responsibilities. The organization still faced real funding issues, but transparency about the challenges and possible, if difficult, solutions helped solidify the staff and earn employee trust.

The process of weighing resources against priorities quickly surfaced some low-hanging cost-savers, including closing a satellite office — an action that saved the organization nearly $20,000 a year.

While that choice was relatively simple, other choices — like cutting programs or staff — were less clear-cut. Those more complex choices became opportunities to better engage the board and begin to more clearly define their role. Involving them in decision-making also became a platform for re-examining the organization’s mission together to ensure that resources were properly aligned.

For me, the most satisfying outcome in this engagement was witnessing the growing confidence this new leader felt as she successfully navigated one challenge after another. As we continued to work together, she layered new knowledge and new ways of thinking onto her natural strengths, becoming the competent, self-assured leader this organization had long been lacking.