What to Expect from Leadership Coaching

What to Expect from Leadership Coaching

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I believe deeply in the value and impact of coaching. Yet in my work, I’ve discovered that many people have never had a coaching relationship and aren’t quite sure what to expect. I would like to share more about leadership coaching, possibly dispel some myths, and offer perspective about when it might be right for you.

One way I like to think of leadership coaching as similar to how an elite athlete uses a coach. A good coach helps leaders develop clarity of purpose and focus on action. The relationship is a formal engagement in which a qualified coach works with an organizational leader in a series of dynamic, confidential sessions designed to establish and achieve clear goals that result in improved effectiveness for the individual, and often for his or her team and organization.

And to better understand what coaching is, it can be helpful to briefly highlight what coaching is not:

  • Counseling or therapy, which is focused on insight into history, psychological healing, pain resolution, and coping mechanisms.
  • Consulting, where a consultant offers external expertise to assess, analyze, and offer technical advice or recommendations to solve a particular problem or challenge.
  • Training, with the intended outcome to impart knowledge from an expert to a student where the student gains or sharpens specific skills.

Every coaching relationship is unique due to the specific situation of the person seeking coaching and the coach’s approach. However, there are some key elements you can expect with the engagement.

Contracting – This refers to everything that’s involved in setting up the actual coaching relationship and the overall process, from when and how often to meet, whether you’ll meet in-person, by phone or other virtual platforms, to fee structure and billing, and how to handle appointment scheduling and changes.

Boundaries and Confidentiality – This includes such elements as how information is handled (confidentiality and report expectations) and how the coaching relationship fits into the existing network of relationships. Information provided by the client is kept strictly confidential except as otherwise authorized in writing by the client. For example, the coach and client may agree that the goals or results of the coaching work can be reported to his/her boss or other organizational representative. Also, the coach may support the client in preparation of reports he/she makes to a boss or other stakeholder.

Mutual Role Clarity – A primary value your coach brings is helping you decide and act more effectively, not thinking or deciding for you. Your coach will be an ally, supporter, and sounding board. You can expect him/her to be direct and honest, asking powerful questions and making empowering requests that support your desired outcome. As the client, you’ll get the most from your coaching relationship if you show up engaged, willing to examine yourself – your values, beliefs, behaviors, and impact, and are open to make changes necessary to become more effective. Its important to realize that coaching is a comprehensive process that takes time and may address any area of your life, including specific career aspirations, business projects, leadership, or personal topics such as finances, health, and relationships. Even if your coaching engagement is formed in a professional work context, you bring your full self to the experience and therefore “whole life” is taken into account.

I first hired a coach when I was considering applying for a top leadership position in my organization. I wanted to pursue the opportunity and felt I needed a partner with whom to review it from all angles – someone removed from the situation, who would ask me thought-provoking questions, and help me confirm that I was the right person at the right time.

Since that first experience, I’ve hired coaches over the years and now make it a part of my ongoing personal and professional development to retain a coach. The following are some situations where a coach can be particularly helpful:

  • You and your organization are experiencing significant change and transition.
  • Your organization is not growing as you believe it could.
  • You’re unclear on where you need or want to be in five years.
  • You’re experiencing increased complexity in your role and organization.
  • You seek a confidential, safe space where you can express concerns and challenges.
  • You are working too hard for the results you’re getting.
  • Stress is taking toll on your health and relationships.
  • You’re not spending time on the most productive tasks.
  • You haven’t been able to build a great team you trust and that works well together.
  • You’re not enjoying your work as much as you once did.
  • You struggle with whole life balance.

Using a leadership coach as a developmental partner provides a rich opportunity to learn, reflect, change, and grow. Like any relationship, it’s important to know what to expect and to co-create a constructive alliance. Through your work together, you develop the skills, behaviors, and knowledge enabling you to increase your effectiveness.

 

about-leadershipAbout Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

 

Why I’m a Coach

Why I’m a Coach

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I am a coach today because I’ve experienced coaching’s transformative power in my own life.

Over my career, I’ve worked with several coaches. I’ve hired them for career and leadership related priorities, but every time the impact of the coaching has been much farther-reaching, affecting me deeply as a whole person.

I remember the first time I hired a coach – I was contemplating a critical career move, pursuing the President and CEO position of a large nonprofit arts organization. At the time, I was director of development for the organization, a position I had held for several years. I was really excited about the opportunity; I felt ready for it, and the timing seemed right to me. But before making my thoughts known to my organization’s board and others, I wanted to be sure I was the right person for the job.

Because I was already internal to the organization, I knew how important it was for it to have the ideal leader who would bring great energy, fresh perspective, and new ideas.  I wanted to test my assumptions that I was that person. At the time, I didn’t really know exactly what a coach did or how one would approach his or her work. I just knew that I needed a professional with whom to brainstorm confidentially—someone who could help me work through my critical career decision.

My coach listened to my story and asked a lot of questions. Her probing peeled back the layers and made me think of this transition, my readiness, and fit in ways I hadn’t previously…and wouldn’t have been able to do alone. I liked how she stretched and challenged me. It wasn’t simply what I thought, but why I held my thoughts and beliefs, and the impact of the actions I took based on those ideas.

The questions my coach asked seemed so simple, yet they were powerful and razor-sharp. Have you ever had an experience that made your head spin? This is what I remember about these encounters:  I’d leave the session and need to sit in my car awhile before I could drive away. The shift she helped me create was profound.

After a few sessions, I confirmed my decision to pursue the opportunity, and in 2003 I was appointed to the position of President and CEO.  It was exhilarating!  I loved my new venture, and I went to work eagerly on my vision and goals for leading this great community organization.

About six months into my new role, I felt myself searching for a strategy partner – someone who could be a sounding board for my big dreams and ideas, as well as my frustrations, fears, and uncertainties. I wanted someone I could really trust and be vulnerable without fear. I had truly begun to understand the cliché, “It’s lonely at the top.” I could count on three fingers the number of people in whom I could confide. And none were quite who I needed to challenge and stretch me and to hold me accountable. So, for the second time in my career, I hired a coach.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” –Marianne Williamson

I remember the relief I felt when I found my new coach. With him, I didn’t have to be careful with my words, politically correct, or worried about what I said. It was completely freeing…and deeply empowering. He didn’t give me advice, problem-solve, or tell me what to do. But rather, my coach was my partner, posing thought-provoking questions and encouraging me to tap into my own inner wisdom and sense of knowing for direction.  It was like an intense workout to develop new muscle.

I worked with him for about a year, and then asked for his help again years later when I made the decision to step down from my position. I knew I had completed what I set out to do in the role, but I wasn’t sure what I most wanted to do next. In working with my coach, I decided to take a year off to clear my mind, explore creative pursuits, and simply relax and play. It gave me much-needed time and space to ‘incubate’ what would come next.

During this year off I began to shape my own business. When I freed up my “internal hard drive,” I realized more clearly what I loved most and wanted to do. I had derived great satisfaction from helping organizations and their leaders tackle tough business issues, crises, and transitions. In my work, I often had been called upon to help nonprofit organizations with challenging matters related to funding, personnel, governance, and programming. I reflected on my best work in assessing and navigating the complexity of these uncertain and often turbulent situations and inter-relationships. My coach helped me see that this work I’d been doing—and really enjoying—was organizational and individual coaching.

I proceeded to complete training and certification through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), the largest and oldest coach training organization in the world. Coaching is a core part of my business today because of my own personal experience in working with a coach and my passion for helping others navigate their challenges and opportunities and realize their greatest potential. I continue to experience coaching’s transformative power in my life, and I am gratified to see its impact on my clients. I can think of no greater joy.

brick closeAbout Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

Journey with Intention

I had the pleasure last week of organizing and moderating a panel presentation to Greensboro’s Women’s Professional Forum: “Navigating Your Career with Intention: knowing when to make a change and having the courage to leap.” Michelle Clark, Laurelyn Dossett, and Kathy Ridge came together sharing their personal journey of career transition.

Both Michelle and Kathy are former corporate executives who now have launched their own independent endeavors: Michelle, as a soon-to-be published author, and Kathy as founder of her own consulting practice. Laurelyn has followed her lifelong passion of music, becoming an acclaimed musician, singer, and songwriter.

Their stories revealed the underlying currents that sparked a change in direction, propelled them to action, and gave them courage to close one chapter and open a new one.

While each was unique, the collection of experiences shared presented gems of commonality:

  • Live awake. We all have an internal compass that will guide us if we simply pay attention. And listen.
  • Know who you are. This is not about the various roles each of us serves, but rather, “who am I, really?” Allow this and your core values to drive you.
  • Live with the end in mind. We all have a story to tell. How will yours end? What mark will you leave? How does this guide you in the present moment?
  • Living your life with purpose and intention starts with one small step. What step will you take today? Tomorrow?
  • Believe in yourself and your own best work. Unconditionally.

On the Market

A good friend and colleague once said to me, “You should always consider yourself ‘on the market.’” She offered this in the context of a conversation we were having about job searching, and the thoughts of beginning a search as if it’s an “event” – like a switch you flip or trigger you pull.

Job searching is a daunting process with a long list of tasks: revise resume, update Linked In, connect with your network, search the internet, prepare for interviews, and so on. Yet, if you embrace a mind shift and always think of yourself in marketing terms – product, supply, demand, audience – it removes some of that pressure.

Consider for a moment: If you’re perpetually ‘on the market,’ it implies you are ‘at the ready’ and poised for opportunities. Shouldn’t we all be? Afterall, if you don’t continually refine and sharpen your unique attributes, present and market yourself, who will? You are your #1 agent and champion. Position yourself as such.

Refine your resume and have it ready for the right opportunity. Perhaps this is something you do annually or biannually, associated with your performance review.

Maintain an updated Linked In, complete with the key words and phrases to showcase your attributes and attract your desired opportunity and direction.

Be a serial networker, building relationships to develop your personal and professional capital among key people. Within your broader network of contacts, cultivate a smaller core of your closest allies. The more diverse (in terms of position, geography, skillset, etc.) that top group is, the better. It will extend your reach and influence.

Perform at your best in the present moment while knowing what you want most for your future. Focus on that target, understanding that it continually evolves.

– If this target requires additional education or skill development, take steady action in small, achievable steps to acquire it so you’ll be ready.

– If an opportunity you seek is a significant shift, perhaps it’s in a different company division or a new industry altogether, find ways to connect and position yourself among the leadership and in the environments you desire.

Know your top three to five strengths and be able to talk about them in terms of the value you can deliver. Resist the temptation to sell everything you can do. You’ll come across as a generalist and lessen your leverage.

Identify and work with an executive coach. It’s an investment that will yield great dividends – an outside perspective to help you gain a greater sense of awareness and cultivate your own inner knowing to chart your course.

On Knowing When

On Knowing When

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For years, I’ve observed athletes, politicians, corporate executives, and colleagues maneuver through their careers advancing, transitioning, or retiring. I’ve admired those who always seemed to know when to make a change, and I’ve often felt frustrated by those who didn’t.

There are those who ride the wave until it crests. They stay in a job, continuing in a role that fits, delivering a great impact and return on their unique investment of creative talent. Then, with the same finesse with which they rode that wave, they ride smoothly to the next wave or opportunity. No matter where they are, their presence and leadership imbues their organizations with energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration – during their tenure and after.

Then there are those who never seem to “know when.” They advance and develop, making great contributions to their enterprise and the people it serves. Some receive numerous accolades for their achievements. Five years pass, then 10, 20, and even beyond, and they stay put. I know that a rare few can continue at the top of their game for extended periods, approaching their work with as much fresh energy, passion, and creativity as ever before. More often than not, however, this isn’t the case.

Staying in one spot for too long leaves them comfortable yet stale, feeling burned out and empty. Their flame went out years ago, and because they don’t “know when” – or more likely they do “know” but hold themselves back with fear and doubt – they engender that same lassitude within their environment and culture.

Over my 20 year career, I’ve always wondered, “How do those who know when, know when?”

It was 2008, and I was in my fifth year as President & CEO of the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro and my twelfth with the organization overall. I found myself experiencing a sense of restlessness. When I first noticed it, I had no idea what it was or what was causing it; I had never felt anything quite like it before. I knew that above all else, it was persistent. I tried ignoring the sensation, passing it off as a nagging ache and drowning it with my work priorities and busy schedule. But it was like a kid sister continuously tapping on my shoulder.

So, I decided to stop fighting it and instead tuned in to it. I would lie awake at night, tossing and turning, and ask, “What is it? What are you trying to tell me?” I would go for a run, and as the day’s stress melted and my mind freed, I wondered: “Is it something to do with my family? My spouse? Work?” And on it went in my day-to-day activities and thoughts over several months. I’d query, wait, and try to listen.

I wish I could tell you that I had a clear and direct sense of “knowing when” (and knowing what), but it was more a steady growing awareness. Things would happen like meeting new people, having an unexpected outcome with a project, and seeing barriers spring up in one place while opportunities grew in another. Small shifts and events I originally thought to be unrelated and random, when considered in aggregate, were actually pointing me toward a new course.

Accompanying this emotional journey was a more tangible recognition that I had accomplished the major goals I had hoped to achieve for the United Arts Council: debt elimination, significant revenue growth, re-focusing of organizational priorities, creating a new business model, and shoring up board and staff leadership.

Eventually, the two paths intersected, and it became quite clear. I knew what. I knew when. And when was now.

I felt satisfied that I had completed what I had set out to do for the organization. Over those twelve years, I had offered my very best in leadership and service to the organization and its greater mission. The professional experience of leading the organization and its people was the highlight of my career to that point. It simply was time to depart and transition into what would come next…at that point, I had no idea what that would be. But I knew one thing for certain: I didn’t want to follow a traditional career path, moving on to lead another nonprofit arts organization.

“We say we are scared by failure, but what frightens us more is the possibility of success. Possibility is far more frightening than impossibility; Freedom is far more terrifying than any prison.”   –Julia CameronAfter much reflection and consultation with mentors and a career coach, I determined that the right course for me was to complete my tenure at the Arts Council and then take some time off. Clear my head. Explore some creative pursuits. And allow myself the space and time to renew my energy and shape what would come next. So I committed to a year-long sabbatical, and that journey began in December 2009.

During my sabbatical, I came to believe it’s less about truly “knowing” and more about the courage to tune in to that “knowing,” trust it, and follow it. What prevents most from taking the leap is fear – a doubt in one’s own “personal capital” and self-worth.

Author Julia Cameron, in her book Artist’s Way, wrote that: “We say we are scared by failure, but what frightens us more is the possibility of success. Possibility is far more frightening than impossibility; Freedom is far more terrifying than any prison.”

After spending many years in a particular career or post, it’s easy to slip into the mindset of feeling trapped, but secure. You’re good at what you do, you’ve done it for a long time, and you’re compensated well. It’s natural to want to avoid stirring things up. Change will be challenging, most likely require making tough decisions, moving out of your comfort zone, learning something new, or even beginning a new venture. It’s easier to stick it out – you reason – despite your energy having fallen flat and your passion dimmed.

Possibility, potential, and capacity – tapping into those requires taking a leap of faith. I do recognize that deciding to tune in and take action on “knowing when” requires attention to many variables – timing, financial, family, etc. – all of which have to be considered. But jumping into the unknown is the only way we grow, develop, and realize our potential. If we don’t leap, we’ll never know what could be, or how much happier and more fulfilled we could be.

I am convinced that somewhere along the career track, everyone will experience this sense of “knowing when.” When you do, tune in to it, and take action on your instincts.

  •  Pay attention to the signs. When you sense burnout, boredom, or restlessness within yourself, move toward it, not away from it. Question why you have these feelings and what you could do to restore enthusiasm, energy, and passion.
  • Consult with mentors, advisors, or a coach. An outside-in perspective offers an invaluable process of reflection, goal setting, and charting a course.
  • Trust in yourself. If you don’t, no one else will. Inventory your greatest attributes and skills; consider these your key leverage points.
  • Take action. If you don’t, how will you ever know “what could have been?” Making a significant change can seem overwhelming. Take the big picture and break it down into smaller pieces. Outline actions to take for each that will advance you closer to your ultimate goal.

 

about-leadershipAbout Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.