Why Every Social Sector Needs a Coach

March 2, 2019

What happens if a leader lacks the tools of self-awareness and reflection to lead with purpose, inspiration, and clarity? We’ve all seen the worst-case scenario of poor leadership in action. Think: staff burnout, tunnel vision, a toxic work culture. The reality for most nonprofit leaders exists in the grey space between this hair-on-fire crisis mode on one end, and highly-functioning, collaborative leadership on the other.

Too often, we wait to improve leadership dynamics until our hair is on fire. Especially in this sector. We get by with tolerating the status quo (“it’s normal to feel burned out, right?”). In doing so, we fail to be proactive about the inner work we all need – even the most successful and effective of us – to elevate our leadership from good, or even great, to exceptional. We normalize unmet potential.

What if we opened ourselves up to the possibility that our leadership always has more potential than we can see or utilize today? And that we can create even greater impact and more meaningful connection if we do the deep inner work long before our organization reaches a hair-on-fire situation?

At Third Plateau, we believe in the potential of people, and in a coaching process that supports leaders to slow down and reflect, allowing individuals and teams to go further, faster. It’s pretty tough to make change when we are driving 90 miles-per-hour down the highway. Sometimes we have to slow down to reflect on who we are and where we are headed.

What is leadership coaching?

 At Third Plateau, we view coaching as a guided process that uses the power of questions and active listening to support our clients to come to their own conclusions and realizations about their leadership. Coaching is about bringing someone from where they are to where they want to be. The underlying assumption of our approach is that the client is the best person to solve his/her own problem. Our job as the coach is to empower our clients to unlock this potential.

Why should I work with a coach?

There are literally countless reasons that having a coach is becoming a necessity for being an effective social sector leader today. Here are some of the key reasons we’ve identified based on what we are hearing from our clients:

  • Reflection: There is no blueprint for how to be a social sector leader. In today’s world of rapid change and constant flux, there is no longer a ladder to climb, path to adhere to, or structure to follow. Each and every day, we make decisions about where we are and where we are headed. Take that image of going down the highway at 90 miles-per-hour. A coach will help you slow down the speed of your car, explore several detours off the highway, and give you a push to get back on at a speed and in a direction that resonates even better.
  • Choices: Accelerated by the role of technology in our work today, we are constantly making choices. Choices carry consequences and require considering tradeoffs. A coach can help you – in an entirely safe and confidential space – cut through and figure out what you need to do, when you need to do it, and how you are going to do it. A good coach will help you spend time thinking, strategizing, and mapping out the future, and then work backwards to create an action plan that resonates and resolves uncertainty. A coach may also help you identify or further refine your values and/or leadership brand, which can become a criteria or matrix for making decisions – big or small.
  • Perspective: No matter how self-aware we are as leaders, no one can ever fully see ourselves as others see us. The job of a great coach is to see what we don’t see, hear what we don’t hear, and notice what we don’t notice. At an organizational level, a coach can use tools such as a 360-reviews, which gather feedback from an array of staff, stakeholders, and board members to provide clients with a 360-degree view of their leadership. A coach might also challenge clients to look at difficulties from a range of different (and new!) angles. Playing with perspectives can be a great way to get out of flight-or-fight mode, and make decisions from a place of abundance versus scarcity.

Regardless of whether you currently work with a coach, are ready to start with one, or even if the timing is not right for you now, we challenge you to explore how you show up as a social sector leader – today, tomorrow, and onwards. We can guarantee that years from now, as you look back on this stage of your life and career, you will never regret being proactive about your leadership and how you reflect, make choices, and gain perspective. How far along we are with our inner work can make the difference between success and failure in the outer work of our organizations. Let’s eliminate the hair-on-fire mode of leadership and find joy and inspiration in being proactive and exploratory with our leadership.

This post was written by Rebecca Altmana Director at Third Plateau. Rebecca leverages her experience in social entrepreneurship and professional coaching to support and spark transformation in social sector leaders through Third Plateau’s coaching and philanthropic advising practices.