Creating a culture of coaching

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Just Do It!

Or maybe don’t.

Recently, someone told me their executive coach advised them just to take action on a particular issue. They did. It backfired. So significantly that one of their colleagues said to them, “You’ve broken trust.” Yikes! It sparked me to contemplate how folks in the nonprofit sector can access coaching that is both effective and realistic.

Coaching that pushes an agenda rather than enhancing performance is ineffective at best and can even be dangerous.

Coaching helps everyone

Coaching in the nonprofit sector is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a vital part of professional development that strengthens individual leadership effectiveness, improves organizational performance, and, most important, drives social change.

And yet, executive coaching in the nonprofit sector presents unique challenges. Running an organization with limited resources (money and people) and diffuse legislative decision-making is hard enough. Couple that with incredibly dynamic and forceful externalities, and you have a recipe for complexity that demands effective risk management, adaptive responses, and insightful decisions.

Here’s the thing.

Executive coaching isn’t broken, but these three pitfalls fuel ineffectiveness:

  1. Lack of accountability, both for coaches and clients
  2. The superficial approach focused on quick-fix solutions, hacks and catchphrases like “just do it!” that ignore the complexity of the organization and its challenges
  3. Limited organizational integration focused solely on either AN individual or a small subset of leaders

As you, dear leader, consider what kind of support will be most helpful to you, your team, and your organization; perhaps it’s time to build a coaching culture. One that embeds coaching at all levels of the organization, not just for executives but for everyone.

In his book Birth of the Chaordic Age, Dee Hock (VISA founder) suggests that management is everyone’s job—managing yourself, managing up, managing across, and managing down. That breakthrough idea from 20 years ago can and should be expanded to include coaching. Imagine what’s possible when folks manage more effectively and get the coaching support to do that well.

A culture of feedback and blameless discernment

The key to managing and coaching well is feedback. It is an act of generosity. But without a useful framework, poorly delivered feedback can actually make things worse. Take the “compliment sandwich”—designed to help managers feel better about giving feedback while often leaving colleagues feeling confused or frustrated.

I have another name for it, but I’ll leave that to the imagination…

Support a culture of feedback by strengthening your own mental capacity to engage in blameless discernment. This simple practice ignited by the question, “Without blame or judgment, what are all the relevant factors that MIGHT be contributing to this problem or situation?” allows teams to fully understand what is going on before figuring out what to do about it.

Seems obvious, but we often let our emotions zing us into the blame frame and miss the power of the “aim” frame.

And then check out my fave coaching book, The Coaching Habit. Through seven wicked questions, you can build your coaching muscles every day to help yourself and your team thrive.



Without question, the most abundant, least expensive, most underutilized, and constantly abused resource in the world today is human ingenuity.
– Dee Ward Hock

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Hey there, I'm Kimberley

Welcome! I believe our social sector organizations are at the forefront of making here better. With more than 33 years of diversified fundraising and nonprofit experience, I partner with courageous organizations committed to building clarity and confidence. Let’s connect and chart your nonprofit’s path to thriving. 

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