Support Center Affiliate Consultants Discuss Coaching

Support Center Affiliate Consultants Discuss Coaching


Support Center Affiliate Consultants Gilles Mesrobian, Tani Mills,  Wendy Seligson and Marie Zieger discuss the benefits and challenges they and their clients have experienced during Executive Coaching.

Describe your approach to coaching. Where do you feel you’ve been the most supportive?  

Tani: From our first meeting, my focus is on the coachee. My approach to coaching is not as a problem solver. It is a collaborative partnership, with me serving as a guide for the sole purpose of meeting the individual’s needs and supporting their efforts to articulate their goals and navigate obstacles.  

The process itself tends to be supportive, putting the coachee in the driver’s seat. Also, focusing on lessons learned after each session, building rapport with each encounter, and creating consistency in scheduling sessions may have been helpful.   

Wendy: I try to really understand where each coachee is at and support them to create their own goals. Coachees find this motivating, and it helps me to have clarity and focus. Sometimes an organization has specific goals for the coachee. If that’s the case, we address this as part of the goal setting. Once the goals are set, I spend most of my time listening and asking questions; coachees find it invaluable to have a safe space to explore and reflect.

Marie: Coaching often gets looked at as a soft thing, but it is not a luxury. It is essential to support organizational product, deliverables, and the valuable essence of the leader. Coaching is supporting leadership as a thought partner and in helping to mine the wisdom of the leader. This partnership helps to navigate and resolve challenges, and identify key opportunities. In our current environment, where there are so many additional factors in play, coaching allows leaders to find constructive and effective solutions to leadership challenges, despite the turbulence.

What are some of the challenges new executive directors face in their first year? 

Gilles: The most important thing an executive director can do in their first year is make sure that their annual goals are fully aligned with those of the board. New executive directors often fail because of a lack of communication and alignment on expectations. They need to make sure that everyone is on the same page in terms of priorities. Then they need to provide regular reporting on their progress towards those goals throughout the year. This prevents a situation of mismatched expectations. 

What has been your experience in a dual executive director and board chair coaching assignment? How was this beneficial to the organization?

Marie: An organization that is now developing their first ever Governance Committee. I have coached the Executive Committee in the conduct of their first executive director performance evaluation, and engaged the full board in fund development. 

For an executive director, having a safe thought partner with whom you can be messy and not feel that you must present everything as “clean”, is invaluable. A dual executive director and board chair assignment really assists in carving out an effective relationship between the executive director, board chair, and board.

Support Center’s coaching also covers mid-level management. What are the issues that arise most often for staff at this level? What are some of the tools you employ to assist them? 

Gilles: In my experience, mid-level managers struggle most in three areas: their relationship with their direct supervisor; their relationship with their direct reports; and managing their workload. The three are obviously connected. A mid-level manager has to manage the workflow coming from above while managing the expectations of their team. This requires maintaining a balance between the trust needed to delegate work while resisting the temptation to do everything. Inexperienced managers often opt for doing too much as a way of managing the expectations of their direct supervisors.  

Tani: The issues that arise from this particular group concerns their ability to communicate effectively with their peers and/or the leadership team, a lack of self-confidence, and work-life balance. Working with individuals to rediscover their core values is essential at the beginning of every coaching engagement. Identifying values is at the foundation of understanding what drives them, what they enjoy, and helps them set boundaries.

To this end, I will share a sample values sheet while advising that this is a limited list and encouraging them to dive deeper. We explore ways to think ahead, discover new perspectives, and identify emotional triggers that may be getting the way of better communication. Exploring their self-confidence limitations may include visioning, identifying and managing messages from their inner critic, learning from mistakes, and most importantly, celebrating big and small successes. 

Wendy: Some of the issues that come up are around time management, communication (especially email follow-up), and exercising leadership authority. I help coachees to understand that as mid-managers they have transitioned to a new role where planning and communication are “the work.” There are many good articles with tips that inspire coachees in these areas. I also find the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) 360 Assessment invaluable when addressing leadership development and the exercise of developing a personal leadership plan.

When does coaching an individual turn into consulting for the organization? 

Gilles: Organizations are systems models, and the more people there are in the system, the harder it is to navigate the change that’s needed. Individual coaching becomes organizational coaching when the system prevents the individual from performing at their best or achieving their full potential. This can include challenges in administrative systems, policies and procedures, technology, and problems with organizational culture.

Increasingly, we see challenges in addressing the systemic issues in an organization that prevent the full integration of DEI goals. While in theory leadership is committed to DEI, they often don’t have the commitment to really unravel the structural barriers in an organization that prevents the success of all individuals. This is especially the case when it involves dismantling entrenched organizational patterns and systems that are perceived as functional, but actually only serve to preserve privilege for certain groups. 

Tani: While the coach’s primary responsibility lies in supporting the client, there are times when your coachee is unable to follow through on desired outcomes due to blind spots within the organizational structure and systems. Homeostasis occurs when there is resistance to change because it’s easier to keep things as they are and have always been done. When deep-rooted patterns, policies, processes, and practices remain immobile, they limit the ability to lead effectively.

Change is intentional, hard, and takes a lot of effort to implement. Organizations must be open to considering whether there are unintentional loops that cause stagnation. Many times, there are clear indicators that may be attributed to this lack of momentum. For example, high turnover and/or absentee rates, unhealthy conflicts among teams, consistently not meeting organizational goals or objectives, etc.    

Marie: My experience is that consulting in strategic planning or board training can often turn into coaching individuals to support their fulfillment of deliverables. This has been especially true during Covid where organizations are undergoing scenario planning that requires assistance and the launch of new initiatives, as well as the general constant of change and transition. Additionally, ensuring self-care is important as there are increased leadership demands.

How can Support Center’s other services complement coaching? 

Gilles: Issues that come up in coaching are often duplicated across the organization. Our organizational development services can leverage the knowledge we glean from coaching to improve the overall performance of an organization. 

Tani: As a Coach and Organizational Navigator, my coaching skills come in handy as the board members I work with begin to assume fiduciary roles on behalf of the organization. Many have little to no experience serving in this capacity and need coaching support to fulfill their board leadership obligations.

I suggest incorporating a few coaching sessions after workshops to ensure the lessons are not lost once the training is over. These coaching sessions could reinforce the attendees’ self-efficacy while back on their home turf and support the implementation of change through action.

Wendy: All of Support Center’s other services augment coaching that is included in all coaching agreements. In one project I worked on, I was able to suggest that the Support Center facilitate team building work through a DISC assessment.