Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Based in Austin – Specialized in Empathy and Self-Compassion

The man with the hat

My neighbor is a journalist. He covered the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and “You Can’t Close America” protest.

He tells me how he has learned to move through high-intensity events with an acute sense of how to dodge bullets, cans, pushbacks, arrests.

He also shares one of his tricks: he wears a cowboy hat.

He doesn’t really know what that does, but I have a guess. I think it stands for being a cowboy, a native Texan, being on the side of the Lone Star State. I associate it with being a conservative, probably Republican. And also being an individual, somewhat friendly, who likes beer and barbecue.

I imagine that the hat is ambiguous enough to make him a neutral observer. People open up to him, they feel comfortable enough to share what’s on their minds.

And hearing their perspective, values and wants, thoughts and feelings, his hat helps him to be a better empathizer.

You might wear a hat too.

Only yours is invisible. It might be the hat of the team leader, the Director, the CEO. Your hat might signal authority, job reviews, evaluations, or power.

And as a result, people might change how they interact with you. They guard bad news. They put things in a positive light, so you will support them in their individual goals. 

When people are less honest it is harder for you to empathize. With less information to understand their experience, you make your own guesses about who they are and what they want. Guesses that might be more grounded in your own history than their present. With less empathy, there is less honesty. The cycle escalates.

Empathy and honesty go together like two wheels on a bicycle.

Sure you can move forward on a unicycle. It is just way harder. It takes much more practice, a willingness to learn by falling, and a mentor.

In my free webinar: “Align your actions with your values” we explore what you can do to be more empathetic, even if the other person isn’t completely honest.

  • Get one super-simple step to start your empathy workout, which you can use in each and every situation

  • How to empathize with someone you dislike, keep your balance, and hold onto to your truth

  • Why bathroom breaks are probably the best back-up plan to restore your calm when everything else fails

  • A better understanding of your biggest obstacle in empathizing with those who trigger you the most

  • How a three-word question will help resolve the tension in a few seconds

  • Why accepting your current reality is helpful, even if you struggle to empathize with challenging people

  • The fun of failing over and over again, taking your efforts lightly, and build your empathy habit over time

Saturday, July 11 at 1:00-2:00 pm CST. 

Join me.

Thank you hubbie, David Nayer, for your quick and awesome edits and teaching about empathy and honesty.

Frequently Asked Questions:

“Will you be supercritical of my work or leadership skills, telling me how I should improve myself?”

Sofia, Director Services for a Housing Nonprofit in Austin, had that same fear. She was nervous that she was going to feel like everything she was doing was wrong or that she just could be so much better than she was.

But as soon as we started working she loved it. She told me that it ended up being so much more than she would have ever thought that it could be.

The coaching relationship really gave her some benefits that she would not have imagined. It allowed her to look at the work that she was doing and look at the direction that she was going professionally through a little bit of a clearer lens.

It helped her to discern some things in a better way and then really think about how to move ahead. What kinds of things she wanted to change on her team and in her department, what kind of things she wanted to change as far as relationships go with other co-workers or her supervisor or people that she supervises, and then be able to make changes to get them to be what I wanted them to be.

She and I worked on structuring team meetings or team training and developing a little bit of a framework for how her team sees case management and what they’re doing on that side. How they would describe it to themselves, how they would describe it to funders. As a result, she got two grants that she applied for, even though she was honest about the limits of the contribution they could make.

Empathy with Confederalists

Of course, he reacts to my Facebook post about restitution for descendants of slaves with:

“You are free to give all of your money to the descendants of slaves if you wish. But ordering me to do it at the point of a gun is morally wrong. That’s no different than slavery itself! Just curious how much of your own money have you taken out of your own pocket and given to the descendants of slaves? I’ll bet you it is zero! So when you have given everything you have ever earned through the Unfair advantage of your white privilege maybe then you can start lecturing others. Until that point maybe not.”

Even though I knew he would be the first to comment, I still am thrown off balance. I have all kinds of thoughts about him that are not flattering, and would not reflect well on me.

I start pounding my keyboard with arguments about why I am right, restating my viewpoint to prove him wrong. I toggle between my FB post and Google to fact-check my reply. 

Fortunately, this drafting of the perfect response slows me down enough to see how triggered I am and remember my friend’s advice: “The send-button is your enemy.”

When I reread my post, I see it doesn’t reflect my mantra “Empathy works. It always does.” I decide to not respond — yet. I delete everything I wrote, close the FB-tab on my computer, and start empathizing with myself. 

Eleven years into this mantra I know I can easily empathize with my family and friends. With the sick, the poor, the lonely. The people who have different opinions than me on minor issues.

And after this post, I realize that I am not so good at empathizing with someone whose words trigger strong unpleasant feelings and unmet needs around the one thing that I probably value the most: social justice. 

It takes me more than nine hours to feel calm enough to reflect him what I think he is trying to convey. Even then, it takes me several drafts before I think that my reflection is respectful of both our needs and I feel comfortable pushing the send button.

When I receive his private response I have a second trigger. I feel relieved to notice that I learned what I needed reminding of:

  • Instead of reacting and offering counter-arguments, facts, explanations, focus on self-empathy first

  • Enemy images are stumbling blocks for connection, so transform them before interacting with them

  • Openhearted curiosity is the best way to deepen understanding. “I’d like to think they are not 100% wrong”

  • Slow down, if you are in a hurry: you have enough time to process the interaction and guess their thoughts, feelings, and needs

  • Let your deepest values inform your response so that whatever you are doing creates a better world for everyone (I took the free Values In Action-test by Peterson and Seligman to know which ones were mine)

  • Black Lives Matter is strongly tied to more issues I care about than I thought. 

You too might struggle with listening to family members, colleagues, or neighbors who seem to be on the other side of whatever spectrum is important to you. But you might not always have the resources to delay your response. You might be caught in a situation without an exit.

Then join my free webinar: Align your actions with your values, when overwhelmed with triggers”

  • Get one idiotically simple step to start your empathy workout, which you can use in each and every situation

  • How to empathize with Alt-rights, keep your balance, and hold onto to your truth

  • Why bathroom breaks are probably the best back-up plan to restore your calm when everything else fails

  • A better understanding of your biggest obstacle in empathizing with those who trigger you the most

  • How one three-word sentence will help resolve the tension in a few seconds

  • What creative tension has to with your vision and why accepting your current reality is helpful

  • The fun of failing over and over again, taking your efforts lightly, and build your empathy habit over time

Saturday, July 11 at 1:00-2:00 pm CST. 

Join me.

Your coworker is yelling at you. Now what?

“Elly, Elly!” Layla jumps up and down when she sees me. Then she starts running around her mom in circles. Her older sister Lily tells me with a serious look on her face: “We had a good talk yesterday.”

I agree.

I had never realized the importance of streamers on your bike, or training wheels or a bell, till Lily proudly showed them to me. I never knew how much I wished my bike was painted in pink and purple till I saw those colors on her bike. And I didn’t understand my own ignorance till I failed to explain how the pedals and the chain work together. I hope she didn’t notice. She gets on her bike and bikes as fast as she can. I think to impress me.

Layla is done running around her mom and back to jumping up and down. “Elly, Elly!” I jump up and down and shout “Elly, Elly!” with her. I feel embarrassed to shout out my name, but who cares if it brings a two-year-old so much delight?

The interaction won’t make the evening news. Not even our neighborhood chronicle. But it is a gem stored away in the treasure trove of my memories.

When we turn toward each other’s bids for connection, we strengthen our closeness.

According to John Gottman, my favorite relationship expert, these bids don’t have to be of major importance, like: “When can we talk about my performance as a Director?” or “How are we going to support the employees we have to lay off?” It can be as small as showing your bike or asking someone to pass the salt.

Whatever the content is, the intent is the same: someone wants to connect with you. When you respond either with a “yes” to the specific content or offer something even better, you express that you appreciate the sender’s outreach.

According to Gottman, this is also true for angry bids for connection. Bids that might contain blaming, shaming, criticizing, judging, evaluating. It certainly is harder to see the intention to connect in them, but somewhere under those ‘tragic expressions of unmet needs’ there is someone trying to get attention for their suffering. 

The next time you get an angry bid for connection, see if you can separate the bid from the method of bidding. It helps to breathe into your own trigger, check if you have the resources to empathize or need a time-out, and then listen with a curiosity to understand the precious, beautiful, human, universal needs behind the communication.

As a result, you will feel more compassion and have a greater willingness to figure out how to meet all needs.

If you want to learn to train your mind to accept angry bids for emotional connection, you might enjoy my free webinar this Wednesday, June 24, 8:00 am:

In “Puppy training for your mind” we will:

  • Share the different ways we can train our minds to be present with our body, especially when we feel overwhelmed with anxiety, worry, anger
  • Increase trust that no matter our circumstances or conditions, we can always find a place of peace within ourselves, even if only for a few seconds
  • Discuss the benefits of mindfulness, even if you are not a Buddhist and have no intention to ever go to a Sangha
  • Design the simplest tool to nurture your mindfulness every day, no matter what you are thinking, feeling, or doing
  • Figure out how sitting on a cushion and focusing on yourself can contribute to a society with fairness, safety, appreciation, and support for all

Join me next Wednesday, June 24 at 8:00 am CST at a free Zoom-call about mindfulness, empathy, and community.

Join me.

Protests, grackles, and ways of renewal

There are protests in Austin. A car is set on fire, nine shops are vandalized. The police use tear gas and I can hear helicopters all night long. The highway is blocked off by protesters, I can hear voices through a megaphone. probably less than three miles away.

And I feel scared.

I am afraid this violence will escalate into greater violence and cruel hardships for all of us, and I feel at a loss for how to contribute.

Until I see a grackle in my backyard. Her baby chick follows her around, making a lot of sounds, trying to get her attention by opening his beak. As if to say “Mommy, mommy, I’m hungry, feed me. Now!”

She jumps around from spot to spot, putting in a lot of work to find seeds. Apparently not quickly enough, because the chick starts imitating his mommy and finds his own food.

When I look at her, I feel relieved. I can do the best I can with the resources and qualities I have been given and then let go. I can see that I am not the only one responsible for keeping everyone fed and safe. I can look for the helpers, as Fred Rogers said, and follow their example.

Just like the grackle teaches her young to find food, Fred Rogers’s mom taught him to look for the helpers when he felt scared. We can look for the helpers too and form a community where we make sure that everyone is fed.

I see clients struggle with the same issue. Managers and leaders have an enormous sense of responsibility for the well-being of others, especially in organizations with missions of caring. They use all their talent and energy to support causes that are way bigger than themselves. Many struggle to rest when social injustice is clearly not resolved and the environment remains increasingly under threat.

I have spent the greater part of my life developing practices to contribute to others without depleting myself. I have coached hundreds of clients around self-care and self-compassion. That’s how I know which tools help, no matter what your commitment, experience, or circumstance.

For example:

  • Practice gratitude every day and notice our interbeing, even if you work by yourself, you can’t get the support you need or feel isolated. Every wisdom teacher and tradition recommends a gratitude practice to experience more joy.

  • What you have to do to feel rejuvenated, even when demands on you increase, funding shrinks, and you have to let go of precious staff members.

  • Why a short exercise of 10 minutes or less each day will help you in these challenging times, keep you excited, and inspire you to work for systemic change. You can do it everywhere, anytime and effects will easily justify your time investment.

  • How to be stable and powerful, without being pushy or feeling overwhelmed, and inspire your team to find new solutions. You can’t do it alone, so use the talents in your team to creatively come up with unconventional ideas.

  • Trust that knowing your ‘why’ will help you with almost any ‘how’ even when it seems hopeless. Viktor Frankl inspires me to believe that meaning generates the resilience to accomplish anything in spite of our conditions and conditioning.

  • That seeing our behavior as strategies to meet human, universal needs nurtures compassion for others, helps us move beyond us-them thinking, and increases the likelihood that others will support your cause. After only a couple of sessions, Megan started to empathize with a key stakeholder and now is regularly invited to meetings where she meets shakers and doers who help to have an impact on systemic change.

Sign-up for my free webinar:

“Two ridiculously simple ways to refresh in times of protests”.

And walk away with a deeper sense of peace, joy, and hope.

Tuesday, June 9, at 8:00-9:00 am.

Contact me with any questions. I am here to support you.

Or sign up here.

With loving-kindness,

Elly van Laar

Coach for Nonprofit Leaders

512-589-0482

www.ellyvanlaar.com




“There is one external partner that I work with on a regular basis who is in a position to do a great deal of good. And I wanted to support that person, but I felt like they were not listening or that they were not seeing my perspective. And when I stopped trying to get them into my boat and decided to just go ahead and get in their boat, that was where we had a breakthrough.

I now have regular standing meetings with that person who is much higher than me on their organizational chart than I am in mine. And they have connected me to key doers and movers and shakers within their organization to start getting things done. I think there’s finally traction and they are open, they’re reviewing my input with an open mind.

By being able to get the right people in the room, we might actually accomplish social change. If for lack of being able to communicate effectively, you’re unable to get the right people in the room, you know, great things never kick-off.

But just being able to communicate more effectively got the right people in the room, things started happening. And as a result, on a systemic level, we can affect change that will be beneficial.”

Megan Elkins

Director Talent PipeLine Success, Workforce Solutions, Capital Area Austin

Vic

Vic is the newbie on Seal Team Bravo, a character in a TV show I watch with my husband.

Vic has had a challenging childhood, missing love, acceptance, safety, a sense of family. When Vic is accepted into Bravo Team, he experiences brotherhood for the first time in his life.

In this episode, the team goes on a covert mission. Unwittingly, Vic throws a grenade in the room where the hostage is being held that the team is trying to rescue. The hostage dies and the mission ends in failure. The team faces serious scrutiny, maybe even charges. If anyone finds out about Vic’s mistake, his membership of Team Bravo will be in jeopardy.

So Vic makes his second mistake, he keeps his actions secret to stay on the team.

He makes his third mistake when his team sponsor and mentor Ray thinks that he, Ray, killed the hostage. We see how devastated Ray is when he imagines facing court-martial and being removed from the team he has been part of for the last 18 years of his life.

Vic chooses a strategy to meet his needs for belonging that violates his values of integrity, honesty, and responsibility. The error becomes a moral weakness.

Eventually video footage surfaces, and we see Vic was the one. Ray is off the hook. Vic is being dismissed from the team. Not only did he betray his own values, but his strategy didn’t even meet his needs. Instead of belonging to the team, he is discharged with shame and guilt.

Marshall Rosenberg calls that “a tragic expression of unmet needs”. We choose strategies to meet our beautiful, universal, human needs that end up sabotaging those very same needs.

I know all too well what that feels like. And you might too. Self-compassion helps with understanding the needs we were trying to meet. Honesty with personal growth when we see which values we violated. And support to discern which values are important and which needs would be effective to nurture those needs.

Would you describe yourself as someone who wants to honor their values and integrity, contribute to others, and nourish self-compassion?

Then you might enjoy coaching with me. I have 23 years of experience with and in nonprofits. And I have a personal practice of empathy, compassion, and mindfulness.

This is what Megan Elkins, Director, Talent Pipeline Success, Workforce Solutions in Austin says about working with me:

“I was just so pleasantly surprised at how much progress I could make. You know, being someone who pursues knowledge for my entire life, you know, I’m constantly trying to learn, constantly trying to self improve, I didn’t realize I had that much potential for growth. Both on like a social-emotional or an empathy scale, but also on a professional scale. I kind of didn’t realize that I had not yet peaked in my ability to communicate with others. And that’s something that was really insightful.”

If you sign up before June 1, you will be grandfathered in at my current fee of $100 per session. And because of Memorial Day, if you sign up for six, you will get one session for free.



What I am reading: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl:

“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. Man is able to live and even die for the sake of his ideals and values.”

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl survived Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, Kaufering and Turkheim.

In 1946 he wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning” in nine days.

Part one is a description of his experiences as a prisoner and slave.

Part two is an elaboration of the psychotherapy he developed: logotherapy, the therapy of meaning. 

I can only read the first part for a maximum of three minutes a day, early in the morning. I need the rest of the day to process the horrors I read and find some peace before going to bed.

The second part I can gobble down like a hungry baby thrush. I find it uplifting, inspiring, and encouraging. I feel excited to realize how much Positive Psychology, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, and Stephen Covey owe Frankl’s work. I feel delighted to see the similarities between his teachings and those of my favorite Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

I keep reflecting on Frankl’s quote of Nietzsche:

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

I feel humbled to realize that Frankl came to see meaning as the driving force of life after he lost his position at a famous hospital in Vienne, his wife and their baby, his mother, his father, his brother, and all other immediate family members.

I also feel humbled to reflect on Frankl’s view that our lives are not the puppets of pathology described by Freud. We are not about resolving childhood issues. We are not determined by our conditioning or conditions. Our main purpose is not to have instant sexual gratification.

Our lives are first and foremost a search for meaning.

The question is not what we can ask of life, but what life is asking of us. If we suffer, are we worthy of our suffering? If we are happy, are we worthy of our happiness?

I am inspired to ask myself: How can I transcend my situation and contribute to others and the causes I care about?

Some of my clients work on exactly these questions. They have a vision of a world with equity, social and economic justice, understanding, empathy, and peace. They support people with mental health challenges, foster kids, the homeless, inmates, immigrants, future generations, the environment.

And they struggle with shrinking funding, daunting demand for their services, conflict among their staff, turnover, emergencies.

They keep on working. They show up strong for their team, they push through, no matter how overwhelmed, stressed out, frustrated, or stuck they feel.

I am grateful that I have a way to contribute to their lives, work, and purpose. My clients tell me that coaching offers them a place of reflection in the rush of the day.

An opportunity to reorient to self-care and self-compassion; to celebrate the growth they went through.

Or to find a place to talk freely through their issues without being expected to choose what is expected of them, instead of what they value.

And maybe most importantly, we work on understanding and accepting that maybe today, they did enough. That they are not solely responsible for the outcomes. That they can rest.

In coaching with me you can:

  • Learn tools to resolve conflict way faster

  • Nourish empathy to inspire key stakeholders

  • See the similarities between a bougainvillea and your needs

  • Learn from a vegan who gets the best dish in the steakhouse

  • Master failure applause

  • Accept your limitations and use Santa Claus to ask for what you want

Since last week was International Coaching Week, I offer a free session to anyone who signs up for six coaching sessions before May 31. So that is $600 for seven sessions.

Expensive?

If you see it as a cost, it is. If you see it as an investment in your effectiveness, creating the right results faster, it is not.

Talk to me if you want to see how coaching can help you be a more effective leader.

512-589-0482

elly@ellyvanlaar.com

schedule a spot

You already know enough?

Go ahead and sign up here.


This is what some of my clients have shared about working with me: 

“Some of the things that we did together I found very powerful, emotionally powerful. Elly always had creative and engaging exercises that helped me process challenges on emotional and cognitive levels.”

Niko Hilgerdt, Pedagogical Leader, Austin Waldorf School, Austin

“I’m earning more with a lot less stress, in less time and with more satisfaction. I feel really satisfied and fulfilled. I feel like I’m making a positive impact on not just the students at my school, but teachers around the area, the larger area of Austin and beyond.”

Eric Mann, Math and Computer Science Teacher, Longview School, Austin

“I think Elly role-models the way to be present to other people. So if I were going to be with someone else, how I might hear them deeply or listen more closely to what was going on in someone’s life. To maybe hear beyond the words. Maybe just be present to feeling what might be going on for the other person. So it not only helped me, but it helped me think about how I wanted to be with other people.”

Jen Collins, Associate Professor, Texas Tech University, Health Sciences Center 

“Elly’s genuineness in accepting all of my troubles, detail by detail, is felt. But the true wonder of being a collaborator with Elly goes straight to her core beliefs: she is an example that love and empathy will always save the day.”

Conor Jensen, Website Manager, Texas Bar Books, Austin