Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Based in Austin – Specialized in Empathy and Self-Compassion

Empathy without compassion

George Floyd

Breonna Taylor

Ahmaud Arbery

Mike Ramos

Justin Howell

Brad Levi Ayala

Empathy without compassion can be cruel. It would be like sitting next to a choking man, listening to his pain, reflecting back his words “I can’t breathe”, and then not helping, or worse, not pulling the knee off. To stop at understanding is not to address suffering.

True empathy inspires compassion. When we put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, attempting to see the world through their eyes, we can take “Right Action” as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it. Action that addresses the immediate issues. And action to improve the underlying systemic structure of those issues.

Marching to create mass attention. Signing petitions to build momentum. Sitting on a cushion to look deeply within to uncover unconscious bias.

And actions that focus on transforming our society into one where Black Lives matter in words and deeds. A society where everyone’s needs for safety, dignity, fairness, and support to fulfill our potential are met. For far too long we lived with horrible racial injustice.

I have not figured out where to begin, although I know it must be grounded in loving-kindness.

Thich Nhat Hanh and many other traditions offer loving-kindness prayers. First, fill yourself up with loving-kindness. Second, wish loving-kindness to a loved one. Then to someone neutral. And end with someone you struggle with.

This Friday, June 12 at noon CST I offer a free Zoom-call around how we can nurture loving-kindness amidst the grief, despair, fear, anger, confusion. A moment to come together for empathy and community.

Join me.

 

With loving-kindness,

Elly van Laar

Coach for Nonprofit Leaders

512-589-0482

www.ellyvanlaar.com

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.”

471

My foster daughter invites me to start an exercise discipline. We use the 7-Minutes app to do 13 exercises, each morning. We both do it at home and inspire each other to stick to the routine.

I say ‘yes’ to support her in her ambitions for a fit, strong body.

And I hate it.

Push-up, plank, lunges, wall sit, high stepping, push-up-and-rotation. I dread them all. There is absolutely nothing I like about it, and I don’t really care that I might get fitter or stronger.

But I continue for her. I then find that she had quit within a few months.

But by now I no longer experience the 13 exercises as so gruesome, or even unpleasant, and begin to like being more fit. I feel the boost of dopamine each time my app counts my new streak.

Even when I only have two hours of sleep during 27 hours of travel, or I have to get up at 6 am, or I am at the airport: I am now on a mission to do my seven minutes, no matter what!

At day 470 I feel super proud of myself. I am approaching 500!

Then I go for a hike with my nephew, we have lunch, and I go to the bathroom.

And I drop my phone in the toilet.

My phone stops working for 25 hours.

And I lose my streak.

No 471 for me.

I can start all over again.

In the past, I might have been so disappointed with myself that I would have given up.

But this time it is different. The 470 days in a row got me hooked enough to return to my routine the next day, even though the app starts at 0.

I realize that I am not exercising for the dopamine, the short-lived reward of the app count, or even to get stronger. I am practicing to build up self-discipline, to stick to a program whether I feel like it or not.

I am actually practicing living by my values and vision, whatever my circumstances, conditions, or conditioning are. I am nurturing what Viktor Frankl calls the ultimate freedom, the freedom to choose who we want to be, and how we want to respond in each instant of life.

You too might face situations that you dread. Struggling to do things because they are challenging. Starting conversations that might derail into more conflict.

Whether it is your interaction with a Director you see as too demanding of you. Or figuring out how to respond to a leader you think is self-serving. Or finding some mutual understanding in a leadership team that seems at odds with itself.

Or just hanging in there as you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, maybe even tired enough to move on to an organization that is easier to work in.

Only for those situations, there is no app.

No simple instructions to go through the motions.

No celebration when you succeed at your commitments, whatever your circumstances.

My clients reach out to me when they want support to have those dialogues. To deepen understanding, find resolutions, and strengthen the team. I support leadership teams, boards, and organizations of all sizes. I share the tools and insights to help you find constructive solutions in conflict.

As a result, you will:

  • Be empowered to transform future conflict into constructive solutions 

  • See the beautiful motivation behind everyone’s actions

  • Understand the underlying causes of misunderstanding that lie at the root of the conflict

  • Build the trust that empowers working together toward a common goal

  • Clarify the priorities to align your team

  • Make requests with Santa-Claus energy

  • Learn to fail fast and forward

  • Walk away with strategies that increase the effectiveness

Talk to me if you want to discuss how this could help you and your organization. I have 23 years of experience with nonprofit organizations, I am a credentialed mediator, certified coach, and I have a lifelong commitment to nourish empathy and compassion:


Sofia Barbato, Director Supportive Services, Foundation Communities, Austin

“I think the other real benefit was just a different way of thinking about things. So thinking about when maybe there’s some conflict in a team meeting, thinking about that conflict in a different way and more as an opportunity to figure out how to collaborate. And I really liked the stuff that we did around Nonviolent Communication, really thinking about the needs and strategies. And I think once I started seeing conversations with people through that lens, it really changed those conversations and made them to be a little bit more collaborative. I felt like I had more empathy for the people that I was working with, whether that be co-workers or clients, and then be able to not even problem-solve, but just kind of solution-find together to figure out what met both people’s needs. And that the strategies sometimes are going to be different, but that we needed to really look at what are the actual needs that we were trying to address.”

The squirrel and Superman

We don’t have a lot of songbirds here in Hyde Park, Austin.

We have Carolina wren, American robin, mockingbird, northern cardinal. And occasionally a tufted titmouse.

That’s about it. The rest are grackles, blue jays, doves.

To attract more singing birds, I hang up a bird feeder specifically designed for small birds.

And squirrels… evidently.

On the first day, the most audacious squirrel eats right through the plastic of the feeder tube and feasts on the food.

Gone, all of the seed.

No problem. I hang a plate over it, so he can’t access the feeder.

The next day I find that he can. Don’t ask me how, but I see him hanging at the bottom of the feeder, stuffing himself with seeds as if he is in the Garden of Eden.

Okay.

Game over. I plan to beat him with my human intelligence. I hang an aluminum lasagne pan over the plastic plate. This will make the top of the feeder so wobbly, that any attempt to swing around it to get at the feeder, will result in him losing his balance and falling to the ground.

Little did I know of the acrobatic tenacity of my squirrel superhero. I watch him while he figures out the wobbly aluminum pan. He tries this and that. He tries again. And ultimately he succeeds.

While I am sad about not having attracted any songbird, I am certainly inspired by this squirrel. He is a phenomenal example of a growth mindset, not being hindered by any limiting belief, 200% committed to achieving his goals.

Maybe you want some of that mindset yourself.

Maybe you feel stuck, because you have tried everything to inspire a key partner to contribute to the success of your mission and he still doesn’t return your calls. You feel frustrated and hopeless, and maybe consider giving up.

Or you really need focused time to work on your most essential priorities, and your team keeps interrupting you with urgent, but not so important issues. You feel depleted and overwhelmed.

Maybe your team meetings have a few talks all the time and your timid team members don’t get speak up. The atmosphere is contentious and you know you are not utilizing all the wisdom in the team.

Or your responsibilities are just exhausting you, and you want to change jobs but feel too scared to give up financial safety.

These are some of the things my clients have worked on. They created amazing results and found that the coaching was not just a worthwhile investment, it was also a much needed space to reflect on their values, get feedback and inspiration, and fail fast forward.

In honor of International Coaching Week, this May I offer anyone who signs up for six coaching sessions one extra free session. So that is $600 for seven sessions. Sign-up here.

P.S.: You want to see if this would be something for you? Schedule a free, discovery session.

P.P.S.: As of June 1, you pay $150 per session.

P.P.P.S.: You can use those seven sessions till November 15, 2020.

The professor is howling at the nurse

Every night at eight p.m. my neighbor across the street, a university professor, goes outside and howls.

So does the real estate broker from his backyard, And the owner of a radio station three doors away.

Even my neighbor, the nurse, goes outside to howl.

And yesterday, I did too.

It is the silliest thing I have done in a while. And I feel utterly amused.

Here we are, dressed in our home slack, howling at each other.

I can even hear people in other parts of our neighborhood howling.

The howling lasts just a few minutes. Afterward, we chat a little bit, and in eight minutes or so we go back inside, to whatever we were doing before the howl.

I know that in Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands people went outside at eight p.m. to applaud the nurses, doctors, and other front line people who keep us healthy, safe, and fed.

Here in Hyde Park, Austin, Texas we howl.

Maybe that’s the reason I like it so much. Because it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t contribute. It doesn’t help. It is silly, visceral, and we laugh and connect.

And we see each other from a new perspective. No serious talk about the virus, shopping, planting, politics. No updates about work and life. Normal people with regular jobs, doing something silly together.

In a way it reminds me of coaching.

My clients tell me that they value coaching because it helps them to see situations from a different perspective.

To look at their issues with fresh eyes.

To gain a deeper understanding of what is meaningful to them.

And to have space to reflect on priorities and values, beyond the daily rush of things.

You might like the idea.

And you might think that a coach is too expensive. My clients have that consideration too.

This is what Eric tells me afterward:

“It was absolutely worth my money. I feel like it was well-thought-out. The process was awesome. I was encouraged and challenged to do that kind of deep, reflective work. And the outcome of that has been worth it.”

Not only did he leave a job that wasn’t a fit for his aspirations, but he also found a job in which he is earning more with a lot less stress, in less time, and with more satisfaction.

While he had to pay a mortgage, and his wife was not earning any income because of maternity leave.

This was not a result of me being pushy or bully whipping him into shape.

This was the result of him being in a brave space, where he could authentically connect to himself, question his norms and assumptions, and have enough support to make unconventional choices.

You might not need any of that.

You might be good on your own, with family and friends supporting you.

But if you are curious how working with me could help you, you can schedule a free, discovery call with me.

Anyone who signs up for coaching with me will be grandfathered in my current fee of $100 per hour, as long as they coach with me at least once a month.

June 1, I raise my fees to $150 per hour.