Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Based in Austin – Specialized in Empathy and Self-Compassion

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

Bumping your head against the communication ceiling

A few months ago I did a little market research.

I wanted to know:

Who are my best clients?

I could do this very scientifically. And I could do it quick and not-so-dirty. My favorite research method is:

Follow the results.

Which clients come back, year after year? Which clients refer me to other clients and organizations? Which clients introduce me to their staff? Which clients engage me for different services? Which clients give me stellar reviews? And which clients create results that leave me breathless and inspired?

It was easy to come up with a list of a dozen clients who I love to work with.

And they share a dozen or so similarities.

A few of them stand out:

They resolve issues by reflecting on themselves.

They have the guts to make decisions that honor their authenticity.

They invest empathy and compassion in their relationships.

Of course.

They are leaders in nonprofits and education. They value contribution. They choose meaning over money. They are driven by a sense of purpose. And they don’t accept the world as is, they have a vision of what it can be.

And that’s what they choose to spend their time and energy on.

They are, what Stephen Covey calls, “highly effective leaders“.

Their next challenge is:

To inspire their team, their supervisor, their Director, their donors, and other stakeholders to work together to bring that vision about.

To transform conflict into collaboration. To prioritize and focus on the big rock. To take a stand for the long-term vision, no matter the pushback from current circumstances.

In the last few years, I have been experimenting with how to do that. My clients provided me with valuable insights and wisdom.

As a result, my marriage is stronger, my family ties are more loving, my friendships are more joyful. And I am happier in my own skin.

My clients also created impressive results. Some left their job for a career that is more meaningful and financially rewarding with less stress. Others changed good relationships into even better ones. Others transformed their relationship with important stakeholders from an antagonistic into a supportive one. Another has more effective team meetings. And yet another changed their open-door policy into focused time to address important issues only they can address.

That’s why I decided to offer a new service.

A Membership.

For anyone who wants to get support to be successful in transforming their relationships from conflict into collaboration. Or good relationships into even better ones.

And I would like your input for that.

Which questions do you have about communication and self-compassion?

Let me know which topics you would like to be addressed in the membership.

Thanks!

Peeing on Zoom

I am on a video call with my business marketing training group. The trainer presents his material. Above the main screen are the initials of the participants.

I feel disappointed that I am the only one with a camera on. Seeing the faces of the others would bring me more connection.

I am enthralled by the materials that are shared and the questions answered. I am delighted and engaged, I gobble all the info down like a hungry duckling. I watch the slides keenly and carry my laptop around while I am doing chores. 

Halfway into the session, the presenter reads a chat from one of the participants. “Tell everyone to turn off their camera, I can see someone on the toilet.”

I think “Poor guy, forgetting to turn off their camera while they do their private business. So embarrassing.” I feel lucky that I have participated in enough webinars to know to turn the camera away or off.

…..

Then I look at the screen with the initials of the participants. And Elly’s happy face…

With a shock, I realize that I have forgotten to turn off the camera, and it is me in the bathroom. I am blushing with shame as I imagine who else sees me pee.

I can’t help and think that nonprofit leaders might end up in similar situations. Hopefully not peeing on Zoom, but experience the gap between what they think they are doing and how others perceive them.

I have heard examples of this. Like a leader who intended to be fair and neutral, and yet gets accused of racial bias.

I have heard about simple intentions to contribute, being received as bossy and interfering.

Leaders who try to balance all needs, and yet choose relationships over honesty and authenticity, unintentionally eroding the trust that issues can be discussed openly.

Or they work hard to help and still hear staff complain about feeling overwhelmed and not getting the support they need.

Lastly I’ve heard a leader report that even though they thought they set clear boundaries about availability, they work 12 hours Monday through Friday and get calls at the weekends.

Instances, where the message sent, is not the message received. Moments where they have to spend extra effort to clean up the confusion and misunderstanding they did not intend to create.

Fortunately, you can learn to be a more effective communicator and increase the chances that how you want to be seen, is how you are perceived.

For all those, who want to learn what to do and not do, I offer a discovery webinar “Effective Communication for Nonprofit Leaders”.

You will:

  • Hear the five biggest mistakes in communication
  • What to do better while listening to your team members
  • The 10 words that will improve your requests
  • Connect to other nonprofit leaders
  • Get a once-in-a-lifetime offer

See you Tuesday, April 28, 8:00-9:00 am CST on Zoom (and make sure you’re not in the bathroom with your video on….).

Sign-up here.

Our four choices when receiving hard to hear messages

(This is a re-post from January 2018, when it was still cold. I hope this is a refreshing reminder that everything is impermanent, also temperatures)

It is sleeting. The road is getting slippery. It’s also getting dark. And it’s rush hour. Everyone seems anxious to get home, before the road completely freezes up and driving becomes a car balancing act on ice.

I’m on my bike. And I feel scared. I don’t like biking when it sleets. I have had my share of slips and falls growing up in the Netherlands with these road conditions. I have no desire to add one more to my track record.

I have to cross a busy street without stop signs or traffic lights within half a mile. I decide to cross without that support.

I wait and wait and wait till there are no cars in either lane. I cross the first lane as careful as I can. Before I am half way, the cars from the other side have a green light and are coming at me. I have to wait. As I look over my shoulder, I see that the cars behind me also got a green light. They’re speeding up. One truck in particular. In my lane. I see him coming right at me. I feel terrified he will drive into me, but I have nowhere to go. There are cars in either lane and I can’t make myself smaller with my bike. I just have to hope and pray that the truck is gonna spot me, before he hits me.

He does. He swirls around me within six yards, hunks at me, and continues with at least 50 miles per hour. No one gets hurt.

I tremble as I get on my bike to finally cross the street.

In my upset I start to rant blame toward him: “He is f*cking going way too fast on a slippery road, and the idiot was probably texting too. What a moron he is!”

After biking a few blocks, I turn the blame toward myself: “You are an idiot too, not taking the time to walk over to the traffic light and cross when it’s safe. You’re a fool for risking your life for a few minutes efficiency! You’re not competent to ride a bike! (Ouch, that’s very painful for a Dutch woman to hear)”

It’s only when I am home and feel safe, that I start to empathize with myself: “Gosh, Elly, you were terrified that you would be hit and end up with a wrecked bike, broken legs or arms, or… dead. You want to know that car drivers care about your needs for safety and consideration.”

It takes a few more hours, before I start to empathize with the car driver: “He probably didn’t see me at dusk. He probably didn’t expect a cyclist in the middle of the road. Maybe he was tired and anxious to get home safely. Who knows, he might have had to pick up a sick kid.”

I feel super grateful for Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings on our four choices when receiving a hard-to-hear message:

  • ​blame outward
  • ​blame inward
  • ​empathy inward
  • ​empathy outward

Realizing I can choose how I respond to difficult messages and situations helps feel empowered. I am not in full control about what’s happening around me, but I am in control of how I respond.

How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.

This very moment is the perfect teacher

My ex-husband, Rob van Gils, passed away November 16, 2017. His cremation was Thursday November 23.

My visit to the Netherlands for his cremation service was much harder than I anticipated. Rob and I had succeeded in having –what our mediator described as– “the most peaceful, loving, and harmonious divorce.” We had also figured out how to have a caring friendship beyond divorce. While we had moved on, four of his best friends still harbored pain and anger about my decision to leave him nine years ago for my second husband.

The cremation service becomes not only a moment of intense grief and mourning over the loss of my first love, it becomes a startling confrontation with unresolved issues of loss and perceived betrayal in our former circle of friends.

One friend turns away as I approach him. Another can barely say ‘thank you’ when I share my condolences. A third lets me wait for two minutes, before he interrupts his conversation, then looks at me with a face that seems to convey his wish I had died instead of Rob, and says with emphasis, “You better leave. I don’t want you here.”

I leave the service quickly, too overwhelmed with confusion, pain and grief.

That night I read Pema Chödrön’s “When Things Fall Apart”:

“Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors –people who have a certain hunger to know what is true– feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

As enemy images of Rob’s friends race through my head, fretting how they should have behaved, how badly I am treated, how not deserving of their wrath I am, I notice I soften. I am open to using this experience as a wake-up call to lean into where I’m stuck. To let it all be, the pain and sorrow, the hatred and shame. I am willing to allow myself to be penetrated by my feelings –to be changed by them. Slowly I relax into my human condition, and experience the vulnerability of being alive.

That evening, I do not reach enlightenment. I do stop myself from becoming frozen in my judging of how life “should” be. Instead, I accept what is: the pain and the hurt triggered by people needing understanding and compassion.

I take another step on the path of the spiritual warrior, facing adversity with dignity and compassion.

How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.

Dying and having the rug pulled out

I wrote this blog four days before my beloved ex-husband Rob van Gils died, Thursday November 16, 2017. I’m writing this in his honor and as a reminder of the love we shared:

When I think of my ex-husband dying, I experience intense feelings of fear, grief, and terror. It’s like I’m drawn into a black hole in the vastness of space, a hole around my solar plexis, till I’m stretched out to nothingness and finally annihilated. When I sleep I have nightmares with invasions of Klingon-like monsters, Uruk-hais, and Sauron. And again, an overwhelming, devouring, completely black nothingness of darkness: a void without life and love.

I struggle to be mindful with my feelings. Mindfulness teachers tell me to accept and embrace them, to allow myself to be fully penetrated by them, and surrender into the tenderness of life. I fail in the practice. I struggle. I resist. I barely succeed to stay afloat in an ocean of grief, loss, and terror.

In my search for support, I talk and cry. I take a break from work and spend more time with myself, and I read. I reach for Pema Chödrön who talks about our suffering in “When Things Fall Apart”:

“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize. The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell. In fact, that way of looking at things is what keeps us miserable. Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly. The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last – that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security. From this point of view, the only time we ever know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or to put ourselves to sleep. Right now – in the very instant of groundlessness- is the seed of taking care of those who need our care and of discovering our goodness.”

I find something meaningful about letting be. To sit with the terror of losing my best friend, grieving an unhappy ending, overwhelmed by grief.

Am I able to see that this is what life is about? The joy of a sunrise, laughing out loud with my sister, feeling annoyed with a car cutting me off?

And losing my best friend.

I live in an ebb and flow of feelings, thoughts. Nothing to hold on to. Grief, terror, love. Letting it in and letting it out. Being with the groundlessness of our human existence.

How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.