Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Transform Conflict into Collaboration

Megan Elkins, Director of Talent Pipeline Success, Workforce Solutions in Austin

Coaching wasn’t something that I even knew existed. And once I knew that it was out there, I knew that I valued it.

But I had never invested in it. Partly because I’d never created space in my thought process to consider, hey, maybe there’s an angle I’m not considering. And oftentimes, I think as it is as adults, we tend to lean on our partners as a sounding board for everything. So when the opportunity came up to work with a coach, I realized that this might be my opportunity to take that burden off the people that are closest to me and go and find somebody who’s really, really very objective to kind of verbalize my ruminations, right?

If I can speak out loud about the challenges that I’m facing and having somebody ask the right questions or hit pause at the right moment, I might have an aha moment. Whereas if I just sit there or if I’m on a jog and I’m thinking about it, I may not come to the same conclusions.

I was so pleasantly surprised at how much progress I could make. You know, being someone who pursues knowledge for my entire life, 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.

The other thing that I really benefited from was understanding that while my intentions are good, the way that I present my intentions, was a barrier for me getting through to people. And being able to shift just in a very short time, over a couple of weeks that we have worked together, I’ve had three meetings this week with one partner that’s been the most challenging for me and doors have opened. Simply by the way that I have put information out into the ethosphere. And that’s something that will continue to pay benefits going forward for the rest of the time that I’m in this role and in the roles to follow.

I am also establishing some guardrails for myself. Having some guiding questions or some norms to keep in mind when I’m working with difficult people, that is really beneficial. I’m somebody who thrives in having some structure. And so being able to bring structure to things that are kind of messy was something that really helped me. I think too that realizing that some of the things that I thrive on, other people don’t thrive on.

So being able to stop trying to force my own beliefs and values and my expectations, excellence, or accountability on others. When I let go of trying to hold other people accountable to the same standards I hold myself, I began to view them with a little bit more optimism and kind of have a little grace with the way in which they interacted with me. And it’s not that I’m cutting them slack or expecting less of them, it’s just that I’m kind of meeting them where they’re at instead of writing them off and not trying to get somewhere with them.

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 in 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.

Coaching has been most beneficial to me as a middle management person. So whether you’re working up or you’re working down the organizational chart, it can be a very difficult place to be when you’re in the middle because you have responsibility for others and yet you are still responsible to someone else. And when the person who you are responsible to is not on message with you or you feel like you’re not on the same page because they have authority over you, it’s very difficult to express that to them and to help guide them and to have it come from a place of support and love and acceptance and trying to really help them get back to the mission. So for leaders who are in the trenches right now and they’re struggling with goal displacement or they’re struggling to align across their organization up or down, this type of coaching can help you find the words that they can hear.

To speak in a way that they will listen in the midst of crisis. And I think that, that is the greatest gift that you can get is to be heard in all of the chaos that is surrounding us right now.

You know, I think that I’ve been very receptive to this because of your approach, I immediately felt rapport.

Immediately I felt like I can be 100 percent vulnerable, 100 percent honest. And that is something that is very unique. And you can’t have that in your daily social interactions. Right. I would never be 100 percent vulnerable, 100 percent honest with a colleague or a friend. And to be able to establish that from day one was really powerful.

For individuals who are seeking social connection with others, connecting with someone who’s providing you guidance is the first step because they, in turn, connect you to yourself. I didn’t realize until we started working together, that I was disconnected from myself, that I had compartmentalized all the aspects of my life, including myself, and left on the shelf as I continued to connect, try to push connections with other people. But I left myself behind. And so I think one of the good gifts is that I feel very grounded. I feel very connected with myself. I feel a sense of renewed purpose for the work that I do and commitment to my own values. And I feel willing to, in a very diplomatic and nonviolent way, express when my feelings don’t align with those of the people who are around me. I feel comfortable. And that’s, that’s a good place to be when you could be vulnerable. I don’t feel vulnerable anymore. I feel comfortable.

I think that you are a great facilitator for small groups and that could be a really great market right now. I think that that is a place where you can get two or three people who have a good rapport, who are working to connect with someone else. Especially when there’s been a regime change. That’s the perfect time to go in and say, let’s talk about communication.

I have really appreciated working with you. It’s been very helpful and very grounding.