Help Develop Your Leaders through Executive Coaching

Several factors, including the growing number of nonprofit leadership transitions and increasing competition for limited financial resources, have led to increased interest in the use of executive leadership coaching as a professional development strategy. Executives interviewed for the 2011 “Daring to Lead” report assessed coaching as one of the most effective and underutilized professional development strategies used by nonprofits, but that is rapidly changing.

Coaching is the practice of supporting leaders in their professional development, with a focus on building their skill sets, resilience and confidence in their role. Nonprofit leaders engage coaches to help address issues such as staff and board development, financial management, fund raising, building personal leadership skills and strengthening the organization as a whole. One of the major reasons coaching’s popularity is growing is that the approach can be individually tailored to the specific needs of each leader and organization, allowing nonprofits to get a high return on their professional development investment. The process is grounded in the concept of building competencies and broadening and deepening a leader’s understanding of the options available for consideration.

Coaching usually takes place in a regularly scheduled face-to-face or telephone meeting of the coach and organizational leader, with agenda items identified ahead of time to ensure that the leader’s needs are addressed. That’s where the individualized approach comes into play, as those meetings can focus on problem-solving operational issues, supporting areas in which the leader is uncomfortable, helping the leader develop strategic direction, or even working in tandem with the board chair to generate positive staff and board outcomes. Most executive coaches have served in staff and board leadership positions, which allows them to bring practical solutions to bear, and to serve as both a sounding board and professional mentor for less experienced leaders.

While trainings, leadership development programs and literature review can also be effective professional development tools, sole reliance on these resources can sometimes overwhelm new leaders and perpetuate the sense of isolation they feel in their role. So, integrating these kinds of tools with an executive coach who can work in partnership with an emerging leader on practical issues of immediate concern can serve to both ground and accelerate the leader’s development process.

In these transitional times, with many new nonprofit leaders and a very challenging external environment, it is critical for nonprofit boards to recognize the importance of supporting the professional development needs of their leaders. When discussing possible ways your board can best support your organizational leader in developing essential skills, confidence and effectiveness, consider exploring executive coaching. With the wealth of practical experience coaches can bring to the table, it can be an extremely targeted and effective way to build your nonprofit’s leadership capacity.

Scott Schnapp authored this blog post in his role as a Consulting Partner and coach here at Starboard. Visit the Executive Coaching section of our website for more information about coaching:, or get in touch now using our contact form to set-up a call with our team. We look forward to helping you!