So…Nobody’s Perfect! Executive Coaching and My Grudges

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I am always telling people that I am lucky to have a thick skin. This often elicits a “what, are you kidding me?” look from those around me who may believe that I periodically commit to the odd to-the-death grudge. In my mind, these grudges are always well-deserved. But over the years, I have learned that it’s probably not so useful to take them too seriously or to act on them.

And that’s not the least of my problems.

Such are the emotional frailties and foibles of life. We all have our failures and some of us are lucky enough to have people who will pull our coattails when these personal gaps in our games threaten to ruin our reputations and effectiveness as leaders.

A brilliant, brash, and hysterically funny woman who some people view as terrifyingly competent has long been my Dr. Phil (on his best day). Very often, all she has to say is some variation on “Yeah and how’s that working for you?” for me to stop and look at what I’m doing. Very often it involves some reversion to form. She knows me very well.

She is a colleague who I have long considered to be my mentor but many leaders do not have such a colleague and that is a problem. When you have power, your feedback loops may be interrupted or close to nonexistent and then you have to take it all on yourself to construct reality. This is rarely a good thing.

We all need our critical observers to be good leaders. Enter the executive coach, an intervention that can be enormously useful in any size organization. There are of course caveats to its usefulness and so here, for your reading pleasure, is “A Leader’s Guide to Executive Coaching,” by David Coleman from the Spring 2008 issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly. It is well worth the read.

And in the name of full disclosure and transparency, all of you who told me that that feral cat would get pregnant in my yard . . . you were so right, proving that even the best of advice needs to encounter open ears to be effective.

Yours very humbly,


  • Christopher Lytle

    Thank you for NPQ’s recent article on Executive Coaching for Non-Profit Leaders (BootCamp 08 for New Nonprofit Leaders). David Coleman provides an excellent overview of the benefits and concerns of using Executive Coaching within the Nonprofit context.

    As a trained and practicing executive coach, search consultant and professional fundraiser within the nonprofit sector I would like to add three additional areas where I have found Executive Coaching to be particularly effective, especially related to senior level fundraising: 1) staff retention and succession planning, coaching as a management approach and in creating strong development teams (staff as well as volunteer board/fundraising campaign leadership). Each area overlaps, yet is distinct.

    The nonprofit sector as a whole has developed in quantum terms over the past thirty years in every area, but especially in the professionalism of fundraising. What once was the domain of nearly anyone with the willingness to “ask” for money, fundraising has grown into “development” requiring training, strategic and multidimensional perspective and the ability to lead and manage teams, weather departments or sophisticated groups of prominent volunteers in major campaigns.

    Once upon a time a good fundraiser was synonymous with a good face to face solicitor and the process of executive recruitment and related talent management was much more straightforward…find the stars, offer them an attractive compensation package and turn them loose. In the current philanthropic environment we all understand that being good, or simply willing, to ask for money – while important to be sure – is no longer the exclusive criterion for a successful development executive.

    The development or institutional advancement process has become far more complex with research, moves management, careful matching of the prospect with the right organizational solicitor, solid operational systems to insure timely and sensitive record keeping and follow up required to be competitive. A successful fundraising organization no longer can rely on a “star” quality executive, but needs an inspired (and inspiring) leader, a clear and decisive manager and team builder in order to insure sustained success, and a strategic approach to longer term financial needs and sources.

    Executive Coaching can be an essential and highly effective professional development tool for helping the very successful “stars” to develop interpersonal and management skills to manage departments and more focused teams, and advance a larger, more complex agenda forward internally, and with key external influentials. Executive Coaching can provide an individual insight and self-knowledge that enables rapid and very specific self-development, as well as the ability to identify and develop the capabilities of those on their team.

    The “coach approach,” when used in the management of staff and for purposes of team building, has proven very effective in quickly focusing and mobilizing teams toward a shared organizational goal. Each participant identifies for themselves their personal vision and objectives and aligns them with the larger institutional benefit.

    Executive recruiting has shifted from a “star-search” orientation toward integrating personal assessments to identify communication styles and personality types most effective in that specific organizational culture. Executive coaching has been very successful in “on-boarding” new hires during the first 100 days on the job to quickly and seamlessly integrate new executives into the organization, and beyond, to facilitate rapid cultural integration and accelerated impact. A shocking 65% of external new hires at the senior level fail within 18 months, primarily due to early (first 100 days) missteps in the new culture. Executive coaching has clearly helped ease this important transition period.

    Development operations that use executive coaching are more attractive to new leadership candidates, help leadership and management work together as a team much more effectively and helps to retain talented staff that have their professional development and career advancement needs clearly identified, understood and included as a systematic and ongoing process. All become part of a development culture that is healthy and productive for everyone concerned.

    Executive Coaching can help create this environment and offers a straightforward and transparent skill set that can be learned and used in nearly any organizational size and type.

    Thank you for your clear and objective coverage of the emerging benefits of Executive Coaching and the benefits available to the Nonprofit community.

    Christopher Lytle
    Senior Partner
    Steven Ast Philanthropy Executive Search Corp.