It is common practice for chief executives of foundations and nonprofits to utilize coaching to bolster their leadership and management skills. This can ultimately benefit the entire organization.
It is less frequent for board chairs to have a similar kind of support even though their unique leadership role in governance often presents its own challenges. The chair can’t always confide in or consult with the chief executive or other board members – so who do they turn to when navigating or untangling particularly difficult moments?
I served as a coach to the board chair of a family foundation which was going through a bumpy generational transition and asked the chair to share this story of our work together. (I always provide such support on a confidential basis so am not including the chair’s name or affiliation.)
Q: What moved you to seek assistance for executive coaching as the foundation’s board chair?
A: I was fairly new in the role of board chair and found myself forging through the challenges of bridging our founders’ intents and leadership style with the enthusiasm, broad skill sets and expectations of the next generation. We kept bumping against issues like governance, communications, family factions, grantmaking protocols, etc. that caused stresses and frustration.
You had worked with the larger family in our planning and retreats, and were aware of each family member and our various dynamics. Having you as the outside coach helped me establish a plan of action. You were also my “911” at times as some of these challenges arose.
Q: What did you learn through our coaching work, and how did you apply that learning inside the foundation?
A: Some of the most valuable tools were around how we set expectations and how we communicate. We use these in the foundation’s deliberations but also in other family/group settings. It has been the goal to get consensus on how we’ll work together, to learn how we process difficult conversations even it that means we agree to “park” them for a while, and how we invite family members to express themselves in a different format.
Q: What counsel would you share with board chairs at other foundations who might be thinking of utilizing an executive coach to strengthen their work?
A: It is helpful to have an outside party who is experienced, skilled and unbiased. For me, it was invaluable to have an ongoing consulting relationship with someone who came to know our foundation issues, the parties involved and who cared about a positive outcome for all of us.
An outside coach is also able to bring fresh perspectives and ideas to the process. In my case, it was extremely helpful to learn of new practices, and also to recognize timeless values that honored the intents of our founders.
There is huge benefit in receiving counsel from someone who has experience working with other foundations and families with similar challenges. A coach’s insights into effective solutions and positive outcomes can help create a pathway for continued growth and success for the foundation and its members.