Over the past year, four of us—all women who work as executive directors of foundations with few staff—have been participating in a peer coaching group that grew out of Exponent Philanthropy’s Master Juggler Executive Institute. Because it has had such a meaningful impact on us, we wanted to share some thoughts about this experience and encourage others to consider forming your own peer learning group.
We believe this is a wonderful and blessed profession. And, every now and then, it can be challenged by confusing nuances and unusual dynamics. Working for high profile boards and/or families requires discretion. But that discretion can often limit one’s outlets for exploring the situations in which we find ourselves. Having a close knit group of colleagues who appreciate and understand the challenges we are facing, while respecting the need for discretion, is invaluable.
Being part of really small organizations, it sometimes feels like we are working in a vacuum.
Even though board members are available and ready to discuss issues at a 50,000-foot level, they are not in the “trenches” and really do rely on us to lead our respective foundations. Over the past year, through our peer coaching group, we have had the experience of seeing how others approach similar types of issues. There’s a sense of comfort in knowing you’re not the only one who struggles and, perhaps more important, the peer coaching group offers ideas and a fresh perspective on framing issues and on developing solutions.
We have surfaced issues that are organizational and managerial as well as those that are personal and speak to the raw material we bring to our positions. In this work you must leave your ego at the door. This foundation is not yours—you are a facilitator and representative of a larger board, founder, donor, and mission. Always thinking about the organization, you can start to lose a bit of who you are. Our coaching group helps us think about developing ourselves as leaders and enabling us to be more effective resources for our foundations.
A few thoughts about what makes our coaching group so successful:
- Consistency—We commit to meeting regularly, about monthly, and we follow through on that commitment.
- Reflection—The coaching group allows an opportunity for us to reflect on issues that are important to us at the time they are surfacing.
- Listening—We were given some initial guidance on how to be an effective listener, not just someone who has all the answers. Using those listening tools has helped us to see we each have a lot of answers within us.
- Trust—We gave ourselves time to get to know one another and to develop a comfort with the group.
- Risk-taking—Although never easy, we encourage each other to stretch.
- Accountability—Having a regular check-in with the group keeps us honest about progress and committed to issues we personally want to work on.
We are there through the triumphs and struggles each member of our group encounters. And, because we have found such unparalleled value in this group, we’ve committed to continuing our monthly calls beyond the end of the one-year Master Juggler Executive Institute. As one member of the group said, “….trust, vulnerability, and consistency over a period of time has yielded a new confidence and strength in my ability as a leader.”
That’s clearly a positive return on investment.