Putting People First

Executive Coaching Case Study

Size

Less than 25 employees

Location

Seattle, Washington

Industry

Non-profit

Coaching Venue

In Person and Video Conference

Coaching Type

Individual

Coaching Goals

To passionately focus on the organization’s mission by putting people first.

Overview

A is an executive leader at a non-profit that advances statewide STEM education for students. He works with regional networks, overseeing the distribution of grants to partners, advocating for new policies at the state level, and measuring data to track program effectiveness.

In addition to championing innovation and excellence in STEM education, A is particularly invested in the organization’s commitment to equity in STEM opportunities. 

“I was drawn to our mission to create better, more robust economic opportunity for future generations, especially kids of color, girls, and underrepresented groups. But ultimately it’s really about people feeling engaged, living full lives, being proud, and feeling valued.”

The Need

When A’s non-profit reorganized, he went from overseeing one group to three. The integration was both an opportunity and a challenge. After talking it through with his CEO, A decided to try executive coaching for the first time to help navigate this new level of leadership. He interviewed several candidates and ultimately chose Jennifer. 

Resourceful Response

Jennifer kicked off the new partnership by helping A set some preliminary coaching goals. He wanted to better understand his team, their potential for contributing, and how he could better serve them as a leader. He also wanted to make sure he and his team were in alignment about what he should focus on. A 360 assessment, which included interviews with six internal and three external stakeholders, revealed that A’s team reveres his external work with legislators and external partners, and need more time with him to grow their own capacity to contribute to the cause. 

Another key revelation was that for his previous two years at the non-profit, he had worked with a team of people hired from his own network. They knew him well and had worked with him before, for many years. But the influx of new people under his supervision had changed the overall team dynamic.

Diving deeper, Jennifer conducted an Integrative Enneagram assessment, which showed that A was a type 7. These Enthusiastic Visionaries are eager to move on once they’ve figured something out, and can inadvertently leave others feeling displaced from the team’s journey. This new insight is helping A create an environment where his team members feel more supported, valued, and appreciated for their contributions.

A and Jennifer meet regularly, in person and by video. She’s helped him step back from the everyday tasks of leading a busy team to consider more overarching concerns.

“I was surprised to learn that I was perceived as gruff and impatient by the new employees. I would think, ‘I’m not that way! People who are used to working with me don’t feel like that!’ I didn’t stop and think, ‘Hey, but these people haven’t worked with me for the last seven years. I learned that I need to approach the relationship side of management differently.’”

Meaningful Results

In addition to giving A a better understanding of himself and his team, the coaching is influencing how he structures his day. The team works in an open office environment, but at his desk, A can become so focused on the task at hand that he can be perceived as unapproachable. He now does 2-3 hours of focused work at home or a coffee shop so he can be more accessible and present for his team at the office. He has also revamped his regular status meetings to focus more on overall strategy and development opportunities.

“I was always so busy dealing with tasks, thinking about solving the problem at hand as quickly as possible. I needed to learn to slow down, explain my point of view, and take the time to understand my employees’ perspectives. I needed to put the people first.”

A has a new appreciation for setting aside time for his direct reports. Before beginning the coaching work, he’d sometimes cancel status meetings because he considered them a flexible, less pressing part of his schedule. Now he makes it a priority to block out that time and be consistently present. Rather than cutting to the chase in these meetings, he takes the time to connect personally.

A reports that having a better understanding of where people are coming from, inside and outside of work, has helped him communicate in a more nuanced way that his team is really responding to.

“I ask, ‘How are you feeling? How’s the family? What do you need me to know about your projects? How can I be helpful?’ Non-work topics matter a lot more than I thought they did. My team has even commented that these status meetings are more productive for them now.”

“Focusing more on the people increases productivity in the end because they feel heard and valued.”

Executive Coaching can help leaders strengthen teams through empathy and respect.