Executive coaching in business has become a standard leadership development tool. But in the nonprofit sector, executive coaching is a relatively new phenomena, and it is seldom used with those who would most benefit. In a 2001 study titled "Daring to Lead: Nonprofit Executive Directors and Their Work Experience," the need for new ways of supporting the development of leaders in the sector was presented.
Following that study, CompassPoint developed an Executive Coaching Project with executive directors who had been in their positions three years or less. The results were impressive as the coaching engagement resulted in positive improvements in leadership abilities, management skills, staff turnover, financial stability, and life-work balance. Impressive results.
This study underscored the value of executive coaching in the nonprofit sector, but was limited in scope and focused on a small segment of nonprofit leaders. In preparation for their book The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders
, John Zenger and Joseph Folkman noted that well-considered performance development efforts, like coaching, can help anyone improve his/her personal performance. But to extend the impact of that improvement and link it to stronger organizational performance, the intervention needs to be targeted at top performers. That's right: targeting top performers for coaching will have a greater impact than focusing on average or weak performers.
Why target top performers? Well, top performers make consistently huge differences in their organizations when compared to merely good ones:
- They are signficantly more productive than their average counterpoints
- Their organizations have less turnover
- There is improved financial stability in their organizations
Jim Collins wrote about the vast differences between good organizations and great ones. In the nonprofit sector, the difference between a decent manager and an outstanding leader is profound. They are far more likely to have a diversified funding base, they have better communication with external stakeholders, they have more organizational capacity to meet clients' needs, they can serve or reach more people, and they have more energy and enthusiasm for their work. In short, they avoid burnout and are more likely to instill passion among their team for the important work they undertake.