Ilisa is Prizmah's Senior Vice President of Engagement

Winning Deep

by Ilisa Cappell

The research on coaching is clear: individuals in coaching relationships benefit from improved work performance, relationships and communication skills. They often report increases in self-confidence, self-awareness and an ability to reflect on their own habits and motivation and how they impact others. A growing body of research demonstrates that coaching is a key lever in strengthening leadership capacity.

And yet, like any intervention focused on sustaining change, it takes time. There is no secret sauce to leadership development and there are no quick fixes. In fact, the notion of fixing is not part of the coaching mindset. Coaching is a long-term investment in individuals.

According to the International Coaching Federation, coaching is a “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.”

The ROI from coaching is not as easily measurable as enrollment numbers or fundraising dollars. A study by the International Coaching Federation study found that the difficulty of measuring ROI was one of the biggest barriers to implementing coaching. While there is a need to develop more measurable ROI figures that demonstrate the impact of coaching, Sherman and Freas argue that “We have yet to find a company that can’t benefit from more candor, less denial, richer communication, conscious development of talent and disciplined leaders who show compassion for people.”

If we are to attract and retain top talent to our schools, if we are to develop powerful learning communities where our Jewish day school and yeshiva professionals feel engaged, find meaning, feel connection and fulfillment, we need to ensure that professional development opportunities engage the mind and the souls of our educators while helping them to embrace opportunities for growth.

Three years ago Prizmah piloted an initiative to deepen the leadership capacity of school leaders. A group of 16 school leaders developed their skills as coaches through a training program with Pearl Mattenson and Jane Taubenfeld Cohen. Each leader previously had worked with a coach; this program trained them in the skills of coaching. Our first goal was programmatic: to develop a cadre of coaches who can coach leaders in the field. Our second goal was more ambitious: to support school leaders in developing a coaching culture within their schools and to use coaching as a method for working with senior leadership teams. A commitment to coaching emerged out of Prizmah’s commitment to ensuring that our schools can continue to attract and retain top talent in the field, and that providing meaningful opportunities for leaders to develop, to learn and grow in their roles, is a key strategy to make that happen.

Coaching as Professional Development

Coaching provides a space for personal development. In contrast to interventions that treat the symptoms caused by a challenge or problem, coaching addresses the underlying issues and creates space to fully unlock one’s creative energy in a system.

For example, some leaders may struggle with time management and, in a traditional environment, they may be asked to take a course on productivity to address and fix the issue. Through a coaching lens, we take a different approach. The course on productivity may solve short-term challenges but will not address deeper and persistent issues that may be related to an individual feeling inadequate, engaging in avoidance of feelings that make them uncomfortable, resulting in procrastination. Coaching gets at the heart of the thought processes and habits that may get in the way of one’s performance in the workplace. Coaching is not about fixing someone; it is about enabling individuals to bring their full selves into the workplace. This work helps to cultivate self-awareness, a key disposition that strengthens one’s leadership capacity.

From Individual Coaching to a Coaching Culture

When our schools shift from investing in coaching for one or more individuals in a school to coaching as a key part of the school’s strategic employee development, they show they are invested and believe in their staff and in their personal and professional development. The emerging research shows that not only does this approach help to prepare individuals for their leadership positions, it also enables organizations to attract the right talent to their teams.

There are numerous ways to move from one-on-one coaching to a coaching culture. Each path requires time, intention and a vision for what is possible.

  • Create time and space for the work.
  • Develop a shared understanding of why your team is exploring a coaching culture.
  • Articulate clear goals and allocate time and resources.
  • Develop a foundation of trust and celebrate that which is going well.
  • Imagine what might be possible when working within an organization that has developed a culture of coaching.
  • Identify small, practical steps that one can take to work toward implementation.
  • Ensure celebration of success along the way.

In a coaching culture, the emphasis is less on supervising or managing employees and more about an investment in developing individual strengths, overcoming challenges and enabling individuals to be in the driver’s seat. Coaching cultures typically emphasize soft skills inclusive of empathy, awareness of one’s emotions and the impact on others; they focus on how to use that awareness to drive results and harness the change they want to see within their own areas of work and the organization. Coaching cultures provide fertile ground for employees to focus on developing behavioral change that can lead to results and professional satisfaction.

The research on the impact of coaching demonstrates that:

  • Coaching meetings between people can strengthen relationships and can increase job satisfaction and morale and strengthen bonds between individuals.
  • Leaders need to demonstrate a commitment to develop themselves through coaching.
  • Coaching requires commitment, consistency and dedication from leadership.

In a coaching culture, leaders can learn new things more quickly and adapt to change more effectively. Coaching cultures exist when groups of people embrace coaching as a way of making holistic improvements to individuals within their organizations through formal and informal coaching interactions. Coaching can form an integral approach to how leaders develop their team’s talent and can be embedded within the existing performance and feedback management systems. It can increase performance of leaders within an organization.

Coaching demonstrates a clear commitment to the growth of individuals. And this work takes time.

“Win Deep, Not Shallow”

In her book Fear Less: How to Win at Life Without Losing Yourself, Pippa Grange talks about the notion of “win deep, not shallow.” She describes “winning shallow” as occurring when we try “to avoid not being good enough, winning to beat the other guy, winning to be seen as good enough.” In an interview with Brene Brown, Grange describes this “victory” as one born of comparison, scarcity and self-doubt.

“Winning deep,” on the other hand, is “where you actually can feel the richness of your journey, you are attached to the joy and the struggle, you are attached to the mess and it is generally done for reasons outside of yourself… Winning deep is more satisfying...and ultimately closer to unlocking our deepest potential. Because it comes from the heart, mind, and soul, it stops you seeing your potential as something you might miss out on. Instead, you see it as vast, untapped, and available. It allows you to compete and create until you have nothing left in your bones to give. And it means you’ll fear less.”
When we are grounded in an orientation of curiosity and desire to learn, we can grow. We talk a lot in Jewish education about what will attract and retain talented professionals in the field. A major study recently released by CASJE shows that Jewish educators who actively seek out opportunities to learn are often seeking personal meaning in their work. They see Jewish education as contributing to society; they have a greater love of Jewish learning and want to contribute to the Jewish community and to others. Similarly, supporting leaders through coaching cultures in our schools is one way in which to create fertile ground to nurture leaders throughout their career.

However, developing coaching cultures takes time. To bring this culture to fruition, a school needs leaders who themselves have experienced and benefited from coaching, along with champions of the culture who are able to coach one another within their school communities. As the school leaders who contributed to this issue of Kaleidoscope make clear, they have felt deeply impacted by both experiencing coaching themselves and by coaching others with whom they work.

Join me in learning about stories of impact from school leaders who have invested in their own professional growth and development and have made the choice to impact others, both within and outside of their own schools, through the intentional practice of coaching.