Nonprofit and public human service organizations (HSOs) desperately need innovative leadership development. Many professionals in HSOs find themselves thrust into managerial and leadership positions without the requisite knowledge and skills necessary to be effective, and therefore, recognize their leadership limitations and desire new approaches and skills to help them increase their organization’s capacity, effectiveness, and impact. Women and people of color have been especially underrepresented and unprepared in leadership roles. Thus, the health of the human services sector depends upon equitably equipping potential, emerging, and current leaders with key leadership skills, and flexibly meeting leaders needs at any point along their leadership development path. While most current leadership development programs intend that participants will acquire and apply new learning, program assessment tends to focus on the acquisition of knowledge rather than the application of knowledge through changed behaviors that lead to desired organizational outcomes. The purpose of this proposal is to highlight results of a partnership between a university, two well-respected foundations, and three cohorts of social work and human service professionals in community-based nonprofits to assess the impact of collective leadership learning and facilitated peer coaching circles with each cohort on agile skill building, mindset and behavior change, and organizational outcomes.
Multiple sources of data were collected, including a 33-item Qualtrics survey and 4 focus groups with 38 participants across 3 cohorts (mostly women, over 50% of color, and range in age), 2 coaches’ interviews, and Foundation and agency reports to solicit information on the usefulness of the leadership learning and coaching on professional development, work and management behaviors, and the impacts of these activities in the organizations. The research team performed quantitative and qualitative descriptive and thematic analysis methods using SPSS and Nvivo programs.
Findings demonstrate the value of facilitated peer coaching and opportunities to practice skill-based leadership learning. The results show a range of participant, coach, and agency reports of new ways of behaving and performing that impact staff and the organization, including experimentation with integrating organizational performance accountability into management practices and program outcomes, data driven decision-making, developing and tracking performance measures with an equity lens, and applying coaching strategies with staff and boards, actionable strategic planning, collaborative team support and performance accountability, transparent communication, effective problem-solving in difficult situations, and personally achieving greater visibility and leadership opportunities in the organization.
Conclusion and Implications:
Overall, this kind of collective leadership development model with the required facilitated peer-coaching component not only lends itself to sharing knowledge and information and innovative ideas for wider benefit, but also captures the bonding benefits from cohort learning and embedded application of the knowledge and skills gained. This was especially important for women of color who tend to get less mentoring than men and whites, thereby building a more diverse capacity for leadership roles. The results begin to demonstrate the impact on individuals, teams, and the organization as participants move from learning to action and could ultimately mean better results for human services and the populations served.