It can be lonely at the top. Progressive social change leaders face numerous challenges: dealing with donors, making tough choices around staffing and priorities with limited resources, difficulties with the board, dealing with the relentless pace of campaigns. There are some things leaders can’t talk about with others in their organization, including the normal insecurities that every human being experiences in a tough job.
Peer coaching can be an invaluable resource for social change leaders. It provides a rare quality of support and insight that is hard to find elsewhere. A peer coach is a sounding board, thought partner, advisor, and often a friend, who can relate to the professional challenges you face and help you reflect on them in fresh ways.
There are far too many issues that come up in our work that can really use the reflection and inquiry that can be had through a peer coach. Peer coaching is a critical venue for me doing my job better, but also gaining new friendships and insights into the work for justice.
Executive Director, Western States Center
While peer coaching can be valuable for any leader, it has added benefits when it is part of a larger leadership development program. Peer coaches who share a common experience and framework can reinforce those lessons and practices with each other long after the training is over.
We just added a new tool about peer coaching to our resource library, and in this post we’ll also share how we run our own peer coaching program for progressive leaders. We’d love to see other intermediaries and training organizations offer this kind of support to their networks.
Peer coaching is a key component of Rockwood’s Leading from the Inside Out Yearlong Fellowship. Each leader is matched with a peer coach from their cohort and they meet regularly throughout the training. After the fellowship is over, STP runs a peer coaching program that is available to all 300+ Leading from the Inside Out alumni. Both programs receive rave reviews from participants every year.
I love connecting with my peer coach. It has improved my own coaching skills while keeping me grounded in the lessons I learned through Rockwood.
former Executive Director, Transgender Law Center
Peer coaching continues to be very valuable and an irreplaceable space for real honest support, feedback, trouble-shooting about everything! It’s a key way to keep the value of LIO alive.
Chief of Staff, Center for Community Change
This is the single most effective way to help me continue learning the practices and making the changes that started in my Yearlong program.
Executive Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
See these tips from Robert Gass for getting the most out of peer coaching.
- Be prepared! Whether you are acting as the coach or the “client,” take your role seriously and give it some thought in advance. We recommend reviewing our tool before every session, or having it handy as a reminder.
- Clients: take charge of your coaching. If you’re not getting what you need, take responsibility. Raise your questions, concerns, and dissatisfactions with your coach. Work together to keep improving the quality of the experience.
- Maintain regularity of contact. If your coach is being unavailable or not keeping their appointments, have a Courageous Conversation.
- It’s nice to check in on each other sometimes in between your regular meetings, via e-mail or phone . . . especially if you know something important or difficult is up for your partner. Offer them your support.
This is just the beginning—see our new tool, Peer Coaching Fundamentals, for more best practices.
We’re pulling aside the veil on our peer coaching program because it is one of the most valuable yet simple programs we run, and we’d love to see more progressive leaders have access to this kind of resource.
Create your own peer coaching program
If you are involved with a group or network that would benefit from a peer coaching program, it’s straightforward and very low-cost (or free) to set up. Our program for LIO alumni consists of a recruitment and matching process, tools and resources to help the coaches succeed, and regular communications to keep them on track.
Length of program: Our coaching cycles lasts for 4-8 months. In our ongojng programs, at the end of a cycle people can choose to continue with the same coach, get matched up with a different coach, or end.
Recruitment and matching: This will take longer than you expect if it’s done over email. Plan for multiple emails to recruit participants and have them complete the matching survey. In making the matches, allow participants some input into their choices for coaches, but it’s also important to ensure yourself enough flexibility to shuffle folks around.
Tools and resources: In addition to our new tool, Peer Coaching Fundamentals, we provide other coaching resources. The Lifestyle Satisfaction Index and the Personal Change Plan can also be helpful to focus the coaching experience.
Ongoing communication: We send our peer coaches about one email a month during the course of a cycle to help keep them on track, and offer ideas for how to get the most out of their coaching. Bi-weekly meetings between coaches are a great goal, though monthly can also be sufficient. Strike a balance between providing structure and allowing coaches to adapt the program to their needs and schedules.
Evaluation: We always send a survey to our participants at the end of a peer coaching session. Sometimes this is the only feedback we get, and we’re always eager to see how well coaches kept their commitments and what comments or suggestions they have that can improve the program.
As you can tell, we are big believers in the value of peer coaching. That’s based on results, and the consistent positive feedback we get from the leaders who commit to it. There is as much to learn from coaching as being coached,
My peer coaching experience has been filled with practical, focused and results-oriented dialogue and advice. It’s not only been helpful, it’s been fun!
Interim Executive Director, the Funding Exchange
If you are inspired to launch your own peer coaching program and you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.