EP 33: Capacity Building 2.0 – Part 4: Capacity = Knowing Your Capability

October 19, 2023

Show Notes

“Capacity Building” is a phrase that gets tossed around quite a bit in the nonprofit world, but what does it really mean, and how do you know if it’s even working? 

In episode four of our Capacity Building 2.0 series, Tucker and Sarah reconnect with Jess Verplank, Deputy Director of Kids on Bikes, who participated in the THRIVER program earlier this year. Throughout the discussion, Jess reflects on the pivotal moments and lessons she learned that have since shaped her leadership approach, and what “capacity building” has meant for her. 

With the guidance and insights from executive coaches Melissa Caddell and Laura Groen of Novus Global, Jess navigated challenges and discovered new strategies to enhance her organization’s impact. Together, the group digs deep into Jess’s experiences, emphasizing the importance of having a clear vision in leadership. 

They discuss the difference between expectations and genuine agreements and how, without a clear vision, feedback is just an opinion. Additionally, they touch upon the “athlete” mindset, a perspective where work is seen not just as a task, but as a practice ground for continuous growth, development, and mastery.

Key takeaways from the episode include:

  • The role of executive coaching in guiding leaders out of burnout.
  • The significance of having a clear vision and knowing how it serves as a guiding light for organizations.
  • Understanding the difference between expectations and agreements and why the latter is more beneficial.
  • The importance of challenging the assumptions of limited resources in nonprofits 
  • The idea of increasing fun as a remedy for burnout.
  • Encouragement for leaders to aim for seemingly impossible goals.

Join Tucker, Sarah, Jess, Melissa, and Laura in this episode as they explore the depths of capacity building, the power of executive coaching, and the endless possibilities that arise when one is equipped with the right tools, mindset, and guidance.

Listener Links/Resources:

BOOK — Beyond High Performance: What Great Coaches Know About How the Best Get Better – https://amzn.to/3rCHWCY

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Transcript

Tucker Wannamaker:
Welcome to THRIVERS, Nonprofit Leadership for the Next Normal. I’m your host, Tucker Wannamaker, the CEO of THRIVE IMPACT, and our mission is to solve nonprofit leader burnout. Burnout is the enemy of creating positive change, and we want to connect you with impactful mission-driven leaders and ideas so that you can learn to thrive in today’s nonprofit landscape. Today I’m joined by a variety of guests, but first and foremost, I’m joined by my co-host who’s our delightful, wonderful Chief of Impact, Sarah Fanslau at THRIVE IMPACT. Sarah, it is great to be here with you, as usual, on the show.

Sarah Fanslau:
So good to be here.

Tucker:
Sarah, I want to kick it over to you right off the bat. This is the fourth part in our four-part series around Capacity Building 2.0, around our THRIVERS model that we’ve been doing. And I’m just curious, what are you most excited about for this particular episode?

Sarah:
I’m so excited. We ended formally that program, what, maybe six months ago now. And I’m really excited to be revisiting the change that it made and looking at these two pieces of the group work and then the individual coaching and how those ended up coming together to support Jess, who’s our amazing guest, and I’m so excited to see again, in her leadership development. So one, I’m super excited to see Jess again, and two, I’m just excited to hear the learning that’s taken place.

Tucker:
Well, it sounds like based upon some of our conversations before starting recording and before that, there’s been a lot of good learning, a lot of learning that’s happened through this journey. Let me introduce our guest real quick. First and foremost, I want to introduce Laura Groen, she is not only an executive coach and lead facilitator with an organization called Novus Global. She’s also somebody I went through Leadership Denver with and really developed a great relationship. And Laura, I have thoroughly enjoyed being, one, not only your friend, but also you have coached me and been a coach for me around helping me to explore myself. And I’m grateful for who you are and the presence you bring as an executive coach.
And you were really, I’ll call it the mastermind around a lot of this executive coaching. We came to you and we’re like, “Laura, we want to have an executive coaching component of our THRIVER program, but we don’t do that at THRIVE IMPACT.” And so you really were a mastermind around this, and so I’m really grateful to have you here on the show and to hear what you’ve learned through this process.

Laura Groen:
Well, thanks Tucker. I’m a huge fan of you and now of THRIVE. It’s much needed in the nonprofit space, and so it’s been a huge privilege to partner with you guys and provide support to your leaders.

Tucker:
Awesome. Thank you, Laura. We also have Melissa Caddell and she fiercely advocates for people and teams to get clear on their unique and expanding capacity, and especially creatives, entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders. And Melissa, I know Laura brought you into this experience and we just met today, which is cool, and yet I’ve already heard the effects of your work. I’ve heard of the proof from the pudding, if you will, that was able to come out. And so Melissa, I’m really grateful for you being on here and sharing about your journey with Jess, who I’ll introduce here in just a minute. But Melissa, thank you for being on the show and for sharing what you’ve been learning through this process.

Melissa Caddell:
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I’m such a huge fan of the impact that THRIVE has, and when Laura invited me into this space, I was like, “What? A company that works to make leaders and nonprofits better?” It was just mind-blowing, so I’m thrilled to be here.

Tucker:
Awesome. Thank you, Melissa. And Jess, we have Jess Verplank who is the Deputy Director at a wonderful nonprofit, a community-based nonprofit in Colorado Springs called Kids on Bikes. And Jess, you are a Colorado native, which is of course in Colorado kind of a thing basically, you’ve been in a leadership role at Kids on Bikes for the past three years, and you really want to change the world and have a big impact on your community in Colorado Springs, which I appreciate because I grew up in Colorado Springs and I have a deep heart for that city.
And Jess, I just love seeing you bloom and blossom and come forward, so much of the best of who Jess is, I feel like I’ve been able to experience through this journey of all the workshops we’ve done, and I can’t wait. We haven’t actually seen you… Sarah was saying this earlier, we haven’t actually seen you in a little bit and I’m so jazzed to hear about the ups and the downs and the learnings, and I know that Kids on Bikes is going through quite a bit. And so Jess, I’m so glad to have you on the show and for us to really hear, especially from you as a nonprofit leader who’s doing important work, just what your journey has been, and I think a lot of listeners are going to get a lot of value out of just hearing about your journey. So Jess, thank you for being here with us today.

Jess Verplank:
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so very excited to be here with you guys again, like you said, and all familiar faces and just very excited about this.

Tucker:
Well, Jess, I want to dig in right off the bat with you around… First of all, just for context, you work at a nonprofit, you are the Deputy Director, so you’re like the right-hand person for the Executive Director. And tell us a little bit about not only your work at Kids on Bikes and why it’s important, but also give us a little context of what’s been the state of where Kids on Bikes has been over this last year and why this has been important for you to embark on this journey through THRIVERS and through getting executive coaching.

Jess:
Absolutely. I was brought to THRIVERS originally about the capacity building that you guys were creating there. Kids on Bikes has grown immensely in the past. We’ve been around since 2005, but it’s been very slow growth. In the past three to five years, we’ve grown very quickly and our ability to build capacity during this time has been pretty insane. When your organization goes from a startup to, we’re like teenagers right now, and so we’re very much trying to figure out where do we belong and where does this go? The whole time I’ve been at Kids On Bikes, it’s been a very quick but feels like a very long three years, I’ve been working diligently on how to build capacity with what we’re given as a nonprofit, how do we take what we have, have the right people in the right places, have the right programs and everything that we’re trying to do, which is a big ask for just a couple of people, we have a very small staff.
So trying to figure that out as a leader, trying to figure out where I can best be placed in this organization to support it to continue to grow in the best way possible. We’re making a big impact on our community. We’re trying to get more kids on bikes. After 2020, it’s about mental health and creating… It’s always been about the bike being a tool, but it’s even more now than ever after COVID in 2020. Just big things happening. Lots of people in the community see what we’re doing and we’re thriving in that.

Tucker:
That’s great, Jess. That’s great. I am curious about this word, capacity. It’s an interesting word, and capacity building is this weird, amorphous… “We need to build the capacity of our organizations.” We’ve been trying to unpack that even ourselves of, “What do we even mean by that?” We know based on some of our… I know you went through some of this training around conscious leadership, the neuroscience says when demands exceed the resources available to us, it sends our brains into spirals of reactivity. And then many times it sends our organizations then into spirals of reactivity. And so how do we increase the resources available to us?
Which to me our capacity… But I’m curious, when you’re thinking about and have been processing through your own growth as an organization, what have you been looking at thinking about when it comes to building capacity, maybe for the organizational structure, maybe for how you work with each other as team, and maybe even just, again which I think is a little bit of the focus of today of yourself, of building the capacity of yourself. Tell me a little bit about what does capacity building mean for you and what you’ve been thinking about around that?

Jess:
The capacity building for Kids on Bikes and for me personally is trying to figure out how we can consciously create this environment of Kids on Bikes in the most positive form it can be. When we say we’re going to show up, we’re going to do a really good job when we’re there, but that’s not the only thing. How can we continue to grow with what we have? A lot of the times when we were meeting with THRIVERS, it was about being creative with our time and creative with who we have and what we do within our organization. So having a roadmap can be something really important, but also sending down and thinking and having that quiet space.
Because a lot of the times we just want to react, and we want to go, go, go, and we have all these people that want to partner with us, and we have all these wonderful things that we can do, but also building capacity is sitting down and really thinking about how much time you actually do have, and with that time being creative, but also very conscious about how we use our time. Because we can go out there and we could do every program possible, but we wouldn’t be doing a good job and we’re doing Kids on Bikes and our community a disservice.
So I think capacity building is getting realistic with what you’re able to do, being realistic about how we can impact our community and taking baby steps forward. You called it a skateboard analogy, “Let’s get everything on board and let’s move forward,” but we need to stop and think how we’re going to proceed in a very, I use the word conscious just because we’re very careful about how we move forward, how we put ourselves out there because we want to make sure that we’re that company that people want to go to.

Sarah:
I’m curious, Melissa, coming to you as the executive coach who had the pleasure of supporting Jess, how do you think about capacity building when you’re working with nonprofit leaders and how is that different, if at all, from working with leaders in other sectors? Curious.

Melissa:
Well, the thing that I find interesting about working with nonprofit leaders is that there’s a saying that Global Leadership Summit uses and they say, “Everyone wins when the leader gets better.” When you think about leaders that are in nonprofit spaces, think about the leaders getting better and then the organizations that are running getting better and then the impact on their community is getting better. So it’s a multilayered impact that you get to have when the leaders get better.
One of the things that I loved about what Jess did is that when I invited her into exploring her capacity, which is really what executive coaching is, exploring what she was capable of, looking at mindsets and maybe getting in the way of that, but we talk about capacity building, but it’s really an invitation into, “Let’s explore, what are you capable of?” And then when she was talking about getting clear about what are we going to do moving forward, we spent some time in coaching talking about what’s aligned to your vision. So it’s not how much can you do? And it just leads right to burnout.
And we spent some time talking about burnout, but we talked about, How does this align to your vision? And how do we expand the capacity of your team when they understand their vision and you invite them into that visioning space? Which is something that Jess did beautifully and I think was one of the aha moments for her. And through the coaching experience was exploring her capacity and her team’s capacity aligned to vision.

Sarah:
Jess, I see you ready to tell us something amazing.

Jess:
Melissa brought up vision, and we’ve had a vision of where we want Kids on Bikes to go. And she’s like, “No, no, no, no. What is your personal vision and what is the vision of each person on your team?” So I was like, “You’re asking me to know what every single person on my team, what their vision is?” And she’s like, “Yeah.” And I’m like… It seemed like a lot, I didn’t even know what my vision was at the time, but we sat back and she’s like, “Create your vision,” which I created my vision, and then once I did that, she said, “Get your team’s vision.” I’m like, “Okay, cool. But then what do I do with it?” And listening to the podcast, talking with Melissa, everything that she provided me and gifted me with came to find out that I cannot give good feedback to my employees to create a better organization without knowing their vision.
Because I love how that they put it, but feedback is a gift. Feedback is a place where we can sit down and learn something instead of it being something that’s very negative, feedback is a gift. And so if I don’t know my team’s vision, if I don’t know what one of my employee’s vision is at Kids on Bikes, there’s no way I can gift them with feedback, because I’m kind of shooting from the hip. If an employee tells me that they just want to make money and they like the organization, “Cool, but I need something a little bit deeper when it comes to your vision, I need to know what your goals are. My vision, I don’t know if you would like me to read it or not.

Tucker:
Heck yeah, we do.

Jess:
It is life-changing. I want to be a leader that inspires confidence and motivates those around me to succeed and feel empowered to courageously live out their vision daily. I want to successfully help Kids on Bikes continue to be a dynamic entrepreneurial and integrity aligned business to sustain growth and continue to break down barriers in children’s health and wellness. I want to change the world.

Tucker:
Come on.

Melissa:
Awesome.

Jess:
And so then I had this vision and then I gave it to my team. I showed them my vision. “This is what I’m looking for. What do you want to do?” And so once people started sending me their vision on my team, I’m able to notice that one of my employees is acting… Maybe not doing the right thing in their job. And so I can pull them aside and say, “I’m saying that I want to be a leader that inspires others and you’re not bringing that to the table, you’re not bringing your vision to the table. You’re actually doing what’s opposite.” And so it’s a time where you can gift them with feedback that feeds into their vision, and so it helps create them go, “That was my vision,” and how can we feed into this and make you a better person? I don’t know if that’s the right word, but successful.

Melissa:
What I love too is that the Jess invited her team to give her feedback around her vision, which I thought was extremely bold of her, and she said that this is such a gift of love to me to have my team… Once I shared my vision, that they can step into space and tell me how what I’m doing is aligned to that vision. So it was super powerful.

Tucker:
That’s great.

Laura:
And that is why we talk about Novus Global, the firm that Melissa and I both coach within, we talk about feedback as a gift and as neutral data that helps you move towards your vision. And you can’t know if the feedback you are giving or receiving is actually helpful towards your vision unless you know your vision. But we like to talk about feedback without a vision is just an opinion.

Tucker:
Say that one again.

Laura:
Feedback without your vision is just your opinion, but once you’re connected to someone’s vision for their work, for their impact, for their life, for what they’re going after, then you actually have a relevant gift to give them in feedback. And I like to say, “Please care about me and my vision enough to help me see where I’m getting in the way. Help me see where I’m throwing up roadblocks.” Because I’m telling you this vision is what I want. I want to be an inspiring leader, for instance from Jess, she’s telling her team, “This is what I want.” And then she’s saying, “Please offer me the gift of your feedback where I am not an inspiring leader yet.” And then you’re just partnering together to go after something, which I think is-

Sarah:
I love that frame around, “Let me invite you into what I want.” And then it takes some of that sting of feedback away because I’ve invited it and it’s in relation to the things I’m hoping to get to. I love that. Jess, when we were working together, I know one of the things we talked about was this piece around feedback and you wanting to learn how to work with folks and instead of coming in and saying, “Here are all of the things that may not be right to approach them in a different way,” so rubber hitting the road. Curious how you show up has changed, if at all with your folks, and then if it has changed what that looks like in terms of your culture.

Jess:
Absolutely. Our culture has definitely shifted. I’ve always been a caring leader, but now I’m just human. I am the same that they are, because I’ve given my vision and I’ve put it out all on the table for them to see what my goal is and then I have to live that out. And if I don’t, it’s totally fine for them to give me feedback that, “You really didn’t show up today, Jess. Is everything okay?” There’s so many ways that we can gift that feedback. I’ve also changed from having expectations of people to having agreements, which is another word instead of a negative…
I just can’t say enough things. I came into this with saying that confidence was what I was lacking, and Melissa called my bullshit immediately. She’s like, “I think that you’re a confident leader. I think immediately that you’re a confident leader.” I just didn’t have the right tools and I wasn’t looking at things with just different glasses, we could say, I was very maybe close-minded, I wasn’t looking at how I can empower my employees and myself to really gift that feedback. We don’t have to have expectations. “I have all these expectations and I think you need to get this done and this done.” But instead we sit down and I have an expectation of something, but that person has to agree with that expectation or have an agreement before I can expect them to get it done. So instead of expectations, I have an agreement with one of my employees that this calendar will be out by October 1st. This employee knows that we’ve agreed, we’ve had a conversation and we’ve talked about it.
And so we’re not just throwing stuff out there. We’re having these one-on-one conversations and we’re growing together and not expectations, but agreements that things are going to get done. And it’s just changed my world professionally. Also, personally, in so many different ways, but just being able to have that inspiring impact on my employees that I want and they know that I’m not some leader that’s just going to tell them what to do. I sit down, I take time with them. I have one-on-one meetings with every employee. We talk about what their goals are for the week, what the visions are. And I know my organization is small, so it would be more like your direct reports in a larger organization that you can have this impact on them, on a daily basis. My capacity to get things done has changed because I’m looking at everything different. The environment that we’re all working in is very leveled. We’re all on the same level, we’re all trying to impact our community in the same way. And it’s just been such a gift to my organization and to me personally.

Laura:
That’s so good. Frustration and resentment are usually built out of expectations. I have something that I want from you that lives in my head and nowhere else. Those are [inaudible 00:21:04] for a team, those decrease efficiency. Whereas agreements create efficiency, because now we’re both on the same page, we know how to address a broken agreement versus addressing a missed expectation, which is very ambiguous. So for me, when my clients come into a call feeling frustrated, especially with a coworker or feeling resentment, the first two places I look are, do you have an agreement or do you just have an expectation? And then two, where is your ownership or how are you creating this experience you’re having with the frustration and the resentment? It sounds like you are doing that beautifully, Jess, and that it’s having an impact on how much your team can get done.

Jess:
Thank you. There’s no question about where we’re going. There’s no question about what our vision is. And if people don’t want to get on board with that, they don’t have to and they don’t… I don’t want it to sound negative, but if they don’t feel like they can keep up with where we’re going, then some people have given their resignation. But I know that I’m doing the best job possible to shoot that vision out there. And if, like you said, expectations are in their head, well, I expected you to do this, but no one ever got it out on the table. If they clearly know what the vision is and where we’re going and what the agreements are, there’s no questioning. There can be mess-ups and we’re all human, of course, but we’re putting it all out there very clear, very conscious about what we’re doing and what I would like, in the whole organization, where we’re going and what we need to do to get there.

Melissa:
So good. I know that one of the things that Jess had worked through in our coaching was looking at things with curiosity. If we invited curiosity into the assumptions that she was making, so noticing where she was making assumptions and she had a whole two weeks. On the daily, she set herself a task that was like, “I’m going to notice my assumptions and I’m going to get curious.” It was literally things she journal on every day. I think it was for two weeks or something. And she noticed when she got curious, she could accept reality and then she could use the energy to consider what are new possibilities. So even the idea of someone who submits a resignation, not making an assumption about their fit, but noticing this really is not a good fit, no problem. Where can we be curious? Is there someplace else the organization for you fit? Is this not the best place for you? But she could then approach it and use that energy in ways that explored capacity and possibility. I love that you went through that exercise.

Jess:
Saying that is just huge, where your energy is being spent? Me being able to be curious instead of immediately assumptive, I was frustrated. Frustrated about this, I was frustrated about that, so many things would go round and round, but if I’m curious, I can have a conversation in curiosity. Instead of talking to that person with assumption, curiosity comes across very much more calm, relatable, and just trying to get to the bottom of why something happened. How come this happened? Not, “You did this,” and this is a very rough answer back from your leader. And so the curiosity, I’m always curious about everything now. I’m not exhausted, I’m not spinning my wheels all the time in frustration. It’s changed the way I’ve looked at that and I don’t feel as burnt out and as exhausted on a regular basis.

Tucker:
I love hearing the growth of your capacity that it was already there. I love how, Melissa, you were sharing earlier about capacity building is exploring what you’re really capable of, what a brilliant way of looking at capacity. And the reality is that your capacity, there is so much more that we’re capable of that we don’t even realize, but it’s already there. We just had to strip away the layers and get a couple tools.
But I want to dig into a question around the pain of going into this space. Because you’ve already mentioned a little bit, like you were afraid as an example, and I think that psychological barriers are real, otherwise everybody would go down this path. But the psychological barriers are real, and I’m curious, what are the pains or issues, even as you reflect on yourself or even as you’ve noticed in other nonprofit leaders, the barriers that had blocked you, perhaps, from going into, I am guessing some more vulnerable spaces, some more deeper spaces of radical honesty with yourself? That’s a lot of what I’m hearing through some of these conversations. So I’m curious, what are the pains and the issues that are facing nonprofit leaders from going there, from truly building their capacity, if you will?

Jess:
Absolutely. At a very personal level, I would ask Melissa if she was actually in contact with my therapist because the things that we were talking about on a weekly basis, I was like, “Wow.” It’s not just about your leadership, it’s about you as a person, things that you struggle with, trauma from the past, a lot of those things can come up, things that you feel uncomfortable or scared about in your personal can also… It does, it carries over into that professional leadership side.
Melissa asked me to get really honest with a lot of things and sometimes just, why don’t you just ask that person? What is so hard about just being completely honest? But it’s scary for us sometimes to feel that way. And so it’s important for us to be realistic. We cannot be good leaders without really introspect and look inside ourselves to see that we’re just human and we’re only able to do so much. But there’s also see beyond where you are right now because you can go so far. You can go as far as you can imagine, and even farther. And she brought up these points of, “What’s your five-year plan? What are your goals?” And so I laid out this wonderful life plan that I have for the next five years, and she goes, “Let’s do that in a year.” And I’m like, “What?” I’m like, “No.”

Melissa:
I just invited her to explore the possibility that she was capable of achieving it in a shorter timeframe.

Jess:
Capable is the word that… I said I wasn’t confident enough in my leadership. And she’s like, “I think that you’re confident. I think that the capability of you seeing outside of that.” And so being realistic with myself and what are the barriers that are keeping me from being the best leader possible? And it is painful because I read lots of books, I listen to podcasts about integrity and being in inside the box and outside of the box. There’s so many tools that Melissa gave me. And if I had not dug in deep and read the books, and listened to the podcasts, and taken that time to really look deeply inside of me how I show up, I wouldn’t have had any changes with my executive coaching because there’s so much good information that was shared with me what she gave to me every time we met.
And if I didn’t do that work… And it wasn’t easy and it was painful and it was personal, and it took time away from my family at times because I was reading books and listening to podcasts. But in the end, I became a much stronger… And the confidence was already there, but I’d say more confident, even my executive director’s like, “I see it in you now.” Which, it’s always been there, I just never knew how to show that, I guess it’s a hard word to really fully embrace, that I know what I’m doing, that I’m confident, that I’m strong and that I can impact people on a daily basis.

Melissa:
I’d say one of the tremendous strengths that Jess brought into executive coaching was that she was so coachable. She was hungry for transformation. She was seeing what was working, what wasn’t working in her life, and she was just ready. She was very hungry and ready to figure out… When you hit that point as a leader where you’re just banging your head against the wall and you cannot figure out why you cannot move forward, this is the time to get an outside perspective, and this is exactly where she was of what she wanted to do. She could not see her blind spots. None of us can see our own blind spots. And when she was talking about the confidence issue, when I was exploring that with her, we really talked about survival needs, and those are one of the places that people’s mindset trips them up.
And so we could explore that space through coaching, and that’s when she’s like, “This isn’t a lack of confidence. This is actually it.” And then she could pivot, but you cannot see what you cannot see. And that’s why an outside perspective, like a mentor, or coaching, or someone to come alongside you and say, “You seem frustrated. This doesn’t seem to be working. What’s working? What’s not working? Let’s explore that.” And she was so, so hungry to explore that. And she was brave and she was really ready to dig into that. So I just applaud her bravery and her willingness to go those hard places. Because she did not balk at all. If I said, “What about this? Would this be resourceful?” She’s like, “Yes, let’s do it.” So shout out to her absolutely for her willingness to be vulnerable and brave.

Laura:
And that surprised, right? That’s amazing. And that was my experience with the nonprofit leaders that I worked with as well. They came in hungry for new tools, for leadership development. I’ve been thinking, what is the specific challenge around nonprofit burnout versus for-profit burnout or nonprofit capacity building versus for-profit capacity building? Our firm, Novus Global, has a new book out, it’s called Beyond High Performance. And something it talks about is all the different ways that we tend to relate to work, and sometimes our relationship to work can shift into different spaces. You aren’t one of these your whole life, you rotate, but they’re the prisoner mindset and people who are in the prisoner mindset work because they have to. “I’m stuck here. I have to work.” People in the mercenary mindset work to live, “I’m going to punch a clock, get in, get out, and then I’ve got my life to live outside of work.” That’s a mercenary mindset.
And then there’s the missionary mindset, which is, “I work because I’m called to.” And that’s where I think you find a lot of nonprofit leaders, a lot of teachers, a lot of people who feel like their identity and their impact is really wrapped up in their work. And that’s a little different. That’s a little more specific of a need to find that impact, that calling, that identity fulfilled within their work. And what we work on with our clients is exploring what it looks like to have an athlete mindset when it comes to work. So instead it is work is practice. I work to grow in general, in life as a leader, as a person. That’s what I’m showing up as every day to do, is to take another swing to grow in who I am and who I want to be ultimately.
And so when I work with nonprofit leaders, I start to ask the question, where can we honor the calling and the impact that you want to have, but also take the pressure off of needing to be perfect and see that impact on a daily basis? And instead, we’re really focusing on that development. How does work develop me? And there’s no investment in that for a lot of nonprofit leaders because they feel that the investment needs to be in the impact directly, but the missing link is the leader is the impact. The leader has the most power to create the impact. That’s what I thought was unique about working with nonprofit leaders versus for-profit leaders.

Sarah:
And I think a lot of times the system of nonprofit organizations does that. It says, “Let’s focus out here on the people we’re helping instead of in here on the people who are working for us.” And we have seen that a lot. And part of what we do at THRIVE IMPACT is to help organizations say, “If you want to make impact out here, there has to be impact you’re making in here, and you can’t disconnect the two.” And so I’m hearing you echo a similar thing, and it’s an interesting… As you talk about those typologies, we are also fans of the work of Lalu and his transforming organizations.
I don’t know if you know of his work, but he’s looking at typology of organizations from the army example over here on the red and hierarchical, all the way over here to the organization as a living organism. And what I’m so excited to explore is the interconnection between how do we help leaders get in that mindset and how do we help organizations get in that mindset? So that leaders aren’t getting tools to reach a ceiling and that organizations aren’t bringing in leaders to push them down, and how do we do those two things together? It’s super exciting.

Tucker:
That’s great. I’m curious, we’ve already spoken to some of this and I heard it, but I want to ask it as an explicit question. And Laura too, I know that you’ve coached another nonprofit leader or some others as part of this THRIVERS program too. And with all the pieces combined, the question I’m really curious about is, what has been made possible because of this work? Because of the THRIVERS program holistically, but also particularly the executive coaching component. Because that’s what we’re really honing in on this one, is what’s been made possible… And so just from your perspective, what’s been made possible for you to have gone through this capacity building process, which is the whole thing, and particularly including the executive coaching? And particularly what’s been made possible for you, what’s been made possible for those that you’re working with, and how has that translating into what’s made possible for the impact that you’re noticing to be able to see?
And then Laura and Melissa, would love to hear your perspective too from that, as the coach with Melissa, with you, Jess and Laura, you with some of the other THRIVERS, what are you noticing is now being made possible in the lives of them and the people they serve? Jess, would love to kick it off with you. What are you noticing is being made possible in you and your organization and in those that you’re working with the kids who are needing to be on bikes?

Jess:
Absolutely. I’ll start with the THRIVE IMPACT and the impact that it had on me and our organization. The ability to, there were so many tools that were useful during that time that helped me build capacity, bringing the team together and collaboration. I was a fixer, and so I would skip all of the two… There’s four steps, I would skip the two middle steps and I would just find the answer.
And so slowing down and being able to bring collaboration in has really helped me to THRIVE IMPACT and created a community of these wonderful people that I met, Tucker and Sarah, and then all of the people that work in our program. The tools that you guys gave to us during that time and the connection was huge for the impact in our community. And then part of that was also the executive coaching. I don’t feel burnt out as often. I can say being a leader in a nonprofit is… Sometimes there are just these moments that you’re very burnt out, but being able to be curious and slow down and take care of my employees, which Laura was talking about, that taking care of the inside… We have an impact in our community, but do you know where that starts? That starts inside.
And so taking care of my team, having those conversations and being able to create this. We have this fantastic team with a great atmosphere, everyone gets along, everyone feels heard. I hope they do because I want that all the time. And then as we’ve done that, it shows. We show up to our community with still this atmosphere of positivity, and feeling heard, and wanting to impact them just as much as we’re impacting inside of our small organization, we’re taking that out into the community. And it’s double or triple because we have so much excitement and passion for what we do and it shows. If people didn’t want to show up to work at Kids on Bikes, it would show to our customers, it would show to our program people. We come out there full bore with excitement and passion.
We jump around in the office excited about things every single day and celebrate the positive things happening here because it’s so exciting. And that overflows into our community, that passion with our partnerships, with people that we connect with, with the kids that are earning the bikes. They see why we are here and they feel it on a daily basis, we’re here for you and we’re here to change your life, and we do it one kid, one bike at a time, and people can see that.

Tucker:
That’s great. Laura, Melissa, I’m curious what you’re noticing is being made possible through these experiences.

Melissa:
I think one of the things that I noticed, particularly with working with nonprofits, is the idea, the lens and assumption of how limited they are. Limited in finances, limited in resources. And it’s super interesting when I work with nonprofits to just ask that question, “Are we?” Are we really limited in this capacity? And so when you don’t keep the assumption that you’re limited in that way, if you can take that story and set it aside, you can really sit in a greater space of possibility. So that’s one of the things I would say that you see particularly with nonprofits, is just when you start to have the assumptions around resource, get really curious, is that true? And the second thing I’d say, particularly for nonprofit leaders, is the idea around burnout. And sometimes we think to decrease burnout is to decrease tasks or to streamline your to-do list or to… Whatever it is.
But really there’s also the element, and Jess and I talked about this in our coaching, is to increase the fun in your life. Where in your organization can you increase fun? And I know Jess, you had had the idea of having staff meetings on bikes and having a Friday picnic, and so she-

Tucker:
So good.

Melissa:
I know, right? So she took that idea around how to protect her team from burnout by increasing the fun even at work. So in your personal life and in your work life, there’s two things you see a lot of times at nonprofits that could be really resourceful.

Tucker:
That’s great. I love that, Melissa, thank you.

Laura:
I love the question. What was made possible in the coaching space? Something that we work with our clients at the beginning when we’re developing a vision is pushing that vision outside of what feels possible to them. What is possible and what is impossible is very arbitrary, it changes all the time. On any given day, we might think our goals are possible, and then the next day we think they’re impossible, our feelings, circumstances, a lot dictates that idea of what is possible versus impossible. We like to say, “Don’t hire a coach to reach a possible goal.” You’re bringing [inaudible 00:40:48].

Melissa:
So true.

Laura:
You’re [inaudible 00:40:52] resource in so that you can aim for something that feels impossible, and then give your brain the space to grow, and be creative, and spot what gets in the way as a result. What’s primarily made possible in the coaching space, in my experience with these leaders, is things that felt impossible, feel possible. You set a goal that’s in the realm of impossibility, and then as you see that you have more resource than you thought that you did, when you get rid of mindsets that were getting in the way or shift them into something more resourceful, all of a sudden that thing that was impossible moves closer. And there’s so much energy available when that happens, it creates new energy and new resource to say, “What else could we have that feels impossible right now that we want to run after?” For me, when my clients come into this-

Tucker:
I love it.

Laura:
… come into the coaching space and they say, “That outcome we set, that I said was impossible in six months, we’re in month three, and I already know it’s possible. I already know we’re going to hit it.” I live-

Tucker:
So good.

Laura:
Yes, I love my job.

Jess:
I feel that, Laura. We’ve always run at things, but we’re reaching it and we’re continuing forward to the next goal and the next goal. And it doesn’t feel like it’s impossible anymore because of how we’re attacking it with confidence and knowing that we’re doing the right thing. We can do anything that we imagine we want to do.

Tucker:
I love it. I love it. I want to close this out with a rapid round, and this is 30 seconds or less. Imagine a nonprofit leader… Jess, imagine yourself right before THRIVERS started, right before embarking into executive coaching. And same thing, Laura and Melissa, you thinking about that too. They’re on the cusp, they’re listening to this podcast, they feel a little glimmer of hope, what is a practical step? Other than reach out and let’s do something. What is a practical step that a nonprofit leader can take around frankly building their capacity? What is one thing that they can do? You can think about it for a minute, you may be ready to go. We always like to give people pause and reflection if you need it, but what is one practical step a nonprofit leader can take to start to build their capacity?

Melissa:
I think for anybody, but for a nonprofit leader, I think getting really clear about your vision, we talk about vision, reality gap, and this is the primary tool we use in coaching space. Get really clear. If you’re floundering around and feeling frustrated, is it possible you’re not clear on where you’re going? The clarity of a vision and where you’re actually headed is one of the most powerful centering, grounding tools that you can do. So for you to be clear where you’re going, for your organization to be clear where you’re going, get very, very crystal crystal clear about what your vision is as an organization.

Tucker:
That’s great.

Jess:
I’m going to second what Melissa said. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s changed our organization, it’s changed my world, it’s changed my staff’s world. You’re clear on where you’re going, nothing’s going to stop you. So get clear with that and there’s endless possibilities once you get to that point.

Tucker:
That’s great, Jess. Thanks.

Laura:
Yeah, and I love the idea that was touched on earlier of how can I shift from a mindset that assumes that my resources are limited to one that assumes my resources are abundant and available, and I’m on the lookout for them? We talk about how a leader’s greatest challenges are usually that they are underestimating what they are capable of and that they are underestimating what their teams are capable of. And I believe that fundamentally going into a coaching space, this leader in front of me is underestimating what they are capable of. And so I might just sit with that question for a minute and ask yourself, how am I underestimating myself? How am I underestimating my team? And of course, hire a coach.

Tucker:
Sarah. Totally. Get help.

Melissa:
You get clear on the vision, then you can see what the gap is, and that’s where the help and the support comes along. Once you’re clear what you’re going, then you’re not saying they’re going like, “I don’t know what to do,” because you do know what to do, because where you’re going. And so you can shed the things that don’t align with the vision, and you don’t have to worry about all the things that don’t align with the vision. So it’s very resource rich for you to just get clear and then you can see what’s in the gap. And Jess, yes, looking at you, someone who’s underestimating their capacity, of course every human is.

Sarah:
This is reminding me of two of our favorite quotes. One is Brené Brown, “Clear is kind.” And my favorite part is, “Unclear is unkind, not just the clearest kind.” And secondly, we just got off of a strategy workshop and we use a frame called the Impact Pyramid, and the goal is to align programs to impact to vision. And sometimes it’s not just that there’s a gap, but that we’re doing things that are shooting out from programs, aren’t aligning to impact, which ultimately aren’t aligning with the vision we want to see. And so we like to say our no’s give power to our most important yeses. And if we keep saying yes, we just can’t double down on the things that make us most unique and valuable. So I love that this has come to. Jess, your life and your world at Kids On Bikes to help you all focus on that vision and then double down on making it happen.

Tucker:
So good. So good. Melissa, Laura, I know you mentioned a book, we’d love to put the link to that in the podcast show notes. And any other resources that came up that we can put it, there you go. There you go, Laura. She just put a picture of the book, but we’ll put a link to that, any other resources that you feel like might be relevant for our listeners to be able to take a look at, explore. But thank you all. Laura, Jess, Melissa, thank you for being on and sharing about your learning through this journey, because there are pains and issues and challenges and a lot of these psychological pressures that when we can go through a path of just you having the hunger that you had and the courage that… It takes courage because it’s vulnerable, it is vulnerable, which takes courage.
And so I just want to appreciate you, Jess, for your courage, because it takes a lot of courage right now to be a nonprofit leader and to step into these spaces. But I can tell that what is being made possible is the impact that you’re wanting to have in the world is actually happening, is continuing to grow probably beyond ways that you even realized could happen. Thank you all for being on this. Sarah, thank you for co-hosting as usual, and we’ll see everybody, or maybe hear everybody, or we’ll see you on the next episode, that’s what will happen. Thanks for listening in and talk soon.

Sarah:
Thanks y’all.