National Newswire

Understanding and
Improving Leadership

Executive coaching in Erie County

Bookmark and Share

Judith Englehart uses fishing as a metaphor to explain the difference between on-the-job mentoring, which most people understand, and job coaching, which is less familiar. In the “give a man a fish … teach a man to fish …” adage, mentoring is like teaching a man to fish. Coaching, however, is “showing the man how to find the absolute best fishing holes no matter where he is,” Englehart says. Englehart, who planned to leave her post as director of Erie County, Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services at the beginning of May, used executive coaching to help prepare her successor to take over. She explained the process in a workshop as part of CWLA’s national conference in late March.

During the workshop, Robert Herne, executive director of Sierra Forever Families, volunteered to be coached briefly by Englehart and the workshop participants. Herne shared a time he had found challenging—convincing staff and board members to change the agency’s name from Sierra Adoption Services to Sierra Forever Families—when he was still new to the director’s position. He believed the name change reflected Sierra’s goal to be not just an adoption agency, but a permanency agency. “I felt very proud that as a new executive director, I did what was right for the kids,” Herne said. Taking on the role of coaches, other participants in the workshop examined this experience and helped Herne see how he could use both practical and more abstract lessons learned during that situation for his future work.

Englehart explained that a hallmark of a coaching relationship is that a coach must be someone who does not have the power to hire or fire the individual being coached. Having that dynamic could prevent a coach from giving an executive an honest assessment. Ordinarily, that would mean that as director, Englehart should not have been a coach for someone in her agency. However, knowing she was going to be retiring, she served as a coach for her successor, who had already been chosen.

Englehart sought to strengthen her entire agency before she left. As part of that goal, she took courses offered by the College of Executive Coaching. Between feeling the national economic downturn in Ohio and her departure, the Department of Job and Family Services was in for a change, so she engaged the whole agency in transitional planning as part of an internal transitional coaching project. In her classes, “they were telling me that these things work,” she explained to the workshop participants. “I decided, ‘I’m going to practice this on my entire staff.’” This manifested as training in recognition of personality types and leadership styles. Part of improving as a leader, Englehart said, is “learning what to do if you are responding emotionally” rather than logically to a question or request from an employee.

Following the Auerbach “GOOD” Model—where GOOD stands for goals, opportunities, obstacles, and do—staff shared their perspectives on the agency’s situation with a dwindling budget and more competition from private sector service providers. Both immediate and longer term goals were put forward, opportunities and obstacles to their achievement identified, and action plans implemented. Several committees tackled specific projects that together made the department’s office more of a community resource center and less of a bureaucratic headquarters. Children at the Child Care Center created art for the windows, union painters got an off-season job sprucing up the lobby, and the Department of Job and Family Services partnered with other county departments to offer blood pressure tests in the lobby, host tax help sessions in the early part of the year, and start a “last chance” farmers’ market with extra food from other markets distributed free to people on public assistance.

All of it, Englehart maintained, was made easier because of training in coaching and management skills for managers at all levels. Following a view advanced by psychologist Relly Nadler, Englehart notes that teamwork is an unnatural act. Successful teamwork requires not only recognizing that diverse views exist, but that diverse views are critical to progress, Englehart explains: “If you had an organization filled with people who thought like you, you’d go nowhere.”

Meghan Williams is a contributing editor to Children’s Voice.

Florida

The Florida Department of Children and Families, a CWLA member agency, has taken to Twitter to find potential adoptive parents. Explore Adoption, or @ExploreAdoption on Twitter, is a statewide initiative promoting adoption of Florida children in foster care that focuses on children who wait the longest to find adoptive families: teens, children with medical needs, and sibling groups. “We are reaching out to loving Florida families and reminding them of the joy of adopting children in foster care,” Secretary David Wilkins said in a press release. The tweets are also being shared at www.adoptflorida.org.

Michigan

State legislators in Michigan have finished a plan to speed up the adoption process for foster children. Previously, before they could be finalized, all adoptions had to be approved by a single person—the Michigan Children’s Institute superintendent, a position inside the state Department of Human Services. With more than 1,100 cases coming to the superintendent to review in a single year, the policy meant some cases suffered inordinate delays. In late April, the Michigan Senate approved bills that would allow the superintendent to authorize a designee to approve adoptions and guardianships; the House and governor approved them in May.

Missouri

The Missouri Department of Social Services, a CWLA member, recently launched a website for employers to submit reports of employment for parents who owe child support. Such reports are mandatory under state and federal law. A statement from the department said, “This new system aims to eliminate redundancies, reduce paperwork, avoid errors, speed up withholdings processing, and allow employers to more easily notify the state of new hires and terminations. It is estimated that this new system will increase child support collections by $7.8 million by the end of fiscal year 2012.” Visit www.missouriemployer.dss.mo.gov for more.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

Bookmark and Share

Have something to say?

Let us know!

Send a letter to the editor at voice@cwla.org.