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Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland
SVP Partners Jodi Hummer, Dick Eaton, Joan Cameron, and Erica Penner

By Jodi Hummer

“Being an effective SVP Lead Partner, or really any Partner on a team, is more like being a coach than being a manager or consultant. Rather than proposing solutions to problems presented to you, you have to learn patience and have the discipline to WAIT (Why Am I Talking?) after asking thoughtful questions to help a nonprofit leader arrive at his or her own solutions.” That’s an insight SVP Lead Partner Steve Maser took from a three-session Coaching Skills training delivered by SVP Partners Dick Eaton, Joan Cameron, Erica Penner, and me. 

At SVP, Investor Partners work hand-in-hand with nonprofit leaders to build the organizational capacity of our Community Partners. SVP staff members asked us to take this to the next level. This next level is about becoming a “thought partner” rather than being the expert. To achieve this goal we took a “Partners training Partners” approach, building the capacity in our Lead Partners so they could be more powerful at helping nonprofit leaders — a virtuous loop.

The essence of coaching is to enable the recipients to derive their own solutions to the challenges they confront, thereby helping them be more self-sufficient and increasing their internal confidence and ability to make stronger, well-thought-out decisions. The goal of the training program, recently offered to a group of Lead and other highly-engaged Partners, was to provide them with the skills to facilitate this type of personal growth in our Community Partners. 

While the skills needed to engage with leaders of our Community Partners — being fully present, building rapport, listening actively, and asking powerful questions — don’t feel like rocket science, the ability to apply them and not become the subject matter expert can be challenging. As professionals accustomed to making decisions, Investor Partners often find themselves ready to offer solutions and their expertise. But what happens when we take a moment to just listen… to ask deep questions and just wait to hear what our Community Partners have to say? Could there be more to the story? Do we have the full perspective? Can they work through a solution with our support to get them there? What can we learn about the problem that they are solving, and then facilitate their generating creative solutions? 

SVP Partner and Board Treasurer Nicole Thibodeau, who is engaged with several Community Partners, reflected: “The sessions really emphasized the importance of truly listening to understand without judgement and rebuttal. And they shared tactics, such as powerful strategic questions, to uncover root issues. Often that alone will allow people to solve challenges themselves.” 

Deep listening can assist anyone in our professional and personal lives. With continuing support from a regularly scheduled “practice community” to reinforce the new coaching skills learned, we’re positioning SVP to increase its impact as a capacity builder. With positive reviews from participants in our initial training series, plans are in the works to offer a second round this summer. If you want to practice and expand your skills, please contact Rose Rezai to register.

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