Executive Coaching Takes Experiential Learning to the Next Level

Leadership learning experiences that are truly transformational require careful thought, strategic situations, and the courage to step outside the comfort zone. The Global Pro Bono programs offered by PYXERA Global represent all of these elements.

At its core, PYXERA Global is a unique nonprofit organization that creates groundbreaking partnerships between the public, private, and social sectors to leverage the attributes of each to create shared value and innovative solutions to complex challenges. In their Global Pro Bono programs, leaders from companies around the world leave their homes to provide professional services to social mission-driven clients in under-served communities. Projects are intended to increase capacity in local organizations and their community while building leadership competencies, creating market insights, and spurring innovative thinking for the participating leader.

Global Pro Bono programs are designed as immersion learning leadership development programs and are generally structured as one-month growth experiences for corporate leaders. The experience serves as a sort of "boot camp" action-learning assignment in countries such as Ghana, India, China, Brazil, the Philippines, Kenya, Turkey, and South Africa, among others. Participants learn how to lead and operate in a complex, unfamiliar, and nuanced environment by taking on an operational or strategic challenge of a social enterprise, nonprofit, or government agency. Teams come together from around the globe first virtually, then face-to-face when serving together on-the-ground. The projects support organizations dedicated to a wide-ranging number of global challenges, including improving food security, increasing access to education, reducing gender-based violence, strengthening local health systems, building sustainable infrastructure, and reducing the gap between youth skills and employment.

Developing the Kind of Leaders People
Want to Follow

While the programs are worthwhile, and the action learning significant, to serve as an effective leadership development, the programs can benefit from a key insight. “We provide detailed pre-work to help participants prepare for their experience and a closing workshop at the end of the experience, but our experience shows that participants benefit greatly from being able to work with a coach to set goals for their learning—and, even more importantly, to reflect upon their learnings and incorporate them back into the workplace upon their return,” explained Laura Asiala, Vice President Public Affairs.

“The program is all about servant leadership and developing the kind of leaders people want to follow,” she continued. With that in mind, Asiala recommends the company known for servant leadership—The Ken Blanchard Companies. Their executive coaching service offers the kind of focused, one-on-one discussions she knows would help the leaders internalize their learnings and incorporate them back into their jobs, thereby maximizing the benefits for both leader and organization. Giving participants the chance to have a coach—a confidential and neutral sounding board with whom to discuss challenges and opportunities—helps them develop a new perspective for anchoring the learning and transferring the skills back to their job.

Within specific programs, executive coaching delivered by The Ken Blanchard Companies provides a critical element by addressing the individual needs of each participant. The coach works with each participant to set personal goals for the in-field portion of the experience, helping them identify exactly what they want to learn while they are away from the office. Asiala explains, “We are trying to accelerate global leadership competencies by radically changing the perspective and perception of leaders. We do this by placing them in an experience which is foreign on all levels and asking them to put their skills and talents to work in that environment. This is all about learning, and thinking about what they plan to learn—allowing them to focus on the areas they consider most important. Working with a coach helps them do just that.”

At the same time, preparing participants for their in-field assignment is critical. PYXERA Global staff organizes several virtual learning sessions to make sure the participants have the right level of skills going into the program, are well acquainted with the country within which they will be working, and are briefed on the specific host clients and their challenges. These sessions are designed to make sure the participants can “hit the ground running.”

Coaches Accelerate Learning on a Global
Pro Bono Assignment

Coaches create a confidential environment where participants can express their concerns, identify development areas, set goals, and create action plans. The coaches support the leaders by acting as a sounding board, challenging their perspectives, and increasing awareness of their behaviors and intentions. Using a structured set of questions, coaches help participants spend time on self-reflection in order to identify skills they want to develop such as improving communication, building cultural awareness, setting clear agreements, building confidence, or increasing impact and influence. This coaching activity helps participants personalize their learning experience to build skills that will positively influence their career.

Once development opportunities are identified, the coach works with the participant to create an action plan for integrating the learning back into the work environment. Participants specify each action they need to take to attain a goal, along with a deadline. For example, if a participant sets a goal to improve communication skills as a part of the experience, the action plan might include information about improving listening skills, preparing for challenging conversations, and asking clarifying questions to improve understanding. The participant also describes the visible behaviors they want to change, who will be impacted by the goal, the expected results, and the value—to themselves and to the organization—of achieving the goal.

On a global pro bono assignment, the most valuable part of the coaching experience is what takes place after the participant returns to their regular job. “’Life-changing’ is the way most of our participants characterize the experience. Re-entry, however, can be a tough transition because it feels like a culture shock. Going through a transformational experience and then returning to an old routine can be confusing. Leaders usually come back with an entirely new perspective of their leadership role,” said Asiala.

In order to be able to process and use that experience, it is essential for participants to take time to reflect on the learnings and develop a plan for incorporating those learnings back into the current work environment.

“Coaches are really helpful to work with them to process their learning and hold the participant accountable for achieving those goals with continued one-to-one coaching sessions,” continued Asiala.

Immersion Global Pro Bono programs are one valuable way for leaders to hone their skills. It takes them out of the office and places them in an entirely unfamiliar situation, with unfamiliar people, to solve a complex challenge. Executive coaching helps ensure that the transition back into the everyday working environment is a smooth one for participants. As Asiala explains, “Stepping outside a comfort zone can seem daunting, but it almost always guarantees a growth experience. When you combine the this kind of action learning with the type of debriefing an experienced coach can provide, it takes an extraordinary experience and makes it transformative.”