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Executive Coaching provides “life changing” support for YA’s new President

A Conversation with Charisse Williams, President, Young Audiences, Woodruff Arts Center.

Q: What is the mission of Young Audiences and a few of the exciting goals that are currently underway?

A: Young Audiences, Woodruff Arts Center (YA) is Georgia’s leading provider of arts-in-education programming. Our mission is to transform the lives and learning of Georgia’s young people through the arts. We provide a culturally diverse array of curriculum-based assemblies, workshops and residencies in music, dance, theatre, literary and visual arts. Our programs are aligned to the curriculum and help nurture creativity, build cultural understanding, and enhance the development of learning and life skills. YA is an incredible organization that I am really honored to lead.

This is an exciting time for Young Audiences. We will be celebrating our 30th year anniversary next year, an important milestone that will give us an opportunity to bring key supporters and stakeholders together. Our 30th anniversary will give us the opportunity to honor Ada Lee Correll, a board member who has provided exemplary support and leadership for Young Audiences for 25 years! Also, we are undergoing a comprehensive research-based evaluation of our programs. This evaluation will help us generate data to validate the impact of our programs, which is very important to us and to our funders.

Q: Why did you reach out to GCN Consulting? What did you orginially set out to accomplish with GCN’s assistance?

A: I have lived in Atlanta since 2007 and I have been taking classes at Nonprofit University (NU) since I moved here. In fact, I was taking classes at NU long before I knew that I wanted Executive Coaching. I would say that GCN has been my #1 “go to” resource since I have been leading nonprofits in Atlanta. As a new President, I knew I needed support transitioning into my new role. So, I reached out to Karen Beavor, talked to her about my transition and said, “I could use a coach.” Karen then referred me to GCN’s senior consultants, Cindy Cheatham and Neil Sklarew. The timing was perfect because they had just launched this Executive Coaching program. The transition to my role at Young Audiences was huge and I knew that I needed to pull together a team that could offer support. GCN gave me that support. I also received funding to participate in GCN’s Nonprofit CEO Peerspectives Program which included a peer roundtable.Funding from the Woodruff Arts Center and the Zeist Foundation helped fund my participation in the GCN executive coaching program and Peerspectives. I am very grateful for that support.

Q: How would you describe the experience of working with an Executive Coach?

A: Amazing! Life changing! If you ask me,“what is the most challenging part about my role,” I would say that it is finding the balance between being transparent enough about your challenges so that you can receive the support that you need while at least maintaining the appearance that you have everything under control! (laughter). The Executive Coaching has been incredible! It’s good just to have a neutral person, someone who is not necessarily a part of your organization or staff, who can help me to not only identify my challenges, but also to “name” and “unpack” them, so that I can find solutions.

Q: What is the hardest part about being a new President? What is most needed for leaders like you to be successful?

A: The hardest part about being a new leader is managing your time and tackling things in the right order. You also have to keep the staff motivated--and the Board, too. Overall, I think nonprofit leaders need a strong support network.

Q: What has been the biggest impact of being involved in the CEO Peerspectives program?

A: Being in the CEO Peerspectives Program was great. In some ways, it was like getting coaching from 20 people! I enjoyed the speakers a lot, too. One of the sessions on attracting “A” player board members and donors was really informative. I appreciated being able to bring board members to sessions as well. If someone in our peer group put an issue on the table, I heard from my peers how they would address that issue given their actual experience doing it, so it wasn’t just theoretical. Having that collective wisdom around the table was really valuable!

Q: How would you describe the overall benefit of GCN’s work with YA to-date?

A: There is no word for it! I am a lawyer by training and have worked in philanthropy and with youth development and social justice organizations. I was never trained in nonprofit operations; I learned on the job when I became a nonprofit Director five years ago. When you are a nonprofit leader, you have to know about so much more than the issues your organization works on—you have to be proficient in budgeting, development, capacity-building, sustainability, human resources, marketing and the lists goes on and on. GCN has really given me that type of concrete training and support. If you want to run a successful nonprofit in Georgia, you need to plug into GCN!

Q: What was different about you and your organization after working with GCN?

A: I learned that I need to isolate each challenge that I am facing and deal with them one-by-one, so that I don’t get overwhelmed. The coaching sessions and the personality assessments that GCN Consulting provided helped me to learn more about myself and my style of leadership. That is helping me become a better leader. Neil always reminds me to be patient and celebrate my small successes so that I can pause and look back at how much I have achieved so far. I am also learning how to look at where we have been as an organization and where we want to go as an organization, and how to engage the board effectively in those conversations. Having Neil as my executive coach and consultant has made a huge difference in how I work and recruit support. The biggest thing I am reminded of is that my effectiveness at developing my organization directly correlates to my own leadership development. The reason I have used so many of GCN’s services is that I am very invested in my professional development.

Q: Would you recommend GCN Consulting services and programs to others, why?

A: Absolutely! If you need support in your leadership, then I would recommend the Executive Coaching Program. If you want to connect with peers, then I would recommend the Nonprofit CEO Peerspectives program. In the program I met colleagues with whom I still keep in touch today.

Shameka Thomas is a Consulting Coordinator at Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

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