Personal Reflections Steve Coats

Paying Leadership Forward

For two full days this past March, I was privileged to offer The Leadership Challenge® Workshop to a number of leaders from various nonprofit organizations in the greater Cincinnati area. It was a wonderful experience for all of us. They enjoyed and benefited from the opportunity to come together with many of their brethren, and to focus on themselves, as individuals and leaders, for a few days. And I was inspired from meeting them and having the opportunity to work with people who unselfishly give so much of themselves in service to others. They are the true role models of servant leadership.


Attending were people from agencies that serve the elderly, the developmentally disabled, struggling families, the homeless who need a meal, and so many others. They face the same leadership challenges as every other organization, but for most, every spare penny they raise goes to providing care to those in need. Little is ever left over for personal or organization development. And that’s where our program, called The Gift of Leadership, made such a profound difference. 


Our long-time partner, Camp Joy, donated their venue for this endeavor—a truly magical place for The Leadership Challenge. It offers a wide array of outside experiential activities, including a high ropes course, which we have found anchors in the lessons of The Five Practices better than any other methodology we have ever discovered. The evening camp fire and cabin style sleeping arrangements also add a terrific relationship building opportunity. There is one other extremely special reason we have used this venue for over 25 years. Camp Joy is itself a non-profit whose original mission continues to focus on providing a life-changing camping experience for underserved or at-risk children. That mission is significantly funded by the for-profit companies whose leaders attend our The Leadership Challenge® Workshops there. It is a heartwarming feeling for our clients and all of us at ILA to know that thousands of children, in very difficult circumstances, have benefited from this partnership.


Although cold and snowy outside (inclement weather did not dampen our outdoor learning experiences), there was amazing warmth among the participants. Great friendships were made and there are already signs of new, collaborative relationships. Since the program, many have shared interviewing and hiring practices, performance management and other processes. They are generously sharing what they can to help each other out. And they are continuing to encourage each other's hearts. We are already working to nail down a date in October for a reunion and "booster shot”.


There is one last piece of the story yet to unfold. My vision, now being shared by more and more, has always been to provide The Leadership Challenge to agencies like these on a somewhat regular basis. The Cincinnati community can only benefit as the nonprofits become better. And leadership development is one of the key strategies that will enable these agencies to grow, flourish, and serve more people in need. The unofficial name for one of our ongoing initiatives is being called the "Chump Change Challenge”. With just a handful of corporate sponsors, providing an amount of money they won't even miss (chump change), we can offer this program twice a year, to more and more deserving and aspiring leaders. We already have a few long-term clients who have signed on to help. Fingers are crossed!


Our deep thanks to Singapore-based Certified Master Martin Tan for challenging all of us to give back. Thanks also to our friends at Wiley for enthusiastically donating the materials as part of our Masters Give Back initiative, and to everyone at Camp Joy for generously providing the perfect place. Together, these partners have already made a positive impact on a number of servant leaders in the Cincinnati area, and the individuals and families they serve. 


Steve Coats, a Leadership Challenge® Certified Master, is a managing partner and co-owner of International Leadership Associates, a leadership development education and consulting firm. For 25 years, Steve has taught, coached, and consulted with executives and all levels of managers around the world in leadership development, team development, personal growth, change, and business strategy. Steve can be reached at


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