I came across an article in the New Yorker magazine a few weeks back written by Atul Gawande, an expert surgeon who engaged a fellow surgeon to serve as his personal  coach with the goal of keeping his skills sharp and helping improve his performance and results.    See Personal Best at The New Yorker online. Dr. Gawande calls attention to coaching analogies from sports and the arts, noting that elite athletes and singers often have personal coaches to help them be their best.  They observe them in action and suggest small or large adjustments in preparation, strategy, or technique.  Now as you might imagine it’s pretty rare for professionals like doctors and lawyers to enter into a formal coaching relationship.   The same is true in my business of management consulting.  Well as the New Yorker article indicates, the coaching experiment was quite successful, and Dr. Gawande is convinced that both he and his patients have benefitted.

This got me musing about the work that I do as a management consultant and more specifically as a congregational stewardship consultant.   I have never been hired explicitly to be a coach, but surely that is a large component of what I do – observe leaders in action, offer suggestions to help them do their work more effectively, and then work collaboratively to implement the suggestions.  This is true whether the engagement is to improve the services delivered by the information technology department of a large non-profit or to help foster a culture of generosity in our UU congregations.

So now I’m pondering what it would mean for me to think of myself as a coach and my clients as generally skilled leaders interested in improving their skills and effectiveness.    I wonder how my work would be different if I embraced the coaching spirit more fully and openly.   And how might I benefit from personal coaching?

Well, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with my musings.   I’d love to hear from others who have experience either as coaches or being coached.  I’m convinced that there’s something useful in the coaching model and would love some ideas about digging further into it.  Please comment and share your experience and wisdom.

About the Author
Barry Finkelstein


  1. Rev. Eric Kaminetzky

    Excellent impulse!

    I can happily imagine having you in the pews as I preach the Sermon on the Amount, and joining our Stewardship Team for post-mortems and forward looking planning sessions.

    It would be powerful to add our intimate knowledge of the congregation to your comprehensive knowledge of stewardship generally, and UU stewardship practices specifically.

    There might be efficiencies in having you lead groups of UU stewardship folks gathered by stewardship style, congregational size, gross operating budget, and/or congregational focus.

    I think this could be a rich adjunct to our present practice of calling on stewardship consults for capital campaigns.

    In terms of your being coached, working in pairs or trios of stewardship colleagus with one member tasked to pay attention to the other(s) might be a strong posture for learning.

    Get on it Barry. 🙂

    And thank you for your service to us and the larger communities we yearn to serve.

  2. Laurel Amabile

    I think coaching and mentoring are extremely important aspects of learning and practicing effective stewardship as individuals and in our congregations. Thanks, Barry!


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