Photo by Jordan Donaldson

In this 25 minute conversation, Nate Wong, an executive coach, leading consultant in social impact space and formerly the chief strategy + social innovation officer at the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University.

Key points covered in the conversation include:

• How to tell if you’re ready to work with a coach

• Signs a coaching relationship might work

• Evolution of coaching

• What kinds of coaching suit “firsts” and “onlys” — people of color, women or others who are trailblazers

Most executive coaches charge less than $500 an hour, and many considerably less than that.

Th transcript is below.

YouTube video

EM: Good morning, Nate.

NW: Good morning, Elizabeth.

EM: I really appreciate you doing this call and talking to me this morning. I reached out to you because I wanted to talk about t what an executive coach really does for a startup leader. We’re in a time of like incredible difficulty for launching and running a business, right? The world is changing so fast that people are thinking through a lot of options to discover what will help them as a leader.

And then secondly, as I shared with you, my own personal journey is … I’m wondering whether it makes sense for me as the leader of Times of E to do this. Ans o with those two made motivations, I’ve reached out to you.

Of course. Well, firstly, we are all in this leadership journey, so I deeply resonate with that. I’m Nate Wong, I would say that I am a social entrepreneur. I’ve very much been at the builder stage of different impact units and larger organizations. Some, a piece of that for me, has actually been observing how leadership works and how important it is not only for individuals, but also for organization for them to thrive.

Andyou’ve launched your own executive coaching practice.

I have. Yes

Which is awesome. Congratulations on that.


EM: (02:37)
I found Nate already to be helpful in my life, because we were together when he was the interim director at the Beck Center at Georgetown and I was a fellow there for about six months in 2019. I found the discussions we had … the way you helped me understand systems change helped me to decide that I wanted to do something bigger. That in turn required, starting a company, raising money, all the things that I’m deeply engaged in now and of course hiring staff.

EM: what it is, is that is on my mind this January, January 2022. It’s a moment of deep, worldwide uncertainty, shared uncertainty, which makes it a moment to connect with other people. So, this is an unprecedented time in a lot of ways. I’ll just start by asking you generally speaking, what have you seen or how have you seen leaders or emerging leaders benefit from coaching?

NW: So, the interesting thing about coaching is that it can take so many different forms. I think firstly, it requires people who want to engage in that process. So, it already self-selects leaders who want to improve. Here we are in January, this is the time of all those new year’s resolutions that we probably have already stopped. But I think of coaching as being really right for people who have a few ideas of goals but need to find and discover their own agency and their own accountability to achieve those goals. So, what’s weird is my job is not to tell you what your goals are or even to chart a path for you. It’s mainly to hold space for how you can discover and create that awareness. Sometimes that happens quickly and sometimes not.

NW: I think we can all agree during the pandemic and, and just in general that we have our inner saboteurs. That voice that we actually listen to, that we don’t tell anyone. That probably is one of the larger barriers and that’s exacerbated especially for groups that are more marginalized or charting different courses that are against a societal norm. So, whether you’re a social entrepreneur, whether you’re a person of color, whether you’re a woman in, in a, a more male dominated industry, there are loud saboteurs.  It’s important to claim that agency and have a conversation with those saboteurs.

EM: What typifies a successful coach relationship? Like what are the signs when you’re interviewing coaches or talking to coaches that might be a good indication that it’ll work?

NW: It’s a great question. A lot of it, there’s no real science to it. It’s kind of like dating. I think it requires both parties to know what they’re about. Like if, you know, as a coach, these are the areas I’m well versed in, then you will track a certain type of client. And then from a client standpoint, knowing these are the types of topics that I want to cover. So, for me, my coaching practice is for people who might be considered the first, the fewer, the only. That could be different marginalized groups, people of color, and a lot of that is because that has been my own experience. And so, there’s already a little bit of a kindred spirit, a language that we can resonate and connect on. But that’s gonna differ depending on every individual.

EM: That makes a lot of sense to me I had an experience which Nate knows about already where I talked to an executive coach, and I could tell she was a fabulous person, but we didn’t connect. I felt like on the call, I was so incredibly defensive, which is really rare for me. I’m not typically like that. And when I went back and kind of dug into why I was feeling that way, it was because I think I had not yet committed to the idea that I wanted to progress as a leader.

NW: It takes a lot of awareness to even step back and like, understand that because most, most of the times we have a negative experience, we wipe our hands clean. Like we don’t even engage. So, it’s important that you even did that process.

EM: is helpful to be a writer and you’re built up to being a leader. Cuz being a writer, a journalist, requires so much introspection and self-awareness. That is a huge part of the process of being a writer. So, I am good at that. What, I’m not as good at, probably because of being a woman in finance and business, which is a very male dominated space, is feeling confident about what I want. I’m very used to working for a larger whole or working closely, often with a man because they’re almost all men in the world of finance. So, working closely with a man to help him and support him. Right. And that has been the role that’s been my career for a long time.

EM: And now, how do I take, take these next steps? I listen to the people around me and all of a sudden, like in the past three weeks I started getting all of these people talking to me about out executive coaching.  …And then in the back of my head, I thought, oh, I must be terrible leader. Right? Like everyone’s looking at me saying, you need to get better, really fast if you’re gonna do, if you’re gonna pull this off.

NW: I actually wanna correct that, that myth, because so often, we think about leadership coaching in a remedial perspective. Some of the best leaders are ones with leadership coaches because they’re ready to, your point has a perspective on growth. Like if we have a growth mindset, we will generally be more open and a better leader period. So, it, it actually is kind of this, this interesting paradox, the way that the leadership coaching industry I think has evolved over time.

EM: So, tell me a little bit about how the leadership coaching industry grew up. Like how long have people been doing this?

NW: It’s been 20 plus years. It’s a different form of consulting if you will. … There’s a lot of emptying yourself so that you can be super present to the person that you’re coaching. So, a good coach is someone that is really not trying to solve someone’s problem per se or fix them in a prescriptive way. It’s more so asking you, what do you think the next steps are? Where can you claim agency? Where are the barriers? And I actually think there’s some real similarities to journalism. In general, the industry, how has evolved quite a bit. It was very much focused on executives like in business and now, you know, it’s really ranged to all different types of leaders.

NW: There’s career coaching, normal executive coaching, and then a ton of different forms of it. Like how, how are you an embodied leader? How are you thinking about the role of identity and how that plays into it? These are areas that are relatively new to traditional coaching. I grew up when it was very much thought of to be a leader, I needed to play golf, right? Like I need to look a certain way, present a certain way. And is very much evolving. And that is the rich terrain of entrepreneurs who are charting these different paths and are creating a different version of leadership that doesn’t look like the corporate suit type of leader.

EM: What I’ve been pondering is this quality of myself, which helps me a lot as a journalist, which is self-doubt. Like I’m, I’m riddled with self-doubt for various reasons that are complicated. I’ve used that in my career as a journalist. Cuz to admit your own doubt is actually a way of getting people to talk to you. It’s completely non-threatening and it’s also as a journalist because I doubt everything that I see. I fact check it. But then I’m thinking, do I need to let go of self-doubt in order to exude confidence to be a leader?

NW: We often like to think in the binary, right. Is it good or is it bad? Right. Like this labeling, and we’ve seen it, you’ve seen it in journalism, the hyper-polarized view of the world. What I think coaching allows is to dissect it. When you say self-doubt, there’s some good parts to it and that there’s some not so helpful parts to it. And how do you look at it without judgment to like to dissect it in a more discreet manner versus, oh, it’s, it’s good or it’s bad. And what parts really are serving you at this time? It could have been helpful at a certain stage of your life, and it might not be helpful now or vice versa. It’s super important to, to kind of find that nuance.

EM: The bigger thing to think about is this question of you have to understand yourself your own journey and then put it in the context of the fact that leader, the definition of leadership is changing around us at this moment. And is your own journey part of that cultural shift? I always feel a responsibility, right. If I can do something good in the world, even if it’s a small piece of it, then that’s a sign that I need to keep going on that path. Right. If what I’m doing is helpful to the conversation.

NW: Elizabeth, we, in some ways, although we’re in different fields, I think we have a similar world view of, of reviving or reimagining kind of the way things are working in the world. And I think that that’s my version of social impact. How can you use the tools that exist now to redefine it? And it’s really hard to walk in that middle. How are you reviving journalism using some of the same tools, but also different tools? And it’s really hard to straddle both of those worlds. And that’s personally why I think it important to, to do that introspection, to have that higher consciousness. You can’t operate using old tools to, you know, to change the system itself, but you have to actually reimagine something different. And there’s an internal process that goes along with the external process of change.

EM: We’re kind of ending in some ways where we started, which is always a good sign for a conversation or interview. This idea of nuance and taking these steps along a journey and not expecting yourself to change overnight.

NW: Absolutely. Maybe the, the last piece to build on that is it’s deeply personal, but it’s also communal yeah. Like there’s something powerful about this new world that is reckoning with power in very different ways. And so how can you go on your individual journey that really has to you by yourself? And then where can you invite people in who are also going through similar journeys and transformation. And I think that that duality and that nuance is really interesting.

EM: We have invited people into this conversation. So how can they reach you if they wanna reach out to you for coaching?

NW: It’s just Nate And happy to refer people to other coaches, too.

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit and connect with and

A business journalist for 20 years, am the founder of Times of Entrepreneurship and the co-author of The New Builders.