Inside the CCC: An Interview with the Conference Chair

You had a very impressive career as a journalist. What drew you to coaching?

In 1997, I had one of my periodic midlife crises, with my 17-year career in the China tourism field coming to a close and my 78-year mother (who, happily, is about to turn 96) suffering two brain aneurysms and a broken hip all in the course of 90 days.  I felt like the universe had shaken me upside down until everything I thought I knew fell out of my pockets. What do I do next?

Around that time, I saw an infomercial for Tony Robbins’ Personal Power audio program and ordered it. I remember him saying that people are always asking themselves “why” questions – as in, “Why does this always happen to me?” The answer to why is always because. A better-quality question is, “How does this happen? And what can I do differently to get a different result?” I realized that I needed to ask myself higher quality questions, too. In 1999 I signed up for his Mastery University program – where I learned useful life skills like walking on red-hot coals and jumping off a telephone pole toward a flying trapeze. More importantly, I got a year’s worth of coaching from one of Tony’s new stable of professional coaches.

So I discovered coaching by experiencing it.  I saw what a difference coaching made in my life, and that there was actually this profession called coaching and people could be paid for doing this work!

From there I went to the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) to be trained as a coach, and then to NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) school to learn the methodology on which Tony’s coaching work is based. I’m now a certified ICF coach and NLP trainer.  The combination of coaching and NLP dovetailed with my former career as a journalist to elevate my questioning skills.  There is always more to be learned and applied in the art of asking questions and – as our Capital Coaches Conference (CCC) theme puts it – Designing Innovative Conversations.

Have you seen any evolution in coaching from when you started to what you’re seeing now in coaching?

Yes. In organizational coaching, HR and OD leaders are making the business case for coaching by linking it to key strategic goals in areas such as recruitment and talent management, onboarding, and leadership transition. Another trend is that training in coaching skills is growing, getting strong in the areas of health care, technology and management consulting. Coaching Centers of Excellence (CCOE) — competency centers — are emerging in top tier organizations as part of a business strategy unit instead of having coaching tied exclusively to HR.

Capital Coaches Conference has always been designed by and for coaches. I have long wanted to see our Chapter do more outreach to HR, OD, and other allied organizations that can and should be hiring coaches. We tend to talk to each other as ICF members. We need to be talking to potential clients. With this CCC, and with the communications team that we have, we are expanding our reach by communicating to professionals in allied organizations.

What are the biggest opportunities you see for coaches?

I see many opportunities tied to organizations. More and more organizations are recognizing the importance of coaching not just at the C-Suite, but also all along the organizational ladder. Millennials and Gen X and Y-ers are moving up and as the mass exodus of Baby Boomers takes place, the demand for coaches is growing.

The trend I see there is toward managers and leaders gaining coaching skills. In fact, I just had this conversation with a client today about how she can get things off to a good start with a new senior leadership team she is joining.  We talked about coaching questions, she wrote down a number of them, and said, “I need to get good at thinking of those questions before I go into a meeting.”. So many of my clients and leaders in organizations are learning that coaching skills are leadership skills. We as coaches need to be mindful of and helpful with those trends.

If more internal staff receive coach training, what does that mean for external coaches?

Organizations are smart. They are bringing coaches in because they find that they can pay less money for internals than externals on an hourly basis. For those of us that go indoors and are looking for full time more stable work, there is opportunity there. Some external coaches may be displaced by internals who can absorb the work. It may also be true, in the same organization, that more opportunities are created for externals as more people become familiar with coaching internally. It could create more demand and have a longer-term benefit for externals. It can be a “both” “and.”

Dave Buck, a former colleague of Thomas Leonard, has commented that many coaches feel threatened by coaches going “indoors” and by leaders being trained in coaching. His view is that there will always be room for masterful coaches, and I agree with that. As a coach, a coach trainer, and someone who believes that the best way to expand the power of coaching is to expand the use of coaching skills, I love to help my clients ask questions and listen deeply, develop rapport, brainstorm and all those things that we coaches do, because I believe that coaches who use coaching skills both for self-coaching and for coaching of others are more effective leaders. I think we expand the pie if more people become aware of, interested in, and supportive of coaching as a leadership skill. Dave will be having this conversation with us at the CCC.

Many people call themselves coaches. Our field is not as regulated as some. Why is it important to be certified and connected to your professional organization?

What I have said for the 15 years I have been in coaching, the value of certification depends on the value your client puts on it. We as ICF certified coaches need to make the case that being certified distinguishes us in a crowded, unregulated field. If I walk into a room of 100 coaches that I don’t know, how do I distinguish and differentiate them?

If I want to have conversations with coaches that are trained and skilled in their profession, I will look for the ICF certification. The ICF certification is sort of like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  I know that this person has gone to an accredited coaching training institution that adheres to the ICF core competencies and the ethical standards of the coaching profession. I am more assured that the person I am talking to and hiring is qualified and skilled to do the work of a professional coach than someone that hasn’t met the standards of the ICF.

ICF measures success by the number of people that get credentialed, and that’s an understandable association frame. But as a working coach that is working to make a living in this profession, an increase in the number of credentialed coaching without a commensurate increase in the market depresses wages and causes confusion. There will be people who drop out of the profession. Eventually these supply and demand lines cross. ICF will only survive and thrive as an organization  — and our profession will only survive and thrive  — if we continue to make the case and demonstrate the value and demonstrate the value of a certified professional coach.

Why get involved with the local ICF conference — and what’s kept you engaged?

What has kept me on the board is the desire to continually raise the professional standards of our chapter, to contribute educational opportunities for our chapter members, and to network and develop friendships.  And that is the biggest benefit of all. I have friends that will be friends for life that I didn’t even know a few years ago. Being visible on the board gives people a chance to come up to me and introduce themselves and gives me a good excuse to go and welcome them, and envelop them, and to create community.

What do you recommend for someone coming to the Conference for the first time?

One of our brand new board members is helping to create an orientation for first-timers for the CCC. She was new to the conference last year, and made the suggestion and is helping to create it.

The first CCC I went to there were 50-60 people and now we have over 400 people! Connecting with people that you know and introducing yourself to other people is key. If no one is reaching out to you, reach out to them and just talk to people. Go to the new orientation and research the speakers ahead of time.

Why is the conference theme about design thinking?

Chuck Applebee, who will be co-leading a session on peer coaching, introduced me into design thinking a few years ago. It is a big buzzword for organizations right now. It provides a structure or a template for one person to interview another person and help that person think about things, articulate their wants and desired outcomes. It comes down to a coaching conversation put into a template that non-coaches can use.

Design thinking is part of designing innovative conversations. It is one way of facilitating conversations that can help people in their work and in their lives think with greater clarity, understand what they are wanting, and take action on a plan that they design for getting what they want.  It is one of the methodologies or approaches like peer coaching, action learning, NLP, or somatics.

How do we measure coaching’s ROI?

Coaching value is hard to measure in traditional ways and yet not un-measurable. One of the speakers on the WBECS webinar said something that struck me the other day. He would tend to check in with his clients at a midpoint and at the end of their engagement by asking, “How was the coaching for you? What did you get out of it? What do you want more of from me?” After years in the profession, he realized that that questioning was all about him — not his clients — so he changed the questions. He now asks, “If other stakeholders (organizational, family) had been listening in on our conversation, what would they say? What would they observe, what would they acknowledge you for, and what would they encourage you to continue working on?”

I thought that was a brilliant line of questioning. I hope that we will have conversations like this at the CCC, both in our session and in the hallways and over lunch and cocktails, where we can happily challenge ourselves and each other and grow from having been at the Capital Coaches Conference!

So let’s have innovative conversations ourselves, let’s talk to each other about what we’re learning, what we’re hearing, what we’re experiencing, where we’re challenged.

What’s your goal for this conference?

Designing innovative questions, in my mind, is all about the art, craft, and science and creating conversations that help the person we’re coaching think differently, create new possibilities, and take action to execute on those possibilities.

My desire is that all of the conversations and keynotes and breakout sessions at the CCC will both inspire and empower coaches to have different conversations than they may have had in the past, innovate in their coaching and help their clients innovate in their lives.

Interview by Amy K. Harbison, CPCC, ACC **

* Carol Goldsmith is past president of ICF Metro DC and four-time chair of the Capital Coaches Conference.  A coach-trainer and former director in PwC’s Leadership Coaching Center of Excellence, Carol is launching a new coaching supervision/mentoring/skill-building program to help internal coaches and leaders at all levels leverage the power of coaching.

** Amy K. Harbison is  a certified personal and professional transition coach. She has more than 25 years of experience in communications, marketing, and management for nonprofits, associations and higher education and health institutions, including  positioning, branding, messaging, and communications counseling. Amy is a public speaker and a member of the Leadership Greater Washington Class of 2010.

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