Live Into Our Future! - International Coaching Federation
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Live Into Our Future!

Posted by Sara Smith, MCC | January 14, 2020 | Comments (6)

In his December column for Coaching World, Jean François Cousin, MCC, our 2019 Chair reminded us of all our successes in the past year and pointed us toward transformative changes in 2020.

Well, here we are, ready to create the future of coaching. You may have read of tremendous changes that are coming to ICF. I am here to report that the work has begun. Founding boards have been formed to create our four new family organizations. The new International Coaching Federation is emerging and it will be broad, bold and transformational!

How do we members help make this bold transformation successful? First, by becoming champions of the new International Coaching Federation and all its varied family organizations. Notice the change from “Coach” to “Coaching”—International Coaching Federation. And notice how much bigger that simple change invites us to become.

One of the key skills of a professional change agent (that’s us!) is be intentional in how we see the new ICF. To illustrate the importance of how we perceive (or “see”) something, let me borrow from an oft-told story in my culture.

Writing in 1843 England, Charles Dickens told the tale of A Christmas Carol. The story is about Ebenezer Scrooge, one of the greediest, meanest-spirited humans ever. As the story goes, after living most of his self-centered life, Scrooge is given an opportunity to change. He is visited by three ghosts—spirits—over the course of one night.

The first spirit shows Scrooge his past, when he was still young and caring. He is also shown the beginning of his transformation to greedy miser.

The next spirit shows him the present world and the impact of his words and actions. At first, Scrooge is defensive, but he soon begins to see how his actions hurt others.

Finally, the ghost of the future shows Scrooge how world would react to his death if he does not change. In that future, no one cares when or how he died. After all, others perished needlessly through his lack of charity. The message is clear: If he doesn’t change, he will be mocked in death and then forgotten. Well, the end of the story is of a man transformed. With the help of the spirits, he sees the error of his ways and becomes the most generous and caring man. It is a story of reinvention and rebirth!

Now let me get to why the story matters to us. Despite Ebenezer Scrooge’s complete transformation at the end of A Christmas Carol, most of us still remember him as the miser. In fact, the term “scrooge” has come to mean a selfish person. How is that possible? At the end of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge is as generous and kind as any man you would want to meet. And yet, the focus of our interpretation remains on who he was originally.

Here is the moral for us: How organizations are seen defines them. As champions of change, one of our jobs— each one of us—is to make sure we are not the only ones who see our ICF as transformed. Let’s find every opportunity to tell the world who we are becoming. Champions of change know how to leave the past behind and live into the future. We have lots to be proud of in the past 25 years, but let’s not reminisce too long on our past. Let’s see ourselves as the International Coaching Federation: more valuable to members and society and more influential than ever before.

In 2020, let’s celebrate and be grateful for our heritage as we turn our collective efforts toward creating the future. It is a future where we are professional coaches and coaching in organizations. Where we represent the cornerstones of ethics, coaching competencies and training. Where we personify thought leadership and responsibility in our society.

It is a future where the world sees us as One ICF.

Sara Smith, MCC

Sara Smith, MCC, is the 2020 Chair of the ICF Professional Coaches Global Board. She is principal of Smith Leadership. Sara worked for IBM for nearly 30 years and finished her tenure as an internal executive coach and transformational consultant. Since leaving IBM, Sara continues to work with business executives, athletic coaches and university executives. Sara has been involved with ICF since 2001, where her passion for the profession led to her to become an active member in ICF North Texas. She was part of the chapter leadership team for eight years. She founded the ICF Southeast Region and served as its co-leader for six years. Sara has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Texas Christian University and is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC) and a Master Certified Coach (MCC).

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Comments (6)

  1. Carol Thomas says:

    Sara, this just sounds like a heckuva lot more committees meeting as opposed to meaningful activity that will actually generate business for us trying to earn a living.

    It just reads like pure chaos of coordination and committees on top of committees on top of committees.

    I can only imagine how much all this will cost and how much of member dues will be spent on travel expenses for all these committee leaders.

    • says:

      Hi Carol, thanks for your reflections on the new organization. You bring up 3 good points. First, there is the potential for lots more work on the organization vs. being out earning a living, then the potential for chaos and third, the question of cost. Those are some of the concerns we have seen kept in mind throughout the initial planning process. Let me offer some perspective and additional background.

      First, we are now over 37,000 individual members strong. That base is made up of coaches who have come from a host of backgrounds. Many have voiced a hunger to be a part of the growth and expansion of our profession. So, yes there will be more work groups of volunteers doing strategic work in the areas of their expertise. We are hearing from coaches around the world who want to join those efforts. Part of the value proposition of the new structure is to engage our collective wisdom and energy to move initiatives forward more quickly.

      Which comes to the question of chaos. We have spent a great deal of time defining which family has what mission – to prevent chaos. We in the ICF Professional Coaches family organization will be focused on the growth and success of our individual members. In fact, with the new structure we will have more time for that mission because we have handed responsibility for credentialing, coach training accreditation and visionary research off to new family organizations. We call them “families” because collaboration and working toward a mutual strategy has been designed into the new organization. And to marry this to your first question, all of that volunteer energy and experience will be aligned for quality, collaboration and pace.

      Finally, as to the cost. As the International Coaching Federation gains traction, there will be more business generated for our members. I haven’t mentioned ICF Coaching In Organizations yet. This family organization’s impact will help address your concerns in several ways. They will be a membership organization for for-profit and nonprofit organizations all over the world and so will generate their own revenue stream. The impact of CIO will open the door to more coaches, strategic alliances, business for our individual members and yes, cash flow. In fact, each family organization will have its own revenue expectations, based on its responsibility and mission. As to the cost for travel, we looked at all expenditures with an eye to wise investment because we are members, too. These new boards (as well as the existing board) conduct 75% or more of the business of the ICF virtually. Each board has begun meeting and those meetings have been held on Zoom. And the collaborative work is done virtually with each board having their own Basecamp project to coordinate their work.

      I appreciate your questions, Carol, because you are raising questions that others may be asking themselves, as well. I hope I’ve offered insight to the level of planning, respect and appropriate caution that has gone into creating the structures of the new ICF – our ONE ICF. And I would offer to any member: if this is the time in your career where you need to build and strengthen your business, do that. Know that other coaches are at a place where they are willing to invest volunteer time for our shared success. And at some point, you may want to join the ranks of ICF volunteers. You are right thinking that it takes time. It can also be hard work. And many will agree that it offers some of the most rewarding fun we’ve had!

      We are committed to keep our members up to date on the growth and change so keep watching the ICF website and checking your inbox: ICF Professional Coaches Members will continue to receive a monthly Member Update email on the third Wednesday of every month. As the work of each family organization gets underway, our marketing and communications team will be working with their staff and volunteer members to develop family-organization-specific communications platforms. We’ll share more about these platforms as they come online via the Member Update email. In the meantime, let’s commit to live into the future of coaching. After all, it’s our future!

  2. says:

    Thank you Carol and Sara for unpacking further the ‘families’ roles and responsibilites.
    This has helped me, and I hope other ICF members, become clearer on where the International Coaching Federation is heading. I have been a member for 20 years and look forward to further global recognition of our profession and more folk working with coaches in all walks of life.
    Thank you for all the work you do for us and for the time and energy you put into leadership.
    Warmly, Belinda MacInnes MCC (from burning Australia – good news is that it is raining today)

  3. Kelly Gallagher says:

    Sara you raise some excellent points. It will benefit all coaches as ICF gains traction and influence within organizations.
    I’m glad to hear of the changes.
    To Carol’s point, however, it’s my belief too, that the ICF should always prioritize meaningful activity that will actually generate business for us trying to earn a living. The expenses, dues, recertification fees, and even the extra that ICF collects to write extra content for our space on it’s very own directory should perhaps be re-evaluated.
    A few of the ideas I’d like to see you consider would include:
    Some form of perk for those tirelessly serving on boards. Could they be given the extra space on your website after years of service?
    Consideration for coaches who have belonged 10 or more years, paid all those dues, and are winding down practices but still want to stay connected? Could fees be discounted for them?
    The potential for introductions into corporations ICF Global is connected with…..maybe encourage them to list open coaching RFP’s on our website for members. Because I have to say, for newly minted coaches there is a high failure rate of those who will actually make it in business. Leads of some sort might help this. Additionally are ICF Headquarter positions on your website?

    Sara, so appreciate you being open and transparent regarding ICF goals and plans. Your leadership is invaluable.

    I do struggle with the idea of constantly forking over dues when I see the lavish Global Meetings posted and consider the idea of staff growing and growing (and traveling and traveling) at your headquarters as the original poster alluded to. Hope and trust ICF will strive to continually balance their ambitions against the needs of your membership.


    • says:

      Kelly, Thanks so much for your thoughts. You are right about prioritizing for our members’ benefit. One of our priorities for 2020 is to bring value and strengthen our partnership with members. The changes we’re undergoing as an organization are vital to fulfilling this priority.

      One of the biggest advantages of the new structure is that the board that I chair (the ICF Professional Coaches family) used to do it all – credentialing, accreditation, etc. Much of that work now belongs to new family organizations. The board I lead is solely focused on the welfare of our members. Yippeee! There is a lot of excitement, I can tell you.

      I want to offer a little more information about the points you brought. First, as a professional organization, our purpose is to advance the profession to benefit our members. Let me offer some direct benefits for 2020:
      – An expanded version of the virtual Business Development Series ( , which delivers value for new and experienced coaches alike. We bring some of the best professionals together to address all the elements of setting up and becoming successful in business. This year, your Business Development Series experience will span the entire year, with a combination of live webinars, year-round onDemand content and peer accountability groups to keep you motivated.
      – In the final quarter of this year, we’ll host our next virtual ICF Advance event. We’ll be leveraging the technology of our ICF Learning Portal to ensure that, whether you join us live or onDemand, you’ll enjoy an interactive learning experience and earn valuable CCE units in Core Competencies.
      – For all coaches: Research to open doors to clients. I know you mentioned ICF introducing coaches into our partner organizations – this is one way to do that. Through research with partners like the Human Capital Institute (a premier HR research partner), ICF raises awareness about coaching and opens doors. Notice, I mentioned we open the door. That is the handoff for our member coaches to take the information and become familiar with it, ultimately adding it to their marketing toolkit along with the slick marketing material developed for members. By the way, this last link is to the member marketing toolkit. Go there to find LOTS of value ways to learn to, look and be more professional. (This is a true member benefit, so please ensure that you’re logged into to take advantage of all it has to offer!)
      – Part of the investment of our membership dues are in creating marketing opportunities and materials as well as opportunities for key education for our members. So opening doors and providing key information and relevant marketing tools for members is one way of bringing the value of membership.
      – Finally, we are looking at how to handle membership differently:people who are new coaches, student coaches, coaches from struggling economies, coaches winding down their practices and all. As a new profession (ICF is celebrating 25 years in 2020) we are getting our first wave of retirees. So, yes, those are questions we will evaluate.

      You asked about dues, fees, staff and a lot of money-related questions. These are all relevant and all have thoughtful answers. Finance is one of the key areas the board looks at. Everything we approve has a timeframe, a business case and accountability. There are no staff increases unless there is a growth business case with accountability targets so that effectiveness can be measured. That discipline allows us to do keep doing what gets results and stop doing what does not.

      You mentioned staff growth. It is important that members know that much of our recent hiring has been in targeted geographies. Those staff positions carry direct chapter and member responsibilities. Our expanding staff are located all over the world. They work in the same time zones, speak the same languages and understand the culture of their member/clients. We track increased spending with increased revenue. That is the only way to be responsible stewards. Finally, there are not that many face-to-face meetings. We designed the new, larger ICF system to be as virtual as possible. Did you know that ICF was one of the founding supporters of Zoom? We use this virtual conferencing platform extensively but not exclusively. Only a small fraction of meetings are in person and those that are undergo scrutiny to make sure the organization gets measurable return.

      These are all pretty broad answers but we are 35,000 strong and the organization works to bring value at every level and location. I hope is helps fill in the gaps, gives you confidence in the work being done and strengthens the value of the ICF for you.

      Thanks again, Sara

  4. says:

    Belinda, Thanks so much for your note – especially in the face of the troubles in your country! And thanks for your acknowledgement of what we are positioning to be and do. These are courageous changes we are making as the ICF and since I first submitted the blog post, I’ve had the privilege to meet with all of the new family organizations’ founding boards.

    They are people we know (and some we don’t) who have expertise in the board they’ve joined. All these volunteers are interested in our vision for the future of coaching and are setting about the work of getting these organizations on their feet and working. You can count on the members of the ICF Professional Coaches Global Board and the International Coaching Federation Global Board to support these new organizations every way we can! It may be a few months before you see announcements, but the creative work has begun. Watch the website and your inbox. We hope that soon we will have opportunities for more involvement in the International Coaching Federation. Stay involved with your chapters because our chapter leaders will be integral in getting information and opportunities out to our community.

    Again thanks for your note! Cheers, Sara

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