Coaching Alive and Well – and Moving Towards a Profession

Warning: this is a long post…I’m just back from the ICF International Conference in Montreal (and have a lot to say:). It was my first ICF Intl conference and I was truly amazed and impressed by both the content and the people. More than 1,400 coaches from around the world convened and with 47 countries represented. I connected with people from India, Germany, South Korea, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy — and more — and of course, with many from across Canada and the U.S.


I wasn’t sure what to expect. With the current economy, I was wondering if the conversations might lean towards some concern about our relevance and sustainability as a profession. Well, I’m more convinced than ever that coaching is indeed alive and well and on the growth path. Not just in terms of demand but also as a recognized, respected and meaningful profession. I heard from top speakers/experts/thought-leaders in the fields of leadership, talent management, coaching (obviously), humanitariansim, global business trends — and much more. Together they painted a picture that is probably best revealed by a quote from one of the ICF Board Directors at the opening reception: “This is an exciting time to be a coach.”

Here’s just a smattering of reflections and tidbits of what I heard and took away: 

SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY HIGH ON THE AGENDA.  All three keynotes took a BIG stand for the possibility of coaching to make change in the world.  Particularly, the first two days’ Plenary Sessions. Both Vandana Shiva and Peter Senge delivered very powerful messages that addressed very directly the various crisis the world is now facing — detailing key issues within contexts of economic/socio/environmental concerns.

Both talked about various reasons for the current state of our global wellbeing — or rather ‘un-wellbeing’….with great detail related about climate change; consumerism; globalization; etc.

Their remarks underscored a central theme: That the root cause of our global mayhem (in all facets) is that we have lost sight of what’s real. We (within the global economy) have shifted our belief system…our economic policiies…our values and personal and corporate strategies….to that of what’s really made up of ‘fiction’..our own make-believe versions of truth. Anyone following the current U.S mortgage debacle and its fall-out may relate…but there is much more to this and they connected this theme on a significantly more pervasive level (I can’t do it justice here – but if interested, read their latest books where they outline their cases in great depth). 

When it comes to fixing these crisis, Vandana Shiva poignantly said: “You can’t bail out a fiction. The bubble (of fiction) has burst and you can’t put together a bubble.”

Powerful. But what did that have to do with coaching? Everything! Shiva said, the world is now toxic (with all its ails). The coaching profession can serve as a a detox agent. We can be the change we want to see (echoing Ghandi).

Peter Senge’s presentation was equally detailed and powerfully outlined many of these ‘ails’ — issuing a warning and call to action to individuals, businesses and all ‘systems’ to take a stand and do what needs to be done to reverse the trend. At some point I thought I was in a climate change presentation (and to some extent I was).


(One of Peter Senge’s slides)

But upon deeper reflection and listening what I realized is that while Senge (and Shiva) were outlining OUTER GAME issues they were inviting the coaches to consider the impact we can have on people’s INNER GAME:

Inspire change with one person at a time and/or one team at a time and/or one company/organization at a time –and help transform systems (organizations, communities, etc.) to step up to a BIGGER GAME. Inspire ourselves and our clients to be the change we want and need to see in the world.

A powerful call for a group that is still so young in its emergence as a profession and still finding its way. In fact, I do know that some of the coaches left the sessions wondering: “Duh….but all I do is help people get their dream jobs/lives/etc – what does that have to do with climate change and saving the world?”

Lol…Well, perhaps many of us do work on more micro levels and deal with more specific and seemingly ‘smaller’ issues some and/or much of the time. But one conversation at a time….one person at a time….who knows what impact that could unfold into.

And true, our profession is young and finding its way still…..but during the course of the four days, I saw a lot of evidence that the coaching profession is indeed headed in the right direction towards a path that validates that we are emerging as a profession and we make a difference. There’s a lot of inherent integrity when a community of 1,400 gather to refine skills, understand and review our professional ethics, expand minds and perceptions….and more.

A small yet significant example: The last session I attended was about the ICF Code of Ethics. The ICF Ethics Commitee has developed and presented a revised and much more rigorous Code of Ethics. They have further tweaked and refined the definition of coaching. Any and all credible professions must have a clear vision of who they are and who they serve and their central purpose — and they MUST have a credible and meaningful code of ethics. ICF seems to take this seriously and is also about to launch a set of practice standards (guidelines to help bring the code of ethic alive in actual practice). This is all good. It makes me proud to be part of this community and I am pleased to see such evidence that we are up to serious standards. I think in time, our clients and prospective clients will begin to see and appreciate this as well.

Here’s another quote to share that I think links to my philosophy related to TGIM work-life.

Senge spoke about companies that thrive and live long and those that don’t. He shared this powerful quote from A.D de Geus: “The long-lived companies see themselves first and foremost as a human community rather than a machine for producing profit.”

Hmmm. Well said. Tapping into human potential will serve organizations better in the years ahead….leverage their people’s resourcefulness, creativity, intellectual talent and more — to stay relevant, meaningful and be a contributing member of the broader communities and world in which we serve and live. Coaches can help organizations to do that!! Are you working for such an organization? Are you as a leader (at any level) doing your part to create that kind of culture within your working life — your organization? As a coach, are you having conversations with your clients and prospects that inspire this kind of commitment?

Lofty stuff yes. But a good kind of lofy wouldn’t y’a say?

Bringing it in to the Inner Game, the final plenary on the last day was Matthieu Ricard, author of several books including: “Happiness, a Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill”. Ricard is a Buddhist monk who has also had a substantive career in cellular genetics. Active in the scientific research on the effects of meditation on the brain, he bridges science with philosophy and years of personal experience. He shared a very powerful and convincing perspective on how we can begin to rethink our realities in our fast-paced world and create a more ‘truthful’ and sustaining version of happiness.

He was the ultimate “Inner Game” speaker but also parlayed it to how ‘happy’ folks can contribute meaningfully to the outer game needs of our world through a variety of compassionate, humanitarian, philanthropic efforts.


Personal Resonance for Me: I love that connection between inner game meaning/clarity/fulfillment with outer game contribution. In fact, I think that is the foundation in which I focus my coaching work (it’s referenced on my Big Cheese Coaching website in the ‘About Us’ section). When you are clear about who you are; are living authentically and more meaningfully – you are able to give more to others. Whether on smaller scales or largers magnitudes – it’s the bridging of the inner and outer games that bring magnificence to our lives and the people and communities we touch.

That’s the bottom line for me. And once again, it appears I buried the lead. So if you got this far, thanks for taking the time and to  a TGIM Work-life for all of us!



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One Response to “Coaching Alive and Well – and Moving Towards a Profession”

  1. Coach Louise Says:

    Great share Eileen!

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