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Yesim Engin: Hi everyone, my name is Yesim Engin and today I’m here with lovely Magdalena Mook, Chief Executive Officer of ICF, and we are going to have an interview to be published on our first issue of Coach Magazine Global. So welcome, Magda, can I call you Magda?

Magdalena Mook: Absolutely! Almost everybody calls me Magda. So yes, please.

YE: Thank you very much for being with us today. It’s an amazing opportunity for us to have the interview for our first publishment with you as ICF Global Head, and we know you may live with your title. However, today I would like to ask you to get to know you as a person and a coach. So, how did you start coaching and how did it impact people around you?

MM: Thank you for inviting me, I’m very happy to be here and support your magazine. I think that raising awareness of professional coaching is something that is making a big progress, but we still have some work to do. My journey with coaching started just about 17 years ago when I first joined ICF. I was aware of coaching. I knew what coaching was, but let’s face it: It was 2005. ICF itself was only 10 years old and the profession of coaching was not very well recognized or even understood. So, the reason I joined ICF was not from the perspective of coaching, but from the perspective of association management. Already then, I was an expert and professional in association management, and ICF being an association needed somebody with a broad international experience. This is how I joined ICF. My very first experience with coaching was to work with a professional coach who changed my life and made me a huge believer and proponent for the coaching profession. I’m still friends with my very first coach. We talk occasionally, and several years back I called her, and I said, “You know what? I must apologize to you”. She said, “Apologize for what?” and I said, “Apologize for not being very accessible client. I know it now working with multiple coaches that I was not very ready to be an open coaching client”. So, I have a huge appreciation for all professional coaches who have to open their clients up a little bit, make them familiar and comfortable with the process, so that the client can truly be able to reach their greatest potential. I am a trained coach. I’ve been trained by the company here in the United States, and I also have been trained as a systemic coach by the company in the UK. I would not consider myself a coach necessarily. I would self-identify as a leader using coaching skills. I do not have much time to coach. ICF is a very large global organization, and it takes time to run it daily with the very talented staff I have. So, my staff would probably say that I am leading the organisation, utilising coaching skills, and coaching competencies in a day-to-day work.

YE: Thank you so much for sharing how you started coaching because my journey is similar, and I know many coaches started coaching by being coached by professional coaches. It shows us how a life can be changed through a coaching session. Even one session can be impactful. We know ICF in general, but can we hear from you a bit more about how ICF structure is?

MM: ICF started as an organisation for and of professional coaches. When ICF was first started in 1995, it was created to give legitimacy and credibility to only emerging coaching profession. ICF created a community for people who were interested in coaching and becoming coaches, and I think it’s true for any association, so a body is created to support a profession or a group of professionals. We must be relevant to survive; the world and the environment around us have been changing very rapidly and so has been ICF about three years ago. In the beginning of 2020, we established a different structure, which is only a reflection of a different value that we are offering to our stakeholders as an organisation. So now, ICF is a combination of six family organisations, and they look specifically into certain parts of coaching environment or field. We believe it altogether creates greater value than any of these pieces along. We are still and always will be association for and of professional coaches. So, there is one family organisation looking primarily into education, bringing trends to our members, giving them tips of how to run business, how to be abreast of what’s new and exciting in the field of coaching. Family organisation is responsible for making sure that our credentialing programme is very aligned with the international standards for credentialing bodies, and that’s the International Standards Organisation that dictates the content of our credentials is very much aligned with what coaches do when they are working with their clients. Hence, we do the job analysis every three to five years. Therefore, we establish a new set of competencies couple of years ago. So that, we really are reflecting the job that the coaches are doing. There is another family organisation, which is coaching education. That’s where it all starts. Without good preparation for our coaches, there wouldn’t be coaching, so making sure that the programming of our coaching education is well reflective of the core competencies, of our code of ethics, of the practises in the coaching field, that’s something extremely important and fundamental for the profession itself. Our communities are generous communities, so I see a foundation that has been a leader in offering pro bono coaching for the populations that otherwise would not be either familiar with coaching or would not think coaching is a good solution for them. Also, they are conducting research on the effectiveness of coaching in social progress organisations. As I said, the relevance we noticed in a coaching sphere was that more organisations, corporations, governmental organisations, private & public started adopting coaching style or building coaching cultures for better effects of their work. So, we created the coaching in organisations, and family organisations that is helping with that. It’s supporting organisations that want to bring coaching to their organisations either through internal coaching processes or hybrid of internal & external, managers and leaders using coaching skills. So, this is a very fast-growing part of coaching spectrum, and we know from research we’ve done with primarily Human Capital Institute (HCI) is that organisations with strong coaching cultures realize better financial results and they have a much greater engagement of their employees. That’s a global finding, not just the US, so it is a business proposition. Coaching is a business proposition for those organisations. We wanted to create a part of our own environment within ICF for the organisations that are interested in coaching cultures. As I said, ICF was created in 1995 and it is fast and very dynamically developing field. It’s a different organisation and therefore we thought that we must have a space for very open conversation about where we are going with coaching, what coaching is doing, what the research is indicating, what the future challenges and opportunities can be supported with coaching. Hence, we created the thought leadership institutes that is looking into all this new and exciting what’s coming and how coaching can support it. This is the new ICF for you. We call it one ICF, because we believe that by the combination of those six elements, we are creating value that otherwise could not be found.

YE: Thank you so much, it’s very informative. Talking about ICF being so popular and leading platform for coaching, I know you have been present, and you have chapters in most of the countries. I wonder if there is any country that you haven’t opened any chapter yet?

MM: Yes, we are present. We have nearly 58,000 members around the globe which I find so exciting because it means that coaching is truly a global phenomenon. When ICF first started, it was predominantly a North American organisation. Although the UK and Australia already had a very strong showing for coaching. I think coaching is now present in so many countries and we have chapters in just about as many countries as we have members. Having said that, there are some areas of the world where we may have members, but we do not have critical mass to create chapters yet. We are growing very fast in Middle Eastern Africa. But Africa still is an area where we do not have chapters in every country, and we are keenly working on developing a good cut rate of coaches in those countries, and when we have enough people to sustain a chapter, we create a chapter with ICF. We are an association of individual members, so even though there may not be a chapter in some countries, we still welcome members from those countries to be a global member of ICF.

YE: What are the countries that you are focusing on to be more active in near future?

MM: We are predominantly looking into the market trends because sometimes if you try to push a development that might not be the best thing. There are several correlations. ICF works closely with many other associations, for example, the associations of Human Resources professionals. Typically, when we see an activity from HR perspective in a country, we know that we will have an influx of ICF members or trained coaches. There may be members of other organisations or alumni of other training schools, so after HR comes, we come because ICF is one of very few coaching organisations that requires coach training for individuals to be able to join as a member. So, we have over 3000 of them around the globe right now.

YE: I see, and having said that, how do you place yourself as ICF within all these other coaching platforms? What makes ICF different or what is the vision that you would like to continue leading coaching platforms, and coaching fields?

MM: Platforms such as Coach Hub, Better Up or Ezra offer opportunity to find employment for coaches and offer technology solution for doing that. We are neither of that. We are an association for individual coach practitioners. So how do we differ from other organisations? Because there are plenty and I think that’s lovely that there are multiple coaching organisations around the globe, each one of us has a touch a bit different value proposition for our members, but we come from the abundance perspective: The more the merrier. There is something special that can be offered by the organisations. We are by far the largest coaching organisation association in the world. With our nearly 58,000 members, we are also the most global one, of which I’m very proud. Also, I think in some corners of the world, ICF is more known as a credentialing body because we have almost 50,000 of credentialed coaches that are proud to call themselves ICF Credentialed Coaches and that is creating a global standard for coaching, and I think that this is one of the greatest value proposition that ICF offers: Being a standard setter for the coaching profession with the help and support of our members and credentialed coaches. We listen to our members. We annually do surveys. I am so glad also to say that our members love to respond to our service, so we are truly listening to what’s needed, and we try to create products and services that are in anticipation. What’s coming next is directly the response to what the needs of our members and stakeholders are. I am very attached to the vision of ICF, and coaching is integral part of a thriving society. To me, it speaks to both coaches thriving and society thriving, because coaching is available and accessible to all.

YE: Thank you so much. You have 50,000 accredited coaches under your umbrella. You are mostly following the changes in coaching requirements, and we have pandemic, war, climate changes. We have many issues going on and I know that there are impacting how coaching having different niches. So, how do you see and support those new coaching fields and niche areas in coaching?

MM: It is interesting because being 17 years with ICF, I saw a lot of changes and moves in the profession. ICF very publicly supports social justice and climate crisis. We are with many other coaching organisations signed up to a statement about climate crisis and we invite our coaches to bring climate into the conversation with their clients. We are not demanding any of that. We are merely inviting and showing maybe a way for our coaches to bring those issues in conversations with their clients. We made quite a significant change in our code of ethics, and it is reflected in our core coaching competencies. The client and the coach need to be aware of what impact their work has on a larger ecosystem. We also have a very strong initiative in diversity, equity, justice and belonging. We created an entire task force around it. We have a staff position at a very senior level, and we created a council for that. We want to see diversity, equity, and justice being reflected in the work of individual coaches, ICF as an organisation, and coaching as a profession. I think this reflects ICF being a modern association keeping up with the changes in a marketplace, with the changes in the environment that our members live and work within, and that part of relevancy is reflected in them.

YE: ICF is a modern association, and you are following all these changes in the world in terms of coaching niches. I would like to ask you about technology, artificial intelligence, using VR gadgets in coaching. How do you approach this? What is your vision or existing approach about this kind of changes?

MM: Technology is impacting our lives in just about every facet of it. I’m wearing a headset. I see you having an Apple Watch. We are talking on a Zoom. Technology is here and it would be rather funny to pretend that it’s not. Technology and artificial intelligence have been present in coaching for years now. So many of us use assessment tools. They’re all based on algorithms. That’s AI for you, right? So, our position is that technology, artificial intelligence is here to stay, and we should not be afraid of it. In fact, technology and artificial intelligence are here to support coaches, which is needed to do two things: One is to be aware of everything that’s happening in the field. We did quite significant research on the application of artificial intelligence in coaching. The second one is working with technology-based organizations is to make sure that it’s not just about technology, it’s about technology in support of coaching. We are in conversation with many of the technology providers from a perspective of technology, being respectful of coaching, ethics, technology, confidentiality in coaching relationships and the absolute protection of use of data. So, I believe, leading the conversation about we love technology, we love possible accomplishments that coaching can do with greater application of technology, including artificial intelligence, and let’s be respectful of the boundaries of the profession while using technology

YE: Thank you very much. Regarding coaching schools, which are very important to educate coaches and they must be accredited to be able to keep the standards up. As ICF, you also have a big role on accreditation of the schools, and I would like to ask you what ICF considers when it comes to accreditation of schools in terms of variety and uniqueness, because the numbers of schools have been increased recently.

MM: We have about 3000 accredited providers and that exactly points to our ICF’s embracing of different approaches. Our standard is, of course, that the coach training providers need to be aligned according to ICF definition of coaching and core coaching competencies. Having said that, they may add their own flavour. Let me give you an example, because it’s one of my favourites. Several years ago, the government of Australia and New Zealand signed an agreement between the country and the first nation of Māori in New Zealand to peacefully coexist. That opened opportunities for the Māori populations to perhaps first time in a long time, be economically independent, and it was especially true for Māori women. What the Agency for Economic Development (this is not their precise name, but let’s call it as such for now) noticed was that the many of Māori women were not prepared to start any kind of economic activity on their own. They simply never had this opportunity. They also noticed that many of them were very open to coaching. However, they were open to coaching only if it came from another Māori woman. So, with the support of some brilliant ICF coaches, training programme was developed for Māori ladies to become coaches. That programme took into consideration very deep spiritual affiliation of that population. So, it was beautifully aligned with core coaching competencies. It used all the standards of adult learning as we require it, and it offered this deep respect and attachment to the cultural norms that this population was considering one of the defining elements for them. So, this is the opening for the uniqueness. As you said, it’s a uniqueness towards languages and cultures. ICF was established and developed in North America and yet we do know that the cultures of Africa and Asia have some values that are beautifully shown in coaching, and yet the approach to training may be a little different because of that and we are welcoming it very much.

YE: Thank you for sharing this story. It’s really touching, and I was going to ask about the cultural differences, but I think this story is a good example for that question as well. It reminds me that we, coaches generally volunteer different projects around the world, and it’s very important for us to implement these values into the big picture in the world. Before closing this interview, I would like to hear from you about how or what you would like to say to influence, and to call other coaches to be more active on social projects voluntarily, maybe along with ICF positions

MM: For any association, we’re as strong as the volunteers work for us. We have 6070 staff persons around the globe. But what so many people in so many different geographies know that ICF is the local chapter or a local colleague, friend, peer, another coach. So, we say that each member of ICF is a brand ambassador. They show the entire universe what ICF and what coaching is including their friends and colleagues. ICF Foundation supports so many activities in social progress such as “Ignite Project”. It is working with organisations that are providing services in social progress fields. I see that coaches work with leaders of those organisations, so they can do their job more effectively. My invitation is to everybody, who is offering some of their amazing and unique talent of being a coach can change life. I think we all saw it with our clients. Perhaps as we talked at the beginning of this interview, we experience the power of coaching ourselves for ourselves. So, I am not suggesting l that every person needs to volunteer. There are circumstances in life where your attention may be needed somewhere else. Having said that, volunteering is one of the most rewarding things. I know I’ve done in my life. I’m a volunteer for other professional organisations. I do not have much time to coach but I do and all if I coach, I do it pro bono, and I work only with female leaders in non-profit organisations stepping into the top level jobs; and words can’t describe how much reward I have from seeing them prosper and shine, so my invitation is for any professional: If you can, please consider being a professional coach feeling forward, giving back whatever it is, what matters for you, or working with other phenomenal people that you can learn so much from and you can help mentor. They grow as well, so I want to thank every single professional coach because this is an important profession and a profession that I think nowadays is having even greater potential than ever. So, thank you for being a professional coach. Thank you for upholding standards in professional coaching. And again, if you can, please support this important profession in a social progress as well.

YE: Thank you so much for being so inspiring. I agree with you, this world needs us. This world needs our talent, and we can change the world for a better future altogether. Thank you, Magda for this beautiful interview. Thank you for being with us as our first guest for Coach Magazine Global.

MM: I’m honoured, I did not know I was the first one. I’m super honoured by that and thank you so much for all these very insightful questions and how we can bring the idea of professional coaching for more people

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