Chapter Blog


Interview with Coach and ICF DC Chapter President Freddi Donner

How can a coach help business leaders grow? 

In business, you have people managing other people. Most of these people got into the management positions because they are technically very competent. They technically know the job very well. The assumption that many people make is that they are able to do a knowledge transfer to help others become technically competent the way that they are.

The reality is that many of these technically competent people get the responsibility of teaching and managing without the proper training of how to be a teacher, manager or a leader of others. So they go off and do training. Maybe they learn a tip or two, maybe they do not. As a trainer, I can assure you, training does not give the proper time or tools to translate this technical information into how it can be used based on personality styles, beliefs, and previous work methods. Training is about transferring knowledge, and coaching about changing behavior based on knowledge.

Coaching takes into account the individual, how they learn, where their motivations are, where they get inspiration from, what beliefs/limiting beliefs they have. It enables them to grow on the spot, in the job, using real life examples through the weeks while they are in the coaching program. Coaching is a collaborative process where the receiver (coachee) figures out how to apply learnings, and change their behaviors for more substantial outcomes.  

If business leaders are thinking about hiring a coach but they feel they don't have the time for this, what would you tell them?

They do have the time. We all have the time to do the things we want most out of life.

These individuals may not recognize that they are wasting time because they are repeating old habits that are not serving them well. They are working with an old system and they could potentially work “better” with a new “software”, so to speak. In order to get to the next level of influence, people discover that taking time away from work in order to upgrade their “software” is essential. In reality we cannot learn much while doing something else. To learn something new, we need the time and space to stop and focus on it. Coaching creates this space.

When you watched business leaders and managers upgrade their software, what were the results? What were the benefits of that upgrade? 

The first thing that most of the people who receive coaching appreciate is the time alone to talk and think about themselves. This is of great value for anybody, whether you are a working person or not. Most people rarely get the opportunity to be fully heard and understood, like you get when you are in a coaching environment.

It also gives them the opportunity to really slow down and begin to think about how they make decisions, how they would like their life to be in the future. And to come up with a plan of how to make that happen. With the coach being a facilitator of thinking and an objective observer, individuals can “dump their thinking” in the room, look at it, make changes, and the coach is the supporting element and the accountability partner. If we try and do that during a busy work day, even at night after a work day, without the facilitation, we may come up with a plan but we might not be tapping into all of our resources that can be revealed through the coaching process. And we certainly don’t have the accountability part that coaching brings.

Have you seen increased demand in the last year for coaching services? What’s the interest in coaching services in the DC area? 

The interest in the DC area is definitely growing. Directors of training and development are realizing that training is a short term fix and what value coaching brings, especially when it is tied to a training program: these two services reinforce one another.

There are a couple of trends that are happening in the work place and they cannot be ignored. Baby boomers are moving out of their jobs and they are the most seasoned. Following them are the millennials, who are being pushed into much higher levels of responsibility than they are properly prepared to be taking on. Source:

They want it, but they do not have all the resources available to them to do the work. Coaching can accelerate somebody’s ability to succeed because the individual can use the coaching to “try on” new ways of thinking and behaving. We believe there will be an increased demand, whether it’s individual coaching or team coaching/small group coaching, to help those who are moving into the management and leadership positions to assimilate into these jobs more effectively.

The baby boomers in contrast took a long, long time and they grew into responsibility through years of experience. This new generation is not going to have that time, nor do they want to take the same amount of time. They want to be considered experts and managers now, and coaching can help them in this area.

Given these challenges ahead of the business community, do coaches really have the right tools to help successfully?

Yes and no. Not all coaches are experts in the business community. In the business community most of the ones that get called upon are the ones that were in the business or the government, where they have some sort of a similar background and understanding of the politics and the competing demands. It expedites the coaching process.

This is true in any of the coaching realms. I am a mother of three boys: ICF has coaches that specialize in mother/daughter relationships. I would not be the best coach for a situation like that, since my experience as a mother had been with sons.

What is specific about the coaches that are members of the ICF? Are they good coaches for business? 

The ICF credential is a prequalifier and an indication that there has been some rigorous education and training involved to becoming a coach. In the government it is required that you have an ICF certification. Not all private enterprises require that but they are looking for evidence that you have some training in the coaching industry. Coaching is a broad term and anybody can come into the field, so the ICF credential is a distinguishing recognition that there has been rigor to the educational process that others cannot claim.

Is the ICF DC coaching community big enough to address the growing demand for coaching in the area?

ICF DC Chapter has been steadily growing and is the largest chapter in the US. We are over a thousand members now. And more people are getting into coaching. There are more people accepting coaching as a form of help in their professional development roles. Coaching is also more acceptable in the business community as remediation for underperformers, even though this is not the most valuable way to use coaches. Coaching is easy to contract for, and can be long term or short term.

Why is there this increased interest in the coaching profession?

Personally, I think it is because we are an impatient society, and coaching can create big change in just a few months. Also because it can be done while a person is on the job: coachees do not have to leave the building, or do not have to go away for couple of days. Coachees get an hour of one-on-one coaching and they can go back to work implementing what they have just covered in the coaching session. As any coach will tell you, every topic in the life of a client can be covered in a coaching session, so flexibility is another major attraction.

As an example: I had a client who the company wanted to promote, but he was not able to model leadership. And the executives, contrary to the efforts of informing him what to do/how to act, were not making progress. He was stuck in the expert role, which had him DOING the job, vs. letting others do the job and him overseeing them. Through the coaching process he realized that he was afraid to “let go” of his previous work – that is what he had been rewarded on for YEARS prior. Dealing with that fear, and creating a new message for himself was an internal exercise that could have remained buried had the coaching process not pulled this out for discussion.

Is the chapter size a blessing or challenge? How does ICF DC cater to such a large membership?

With the size that we are comes a lot of diversity. There are life coaches, ADHD coaches, those serving the gay and lesbian community, relationship coaches, health coaches, cultural diversity coaches and so on. We are trying to serve all these coaches. The spiritual coach will have different needs than the ADHD coach. Serving all of the specific needs of our member coaches becomes a challenge. We do the best we can by offering education in collaboration with other chapters, we have small groups and large groups, small informal events and big conferences, and keep doing what we can as an all-volunteer organization to make members happy.

How can current members do more for the chapter?

There is plenty of room for people to step up, whether you want to write for our blog or organize an event. You can even bring a specific topic for an event that you find interesting or valuable to the ICF board and make it a Chapter event. One can also volunteer for the Capital Coaches Conference or for the International Coaching Week. There is also help appreciated with membership, calling new members. There are things that could take an hour a month or things that can take an hour a day. There is a lot of variety. Just call any board member and they will find a way to incorporate you.

What's exciting ahead of the ICF DC chapter?

The vision that has been on my mind and my heart since I started on the board is to get the coaching profession elevated in the minds of the business community through publicity and marketing events and so on and so forth. And as anybody knows that takes time, especially when you are an all volunteer organization. I have a vision that one day one of the leading newspapers, like the Washington Post, is going to publish a meaningful article on the ICF credentialed coaches and the impact that coaching can have on professionals in the DC area.

Can you talk more about the Capital Coaches Conference and the International Coaching Week?

The International Coaching week is May 16 through 22 this year. The International Coaching Week is a celebration of coaching worldwide. ICF is 22,000 members strong globally and it will be doing different events around the world. In Washington DC, we are looking at doing something for the very first time and taking our well-proven coaches coffee format, which is very small, localized gatherings of coaches, and giving them some materials including informational handouts, postcards, etc. to wonder through the city for a couple of hours and see if we can reach several hundred people with the message about coaching. So look out for that.

The Capital Coaches Conference is scheduled for September 30 and October 1. We have a great theme: Designing Innovative Conversations. The conference is by far our biggest local event, and gathers experts in coaching, neurosciences, somatics, etc. The intention this year is to invite the business community in addition to the coaching and HR communities, so that we can really marry the business and coaching communities.

You often say coaching changes lives, does it?

It does. It does!

If you have never been coached, be sure to try a coaching session. If done right, there will be no doubt that you will walk away from a coaching session with a new thought, new idea, new level of energy, less anxiety, less confusion, more clarity around what is the best next thing for you to do. There is no other profession that does that. Counseling does not do it the way coaching does, hiring advisers does not do it, hiring mentors does not do it. Solutions in coaching are truly designed by the coachee and they are facilitated, augmented and revealed by the coach. A coach is a true collaborator, a 100% equal partner to who you are and wherever you are!

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