This week the International Coaching Federation (ICF)—the largest and most recognized professional association for coaches—celebrates its 20th anniversary. I also celebrate my 22nd anniversary as a coach and pioneer leader in this global and growing profession.
There was a common story emerging from everyone who became a coach in those early years. It sounded like this, “I have always been a coach! It was the best of me in my previous life as a leader, a banker, an actor, a teacher, a parent,” and so on. As the sixth president of the ICF in 2001, I stated my vision to have a professional coach available to anyone with a desk or a telephone around the world by the end of the decade. Since then coaching has morphed into a 90 billion dollar global industry and has many iterations and definitions.
I delivered the opening address at the first European Coaching Conference in the beautiful Swiss Alps in May ‘2001, speaking slowly through interpreters in 5 languages. From the stage, I was able to realize the magnitude of the message, in watching faces and expressions as people heard this story in their tongue. They lit up in recognition that they were becoming a part of something that was being called out of us at a time of conscious awakening on the planet.
Here is the story which has been told and retold in countless books since:
She was the last person to board the Swiss Air flight from Kennedy to Zurich. She stood about four and a half feet tall, wore a dark pink raincoat and carried a simple tote. She took the seat next to mine as the doors of the plane closed. We introduced ourselves and I learned her name was Sonia as we buckled into our seats and chatted before dinner and the movie Chocolat’ were served.
“What takes you to Switzerland,” I inquired?
“I am going to celebrate my 85th birthday with my sisters. They are turning 92 and 94 this week.” Her eyes twinkled with excitement.
“What’s the best part about turning 85?” I wondered.
“The best past is that I no longer care what people think of me. I do the work I want to do – – I am a volunteer at a hospital in NYC. And I am still learning, see?”
From her tote she pulled a Microsoft course completion certificate, and continued, “I am free to go anywhere and do anything I choose. So what takes you to Zurich?”
“I am going to preside over the first ever International Coach Conference outside the US.”
She asked me to explain coaching and I gave her my best ICF definition at that time, “Coaching is a creative partnership that elicits wisdom so that people design the life of their dream, choose work they are called to do, and discover their most meaningful contributions.”
She pierced me with her blue eyes and said simply, “Coaching is too harsh a word for what you do. What you do is to guide people to their inner wisdom before they are 85 years old. You should call yourself a guide.”
Coaches from 68 countries exuberantly cheered as I conveyed this story and welcomed them to the first ever international guide to wisdom conference.
I’ve come to understand that coaching is a shared worldview, anchored in wisdom with guiding principles of expert communication. Coaches are evoking and accelerating positive change and shared insights around the world. We are freeing people to lead, live and work wholeheartedly.
And as we continue to create a common language that unleashes individual and collective wisdom and human potential, it is worthy a note that coaching has become a common language of shared wisdom and dare I say, LOVE.
Join me in celebrating international coaching week!
-Darelyn “DJ” Mitsch