The Curious Coach Podcast

Episode 036:
Interview: Linda McLoughlin

From Ireland to Dubai, PCC to MCC, developing mastery to AI, the evolution of coaching and the challenges of coaching in a multidenominational environment and much more… this episode really has it all!  In this episode I had the pleasure of a face to face interview with Linda McLoughlin, coach, trainer and newly elected ICF global board director – and a great ambassador for our wonderful coaching profession.

Listen below or search for The Curious Coach Podcast on Apple podcasts, spotify or wherever else you normally listen to podcasts!

Audio Version


Stephen:        00:01       From Ireland to Dubai, from PCC to MCC, from developing mastery to artificial intelligence and the evolution of coaching and the challenges of coaching in a multi-denominational environment. This episode really has it all.

Linda:            00:20       Now people are been asked, we want you to deliver 10 hours of coaching through face to face through digital, through whatsapp, through you tube or whatever in house platform learning and development platform they’ve developed. It’s a kind of new competency.

Intro Jingle:    00:43       Welcome to the curious coach podcast. The book will up as we travel around and explore the world of coaching. Here’s your host and professional coach, Stephen Clements.

Stephen:        00:56       In this episode I had the pleasure of a face to face interview with Linda McLaughlin, coach, trainer and newly elected ICF global board director and a fantastic ambassador for our wonderful coaching profession.

Linda:            01:11        Well thanking Stephen, Linda McLoughlin and been coaching for almost 20 years and I’m happy to say I achieved MCC just at the end of last year, which was a big professional goal, achieved very much in the leadership executive team coaching space. That’s been where most of my experience has been. And again, I get to travel quite a bit. I’m based in the United Arab Emirates, so I lived there for about nine months of the year and of course work in a very multicultural environment as you can imagine in the Gulf. But then I’m lucky enough to have clients in Europe and I’m also involved very much with the ICF, which gives me a real international perspective. And just earlier this year I was elected onto the global board of directors.

Stephen:        02:02        Hmm. So that’s some journey. And I suppose I’m curious in terms of over the 20 years, how have you changed as a coach?

Linda:            02:14        Oh, great. Powerful question, Stephen. I would say hugely. That initially when I started coaching, I was working with the Institute of Public Administration in Ireland and we were running a lot of flagship leadership development programs for senior public servants. And at the time, many of the leadership development programs included maybe two or three coaching sessions. So that was how I got into, it was never a conscious decision to become a coach. I had made a conscious decision to be in training and development, but coaching, I did really enjoy that one to one time and I felt, especially for senior people that was a safe for them to really share the key issues they were facing at work. Um, however, I have to admit that I had no preparation for this task and I think I had a kind of an innate ability to connect and listen to people.

Linda:            03:18        But you know, now that I’ve studied coaching far more in depth, I know what’s much more beyond that. So, uh, after maybe doing some coaching for about a four year period, I had the opportunity to comment, sign up for the Coaching Development program, which was a 20 day program. It’s still running very much strong and healthy in Ireland. And that was a real eyeopener because that was the first time I realized that there is a competency model for coaching. You know, the 11 core competencies set out by the ICF. And you know, where a structure is very much, um, available to us as coaches. And once I kind of connected into the core competencies and particularly the one designing the alliance, which is really about how do I focus the session, how do I clarify what the client really needs to get out of this? I think that was the biggest turning point for me because I realized maybe what I hadn’t been doing prior to learning that. And I think that Eh, competency really ensures that you are in partnership with your client and that it’s goal focused, it’s results driven and therefore there’s an inherent ROI which is really important in the corporate world.

Stephen:        04:47        Yeah. And then as you talk about that alliance and that partnership, I suppose it jumps out at me that that is such a key difference between coaching and not coaching where you’re mentoring or being more directive.

Linda:            05:02        Yeah, and I think there’s something about, you know, the coactive model of coaching. There’s a lot of, when you say coaching to people, there’s a lot of different definitions and people often connect it into sports coaching. That model is in their head. So typically people think it’s the coach’s job to give advice, to fix things, to provide solutions and I mean I’m used to that when I have my consulting hat on because I would do some organization development and HR type consulting in organizations, but coaching really has quite a different energy and what I love about the ICF coactive non directive form of coaching is that it’s saying my client is a whole person, they have the answers and my job is just to ask the right questions to get them to access those answers and then commit to following through.

Stephen:        06:01       I suppose I’m curious as well in terms of how you’ve developed as a coach and then the, the value that that is bringing to clients is fantastic… how has coaching changed you over that span as well?

Linda:            06:21       I think it’s changed me, right? To my essence really, because one of the things I think why I’m so drawn to coaching is that when I’m coaching, I am truly present in my life. Anyone who knows me knows I am a multitasker of note. I have high energy, active goal, getting person. And of course that has been a great ingredient for success in my life. But at times I have tended to over do that and, and you know, headed towards burnout almost. But what I find is when I’m coaching, it just brings me into the present moment. It seems to slow me down and focus me in the right way. And the other thing I notice is I never take notes during my coaching sessions and as soon as I meet my clients, and it could be months in between the sessions, I have this amazing recall that I can just slap back into the conversation where we left off.

Linda:            07:33       And I think that comes with being so present and coaching seems to do that for me. Whereas normally I cannot rely on my memory. I mean, where are my, where’s my handbag, where’s my keys, my family can get sick and tired of me asking me these questions, you know. But I think this, it has just coaching somehow has changed my DNA in that respect. And, and I, I think also maybe develop my empathy and the non-judgment because it is amazing. Even though I work in the corporate leadership space and often the goals set for the coaching engagement will reflect, you know, the person’s goals, goals, our role in the c suite. But as you get into coaching people, they are people that the personnel issues emerge whether they are fears are, you know, imposter syndrome are difficulties balancing their life or stress or anxiety. These are just huge trends at the moment that you really realize when people lift the mask that we’re all human and we can never judge. Doesn’t matter how big the title, how big the office of the client, just, we never know with people and I think that reminds me every day on the journey to non-judgment. Now it’s easier said than done.

Stephen:        09:12        It strikes me that when you deal with executives and sort of leaders in their field, there is that perception that they are experts, they have this confidence, they have a lot of responsibility. And I suppose I’m curious, have you noticed a shift over the years moving more from the coaching, being helping them with what they’re doing to being more about how they’re being as a person and being more open to that, that human side of, of their role as a leader or was that always there?

Linda:            09:54       Hmmm, an interesting question. My experience is when you go into an organization and you contract for coaching program that still today the goals will be very corporate focused. Um, and it’s really as you build up the trust and the relationship and you dig deeper that the real issues emerge. And I’m not sure that that has changed anymore or less over my 20 years. I think that has always been a fact of life. I think what has changed is um, executives being open to that issue around purpose, life purpose and almost consciousness and spirituality that those sorts of topics seem to be more mainstream now. Whereas they might have seemed a little flaky to bring up in the past. Like, for instance, years and years ago, I trained as a Reiki master and I have never practiced Reiki as a business, but I use it very much for myself and and me balancing myself and friends and family of course. But I would have kept that kind of a secret. It was a dirty little secret in my corporate work. I would never have mentioned that. Whereas now I find people are interested in that and there is, there is a more openness. All right.

Stephen:        11:29        And if it does seem to be that organizations are more embracing the whole concept of mindfulness and truly human.

Linda:            11:39       Yeah, the mind body connection seems to be accepted, you know, corporations offering yoga and mindfulness sessions. Now 10 years ago in Ireland, that would have been a rarity. So it’s to see this eh movement happening, you know, and, and maybe responding to our workforce as, as a sort of whole people.

Stephen:        12:05        And suppose I’m curious, so you, when you did your training with coaching development, you went straight into PCC or did you do ACC first?

Linda:            12:17        No, I went straight to PCC. I think when I finished the certificate course, I went forward to the diploma, which meant that I was teed up in terms of the Supervision Requirements, the Mentor coaching requirements. Um, and I decided to go straight for PCC. I think what has helped at the time was that you needed 750 hours. They’ve brought it back to 500 at the moment. But, and at that time you were able to count hours you had done prior to your training. So with the fact that I was doing coaching every week as part of my job was great that I was able to accumulate the hours needed. Whereas as you know, for ACC it’s a hundred so I mean it depends, I think, where people are are and how many hours they can accumulate before they make their application. But I still think, and often I would advise the coaches I train go for ACC and for many clients they’re happy that they have a credential coach.

Linda:            13:26        And the fact that there’s three levels is not so important to them. I think it is key to be a member of a coaching organization. Whichever one you choose. Obviously I’m very enamoured with the ICF, but there’s EMCC and AC out there. Wonderful associations. So I think it’s important to be part of a body, ascribe to a code of ethics, you know, and have a personal continuing professional development path within that. So I would be saying start on the ladder of ACC is the right step for you. Go for that. It just happened, at the time, that PCC was attainable for me as a first step.

Stephen:        14:08       Yeah. And I suppose I’m curious then, what’s the difference between Linda getting her PCC and starting out that level of coaching and where you’re at today as now an MCC?

Linda:            14:23        Well, I was 10 years in the making to become MCC, and initially when I look back, it started, I am, as I say, I love to have a target. I love to have a goal. So once I was practicing as PCC for a number of years, I kind of thought, well wouldn’t it be cool to aim for MCC? And at the time I probably saw it as a more transactional process. I need to get my two and a half thousand hours, I need to get my mentor coaching my two tapes, etc. But when I really got into it, I realized it was more transformational. It was not transactional journey at all. And I’d say I probably took two years longer preparing for my application than I had intended because I worked with four different mentor coaches right around the world. I had one mentor, coach, Benito Stafford in Oman, she was the first MCC in the Gulf.

Linda:            15:26        I had two in the U K and one in America. And I just learned an awful lot. Each mentor gave me a different perspective on mastery. And even though I had my 10 hours done ages earlier, I just kept going. I kind of got the bug and then it really made me evaluate how I was coaching. And I think one of the biggest things for me was emphasizing partnership more at every minute of the conversation. And the other thing was more direct communications. I realized I perhaps wasn’t always sharing my observations and feedback as well as I might or as often as I might. And I was learning how to give myself permission to do that. So they were key learnings for me on the way and, and also there was a kind of a humbling aspect to it to be honest, because I would do a recording and be quite delighted with it and think, oh, you know, I’ll get the thumbs up when I sent it to my mentor coach, you know, and then the word might come down, well actually I wouldn’t recommend you submit this.

Linda:            16:50        You know, and it is like a bucket of cold water and often when you’ve been practicing for so long, you know, and you have a certain status in the community or in your profession, to realize it’s not meeting the standard. But I felt managing my feelings through that and my vulnerability and getting back on the horse. I think that was a really important part of the journey. But what I love is, you know, people say, Oh, what’s it like beening a master now and I don’t kind of fully buy into that. They are three letters that you can put after your name. But as someone once said to me, it just means really that on the day you were assessed with your two tapes that you met the standard on that day and that every, every day is a challenge and you may not hit that level every day.

Stephen:        17:51       I think that’s one of the beautiful things about coaching. Certainly for me that it’s not, you go into a course and you’re done and you’ve got a qualification and now you’re there. It really is that journey and you learn so much along the way, not just about how to do it, but also about yourself and it’s a voyage.

Linda:            18:16       Yeah, and I think at the mastery level, what’s interesting is that there isn’t a set of markers like we know for PCC there’s a very structured and rigorous assessment process. You know, where you, if you tick these boxes, you are at the PCC standard, which has been wonderful in one way to ensure consistency across assessors. But for mastery level, you know, it’s what one of my mentor coaches used to call the magic sauce. So you demonstrate proficiency at a higher level, obviously in your competencies. But there is some magic there.

Stephen:        18:58        So, uh, and uh, I’m going to ask this question a little bit tongue in cheek, but I’ve got this image now of Linda reaching MCC, kicking off her shoes, putting her feet up saying, Yep, I’m done. I now, know everything I need to know. I’m assuming that’s not true?

Linda:            19:16        I wish I could feel that way Stephen, life would be simpler. Well, I think given that as coaches, we’re so committed to growth and learning and development for our clients, that that has to be reflected in our own journey and our own growth mindset. So while I’m very, I’m happy to have achieved MCC. I don’t see it as an end, you know, it’s ongoing. And uh, just recently now I’ve signed up for a PCC marker training with ICF. So very much enjoying that, delving deep into those competencies. And I’m also heading to the neuro leadership institute conference in New York City in November and I’m sure, uh, that there will be a lot of learning and maybe future directions coming out of that. So no, I, the process never ends much so the chagrin of my family, they’d like me to be around a bit more.

Stephen:        20:20       And I suppose then, just to go back to, I’m curious about the difference between how you have experienced coaching in Ireland and then coaching in Dubai. Um, is there much differences or

Linda:            20:38        when I first moved over to Dubai in 2012, obviously coaching wasn’t at the same level as it was here in Ireland in terms of being very much part of an organization’s way of, of learning and developing. Obviously you have to take into account that the UAE is not even 50 years old yet. So it’s a very young country and we didn’t even have an ICF chapter. So the first chapter was set up in 2013 and it’s got over 250 members already. So it is thriving and growing. And the other great thing is that coaching is been recognized, um, as a way to develop talent in organizations in particular and kind of becoming more part and parcel of how HR and learning and development is operating. So all of that is really, really healthy. And, and again, in terms of the variety of training providers coming into the market, that’s also very, very healthy.

Linda:            21:39       And I offer my own training out there and you know, a lot of demand I’m seeing now for in house versions of the program. So, you know, with the beginning companies are beginning to look at training up their own internal coaches, which is again very positive in terms of building coaching cultures at work. But you know, there are differences obviously the Arab world it’s still quite traditional and hierarchical in places. And the idea that the coach doesn’t give direct advice, is still something, you know, clients can struggle with. So we have to spend quite a bit of time up front at chemistry meetings, et cetera, clarifying that. Um, and I think there is sometimes talk about Islamic coaching developing a branch of our profession, called, Islamic coaching and, and there’s some merit in that. However, my personal opinion is that we should stick with the global model and, and more or less position the, the coaching industry as a universal, that there is a universal expectation role and set of competencies for coaching no matter where it happens in the world.

Stephen:        22:56       And I suppose I’m curious as well, you mentioned previously about the number of different um, nationalities that are, that are involved in the companies and teams and I assume that must be quite challenging.

Linda:            23:10        Yeah, it’s a hugely multicultural city you know, my one position I had at an American University there, between faculty and staff with something like 89 different nationalities. So the whole multicultural understanding and sensitivity has to be a really, really big part of your coach’s tool kit. And, and I find that that was a great learning for me because even how words are used, gestures, people might use facial expressions – all have different meanings for different cultures. And especially when you’re doing team coaching in a city like that. Not just even managing the variety of professions and functions within the team, but the nationalities and for instance, saving face can be a really important part of a lot of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. So that kind of frank forthright feedback piece, uh, which is important, but it has to be delivered in a way that is culturally sensitive. Um, and I’m not sure if I mentioned, but the ICF has recently undertaken a complete review of the core competencies. Based on in depth job analysis and this’ll be coming out in the coming months. But one thing we know is that multicultural sensitivity will be part of that updated competency framework.

Stephen:        24:45       Yeah. It’s such, it’s so relevant for how the workplace is changing and as you say, those teams are, are becoming multi denominal and eveything else.

Linda:            24:55        That’s right. And I think also with the digital explosion, you know, coaches are working across geographies, across cultures, you know, from the comfort of our own home. We could be coaching on any continent. So I think it’s really becoming crucial.

Stephen:        25:12        And I suppose on that digital piece, so are we all going to be going to be replaced by AI and you won’t need coaches in years to come? Just be curious to get your, your personal opinion on that one.

Linda:            25:25        Will we be meeting robots at our chapter meeting? Well, I think that all industries are going to be impacted. You know, what affects society and what affects the workplace in general is going to impact on coaching and AI and machine learning, we’re seeing it so much part of how we’re doing business today. Of course it’s going to change our world. And I think the emphasis, we’ll see it in two main ways, one will be much more emphasis on mastery. So perhaps what could have been provided at a transaction, a lower level of coaching may be able to be done by computer apps or phone apps, for instance, in the future. But I still think there will be a great demand for the really in-depth coach who can provide that human connection. I think the second way that it’s going to manifest, and some of my colleagues are telling me it’s happened already, but it’ll become more mainstream, is a very blended approach to how we provide coaching services.

Linda:            26:32        So typically at the moment we would might be contracted, you know, to do six or ten one-to-one sessions. Now people are been asked more in terms of we want you to 10 hours of coaching through face to face, through digital, through whatsapp, through you tube, you know, or whatever. In house platform learning and development platform they’ve developed. Now this is an interesting one because it means how do we manage data, for instance, you know, how do we protect people’s identity when we may not be operating out of say a workplace laptop. We may be doing everything on the fly through our phones, multiple devices, even what language do we use if we’re sending text messages to our clients in terms of checking in with them, in terms of encouraging them, affirming them. It’s a kind of new competency and and what is appropriate. And also there is inbuilt into this, this idea of accessibility 24×7, so how do we manage boundaries with our clients as coaches if we’re kind of going to be in contact through multiple devices in multiple ways at all times.

Stephen:        27:53       Hmm. So maybe being replaced by an AI isn’t so bad after all! I’m just conscious as we’re, we’re wrapping up and um, just to get in one piece of around, what advice would you have for, for those starting out on their own journey today and, and getting into coaching?

Linda:            28:19        Well, I think access to professional level training is key. Get the fundamentals right and get the best course you can access and afford. Uh, I think after that really it’s about practice and I think, uh, it’s a real skill coaching and the only way to refine it and gain your experience is through, you know, constant practice. And sometimes there can be a little nervousness on our part and we tend to think, well, if I read another book or I do another Webinar, I’d be a better coach, but there’s nothing that would beat practice. And I think also been very open to feedback and self reflection in terms of how am I doing. And I think finally I would say join a professional body because the support of peers is amazing and also having, you know, a kind of a ladder or something to ascribe to. Um, in terms of getting credentialed, making sure your license is up to date, renewing your learning. So that can be very motivating as well.

Stephen:        29:37        Linda, I really appreciate the time that you’ve me today and the generosity and sharing your insights and wisdom. So thank you very much and I wish you every success and as you continue on your own journey.

Linda:            29:52        Well thank you Stephen for your invitation, very honoured and I do love your podcast series, The Curious Coach, so looking forward to the next instalment.

Stephen:        30:01       As always, I really appreciate the time and openness of coaches such as Linda in sharing their experiences, reflections and journey with me and the listeners of the curious coach podcast. And I love the excuse to cover such a broad range of areas with Linda as she popped home to Ireland for a well deserved holiday. Full details of this and all the other episodes can be find on my website at And please don’t hesitate to get in touch by sending me an email to [email protected] and that Stephen with a “ph”. Thanks again for listening, and until next time, don’t forget, stay curious.