The International Coach Federation or ICF, as it is more popularly known, is the most well-known coaching membership organization globally.

It was founded in 1995 by coach Thomas J. Leonard, who was a leader in the life coaching movement.

About Thomas Leonard, Father of Modern Coaching

Thomas Leonard founded many different organizations in his lifetime, including ICF, Coach U, and Coachville.

Thomas Leonard died on February 11th, 2003 in his late 40s. At the time, it was reported he had died of a sudden heart attack, despite being physically active and apparently healthy. (His cause of death is currently not listed online, so the actual details may be different.)

Leonard’s unexpected death sent the coaching world into a spiral of grief and shock. In some ways, the coaching profession hasn’t fully recovered, because he put forth such a positive vision and united coaches in a way that hasn’t been seen since.

It is important to know that Thomas Leonard founded ICF, if just to understand later developments.

ICF’s System of Coaching Credentials

Thomas Leonard did not stick around to manage ICF. He was often busy moving on to the next thing and would often tell his students to go out and register a hundred different domain names to represent all your different brands.

Eventually, ICF got its own board of directors and systems in place, and it grew as an organization.

One of the main ways that ICF credentialed its coaches was through the number of hours that a coach had worked with clients.

This system is still in place today. To become the lowest level at ICF, an “Associate Certified Coach,” you need to have a documented 100 hours coaching clients. The Professional Level requires 500 hours, and the Master Level requires more than 2,500 total hours!

The Coaching Proficiencies

After founding ICF, Leonard started developing a new way to train and assess coaches. This system centered around coaching “proficiencies,” and it was designed to replace the “hours” that ICF used to judge whether a coach was worthy of a certification or not.

The idea was that sheer hours alone would not necessarily distinguish between a good coach and a bad coach.

It could entirely be possible for someone to rack up a ton of coaching hours and still be a bad, ineffective coach.

However, if someone knew the proficiencies, and demonstrated that they used them well, then that would mean they were a good coach, period.

Thomas Leonard originally developed 15 coaching proficiencies. Expanded proficiencies were also developed.

The International Association of Coaches: An Alternative to ICF

Thus, Thomas Leonard, in the years before he died, was working towards coming up with alternative credential to ICF’s. A competing organization called The International Association of Coaches (IAC) was born.

IAC follows Thomas Leonard’s vision of a coaching certifying body that tests people on how proficient they are as coaches as opposed to number of hours spent coaching. IAC now uses “Masteries” as their basis for judging coaches instead of Thomas Leonard’s original “15 Coaching Proficiencies.”

While IAC has not reached the prominence of ICF, it does show that ICF’s system of certifying coaches may not be the best – or at least, the only game in town.

International Coach Federation: An Optional Certification

While ICF advertises its high standards and ethics as a reason to join, with alternatives like IAC, ICF is simply not required to be a successful coach.

The truth is, even without any formal certification from a credentialing body like ICF or IAC, a coach can attract loyal clients.

Most clients really don’t care about ICF. Why? They don’t even know it exists.

Clients choose coaches because they resonate with them as people.

For this reason, a lot of highly successful coaches do not bother with ICF credentialing. ICF credentialing requires a lot of time and expense. You have to get a certain number of hours in training at an ICF-accredited coaching school, then document a certain number of hours as a coach with clients.

You are also looking at membership dues that need to be paid yearly, and they aren’t cheap.

Other Alternatives to ICF Certification

In addition to the ICF and IAC, other coaching organizations exist in various countries.

Also, most coach training programs will give you a “certificate” that you graduated, making you a “Certified Coach” in their particular brand of coaching. You may, for example, become a “Certified Five Star Coach” if that is what the school calls its coaches.

Remember: Coaching (at least in the United States) does not require state licensing.  Certification usually comes from a school or a non-governmental body like ICF.

International Coach Federation Might Be for You

ICF can be a worthwhile organization to join if you have an ICF-accredited school diploma and a lot of coaching hours already documented. But it’s not the end-all and be-all of coaching.

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