Episode 69: Three Lessons Learned from Creating a Certification Program

I’m giving you a look behind the scenes at the three major lessons I learned in creating a certification program and sharing how you can use them to make the process of creating your group programs, courses, and masterminds easier.

69: Three Lessons Learned from Creating a Certification Program

I'm celebrating a huge milestone for Coach with Clarity which has been a dream of mine for years. My Certified Clarity Coach program has been officially accredited by the ICF! It's been almost a year in the making so I'm very excited and I want to translate this good news into something useful for you.

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Show Notes

I'm celebrating a huge milestone for Coach with Clarity which has been a dream of mine for years. My Certified Clarity Coach program has been officially accredited by the ICF! It’s been almost a year in the making so I’m very excited and I want to translate this good news into something useful for you.

Today I’m taking you behind the scenes of creating a certification program and sharing the three huge lessons I learned along the way. I know many of you are creating your group programs, courses, masterminds, and more and I hope these lessons will make your process easier.

I’m also sharing a sneak peek into the upcoming round of the Certified Clarity Coach program and the special bonuses I’m offering for this cohort. Let’s dive in!

Topics covered

  • The first step to take when creating a program affiliated with an outside agency
  • Benefits of having your program accredited by a professional organization
  • The accreditation route I chose for the Certified Clarity Coach Training Program
  • Balancing accreditation guidelines with the needs of your students
  • Leaning into your strengths and what differentiates you
  • Making room for the magic
  • The beauty of a beta program

Resources mentioned

Now it’s time for you to show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity! Screenshot this episode and tag me on Instagram @coachwithclarity and let me know what you’re more excited to explore in future podcast episodes!

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 Well, hello, my friend, and welcome to the Coach with Clarity Podcast. My name is Lee Chaix McDonough, I'm your host, and I'm so happy that you are joining me for this week's episode. In fact as I'm recording this, it is a beautiful Sunday morning, I am all alone in my lovely little office in downtown New Bern, the birds are chirping right outside my window, you might even hear them. And it is just such a beautiful day. It just felt like the perfect day to sit down and record this podcast episode just for you. The sun is streaming through the windows. And in fact, I can hear children playing in the cobblestone alleyway right outside my window. So it really just feels like a magical day. And it's the perfect day for me to record this episode because it involves me sharing some really exciting news with you that I am very proud of.

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So I won't keep you in suspense, the big news is that the Certified Clarity Coach Training Program has been officially accredited by the International Coaching Federation as an approved coach specific training hours provider. Woohoo, I'm over here celebrating because this is something that has been a dream of mine for years, and it has been almost a year in the making. So to have that official notice from ICF, that my program has been accredited, it is a huge milestone for Coach with Clarity, and for me. So I wanted to share that with you. I want to celebrate it with all of you. And I wanted to take that good news and translate it into something useful for you. So that's why today I'm taking you behind the scenes of what it was like to create this program, and three very important lessons I learned along the way. I know many of you are creating your own group programs, whether it's a course, or a mastermind, or maybe even a certification program. And my hope is that by sharing some of what I've learned along the way, it will make your process easier as well. So you'll be getting a sneak peek into what's coming for the next round of the Certified Clarity Coach program, and how completing this first cohort has helped me shape what will come in the future, and also how it allowed me to get my program accredited by ICF. So we're gonna dive into a lot of fun stuff today. And as always, if you have thoughts, questions, I hope you will reach out to me. I am on Instagram @CoachwithClarity, you are welcome to send me a DM and we can continue the conversation there. You are also cordially invited to join the Coach with Clarity Community. That is my free Facebook group, where we really explore the art and business of coaching. It currently has over 4,500 members, and growing. And it is such a fantastic resource if you've got questions about how to grow or scale your coaching business, or if you're just dipping your toe into the coaching waters and want to see what some other really tremendous coaches are up to. So you can come join us over at the Coach with Clarity Community, just head to CoachwithClarity.com/community, and that will take you right over to Facebook where you can request to join. So let's go ahead and dive into the very first lesson I want to share with you, and this is especially for those of you who are creating programs that you may want to have accredited or approved by an outside agency. So the very first lesson is: read the rules multiple times in advance. Before you get started even planning your program, make sure you are really clear on the rules and guidelines for the organization, or organizations, that you want your program to be affiliated with. So this is a pretty specific lesson. If you are simply creating a group program or membership or mastermind for your business, and you don't intend on it being affiliated with an outside agency, then you may not have to worry about this one as much. But I know some of you are interested in having your programs be approved for continuing education, maybe for a professional organization. If you are a mental health professional, maybe you want your training or your group to count as continuing education for people's licenses. Maybe you work with attorneys and you want your event to be eligible for CLE, Continuing Legal Education. Perhaps you're working with school teachers, or yoga teachers, or other professionals that require continuing education in order to maintain their good standing in their profession. If that is you, then you are definitely going to want to pay attention to the lesson here which is: read the rules, read the guidelines in advance before you start planning your program. When I started conceptualizing the Certified Clarity Coach Training Program, I knew I wanted it to meet the criteria so that it would be accredited by ICF. And so that meant really doing my homework, and first off deciding what type of accreditation I was going to pursue. Because in this case, there were really two types, there was ACTP, which stands for Accredited Coach Training Program, and ACSTH, which stands for Approved Coach Specific Training Hours Program. Now, I opted to go the ACSTH route, which I would say is more the à la carte route. So it is an opportunity for people to get the training hours that are required for ICF credentialing, and then they can choose to pursue the other requirements, such as mentor coaching, either with me through the program or elsewhere. So it really gives the students in the Certified Clarity Coach Program a lot of flexibility, versus an Approved Coach Training Program, or an ACTP program, where they provide everything for you. They provide the training, they provide the mentor coaching, and they review the, what I think of as the oral exam, or the coaching sessions submission that every applicant has to provide. Now down the road, I may look to grow the Coach with Clarity Certified Clarity Coach Program into an ACTP program where everything is included. But I knew since I was just starting out, and since this was the first cohort, and because I wanted to offer some additional flexibility to my students, I had a feeling the ACSTH route was going to be the best one for right now. And so that's what I chose. And then I had to make sure I was completely and totally familiar with the guidelines for ACSTH programs. And I'm not gonna lie, there are a lot of them. And I'm okay with that. Because that means that ICF really takes their role in accrediting programs seriously, they want to make sure that when a program carries their sign of approval, that it is meeting their robust standards. So I had no problem with the fact that there were a lot of requirements. But it also meant I had to be very organized, and very careful about how I structured the program, and how I submitted my application, so that I could prove to ICF: I know what you're looking for, I'm providing it here, here's how you can find it, here's why my program meets your standards. So if you are thinking of submitting your program for a continuing education approval, or for a full on certification, whether it's coaching related or not, it is so incredibly important that you are familiar with the submission guidelines. Then once you are familiar with the guidelines, you have to find the balance between teaching your content and your approach in your own way while having it meet those requirements. And of course, we want to do this in a way that is going to benefit our students and give them the experience they deserve. And that can be a lot to juggle. That's certainly something that I found when I was preparing, and then implementing the Certified Clarity Coach Program. So here's an example. For a certification program to be approved by ICF, 80% of the content needs to be synchronous, meaning it needs to be live, it can't be pre-recorded, and it has to pertain to the ICF Coaching Core Competencies. And these core competencies are all about the provision of coaching services, it's all about coaching skill. Now 20% of the content can be on topics outside of the core competencies. So that might look like business building, marketing, sales, these types of things that don't directly pertain to the actual service provision of coaching, but are certainly important to many coaches who are looking to build their own coaching businesses. Now, I knew a lot of my students were very interested in the business side of coaching. And I knew that I was capped by ICF in terms of how much content I could actually provide that was business related. So I needed to really balance those needs of my students with the needs of ICF, so that I could ensure that my program really did focus on the core competencies, while providing my students with this additional information they wanted. So as I was developing my curriculum, I made sure that actually over 80% of our synchronous face to face live hours met the Coaching Core Competency standards. I did this certainly through our weekly seminars, where I would lecture or facilitate discussions. I also held weekly coaching labs, which were an opportunity for students to practice the skills that we had been learning in the program to date. I was there, I was present, sometimes I would observe, sometimes I would just kind of be in the background in case they needed me. But there was a formal proctoring to those coaching labs, and those happened in real time. And then I also had peer coaching rounds, where every student was matched with someone to be a peer coach and then they were matched with a different student to be the peer client. And so we did two rounds of this, with 10 sessions per round. And so that was an opportunity for students to practice their coaching, to build their skills while meeting the ICF Core Competencies. So I made sure that there were multiple opportunities for my students and for me to focus on the skills of coaching, and that easily exceeded 80%. And I found opportunities to address the business oriented questions that my students had as well, knowing that that would fall outside of the 80% requirement. So I did this a few different ways. Number one, I did have some weeks that I thought of as a “Business Booster Weeks”, where the content of the weekly seminars were largely business oriented. So we would talk about, “Who do you want to coach? How do you build an audience? How do you develop your offer? How do you market it?”. I was able to integrate some of that content into the weekly seminars, while ensuring it didn't exceed 20% of the content. So I was able to weave it into some of the weekly seminars, I was also able to weave it into some of the coaching topics we did during the coaching labs, or that perhaps my students would choose to address in their peer coaching sessions. So for example, if we were in coaching labs, and we were doing round robin coaching, perhaps the person who was being coached had a business oriented question or topic that they wanted to explore. We could do that, but we were doing that by practicing the coaching skills. And so when we would then debrief the coaching session, it wouldn't be about the content, it wouldn't be diving deeper into business oriented issues. No, we were still breaking down the actual coaching that occurred within the session. And so we were able to examine the use of powerful questioning, of active listening, and the other core competencies. So that way, the content may have been business oriented, but the practicing of the skills and then the debrief after were very much in line with the core competencies. So that was another way that we weave in the business piece to the Certified Clarity Coach Program, then it was really important to me that my students felt like they had continued support even after they graduated, especially around this business component. And that's why I gifted each one of my students three months of membership in the Coach with Clarity Membership. Knowing that in the membership, we do spend a fair amount of time in our Q&A calls, and our guest expert trainings, looking at the business side of coaching. So that was another way that I felt I was able to support them and to meet their needs regarding the business building elements. And that was completely outside the certification program. So it in no way factored into that 80/20 rule that I had to follow. And spoiler alert, I plan to continue gifting at least three months of membership to all of my future graduates of the program. I want them to feel like they can be a part of the membership, to be a part of the community and that they have continued support moving forward. So for this first cohort, I was able to meet my students' needs around business building by addressing some business oriented topics in our weekly seminars. Also by letting them choose business oriented topics for our coaching practice, but still making sure that we were focusing on the application of the coaching skills, and then inviting them to continue their growth and development within the Coach with Clarity Membership. These are things I will continue to do in the next cohort which starts in August.
And I'm adding something new to really ensure that my students feel like they are fully supported in the business side of their coaching practice. So for this next cohort that begins in August, for any student who chooses to pay in full, I am inviting them to a day long virtual retreat all about growing your coaching business. So in this way, they're going to get additional support outside of the 125 training hours within the program. This is in addition, so it doesn't count towards that 20%. But they're going to get targeted support and guidance from me around business oriented topics. I'm really excited about it. And I'll talk a little bit more about it later in today's episode. But again, I'm sharing all of this so you can see just how important it is to follow the rules of your governing agency when you are submitting your program for approval, while also meeting the needs of your group members or your students. And sometimes we have to be a little creative and think outside the box in order to do so. And when we are able to do that, then we know that we are creating a robust program that is in alignment with those professional organizational requirements, and is really going to serve our students powerfully. So that's lesson number one: if you are intending on seeking any sort of outside approval for your program, whether it's for continuing education, or whether it's for a full on certification, make sure that you are intimately familiar with the submission guidelines and the rules of engagement for that organization. Because when you know them from the top, you can ensure that as you plan your curriculum, and as you lead your program you are doing so in the spirit of and in alignment with those requirements. So that's lesson number one, I have two more lessons to share with you. And these two lessons, I think are universally applicable. So regardless of whether or not you are going to be pursuing any sort of accreditation or approval from an outside agency, I think you're going to find these two lessons helpful. So lesson number two: lean in to what makes you, you, and allow that to really be infused in your program. So when I was first thinking about starting a coach training program and pursuing ICF accreditation, I had a serious limiting belief emerge. And I kept asking myself, “Why on earth would anyone want to become a Certified Clarity Coach and be a part of my training program, when there are so many other programs out there?”. Because there are, there are a number of very strong ICF accredited programs out there. So why on earth? Should I add to that? What do I have to contribute? Why would anyone choose my program? So this was a big limiting belief for me for a while. And honestly, it kept me from taking action on this program, probably longer than it should have. And then I realized, you know what, I can flip the script on this. Yes, there are a number of wonderful programs out there. And there's something about me, and there is something about my approach to coaching that is different, that is unique. And I can create a place for that within this larger ecosystem of coach training programs. So yes, there are dozens of other coach training programs out there that are accredited by the International Coaching Federation, and none of them are just like mine. So it required me to be really clear on what my strengths were, and what would separate my program from others. And I want to be clear, it doesn't mean that my program is better than others, it just means it's different, that I bring a different approach and a different perspective to the art of coaching. And that perspective is going to resonate with the people who are the best fit for my program. Because that's the thing, not everyone is going to want to work with me. Not everyone is going to be the right fit for my program. And that's okay. At the end of the day, what matters most to me is that people are connected with the coach or the training program that is going to serve them best. And I know that there are people out there for whom my program is the best choice, and is the right fit. So I don't need to think about competing with other programs. I just need to keep my eyes on my own paper, and put my program out there, and talk about it in such a way that it attracts the people for whom it is going to be the right fit. And honestly, that's a little bit of what I'm doing today on this podcast by sharing all of this with you. You may hear this and decide, you know what, this is a program I'm interested in. I want to pursue certification. I really connect with Lee's approach in what she's talking about and I want to learn more. So that's something I want to encourage you to do as well, be really clear about what makes you extraordinary and what makes your group program, or membership, or mastermind, or training program, different from all of the other ones out there. So for me, when I sat down to really think about that, what came through for me first and foremost was the fact that Coach with Clarity is built on four pillars: coaching skills, business growth, intuition and energy, and intentional use of self. Those are the four pillars that make up Coach with Clarity, and that are foundational to anything and everything I offer in my business. Whether it is a free podcast episode, or a $27 coaching guide, or my private coaching services, or my certification program, those four pillars are woven into everything I do. And the way I do that is uniquely mine. The way I talk about, for example, intentional use of self, the way we as coaches can use our experiences and our presence as a coaching tool. My take on that is unique. And I do that differently than anyone else out there. And so I can really lean into that as one element that makes my program different from other ones out there. Again, not necessarily better, but different. I have a unique spin on it that I can share with my students in the program. I can also share my unique frameworks for how we structure the coaching relationship and coaching sessions. I have always talked about how important it is to have a clearly defined structure when we're working with our clients. Because when we don't have structure, then it just becomes this nebulous conversation. And neither the client nor the coach is really clear on where we're going, or what the goals are, or how we'll know if we get there. And so in the program, I teach my approach for creating that structure. I teach clarity mapping, which is how we create a framework for the entire coaching experience. And then I teach what I call keyhole coaching, which is my unique structure for each individual coaching session. So the idea of creating structure and a coaching relationship, that's nothing new. And that's certainly not unique to me. But the way that I build structure, and the way I teach others how to do the same, that is uniquely me. And that is something that differentiates me from other programs out there. So, your challenge is to figure out what differentiates you from other programs out there. How do you talk about, or teach, or guide people through your frameworks and your approach that separates you from everyone else out there? How can you use your training, your education, your life experience, and your wisdom to highlight what makes your program unique? Another example, most of you know, prior to becoming a coach and a coach trainer, I was a therapist. I'm still licensed in the state of North Carolina, though I no longer practice. But I am a licensed clinical social worker with almost two decades of experience.
And so having that perspective as a therapist and a coach meant that I was uniquely positioned to talk to my students about what separates coaching from therapy. Here's how we structure a coaching session, and what differentiates it from therapy, which was very important because a lot of my students were themselves therapists who wanted a better understanding of what separated the two approaches. And because I've lived that, and because I've studied that, I'm able to teach specifically to that in a way that maybe some other coach training programs aren't able to. So again, it's all about identifying your unique background, experience, and training, and weaving it together to really talk about what makes your program different. So lesson number two: really lean into your superpowers and allow that to be the hallmark for your program that distinguishes you from everyone else out there. And finally, lesson number three that I learned in creating my certification program is: how incredibly important it is to make room for the magic. So as much as I might want to, I can't predict 100% how something is going to go in my certification program, especially because this was the beta round. In order to pursue ICF accreditation, I first had to successfully run and complete a beta round of my program. So in this beta round I was figuring out how are things going to work, what am I going to teach? What's this going to look like? How's this going to go? And although I started with an idea in mind, and I had a pretty decent idea of, “Okay, these are the topics I'm going to talk about each week, this is how I'm going to structure it”, I also had to enter into the experience knowing that I didn't know everything, and I certainly wouldn't be able to know everything in advance. And that is okay. That's actually the beauty of running a beta program, is that you can have some built in flexibility to respond to the needs of your students and to your own needs as you develop your program. Now, of course, we want to make sure that you're doing so in a way that stays within the guidelines of the accrediting organization that you eventually want to submit your program to. But there's a way to do that and still be responsive and in the moment to your students. So it's really important that you create opportunities to get their feedback. Whether it's through formal ways, like a survey, or informal ways, just through having conversations and opening up the floor for questions. Listen to your students, your members, your clients, and allow their feedback to inform how you move forward. For me, it meant kind of rearranging the order of some of my content in order to ensure that I was really meeting their needs on the learning journey. And it allowed me to add or remove things as necessary. And again, had I gone into this with a really strict curriculum that I felt like I needed to stick to, well, then I wouldn't have been able to adapt and meet my students where they were. And so by creating space for that magic, and giving them an opportunity to share their thoughts and desires with me, I could then take that and allow it to inform my program, which ultimately made it even stronger. It also allowed me to create my content as I went along. So I had 20 weeks of content, 20 different topics that I wanted to explore within the coach training program. I did not prepare all 20 weeks of content before I launched. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I would typically prepare for that week's seminar or that week's lecture in the week proceeding. And so I was able to create it as I went along, I was able to take my students feedback and preferences and tendencies into account. And so it really allowed me to create a bespoke program for them, but then one that I would be able to replicate down the line. And I did so by making room for the magic, by not feeling like I had to have everything planned out and prepared before I got started. But by giving myself permission to create as I went along, and to co-create it with my students. One other important part about making room for the magic is also making space for it, like literal space, giving yourself time, and your students time, to breathe and to reflect. So within the Certified Clarity Coach Program, I have what I call integration weeks. These are weeks where we do not meet as a class. So there are no seminars, no lectures, no coaching labs, it's essentially a week for them to breathe, to allow all of that information to integrate, and to rest, because rest is an important component of growth. And I really believe that had I gone 20 weeks in a row, no breaks nonstop, it would have been overwhelming for all of us, certainly for my students. But also for me, I think we all would have felt burned out and just completely spent by the end of the program. And that doesn't feel good, no one's gonna walk away feeling like they got a lot out of a program if they felt burned out at the end. And so that's why I incorporated integration weeks into the program. And in fact, I probably should have added a few more. I think I had six integration weeks in this last round. Moving forward, I think there's going to be seven or eight. Because again, I think when we create room for space and rest in a program like that, it serves the learner, it serves the facilitator, and it strengthens the program. So sometimes we have to make literal room for the magic by scheduling downtime. So don't be afraid to take time off, to schedule breaks, it will actually strengthen your program and improve your students' experience. Alright, my friends, those are the three lessons I learned in creating my certification program. Number one is: read the rules and guidelines in advance multiple times. So make sure you are fully aware of all of the submission guidelines. Number two: don't be afraid to lean in to what makes you, you, what makes your program special. And number three: make room for the magic. With that, let's move into this week's Clarity in Action Moment. Well my friend, it should come as no surprise to you that this week's Clarity in Action Moment is brought to you by the Certified Clarity Coach Training Program. If you are looking for an ICF accredited coach training program that supports you holistically in your journey of becoming a powerful coach, then I would be honored to invite you to apply to the Certified Clarity Coach Program. So this is a 125 hour training program that blends classroom learning with hands on application, so that you not only learn how to be a powerful coach, you get plenty of opportunities to practice powerful coaching. So that when you graduate from the program, you not only know what to do, you are doing it, and you're doing so within an intimate group of other coaches and myself, so you will be learning directly from me during this next cohort. And I will be there to support you, to guide you, and to cheer you on every step of the way. And because this program is accredited by ICF as an approved coach specific training hours provider, it means that all 125 hours of the program are eligible towards your ICF credential. So whether you are applying for your associate certified coach or your professional certified coach credentials, you will have your training hours covered. And I have two really cool things to share with you. Number one, in order to get your ICF credential, you have to have 10 hours of mentor coaching. Seven of them can be group, three of them can be one-on-one. So, we do offer mentor coaching as an add on to the training program. But for every person who applies and submits their deposit during the month of June, they will get their mentor coaching included in the program for free. So that is a $1,000 value, that anyone who submits their deposit in the month of June will get automatically included. So you will get not only your training hours, but your mentor coaching hours as well. The second thing is what I alluded to earlier in the episode, if you choose to pay in full, you will be invited to a day long retreat, all about how to build and grow your coaching practice. And you will get a one-on-one follow up call, 60 minutes with me. So we can really hammer out the details for your coaching business, it is going to be a phenomenal experience. And I would love for you to join me. So head on over to CoachwithClarity.com/certification to learn more, you will find all of the details about the program there. And in fact, if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page, there is an FAQ that answers just about any question you could have about the program, you will also find links to apply. So head to CoachwithClarity.com/certification, and apply today for the Certified Clarity Coach Training Program, because there has never been a better time to become a Coach with Clarity. Alright my friend, for this week's Clarity in Action Moment, I want you to think about the program that you are creating. And I want you to ask yourself whether you see it as a program that you want affiliated with another professional organization. So for example, is it something that you would want to get accredited by a professional organization, like the International Coaching Federation? Is it a program that could be considered for continuing education in your professional field? If the answer is no, then no worries, you're good to go. If the answer is yes, then you want to make sure you understand those organizations rules and guidelines for submission. So go ahead and carve out time in your calendar today to head to that organization's website and find their rules for submission, when it comes to program accreditation. So that's your task from a logistical side. I also want to encourage you to take a little time this week to really dive into what makes you, you, and what makes your program special. I want you to think about how you can weave your superpower into your program. And if you're not clear on your superpower, if you're not entirely sure what your strengths are, well, there's a couple ways that you can approach this. Number one, there are some fantastic assessments out there, like the Via Strengths Survey, or the Clifton Strengths Finder. And when you take these assessments, they're going to map out your strengths and the core qualities you embody, that really make you special and set you apart. So you can certainly go for an assessment tool like that. You can also ask the people you're close to in your life. So whether it's family, friends, colleagues, ask them how they would describe you to a colleague of theirs. Ask them what makes you special, and you may just be surprised with what they have to say. So that's your homework for this week's Clarity in Action moment. If you're thinking about submitting your program to a professional organization for approval, number one, make sure you know their guidelines. And then be really clear on how you make your programs special, really lean into your strengths because I know they are there, and I know they are the key to your successful program. Alright, my friend, thank you so much for joining me for this week's episode of the Coach with Clarity Podcast. And I really hope you've decided to apply for the Certified Clarity Coach Program. The next cohort starts on August 23, and you can get all the details at CoachwithClarity.com/certification. So I will be looking for your application in my inbox, and I can't wait to speak to you more about it. Until then, my name is Lee Chaix McDonough, reminding you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.


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