Professional Coaching: An Innovative and Promising Leadership Development Approach for MCH Professionals

By Kris Risley, DrPH, CPCCKris Risley
Continuing Education Director, Maternal and Child Health Program, Division of Community Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago  

Hanna Cooper, MPH, CPCC, PCC
Public Health Consultant and Leadership Coach 

Professional coaching, a process to maximize personal and professional development, is a relatively new but cost-effective and increasingly accessible leadership development approach available for maternal and child health (MCH) professionals. By incorporating coaching into the menu of professional development options available to MCH practitioners and scholars, we extend the breadth of professional training to include the personal aspects of leadership development that involves the life-long exploration and expansion of emotional intelligence (EI) which contributes to upwards of 80 percent of the success that distinguishes outstanding from average leaders (Goleman et al, 2002).  

MCH leaders express knowledge and skills across a range of 72 MCH leadership competencies in 12 domains and three circles of influence including self, others, and wider-community (MCH Leadership Competencies 3.0) with the ultimate goal being that we actively engage in work that results in the significant improvement of the health and well-being of women, children and families. Professional coaching and coaching programs facilitate the development of MCH leadership competencies in the domains of Self-Reflection, Ethics and Professionalism, Critical Thinking, Communication, Developing Others Through Teaching and Mentoring, and Working with Communities and Systems.  

Coaching builds EI by helping individuals to become increasingly self-aware and able to manage their emotions as well as increasingly socially aware and able to manage their relationships with others (Goleman et al, 2002). Individuals high in EI competencies are adept at self-reflection and assessing how their feelings affect them and their job performance, they rely on their internal value system to guide decision-making, and tend to be authentic and transparent in their interactions with others compared with those who have lower EI. Emotionally intelligent people are aware of their strengths and limitations, use empathy to relate to a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and they inspire others to move passionately toward a shared vision. Emotional intelligence may be the key factor to support MCH professionals as they navigate the high degree of chaHanna Coopernge, challenge, stress and burnout present in the field. 

There are many coaching programs and approaches available in the market-place. The best programs integrate adult learning approaches such as Transformational Learning Theory (TLT) (Mezirow et al, 2009) and they enhance EI. In TLT, learning is defined as transformation associated with challenging individuals to assess how their experiences interact with their existing value system and worldview. This compares with an informational learning in which new information is transferred from an expert to a student. For example, MCH scholars teach graduate students about the social determinants of health. Both are important and they serve different purposes.   

Although there are many different schools of thought about coaching, professionally trained coaches provide an ongoing partnership designed to help clients improve their performance and enhance the quality of their lives. Coaches are trained to listen, to observe and to customize their approach to individual client needs. They seek to elicit solutions and strategies from the client; they believe the client is naturally creative and resourceful. The coach's job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that already exists within the client. Coaching enables individuals to translate personal learning and insight into improved effectiveness; it increases linkages among self-development, leadership development and organizational effectiveness (International Coaching Federation, 2010).   

Coaching can be applied in a variety of ways including: 

·         Developing leadership development and coaching programs for MCH professionals (contact Kris Risley at UIC for an example of how this is currently being implemented)

·         Adding coaching to existing leadership and career development programs such as those in Schools of Public Health

·         Offering coaching as an alumni or association member benefit

·         Providing in-service coach training to integrate coaching as a method of engaging with students and colleagues  

Whatever the method, coaching can be used as a leadership development method to support our field in achieving the Healthy People 2020 objectives for Women, Children and Families by helping individuals identify and fully express themselves and their unique passion and commitment to women, children and families.  


Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R, & McKee, A. (2002). Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

International Coaching Federation,, retrieved December 1, 2010.

MCH Leadership Competencies Workgroup (Editors). (2009).Maternal and Child Health Leadership Competencies: Version 3.0.

Mezirow, J, Taylor, Edward W, and Associates. (2009). Transformative Learning in Practice: Insights from Community, Workplace, and Higher Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Individual Professional Coaching
Individual sessions are available to AMCHP conference attendees at no cost. Conference attendees will have an opportunity to take advantage of individual, private 40-minute coaching sessions Sunday through Tuesday, February 13-15, by registering in advance or by registering on site. Space is limited and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. To find out more about coaching at the 2011 AMCHP Annual Conference or registering for an individual session, please contact Librada Estrada or call (202) 266-3046.