Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Marlene Thomas and Kenny Leahman of International Coaching…

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Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Marlene Thomas and Kenny Leahman of International Coaching Federation Is Helping To Change Our World

Adopting and adapting the primary cornerstones of coaching aren’t just the profile of a top-tier coach. Rather, they are critical aspects of anyone who wants to become a coach.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marlene Thomas and Kenneth Leahman.

As a Professional Certified Coach, Kenny Leahman focuses on personal and professional performance, values-based leadership, and navigating crisis and change. He also teaches and facilitates leadership and team alignment using seminars he develops through his KEL Institute. Kenny has coached and educated hundreds of government and business leaders across the globe and applies his passion for people, integrity and mission to everything he does, including his service on the International Coaching Federation (ICF) Metro DC Chapter Board of Directors where he directs the Pro Bono committee and the Chapter’s Strategic Partnerships. Kenny earned a master’s degree in National Strategic Studies from the US Marine Corps University War College, and an undergraduate degree in German and French studies from Brigham Young University. He is an adjunct faculty member in Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.

For over 30 years, D. Marlene Thomas has been a dynamic leader and innovative reformer in Federal and State government and in the non-profit sector. She is currently President of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) Metro DC Chapter. As president and CEO of Thomas Management Consulting (TMC), LLC, Ms. Thomas provides expert public facilitation and stakeholder identification and cooperation services to government agencies, private companies, and other organizations. Marlene is a certified Executive and Leadership Coach and received her training from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and certification as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) from the ICF. Marlene holds a master’s degree in Management and a bachelor’s degree in Technology and Management from the University of Maryland.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

M: I began my professional journey with a 30-year career as a federal employee. About 12 years ago, I started providing consulting to businesses in the form of executive coaching with the intention of focusing my work on training. However, I quickly discovered my passion for helping others change their lives through coaching and realizing their full potential. Since then, 90 percent of my work has been leadership coaching within organizations.

K: In much the same way as Marlene, I got started working for the federal government for 24 years. As I was retiring, I learned of the coaching program in use within the CIA, though I had never experienced coaching myself. I had done quasi coaching while serving in Afghanistan, but never in any formal setting. When I retired, I began looking for the next phase of my career and got into consulting, which I did around the world. Eventually, I traveled to Washington, D.C. and stayed with a friend of mine who was a professional coach. It was her motivation and recognition of the coach approach that I was inadvertently using, that led me to join a coach training program, which, oddly enough, is where I met Marlene. From there, I opened my own professional coaching practice.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

M: Without a doubt, we are united on the most interesting story that’s happened since we both became ICF-credentialed coaches and members of the Metro DC Chapter’s board of directors. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, a fellow-ICF coach, now based in Virginia, and former president of the ICF Ukraine Chapter, reached out in search of support for the coaches stuck in Ukraine. As soon as I received the call, I reached out to Kenny as the pro bono program director to see how we could quickly mobilize our chapter, in an effort to provide much needed assistance.

Almost immediately, we received interest from over 65 professional coaches willing to volunteer their time to provide pro bono coaching to our Ukrainian peers who, due to no fault of their own, had lost their entire way of life overnight. Their coaching practices were shuttered, their families were torn apart, and their access to credit was taken away completely. Though pro bono coaching wouldn’t solve these problems, it was the most genuine and immediate support that we could provide.

To our surprise, the program was an almost instant success. What began with peer-to-peer coaching in English, evolved to include group coaching, as well as peer-to-peer coaching in Ukrainian with translators. As of September 2022, 19 DC Chapter coach volunteers donated 190 hours of pro bono coaching to support 35 Ukrainian coaches. Even more incredible, was the call we received from the current president of the Ukraine Chapter, requesting to receive this pro bono coaching himself. Despite everything he was enduring — from being separated from his family and his home to an indefinite end to his career, he saw the value of this coaching and knew it was to his benefit to receive it.

This program has made waves throughout the global ICF network of over 50,000 members, and our hope is that other Chapters around the world will utilize their skills as professional coaches to support social impact and make a lasting change in the lives of those in need. It has been truly heartwarming to see the values we all strive to live each day, in action.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a notable mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

M: When I initially started my consulting business, my first client was a coaching contract with a university. I was not certified at that time, but I did have some experience. The organization had sexual harassment issues and wanted to offer coaching to the leadership team in an effort to change the culture. The contract included 30 clients that I was set to coach, and while I thought I did a good job as their coach, the truth is, you don’t know what you don’t know. Halfway through the contract, I decided that I needed to know what a good coach truly was. From there, I became certified by ICF and almost immediately after, my clients expressed that they could see a difference. My biggest mistake was calling myself a coach without the proper training and credentialing. Unfortunately, there are people who do this, but if you seek out a coach who is credentialed by an accredited organization such as ICF, you can feel confident in their background and capabilities to support your growth.

K: After I became a coach, I was leading team coaching for the first time and, looking back, it was more than I was ready for. A Fortune 50 company had hired me to coach its entire executive leadership team of 24 people. From where I stand today, I know that one individual should not be the coach for that many people within one organization. When the CEO brought me in, she had me coach all 24 leaders within two days, and as a result of the pressure, I don’t feel I did my best work. In hindsight, the company would have been better served with additional coaches to provide support. However, I will say that experience allowed me to earn my wings as a team coach and I am much better equipped to do that work now.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

M: From my perspective, the ICF Metro DC Chapter was one of the first chapters to build a strong pro bono program. A few years ago, I attended the ICF Global Leadership Forum in Ireland. I had the opportunity to represent Lorri Manasse, Ph.D., a professional certified coach (PCC) and the former pro bono committee chair, to give a speech to all chapter representatives about the Metro DC Chapter’s pro bono program. It was evident that our chapter was being recognized by ICF Global for our robust program and established processes. Today, this reputation still holds true. In fact, this week, another ICF Chapter emailed me to request additional pro bono work with Ukrainian coaches, as well as some coaches from Afghanistan. Our chapter is highly dedicated to pro bono work for the sake of bringing coaching to more people and exposing more organizations to the value of coaching.

K: When I first began coaching, ICF was not asserting itself into pro bono coaching work the way it does now. For us (the Metro DC Chapter), pro bono is where we feel we can make the greatest impact. In fact, the work we’ve done recently with the Ukraine chapter is the epitome of social impact, and that is just one example of coaching to serve society as a whole.

When I was first asked to join the Metro DC Chapter, I knew I wouldn’t join unless there was an element of impact. When I began looking at a position on the board of directors, pro bono was a no brainer.

In our new pro bono Pandemic Relief Initiative (PRI), we now have five emerging leaders who are impacting thousands of people in our region. Our goal is to do this type of work more broadly and in new ways. We are very persistent with our pro bono programs, and these initiatives must meet strict criteria. The ICF Ignite Program aims to address the UN Principles of Social Justice because they really matter. These principles are at the forefront of our Ukraine and PRI programs. Our intent is to achieve that level of social impact.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

For both of us, one person in particular comes to mind and that is Tetiana Lepekha, MBA. Tetiana is a Ukrainian PCC. She was one of the coaches who received the pro bono coaching in English, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. When the crisis first began, Tetiana was forced to shutter her coaching practice and flee her home. Though she was able to make it out safely, she watched those around her, including a former coaching client, become decimated by the destruction of the war.

When she learned about the pro bono coaching partnership that had been started between the Metro DC Chapter and the Ukraine Chapter of ICF, she was eager to get involved. Despite the tragedy she was navigating, she not only accepted coaching as a recipient, but volunteered her time to serve as a pro bono coach translator for her Ukrainian peers who could not speak English and would otherwise have been unable to participate in the program.

When we spoke with her about her experience, she told us, “Such coaching partnerships create a real sense of community, led by shared values and a focus on humanity. By using these aligning values to drive coaching activity, it is apparent why many members choose to be part of the ICF community — they can live the values they affirm every day.”

Her dedication to the program despite what she was enduring proved to us the true impact our work was making. In no small part, our continued perseverance to grow this partnership is due to the feedback we received from people like Tetiana.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. The first is a needs assessment. If communities around the world, and in particular, community leaders, conducted proactive needs assessments, we would be able to be more deliberate in deciding what is most needed. In turn, this information would prove a huge asset in identifying and establishing objectives for our work in social impact.
  2. Second, is hard work and collaboration. Too often, organizations or politicians seek to achieve change on their own with the goal of taking credit at the top of their minds. However, to achieve real change, it takes hard work and collaboration as well as a willingness to take the back seat to others in order to do what needs to be done. The work is not always glamorous, but with the right attitudes, the results can be everlasting and address the root causes of systemic issues.
  3. Lastly, is a hyper focus on values, both the value gained through the work and the values that drive the work. By seeing the value in what can be accomplished and being willing to volunteer to make it happen, we can expect to achieve greater social impact. In addition, by focusing on the values of coaching and what our coaches bring relative to serving these values, we can assemble groups that are committed to achieving the change we are working for.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

M: For me, leadership means a strategic thinker who builds a team that has the skills that compliment and elevate their own. My Board of Directors is exactly this. They are phenomenal and each brings a unique skillset to the table — together, we have been extremely successful.

K: In my mind, leadership means having clarity of purpose and of mission and maintaining a values driven mindset through collaboration, camaraderie, and communication.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Don’t try to overexert yourself.
  2. Any coaching client already has everything they need in order to be successful. As coaches, it’s about offering a presence and hearing or seeing what they have within them, that they may be overlooking.
  3. It is absolutely crucial to work with clients that you genuinely believe in.
  4. Continuous growth and training is necessary for every coach. If you continue to pour into yourself and further your education, you will be the best version of yourself for your clients.
  5. Adopting and adapting the primary cornerstones of coaching aren’t just the profile of a top-tier coach. Rather, they are critical aspects of anyone who wants to become a coach.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We have spent a huge amount of time thinking about this and our answer is one we are actively seeking to make a reality. The collaboration that we launched through our partnership with the ICF Ukraine Chapter during a time of unprecedented tragedy is a movement we’d like to see recreated around the world, in other ICF Chapters. To achieve true social impact, it takes a village of dedicated servants. For ICF Chapters and coaches around the world who are passionate about making a change, this partnership serves as an example and a template that can be replicated to provide support to people in any region that needs the support. When social impact is the goal, you need to be willing to roll up your sleeves and get involved in the communities you wish to serve. Our Metro DC Chapter Board of Directors is compiled of coaches who all volunteer in at least one pro bono program and that dedication has driven our collaborative movement to make an impact in Ukraine.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

M: “We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.” — Brene Brown

I love this quote from Brene Brown. It’s a reminder that, as coaches, we are partners who work with our clients and truly believe in their potential. Sometimes, we all just need compassionate partners to support us.

K: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

This quote struck me before I was a coach, but now as a coach and an educator, this says it all about the coach I want to be. If as a coach, we can complete an hour together and they can take forward positive, impactful feelings from our conversation, I’ve done my job.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

M: If I could have a meal with any person, I would choose President Barack Obama. As the first ever Black president, what he had to endure was something very few people can relate to. Because of what was happening in the world at the time, he had to really step outside of himself to be effective. To me, he is a true example of a good leader.

K: Piggybacking off of Marlene, I’d have to say former First Lady Michelle Obama. When I read her book, Becoming, it completely changed my sense of awareness. What she experienced as a professional woman, mother, and support structure for the president — the word “impact” truly defines her — from her parenting in that phase of their lives to the lasting global presence she established.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow our work at They can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at @ICFMetroDC.

More about Kenny and his coaching practice can be found here: Kenny can also be found on LinkedIn at and on Twitter at @KennyLeahman.

More about Marlene’s coaching practice, Thomas Management Consulting, LLC, can be found here: Marlene can also be found on LinkedIn at and on Twitter at @dmtconsults.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Marlene Thomas and Kenny Leahman of International Coaching… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.