by Jennifer Hanawald
Lynda Wallace launched WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching (PPC) Fundamentals class in 2013. Since then, the class has expanded into a fully integrated certification program. It begins by taking students on a deep dive into personally transformative positive psychology research, builds in powerful coaching skills and competencies, guides them in building a thriving coaching practice, and supports them as they integrate their coaching work into their lives through the mentorship component—always with the best Positive Psychology Coaching research and tools at its heart.
As we graduated our second round of mentorship students, bringing our total number of fully certified Positive Psychology Coaches to 20, we thought it was the perfect time to take stock of where we’ve been, and share what the program has to offer now.
Jennifer Hanawald, core faculty member for the PPC program, caught up with Lynda recently to chat about the beginnings of the program and her original inspiration.
Jennifer: Looking back to the beginning, what inspired you to offer Positive Psychology Coaching training through WBI?
Lynda: Well, before I took the Certificate in Positive Psychology (CiPP), I knew I wanted to create a new career in positive psychology. During my first CiPP immersion, we learned about coaching and I thought, That sounds like it! I remember the lesson was about what really makes a difference in the therapeutic and coaching relationship: It’s empathy. That really struck me. I thought, I can do that. I went home and found a coach training program.
Within a few weeks of graduating from CiPP, I finished coach training and started my practice. What I found at the beginning of my coaching career, that period when I was spending a lot of time on prep, was that I was using my CiPP notes a lot more than my coaching class notes. The research in the CiPP program got to the heart of things in a really powerful way.
But of course, CiPP isn’t a coach training program. CiPP gives you research to apply to your own life. Thinking about that from the perspective of how I could help a client pursue a goal felt really rich. I observed that, most of the time, when I was looking for some ground to stand on in the next session with a client, the ground that was so fertile was the CiPP material. I felt that, with the help of the WBI community, we could develop a Positive Psychology Coaching course that would spring from the research. And that’s what we did. In the years since, I’ve also added in other research that I rely on in my practice that wasn’t emphasized in CiPP, like self-compassion and solutions-focused coaching.
Jennifer: Can you describe the experience—what it was like those first few iterations?
Lynda: I went to Megan [McDonough, co-founder of WBI] and said, “I think we can offer something better, and different, than what’s out there.” Megan, who is so good at thinking of ways to develop things, said, “Great. Let’s just offer this for free to anyone who graduated from CiPP.” The class was live, just audio. We were starting to put together how we were going to do this. At that point, it was, “Here are a whole bunch of tools, techniques, and skills … We all just did CiPP together, now how can we take these tools and help others?” I learned a tremendous amount from the students in that class. And then Maria [Sirois, WBI faculty] gave me a lot of coaching about how to teach well.
Megan and I decided to build a course and offer it to the general public. Now we were on video and had a mix of people, some who had taken CiPP and some who hadn’t. It was a challenge, but it worked!
A couple of years in, I had a breakthrough with my own practice. When people come to a coach, they are actively choosing to invest in achieving a goal, in order to make a change. I realized that it’s not enough to get them on their way. I wanted to help them make sustained progress towards those goals. I spent some time studying my own client notes to see what works. I asked myself, What did we do when people really made progress?
There is a point on that coaching journey when we need to say, “What’s this going to look like? How are you going to make big, sustained progress?” That’s when I developed the goal map, which became a really powerful tool for my clients, and figured out how to teach that—so we included it in the course.
That shift in the maturity in my own practice led to a big change in the Fundamentals course. It gave us a framework for organizing the whole course—the life of a coaching engagement through the lens of the CHANGE model. It gave people a way to understand what the whole coaching journey might look like and how these pieces fit together.
Jennifer: The program has really grown since then. We now offer five courses that, when completed, make up a PPC Certification. How did that happen?
Lynda: Well, I’ve always enjoyed keeping in touch with students in Fundamentals after they finish. What I heard a lot of was: “Learning these skills was a turning point for me. It has made a real difference in my life and I feel like I could be helpful to people, but I don’t have the confidence yet to advertise. I don’t know how to build a practice. I don’t feel like I’ve done enough.” Even though they had done 10 weeks of peer coaching, people who didn’t have relevant experience didn’t feel ready. People asked what comprehensive training program they should enroll in. That got me thinking.
I saw that our Fundamentals course could be the beginning of a comprehensive Positive Psychology Coach training program that has at its heart a research-based, experiential, community-supporting approach—the same one that makes everything that WBI does so extraordinary. Plus, at that point, it wasn’t just me. There were people who came through the program and developed skills, and who went elsewhere and developed more skills and had come back, and now we had a real community that could build this thing. I thought, let’s make this a five-course program, in which people gain what they need to be successful coaches.
I loved building the starter material for the new courses. But it needed a bigger faculty to get it to the next level. So we experimented again. You and Phoebe came on to teach some of the courses, and you looked at the whole program and were able to lay out what students need to master by the end, and work backwards to what they need to have accomplished by the time they start the mentorship, and what they need to do in the intensive, and so on. So now it’s not just a collection of five good courses, it’s a fully integrated approach to developing successful coaches.
Jennifer: What PPC tools have you drawn on for yourself as you built this program, and how?
Lynda: The big one for me is growth mindset. A lot of people have heard me tell the story of how, in the past, I was unwilling to do something I wasn’t convinced I could do perfectly. Learning to practice a growth mindset changed that for me. For example, when Megan agreed to give me a chance to teach the very first course, I went into it with the attitude, these are my classmates, they aren’t going to expect it to be perfect. I have things to offer, and we’ll learn together and make it better. I threw my backpack over the wall.
Also, I drew on a solutions-focused approach, which almost always works like magic for me. I asked myself, What would good look like? What do I already have? What do I need to do?—always starting from where I want to go, or where we want to go together, which has always made it so much better. I think the knowledge that we are better together comes naturally to most people, but it doesn’t always to me. The way I used to tend to go into things is, this will be best if I sit alone in a room and figure it out. The research, which Chris Peterson summed up by saying “Other people matter,” really has been life changing for me. Nurturing deep friendships, valuing colleagues, and the magic of what happens when people come together—all of that has made this program infinitely better.
Jennifer: What excites you about the program now?
Lynda: That it is so much richer and better than it was when I was the entire faculty! First Nicole Stottlemyer joined me for Fundamentals and enriched the student experience of the class so deeply. And now we have a larger coaching faculty with a remarkable and diverse set of skills and experiences and strengths. I’m really excited by the ways that you and Phoebe are coming into this with your perspective and making it better by thinking about the whole journey and what coaches need in order to do great work and be well compensated for it.
And now that we’ve graduated two cohorts of certified Positive Psychology Coaches, I can’t wait to see how they will offer the wisdom of their experience and expertise back to our community, in blog posts, webinars, and even new courses. There is so much to be excited about.
Jennifer: Finally, do you mind sharing your signature VIA strengths?
Lynda: My top strengths are always the same, they just come up in a different order. I just retook the survey and this time the top five were tied: Love, Perspective, Forgiveness, Zest, and Curiosity.
Find out more about WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification.
Jennifer Hanawald, a faculty member for WBI’s coaching courses, is a health coach who helps her clients to live their healthiest and best lives. She holds National Board certification as a Health and Wellness Coach, Duke University certification as an Integrative Health Coach, and a Certificate in Positive Psychology from WBI. Find out more about her work at jenniferhanawald.com.
Lynda Wallace is the Program Director and Lead Instructor of WBI’s Positive Psychology Coach Certification program. One of the country’s most highly sought-after coaches and teachers, and the author of the best-selling book A Short Course in Happiness, Lynda holds an MBA from the Wharton School and a Certificate in Positive Psychology from Wholebeing Institute. Before becoming a certified Positive Psychology Coach, Lynda spent 20 years as an executive with Johnson & Johnson, where she ran a billion-dollar global business including some of the world’s most iconic brands. Galvanized by the compelling findings of positive psychology, she left the business world to begin a new career doing work she genuinely loves, helping others to create positive change in their lives.