ICF Core Competencies 1: Ethical Practice

ethical principles ethical standards icf core competencies values Nov 07, 2023

Over the next eight articles we will be discussing the Core Competencies set out by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The ICF Core Competencies were developed to support understanding about the skills and approaches used within coaching (as defined by ICF). 

The competencies also underpin the work we do at Stellar Conversations. Our ICF accredited coach training aligns to these competencies.

The articles will be written in a straightforward, jargon-free way, to help give you clarity on how the competencies can support coaching conversations.

The articles aren’t just for professional coaches, they are for people who work with people, and those interested in outcome focused conversations.

There are eight competencies, one is not more important than another.

The first competency is:

1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice

 "Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching"

The ICF breaks this competency down to following seven points:

  1. Demonstrates personal integrity and honesty in interactions with clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders
  2. Is sensitive to clients’ identity, environment, experiences, values, and beliefs
  3. Uses language appropriate and respectful to clients, sponsors, and relevant stakeholders
  4. Abides by the ICF Code of Ethics and upholds the Core Values
  5. Maintains confidentiality with client information per stakeholder agreements and pertinent laws
  6. Maintains the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support professions
  7. Refers clients to other support professionals, as appropriate

This competency along with the other seven can act as a guide to support coaches, to know that we are facilitating coaching conversations in a way that has been researched and evaluated and one that is globally recognised.

Demonstrating ethical practice in a coaching conversation means that the conversation is focused on inquiry and exploration. It is focused on present and future issues. It is not about keeping the conversation in the past, especially the emotional past. Nor is not about telling the thinker what to do and how to do it.

An ethical coaching conversation is not about giving a load of advice, or about the coach being “right”. Remember it’s focused on inquiry and exploration. Curiosity for coaches and facilitators of these conversations, is not for the coaches benefit or to fill in gaps in their thinking but to support the thinker with their thinking. Curiosity is about supporting the thinker to gain new perspective and insight, and to move towards their desired outcome.

At Stellar Conversations we talk about “explicit coaching”. What we mean by this is being clear with thinking partners and other stakeholders about what is happening in the space. Coaching is not a dark art, or a vague process and we encourage our coaches in training to talk about what coaching is from the outset, see point 1.

We also encourage coaches and facilitators of coaching conversations to be curious, and to recognise lived experience, to ask about what is needed in the space and from each other. What might be appropriate for different cultures, different norms, different genders, different neurotypes (point 2 and 3). Crucially here it’s about not assuming. Coaches and facilitators cannot assume what is needed from the space or what is needed or wanted from the thinker. But they can ask, and create environments that are sensitive to people’s identity, environment, experiences, values, and beliefs. By doing this coaches can also use language appropriate and respectful to those they work with.

Coaching is non-hierarchical, a meeting of equals, where everyone is resourceful, capable and whole. However, we encourage coaches to think about power and agency and where it sits in the space. When coaching, remember there may be a difference in power status that might be caused by cultural, relational, psychological or contextual issues. As coaches and facilitators meeting ethical standards, an awareness of this is important and a process to manage it in a way that creates equity. Coaches also need to recognise that sometimes they are not the right person to facilitate a conversation or a collaboration.

Coaches and facilitators of coaching conversations can recognise or learn to recognise, when their skillset is not what the thinker needs at that time. Here they can signpost or suggest different interventions if that is the case. This is not a failing of a coach, it is a professional and ethical response as seen in points 6 and 7 above.

It is worth repeating that the ethical standards come from the ICf’s Core Values.

The Core Values are Professionalism, Collaboration, Humanity and Equity.

"Professionalism, where a coaching mindset and professional quality encompasses responsibility, respect, integrity, competence and excellence.

Collaboration, committed to develop social connection and community building.

Humanity, committed to being humane, kind, compassionate and respectful toward others.

Equity, committed to use a coaching mindset to explore and understand the needs of others so we can practice equitable processes at all times that create equality for all."

We hope this article has been helpful, we encourage you to pause and think about any key learnings.

We also encourage you to check out the ICF Code of Ethics, which describes the ICF core values, ethical principles and ethical standards of behaviour here: https://coachingfederation.org/ethics/code-of-ethics