A Guide to the ICF Core Coaching Competencies (UPDATED)

After 25 years, the ICF Core Coaching Competencies Model has been updated. Much of the existing model was validated by the evidence collected from more than 1,300 coaches across the globe after a 24-month analysis. 

The updated core coaching competencies will provide stronger coaching standards for the future. Let’s have a look.

The Updated Version of the ICF Core Coaching Competencies Model

A. Foundation

Demonstrates ethical practice

A coach is expected to have integrity and be honest in their engagement with clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders. They need to be sensitive to a client’s unique identity, environment, experiences and beliefs, while using appropriate and respectful language. And of course, consistently maintaining confidentiality and sticking to codes such as the ICF Code of Ethics.

Embodies a coaching mindset

What is a coaching mindset? One that’s open, curious, flexible, and client centered.

Specifically, a coaching mindset will acknowledge a client’s responsibility, engage in learning and personal development, have a reflective practice, remain open to the influence of context and culture, use intuition to benefit the client, regulate its emotions, be prepared for sessions and able to seek help from outside sources if necessary. 

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B. Co-Creating the relationship

Establishes and maintains agreements

Establishing agreements for the overall coaching as well as for each session will involve explaining what coaching is and isn’t, discussing responsibility, agreeing to specific guidelines such as fees, scheduling, duration, etc. As well as determining client-coach compatibility and identifying what the client wishes to address and achieve.

Cultivates trust and safety

A healthy relationship can only develop with trust and safety. Coaches need to partner with the client to create a supportive environment that allows free sharing.

This is created by seeking to understand the client within their context, adapting coaching to the client, respecting the client’s unique insights, showing empathy and concern, supporting the client’s feelings and concerns, and being open and transparent to build trust.

Maintains presence

Of course, a good relationship depends on being conscious and fully present with the client. This means having an open, flexible and grounded style. So, seek to be focused and responsive to the client, curious, emotionally stable, confident and comfortable with silence and the space of not knowing.

C. Communicating effectively

Listens actively

Maybe the most important ICF core coaching competence is to listen; to focus on what the client is saying (and not saying) to help the client’s self-expression. So, reflect and summarize the client’s communication, inquire when you think there’s more, notice and explore their emotions, non-verbal cues, and behaviors.

Evokes awareness

Facilitate client insight by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, and metaphor. A coach may sometimes need to challenge the client, ask questions that push beyond current understanding, notice what’s working, invite more sharing, share observations, and support the client in reframing perspective.

D. Cultivating learning and growth

Facilitates client growth

Helping the client grow by partnering with them to transform their learning into action must be at the heart of coaching. A coach tries to integrate new awareness, designs their goals and puts accountability measures into place while acknowledging their autonomy in the process. This sometimes looks like summarizing between sessions and celebrating their progress.

Overall, the ICF Core Coaching Competencies Model places deeper importance on ethical behavior and confidentiality, ongoing reflective practice and the development of a coaching mindset, distinctions between various levels of coaching agreements, the coach and client partnership, as well as cultural, systemic and contextual awareness. 

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