International Coaching Federation Core Competencies

If you're planning on working as a coach, you should know that there is no global governing body regulating coaching as a profession.

That being said, the International Coaching Federation (ICF for short) is probably the closest organization dedicated to advancing coaching worldwide.

It provides a general framework, as a set of eleven core competencies, that coaches should master.

I've reproduced them here as part of the general coaching knowledge you should be familiar with before you work as a coach.


A. Setting the foundation

1. Meeting ethical guidelines and professional standards.
2. Establishing the coaching agreement.

B. Co-Creating the relationship

3. Establishing trust and intimacy with the client.
4. Coaching presence

C. Communicating effectively

5. Active listening
6. Powerful questioning
7. Direct communication

D. Facilitating Learning and results

8. Creating awareness
9. Designing actions
10. Planning and goal setting
11. Managing progress and accountability

Setting the foundation

Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards - Understanding of coaching ethics and standards and ability to apply them appropriately in all coaching situations.

  1. Understands and exhibits in own behaviors the ICF Standards of Conduct (see list, Part III of ICF Code of Ethics),
  2. Understands and follows all ICF Ethical Guidelines (see list),
  3. Clearly communicates the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support professions,
  4. Refers client to another support professional as needed, knowing when this is needed and the available resources.

Establishing the Coaching Agreement - Ability to understand what is required in the specific coaching interaction and to come to agreement with the prospective and new client about the coaching process and relationship

  1. Understands and effectively discusses with the client the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship (e.g., logistics, fees, scheduling, inclusion of others if appropriate),
  2. Reaches agreement about what is appropriate in the relationship and what is not, what is and is not being offered, and about the client's and coach's responsibilities,
  3. Determines whether there is an effective match between his/her coaching method and the needs of the prospective client.

Co-Creating the relationship

Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client - Ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust.

  1. Shows genuine concern for the client's welfare and future,
  2. Continuously demonstrates personal integrity, honesty and sincerity,
  3. Establishes clear agreements and keeps promises,
  4. Demonstrates respect for client's perceptions, learning style, personal being,
  5. Provides ongoing support for and champions new behaviors and actions, including those involving risk taking and fear of failure,
  6. Asks permission to coach client in sensitive, new areas.

Coaching Presence - Ability to be fully conscious and create spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident.

  1. Is present and flexible during the coaching process, dancing in the moment,
  2. Accesses own intuition and trusts one's inner knowing - "goes with the gut",
  3. Is open to not knowing and takes risks,
  4. Sees many ways to work with the client, and chooses in the moment what is most effective,
  5. Uses humor effectively to create lightness and energy,
  6. Confidently shifts perspectives and experiments with new possibilities for own action,
  7. Demonstrates confidence in working with strong emotions, and can self-manage and not be overpowered or enmeshed by client's emotions.

Communicating effectively

Active Listening - Ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client's desires, and to support client self-expression.

  1. Attends to the client and the client's agenda, and not to the coach's agenda for the client,
  2. Hears the client's concerns, goals, values and beliefs about what is and is not possible,
  3. Distinguishes between the words, the tone of voice, and the body language,
  4. Summarizes, paraphrases, reiterates, mirrors back what client has said to ensure clarity and understanding,
  5. Encourages, accepts, explores and reinforces the client's expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, suggestions, etc.,
  6. Integrates and builds on client's ideas and suggestions,
  7. "Bottom-lines" or understands the essence of the client's communication and helps the client get there rather than engaging in long descriptive stories,
  8. Allows the client to vent or "clear" the situation without judgment or attachment in order to move on to next steps.

Powerful Questioning - Ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client.

  1. Asks questions that reflect active listening and an understanding of the client's perspective,
  2. Asks questions that evoke discovery, insight, commitment or action (e.g., those that challenge the client's assumptions),
  3. Asks open-ended questions that create greater clarity, possibility or new learning
  4. Asks questions that move the client towards what they desire, not questions that ask for the client to justify or look backwards.

Direct Communication - Ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions, and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the client.

  1. Is clear, articulate and direct in sharing and providing feedback,
  2. Reframes and articulates to help the client understand from another perspective what he/she wants or is uncertain about,
  3. Clearly states coaching objectives, meeting agenda, purpose of techniques or exercises,
  4. Uses language appropriate and respectful to the client (e.g., non-sexist, non-racist, non-technical, non-jargon),
  5. Uses metaphor and analogy to help to illustrate a point or paint a verbal picture.

Facilitating learning and results

Creating Awareness - Ability to integrate and accurately evaluate multiple sources of information, and to make interpretations that help the client to gain awareness and thereby achieve agreed-upon results.

  1. Goes beyond what is said in assessing client's concerns, not getting hooked by the client's description,
  2. Invokes inquiry for greater understanding, awareness and clarity,
  3. Identifies for the client his/her underlying concerns, typical and fixed ways of perceiving himself/herself and the world, differences between the facts and the interpretation, disparities between thoughts, feelings and action,
  4. Helps clients to discover for themselves the new thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, emotions, moods, etc. that strengthen their ability to take action and achieve what is important to them,
  5. Communicates broader perspectives to clients and inspires commitment to shift their viewpoints and find new possibilities for action,
  6. Helps clients to see the different, interrelated factors that affect them and their behaviors (e.g., thoughts, emotions, body, background),
  7. Expresses insights to clients in ways that are useful and meaningful for the client,
  8. Identifies major strengths vs. major areas for learning and growth, and what is most important to address during coaching,
  9. Asks the client to distinguish between trivial and significant issues, situational vs. recurring behaviors, when detecting a separation between what is being stated and what is being done.

Designing Actions - Ability to create with the client opportunities for ongoing learning, during coaching and in work/life situations, and for taking new actions that will most effectively lead to agreed-upon coaching results.

  1. Brainstorms and assists the client to define actions that will enable the client to demonstrate, practice and deepen new learning,
  2. Helps the client to focus on and systematically explore specific concerns and opportunities that are central to agreed-upon coaching goals,
  3. Engages the client to explore alternative ideas and solutions, to evaluate options, and to make related decisions,
  4. Promotes active experimentation and self-discovery, where the client applies what has been discussed and learned during sessions immediately afterwards in his/her work or life setting,
  5. Celebrates client successes and capabilities for future growth,
  6. Challenges client's assumptions and perspectives to provoke new ideas and find new possibilities for action,
  7. Advocates or brings forward points of view that are aligned with client goals and, without attachment, engages the client to consider them,
  8. Helps the client "Do It Now" during the coaching session, providing immediate support,
  9. Encourages stretches and challenges but also a comfortable pace of learning.

Planning and Goal Setting - Ability to develop and maintain an effective coaching plan with the client.

  1. Consolidates collected information and establishes a coaching plan and development goals with the client that address concerns and major areas for learning and development,
  2. Creates a plan with results that are attainable, measurable, specific and have target dates,
  3. Makes plan adjustments as warranted by the coaching process and by changes in the situation,
  4. Helps the client identify and access different resources for learning (e.g., books, other professionals),
  5. Identifies and targets early successes that are important to the client.

Managing Progress and Accountability - Ability to hold attention on what is important for the client, and to leave responsibility with the client to take action.

  1. Clearly requests of the client actions that will move the client toward their stated goals,
  2. Demonstrates follow through by asking the client about those actions that the client committed to during the previous session(s),
  3. Acknowledges the client for what they have done, not done, learned or become aware of since the previous coaching session(s),
  4. Effectively prepares, organizes and reviews with client information obtained during sessions,
  5. Keeps the client on track between sessions by holding attention on the coaching plan and outcomes, agreed-upon courses of action, and topics for future session(s),
  6. Focuses on the coaching plan but is also open to adjusting behaviors and actions based on the coaching process and shifts in direction during sessions,
  7. Is able to move back and forth between the big picture of where the client is heading, setting a context for what is being discussed and where the client wishes to go,
  8. Promotes client's self-discipline and holds the client accountable for what they say they are going to do, for the results of an intended action, or for a specific plan with related time frames,
  9. Develops the client's ability to make decisions, address key concerns, and develop himself/herself (to get feedback, to determine priorities and set the pace of learning, to reflect on and learn from experiences),
  10. Positively confronts the client with the fact that he/she did not take agreed-upon actions.

There they are, all of the ICF coaching core competencies in a nutshell. Those that you're going to have to be proficient in to receive certification.

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