Demonstrates Ethical Practice – ICF Competency #1

Understand this ICF competency and how it’s assessed – with tips & recommended skills

My InnerLifeSkills team, and I are here to support your growth from natural coach to go-to master coach, making a living, making a difference. 

Facing an ICF Performance Evaluation can be stressful. The Core Competencies descriptions on their website are helpful but can appear vague and still leave coaches asking:

“So how do I coach that? What do I need to do to prove this competency and pass my Performance Evaluation?” 

So let’s wrap our minds around all 8 ICF competencies focusing in this article on #1 Ethical Practice.

These ICF guides are here to help you prepare for ICF ACC, PCC and PCC Performance Evaluations and Knowledge assessments, as well as to support your continued coach education and credential renewals.

Why I’m credible to share on the subject of ICF assessments and credentials? 

I’m an MCC credentialled coach, the author and Education Director of an ICF accredited program since 2012, 2 of my corporate clients were short listed for the prestigious ICF Prism award top 5 and top 10 and every graduate of my InnerLifeSkills ACTP and now Level 1 and 2 programs have passed their assessments and gained their ACC, PCC and MCC first time from the ICF.

As promised, I’ll show you some skills and methods that make a massive difference across all 8 ICF competencies. Starting with a foundation “Demonstrates ethical practice.”

ICF COMPETENCY 1 Ethical Practice

As a reminder, on my infographics, you’ll see that I have two little icons.

  • The little check mark means these are implied competencies. You’ll not likely be able to prove the competency with evidence in a coaching session because these happen before a session, right? They’re part of your mindset, part of your role; they’re part of your growth and development as a coach.
  • The recycle symbol means these should be demonstrated in a session. So we’re gonna be emphasizing these.

What’s the definition of Demonstrates Ethical Practice?

The definition is “Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching.” ICF International Coaching Federation

  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.
Infographic Demonstrates Ethical Practice

The ICF lays down their high standards of ethics, asking us to demonstrate integrity and honesty in our interactions with client sponsors and relevant stakeholders.

  • Are we being sensitive to the client’s identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs?
  • Are we using appropriate and respectful language to client sponsors and the relevant stakeholders?
  • Do we abide by the ICF code of ethics and uphold its core values?
  • Do we maintain confidentiality with clients with regard to our client’s information in reference to stakeholder agreements and pertinent laws?

So you can see the context here.

Coaching has matured over the years, and because of the explosion in the coaching industry where sometimes we think everyone and their uncles, auntie’s cousin, is becoming a coach, right?

Therefore, you naturally get the good, bad, and ugly versions of coaching. So you are here reading this because you’re interested in high levels of coaching competency, and the ICF has put in much work over the years to create these competencies.

This first part of the foundation of competencies is there to weed out unethical practices, to draw a line in the sand that says professional coaches honour and respect all these things.

Now, if you’re focused on being of service, if integrity and honesty and respect are all part of who you are, then this competency is super easy, so tick it off and move on.

    The one definition worth emphasizing here is “Maintains the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support professions.”

    This is why I’ve emphasized it, and I’ll go into some detail in a moment.

    And then the last qualifier of “Demonstrates Ethical Practice” is “Refers clients to other support professionals, as appropriate.”

    Again, this is implied. You’re not going to submit a recording of you coaching someone you couldn’t coach because they needed to be referred to another professional service.

    Let’s circle back to point 6.

    “Maintains the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support professions.”

    Here are the things that need to be in place to support this distinction.

    You need to understand the role of a coach. And this is the distinction, right? That a coach is not a teacher, mentor, consultant or therapist.

    Coaching skills fully strengthen professions that lean heavily into communication, and often our skills as mentors and leaders and teachers become enhanced through learning to coach.

    More than 80% of my InnerLifeSkills graduates are what I call blended coaches.

    They’ve learned the art and science of coaching, but they mix it with their roles as managers, counsellors and consultants.

    But of course, to master the ICF competencies and prove them, we need to show that we can coach in a pure way and that we know the difference.

    Here is the key distinguisher: Coaches don’t give advice. A little hint of it here or there is probably allowable. Still, you’re safer, especially in assessments, proving that you can facilitate a full coaching session and empower and facilitate growth without telling someone what to do.

    And even when you give feedback, it’s not positioned as a fact. There needs to be an overall tone of asking permission and inviting and inquiring instead of telling.

    Here’s my two-minute, quick, easy way to explain and understand the difference between coaching and other roles.

    The client is walking up a mountain.

    The mentor (trainer, teacher) stands on the top of the mountain, saying to the client: “I have found a way. I can give you advice to show you a way.”

    The counsellor (therapist, psychologist) sits at base camp and asks the client, “What way have you walked?” The counsellor is looking more at the past, helping the client heal traumas from their journey.

    And yes, of course, there are overlapping roles here.

    The coach walks with the client up the mountain, asking, “What way do you want to walk? Why?” And helping the client to find those inner resources.

    In InnerLifeSkills coaching, we’ve worked hard to ensure that our methodology also helps you build wisdom wells for your client along the way so that they can overcome their inner obstacles and access their inner wealth. It’s something that we specialize in.

    So if you’re clear on the difference between the counsellor role, mentor trainer role and coach role, you can give a thumbs up and move to the next competency.

    Finally, to ensure that you’ve got this competency in the bag, check out the code of ethics https://coachingfederation.org/ethics/code-of-ethics that the ICF list on their website and make sure that you feel resonant with them. If you feel “ Yeah, I can line up with this kind of ethical integrity,” then thumbs up.

    Life Coach vs Mentor vs therapist

    Here are a few reasons you might miss vital opportunities because you’re:

    • Too focused on the process (beginner coaches suffer from this).
    • Too mechanical (if you haven’t learned flexible skills).
    • Not listening deeply enough (if you’re listening to your thoughts or aren’t engaged).
    • Don’t feel fully equipped to meet that opportunity (lack training).

    These can count against you and lower your overall skillset as a coach. Once you’ve heard about an opportunity and spotted it, it’s about how you respond.

    And an opportunity could be something the client has said or not said or the way they’ve said it.