The ICF Revised Code of Ethics - Insights and Tips

Posted by Ross Nichols on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 Under: Coaching

If the International Coach Federation’s (ICF) core competencies are the crown in its ‘crown jewels’ (and in my view they are!) then the ICF Code of Ethics is it’s sceptre. The Code is reviewed every 3 years and I find the revised Code, effective from 01 January 2020, to be a welcome ‘refresh’ and easier to use.
ICF members need to understand the Code in order to comply with ICF coaching competence No 1, ‘Demonstrates Ethical Practice: understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards.’
Furthermore, as an ICF member, I pledge to, ‘acknowledge and agree to fulfil my ethical and legal obligations to my coaching client(s), sponsor(s), colleagues and to the public at large.’
All coaches wishing to understand the principles of ethical coaching practice will find the ICF Code of Ethics useful regardless of whether they go on to join a professional body such as the ICF.
Here is an overview of the changes to the ICF’s Code of Ethics, some insights into the revised Code and tips on how to use it.

The Introduction to the Code makes more explicit the importance of upholding high standards of conduct consistent with the ICF core values and ethical principles.
The ‘Key Definitions’ section has been expanded to include, for example, definitions of ‘internal coach’, ‘support personnel’ and ‘ICF Professional’.
A new section has been added: ‘ICF Core Values and Ethical Principles’. This includes a link to the ICF’s core values, which are:
1. Integrity
2. Excellence
3. Collaboration
4. Respect
The key principle here is that these values should be used to understand and interpret the ethical standards.
The ethical standards themselves have been refreshed and reorganised according to the coach’s responsibility:
• Responsibility to clients
• Responsibility to practice and performance
• Responsibility to professionalism
• Responsibility to society

The grouping of the ethical standards by responsibility is a simpler and more appropriate layout. The language and tone in the revised Code is clearer and feels more accessible. For example, old standard No 23,
‘Encourage the client or sponsor to make a change if I believe the client or sponsor would be better served by another coach or by another resource and suggest my client seeks the services of other professionals when deemed necessary or appropriate.’
Has been replaced by new standard No 8,
‘Remain alert to indications that there might be a shift in the value received from the coaching relationship. If so, make a change in the relationship or encourage the client(s)/sponsor(s) to seek another coach, seek another professional or use a different resource.’
All the ethical standards are important however I would highlight the following 9 (of 28) ethical standards as particularly noteworthy:
• No 3. Confidentiality.
• No 5. Breaking confidentiality.
• No 8. When to make changes to the coaching relationship.
• No 10. Conflicts of interest.
• No 12. Transparency.
• No 14. Policing adherence to the Code.
• No 15. Adherence to the Code by your support staff.
• No 17. Fitness to practice.
• No 24. Prohibition on sexual or romantic engagement with clients or sponsors.
The revised Code extends the application of ethics beyond compliance (dos and don’ts) to a more innovative approach that prepares the coach to handle unexpected issues and dilemmas and requires the coach to use their own judgement. In my view, coaches will only be able to fulfil this requirement if they embrace the ICF’s core values and ethical principles and use them to guide their behaviour, acknowledging that this may require them to make difficult decisions and act courageously. This reflects the reality of coaching out in the real world and helps all coaches to step up in their integrity and professionalism.

Here are my tips for using the ICF’s revised Code of Ethics.
1. Refer to the Code when in doubt about an ethical issue and when reflecting on your coaching sessions (in conjunction with the ICF’s updated core competency model): For a suggested reflective template, see my previous post on the ICF Updated Competency Model.
2. Embrace the ICF core values of Integrity, Excellence, Collaboration and Respect and use them to help you understand and apply the ethical standards in the Code. Further information on the ICF values is at:
3. If you need further guidance on ethics, use the interpretive statements on the ICF website to help you understand and apply the new ethical standards:

Familiarity with the ICF revised Code of Ethics helps to keep you and your clients safe. The Code encourages you to be more professional and to have a greater sense of agency when facing ethical issues or dilemmas. This will help you to be more professional, which can only improve your coaching.
If you need further support, you can always discuss ethical issues with your coach trainer, a mentor-coach or a coach supervisor. ICF members can also contact the ICF for further guidance.
Good luck with your ethical coaching practice!

In : Coaching 

Tags: competencies ethics "code of ethics" icf