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ICF 101: Life Coaching Ethically

Because Doing Good Is More Than Just Common Sense

Sticky notes that either have question marks, or the words "right" or "wrong"
You know you're in an ethical dilemma when you break out the sticky notes.

CLCI Live returns for another week of its series on ICF related topics. Today we tackle the ethical standards created by the ICF. Questions may be raised. Why is this important? What’s the point of this or that code? Why can’t I just pay attention to the Core Competencies and ignore all this?

Every part of the Code of Ethics ties back into the core values held by the ICF. Each one may seem inconsequential or too common sense to worry about, but they are created to inspire professionalism, humanity, collaboration, and equity. As a life coach, you have a responsibility to follow these ethical standards and "adhering to the philosophy of 'doing good,' versus 'avoiding bad.'"

Join us as Daniel Olexa (PCC), Anthony Lopez (MCPC), Jen Long (MCPC), Brooke Adair Walters (ACC) and Lisa Finck (PCC) break down the ethical standards of an ICF professional.

Why Should we be Coaching Ethically?

We could sit here for a while really contemplating that question. There are quite a few reasons that we might come up with while looking over the ICF Insights and Considerations for Ethics. Here are some things the standards do for both the coach and client when we are coaching ethically.

  • Builds trust: Ethical standards help to establish a foundation of trust between coaches and clients. When clients feel that their coach is operating within ethical boundaries, they are more likely to trust their coach and be open and honest in their coaching sessions.

  • Promotes safety & awareness: This helps to ensure that coaching sessions are safe and free from harm done to a client or a business. This includes physical, emotional, and monetary safety, as coaches are required to maintain appropriate boundaries with their clients and avoid any behavior that may cause harm (in whatever capacity that may be).

  • Enhances professionalism: Adhering to ethical standards demonstrates a commitment to the professionalism of ICF and it's gold standard of conduct. This can lead to greater respect and recognition within the coaching industry, as well as improved relationships with clients and colleagues.

  • Maintains confidentiality: Ethical standards require coaches to maintain confidentiality and protect the privacy of their clients. This creates a safe and trusting environment for clients to share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement or exposure.

  • Ensures accountability: Finally, these standards help to ensure that coaches are held accountable for their actions and behavior. This includes both personal and professional conduct, as coaches are expected to uphold ethical standards both in their coaching practice and in their personal lives.

What's great is that all the 28 ICF Ethical Standards are just common sense.

The ICF Code of Ethics

ICF Logo

The ICF clumps their standards of ethics into four sections:

  1. Responsibility to clients

  2. Responsibility to practice and performance

  3. Responsibility to professionalism

  4. Responsibility to society.

Within these sections are 28 ethical standards, as found here.

How did the ICF start when making their Code of Ethics?

According to the ICF, the ethical standards are all rooted in the ICF Core Values. The ICF writes that each should be considered equal and used in tandem to support one another. In a finishing thought on how these values interact with the Code of Ethics, they explain that “All ICF Professionals are expected to showcase and propagate these Values in all their interactions.”

The ICF’s Core Values of professionalism, collaboration, humanity, and equity all reflect in the standards of ethics they expect their coaches to uphold. From 1 to 28, they remind coaches to take responsibility and aim to do good in the world.

It would be good for any life coach -not just those who want to be ICF accredited- to look over these common sense codes.

To go further, each standard is accompanied by an "Insight and Consideration" that further breaks down and analyzes the standard. This is incredibly valuable for coaches who may go on to take the coach credentialing exam as most of the questions deal with ethical situations that are based in the standards.

Doing Good, Not Just Avoiding Doing Bad

As coaches, it's essential to recognize that our work has an impact not just on our clients, but also on society as a whole. That's why it's crucial to adopt the philosophy of "doing good" rather than just "avoiding bad." It's not enough to simply follow the ethical standards outlined in the ICF Code of Ethics; we must also strive to align ourselves with the ICF's core values and principles, and act with sensitivity towards the larger systems that our clients belong to.

This means being mindful of the potential consequences of our coaching interventions, both positive and negative, and taking an ethical perspective that encompasses individuals, groups, organizations, communities, nations, and the world. We must strive to do no harm to anyone, regardless of their position in the coaching industry or society at large, and maintain a respectful and curious attitude towards all those we interact with.

When we embody these principles and adopting a "doing good" mindset, we can help create a better world, one coaching session at a time.


Thank you,

Daniel Olexa (PCC), Anthony Lopez (MCPC), Jen Long (MCPC), Brooke Adair Walters (ACC) and Lisa Finck (PCC)!

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