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Are You Competent? Updated ICF Core Competencies (1-2) Incoming!

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

Sheep being bad at math
This is you when you coach without the Core Competencies

Competency vs incompetency.

Seems easy enough to understand. You either can do the thing or you can't.


Who gets to say if you are competent? What criteria are we using? Are there degrees of competency?

For us at Certified Life Coach Institute, we align ourselves with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) when defining what being competent at coaching actually means.

A few weeks ago we did a Live/Blog on the ICF and Why they Set the Gold Standard in Coaching and recently they have updated their Core Competencies (CCs).

Why does this matter?

At the beginning of 2021 all ICF-Accredited Coach Training Programs were to start incorporating the new curricula. Not only that but the Coach Knowledge Assessment used for ICF members to be accredited would start reflecting these updated competencies in the second half of 2021 (THATS NOW!).

So, to assist our alumni and prospective students Lisa Finck (A.C.C.), Brooke Adair Walters (M.C.P.C.), Jerome LeDuff Jr (M.C.L.C.), and Anthony Lopez (M.C.L.C) will sit down with you for the next 4 weeks and go in depth into the updated Core Competencies and how they are applied theoretically and practically.

The Core Competencies

In the first of our series on the Core Competencies we discuss the foundational aspects of coaching and what they look like in the coaching session and why they are relevant.

A. The Foundation

1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice: Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching.

  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

2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset: Develops and maintains a mindset that is open, curious, flexible and client-centered.

  1. Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices

  2. Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach

  3. Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching

  4. Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others

  5. Uses awareness of self and one’s intuition to benefit clients

  6. Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one’s emotions

  7. Mentally and emotionally prepares for sessions

  8. Seeks help from outside sources when necessary

These first two competencies focus on the coach and how they are expected to conduct themselves. Involved in this is understanding the ICF Code of Ethics (Also on the CKA).

But the question remains.

Does a test prove that we are competent coaches? How can we go beyond mere understanding to full blown expertise?

An expert coach
Find a mentor or someone you consider an expert in coaching! No one needs to do it alone.

What is Competency?

Hold on just a moment. You didn't think we would continue this blog without puzzling over what being competent actually means, did you?

By no means do we think you should study the updated core competencies only to pass some test or get some certification.

While yes, those are some pretty neat benefits, there is so much more to being competent at coaching.

After some extensive research, we believe the researchers Stewart E. Dreyfus & Hubert L. Dreyfus give the best working model on how competency evolves in a person. and by extent, how we can apply it to our coaching practice

Being Competent at Competency (Competency²)

In February 1980 the Airforce commissioned the duo Dreyfus & Dreyfus to research a practical and philosophically sound model for understanding competency in a skill. In their report, they come up with a 5 stage model that people go through as they become more and more competent. The stages are as follows:

  1. Novice

  2. Competence

  3. Proficiency

  4. Expertise

  5. Mastery

Dreyfus, S.E. & Dreyfus, Hubert. "A Five-Stage Model of the Mental Activities Involved in Directed Skill Acquisition". (1980). Distribution. 22.

While this was a working model, it appears that the two would go to further develop their research.

Being even more Competent at Competency Competency (Competency³)

In 1987, Hubert Dreyfus would go on to write "From Socrates to Expert Systems: The Limits of Calculative Rationality."

Like the updated ICF Core Competencies (CCs), research and experience lead to new information and updates to outdated models. Hubert Dreyfus came up with a new set of stages that illustrate how we can understand the Core Competencies and our development as coaches.

1. Novice

You've understood/memorized the CCs but you are limited in that you can't or haven't put them into practice yet (coaching) or remain inflexible in interpreting them. You can pass the CKA but that's about it.

2. Advanced Beginner

You can incorporate aspects of the CCs into your coaching and can recognize moments in real-life scenarios that relate to them.

You may still act reactively in response to situations to align yourself to the CCs and correct mistakes you make as you go. Have no fear though, every mistake is a learning opportunity for growth and reflection.

3. Competence

At this point you are no longer reactive but proactive in using the CCs. From planning your business & marketing strategies to coaching individual clients, you are able to use the CCs to organize your goals as a coach.

While novices and advanced beginners may feel limited by the Competencies you can actively engage with them and have them support your coaching practice.

4. Proficiency

You begin to intuitively know what you should do in the coaching session but may still need to plan how it is you reach your goal.

If a decision must be made for the coach on what question to ask or what insight to give, they are fully capable of seeing what CC the situation relates to and then makes the best choice that will set the client up for success.

Though the problem may arise, the coach may not be fully present in the conversation. At the same time they must exercise their active listening skills and use the Core Competencies to make choices on how they will coach.

You may find yourself needing to reclarify what the client said or taking moments of silence to gather your thoughts on how to approach the situation organically.

5. Expertise

With enough time and experience, the coach can offer immediate intuitive responses while not even being immediately conscious of the Core Competencies.

Expert coaches, from their point of view, do not reason on what to do next or think about what the "best" question is. Problem solving is no longer the focus when encountering difficult situations, they now become opportunities to assist the client.

At this point coaches are confident, relaxed, and unattached to aligning themselves with the CCs, it becomes as natural and unapparent as breathing. In fact, just like being conscious of your breath (sorry!), it may be awkward for expert coaches to try and teach or articulate the specific core competencies off the top of their heads. It's not that they don't know it, it's that their knowledge is taken for granted.

Dreyfus, Hubert L. "From Socrates to Expert Systems: The Limits of Calculative Rationality." Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 40, no. 4 (1987): 15-31. Accessed June 3, 2021. doi:10.2307/3823297.

With enough experience, patience, and motivation, we believe anyone has the ability to not only be proficient with the Core Competencies, but achieve full mastery over them.

So as we continue the series and look at the other competencies, ask yourself...

How can I achieve Mastery?

Thank you,

Lisa Finck, Brooke Adair Walters, Jerome LeDuff Jr., and Anthony Lopez

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