Every 3-5 years the International Coaching Federation (ICF) reviews the Code of Ethics to ensure that they continue to be fit for purpose, modern and take into account the changing landscape of the coaching world. In addition, any complaints that have been received globally during the intervening years are reviewed to ensure that any ethical issues arising also were taken into account.
Starting in 2018, a large and diverse group of ICF-Credentialed coaches from around the world and who have a common interest and expertise in ethics, came together to review the code that was previously updated and released in 2015. Their extensive work resulted in the latest revision of the Code of Ethics being approved by the ICF Global Board of Directors in September 2019 and which came into effect from January 1, 2020.
As a result, the ICF Code of Ethics has been:
- Modernised in terms of language and approach
- Linked specifically to the ICF Core Values and the updated ICF Core Competency Model
- Enhanced and added to where new themes have arisen from the review process
- Updated to provide greater clarity and emphasis on the responsibility of a coach
Picking up on the last item first, the code was updated to position a direct link regarding the coach’s responsibilities toward:
- Their clients
- Their coaching practice and performance (which links to the updated Core Competency 2: Embodies a Coaching Mindset)
- Their professionalism broadly across their coaching and professional practice
- Society (in line with ICF’s vision and mission)
One meaning of responsible it is:
…do the things you are expected to do and accept the consequences (results) of your actions.
The wording adds weight to us as coaches to be responsible for our actions (or even our inactions) rather than simply ‘understand and follow’ the rules or guidance.
Our Code of Ethics is now also directly linked to ICF Core Values and Core Competencies. For example, the definition of Core Competency 1: Demonstrates Ethical Practice, states that a coach: “Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching”, with one of the sub-competencies specifically stating that the coach: “Abides by the ICF Code of Ethics and upholds the Core Values”.
In terms of key definitions, the new Code gives much greater guidance and clarity and includes, for the first time, the use of terms such as: Equality, Systemic Equality, Support Personnel (e.g. A Virtual Assistant) as well as ICF Staff.
The updated Code also provides a clear definition of who is an “ICF Professional” as being: “individuals who represent themselves as an ICF Member or ICF Credential-holder, in roles including but not limited to Coach, Coach Supervisor, Mentor Coach, Coach Trainer, and Student of Coaching”.
These definitions offer clarity on the scope of the Code of Ethics and highlight that its application is now more far reaching.
Language and approach
As ICF is truly a global association, the language we use must be clear, accessible and meaningful to everyone. The code will be translated into other languages, however it must be clear and understood by all and take into account different cultural nuances and legal differences in countries around the globe.
Fairness, equality and avoiding any discrimination are clear areas for coaches to take care of in all of the four responsibility sections within the Code.
The new Code rightly now takes into account new technologies as they emerge including, and not exclusively, Information Technology. Therefore, although we don’t have a glass ball to see into the future, the Code of Ethics speaks to the fact that just because we don’t know what is coming, doesn’t mean we can ignore it when it comes because it’s not “specifically” in the Code. See Section I: Responsibility to clients, item 7: “As an ICF Professional, I… seek to make proper use of emerging and growing technological developments that are being used in coaching services (technology-assisted coaching services) and be aware of how various ethical standards apply to them”.
The Pledge of Ethics
This is one area that was unchanged except for referring to an ICF Professional not an ICF Coach, which further highlights the expectations of our integrity, professionalism and ethical conduct beyond the immediate realm of the coaching practice.
ICF has provided some interpretive statements to assist with the understanding and practical application of the updated Code which, in my opinion, is a very valuable piece of work that has been completed for us all.
The reviewing committee took each statement and created an explanation for what that statement means and why it is important. In the past, there have been ethics FAQ’s, which still exist, however the interpretive statements reflect the thinking that the committee had in mind as they updated, added or left alone each code item.
I would invite all ICF Professionals to familiarise themselves with the new Code of Ethics, which came into force as of January 1, 2020 and to which you will sign up when either becoming an ICF Member, renewing your membership or attaining an ICF Credential. I would strongly encourage you to also review the Interpretive Statements so that you are clear about what is your responsibility and obligations under this modernised and enhanced Code.
As someone who works with and teaches coaching ethics and the ICF Code of Ethics, I really appreciate the simplification, clarity and enhancements this new Code provides us. I also believe that, apart from the safety and protection it offers our clients, ourselves and all other relevant stakeholders in the coaching process, it is a source of pride which highlights our professionalism, integrity, standards and commitment to the work that we do!
Hilary Oliver is a Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor and Mentor Coach. Hilary trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an International Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Hilary also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. She has been the President of the UK ICF Chapter and is a Past Chair of the ICF Global Board.
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