28 Steps – ICF Code of Ethics (2021)

6 min read

You are about to learn what it means to follow the ICF Code Of Ethics at all times.

In order to become and remain certified by the International Coach Federation, a life coach will have to meet the standards outlined in this code at all times. 

This article outlines the key points of all 28 steps that all ICF credential holders should be aware of. 

Let’s dive right into it.

What Is The ICF Code Of Ethics?

The ICF Code Of Ethics is a document which outlines the ethical standards which ICF credential holders should aspire to meet at all times.

The ability to consistently meet these ethical standards is the first of ICF’s 11 core competencies. A failure to meet these ethical standards (or any of the other core competencies) may result in a coach failing to gain their ICF certification, or having it revoked. 

The code itself ends with a pledge, in which ICF members and credential holders agree that the ICF in its sole discretion may hold them accountable for any breach of these ethical standards. This may include sanctions, such as mandatory additional training or the loss of a ICF membership and/or credentials. 

This is subject to a review process from a member of the ICF ethical conduct review team.

The ICF Code Of Ethics includes some key definitions of vocabulary used within the code. 

Most importantly though, it features a list of the 28 ethical standards that must be applied to the professional coaching activities of ICF members and credential holders.

Let’s now explore these 28 standards contained within the ICF Code of Ethics. 

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The ICF Code Of Ethics: 28 Steps Of Ethical Conduct  

The 28 standards of ethical conduct outlined in the ICF Code of Ethics are divided into four sections.

  • Section I: Responsibility to clients
  • Section II: Responsibility to practice and performance
  • Section III: Responsibility to professionalism
  • Section IV: Responsibility to society 
ICF Code of Ethics
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ICF Code Of Ethics Section I: Responsibility to Clients

In order to meet the code of ethics, an ICF coach must:

1. Ensure that coaching clients and sponsors understand the nature and potential value of coaching. This includes the nature and limits of confidentiality, financial arrangements, and any other terms of the coaching agreement.

2. Create an agreement/contract regarding the roles, responsibilities and rights of all parties involved with clients and sponsors prior to the commencement of services.

3. Maintain the strictest levels of confidentiality with all parties as agreed upon – and comply with all applicable personal data and communications laws. 

4. Ensure all parties understand how information will be exchanged during coaching interactions.

5. Ensure clients, sponsors or interested parties understand the conditions where information will not be kept confidential. This includes illegal activity, if required by law, information pursuant to valid court order or subpoena; imminent or likely risk of danger to self or to others; etc.

6. Manage potential conflicts of interest with coaching clients and sponsors through coaching agreements and ongoing dialogue. These could potentially include a coach’s organizational roles, responsibilities, relationships, records or confidentiality agreements. 

7. Handle all documents and files in a manner that promotes confidentiality, security and privacy in compliance with any applicable laws and agreements.

8. Remain alert to signs of a shift in the value received from the coaching relationship. If this occurs, a coach must not hesitate to suggest a change in the relationship or encourage the client to seek more suitable services. 

9. Respect all parties’ rights to terminate the coaching relationship at any point for any reason, subject to the provisions of the agreement.

10. Remain sensitive to the implications of having multiple contracts and relationships with the same client(s) and sponsor(s) at the same time, in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest. 

11. Remain aware of and actively manage any power or status difference between themselves and the client. These may be caused by cultural, relational, psychological or contextual issues.

12. Disclose any potential receipt of compensation or other benefits they may receive for referring clients to third parties.

13. Maintain a consistent quality of coaching, regardless of the compensation agreed in any relationship.

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ICF Code Of Ethics Section II: Responsibility to Practice and Performance

In order to meet the code of ethics, an ICF coach must:

14. Adhere to the ICF Code of Ethics in all interactions – and raise the matter with those involved when they become aware of a possible breach from themselves or another professional. If this does not resolve the matter, they must refer it to a formal authority such as ICF Global for resolution.

15. Ensure all support personnel adhere to the ICF Code of Ethics. 

16. Commit to excellence through continued personal, professional and ethical development.

17. Recognize their personal limitations or circumstances that may impair, conflict with or interfere with their coaching performance or professional coaching relationships. In such circumstances, they will reach out for support and seek relevant professional guidance if necessary. This may involve the suspension or termination of coaching relationship(s).

18. Resolve potential conflicts of interest by working through the issue with relevant parties, seeking professional assistance when necessary. This may require the suspension or termination of a professional relationship.

19. Maintain the privacy of ICF Members and use the ICF Member contact information only as authorized by the ICF or the ICF Member.

Code of Ethics ICF
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ICF Code Of Ethics Section III: Responsibility to Professionalism

In order to meet the code of ethics, an ICF coach must:

20. Accurately identify their coaching qualifications, level of coaching competency, expertise, experience, training, certifications and ICF credentials.

21. Make accurate verbal and written statements about what they can offer as an ICF professional, as well as what is offered by the ICF and coaching in general. 

22. Communicate with those who need to be informed of the ethical responsibilities established by the ICF Code of Ethics.

23. Be responsible for setting clear, appropriate and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern interactions.

24. Never participate in sexual or romantic engagement with client(s) or sponsor(s).

ICF Code Of Ethics Section IV: Responsibility To Society

In order to meet the code of ethics, an ICF coach must:

25. Maintain fairness and equality in all activities, while respecting local rules and cultural practices. This includes avoiding discrimination on the basis of age, race, gender expression, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, military status etc.

26. Honor the contributions and intellectual property of others, only claiming ownership of their own material. 

27. Remain honest and work within recognized scientific standards, applicable subject guidelines and boundaries of their competence. 

28. Stay aware of their own and their clients’ impact on society, while adhering to the philosophy of ‘doing good’ vs. ‘avoiding bad’.

Code of Ethics
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How Is The Ethical Conduct Of An ICF Coach Measured? 

The ICF Code of Ethics will be taught during any ICF accredited coach training course. 

All ICF accredited coach training courses will also include live practice, in which a coach will be assessed on their ethical conduct (among other things) by a review team.

If a coach fails to follow the code of ethics during their coach training, it is likely they will fail this training and therefore be unable to claim an ICF certification. This is true of all the ICF core competencies.

If a coach already has an ICF certification, this will need to be renewed every three years. In order for their credential to be renewed, an ICF coach must complete a further 10 hours of mentor coaching. They will be assessed on their ability to follow the ICF Code of Ethics here too.

On top of that, there’s every possibility that a coach failing to follow the ICF Code of Ethics could be reported by a client. In such a case, their ethical conduct could be investigated by a ICF review team.  

Regardless of whether you’re assessed by a review team you should always be mindful of ethics. Coaching roles tend to require you to influence other people’s behaviour, so please take care to follow coaching codes of ethics as best you can.   

ICF Code of Ethics PDF Download

ICF members and anyone else can download a PDF version of the ICF Code of Ethics from its website. This could be a handy reminder of the required ICF ethics in coaching, particularly for those engaging in coach training. 

Click here to download the ICF Code of Ethics for yourself >>

Any more questions about the ICF Code of Ethics?

I hope you enjoyed the post. 

The International Coach Federation is globally recognised for setting the strictest standards for its certified coaches. 

Its coaching code of ethics plays an important role here. If you’re planning to be certified by the ICF, ethics should always be on your mind. 

If you have any further questions about ICF ethics or the ethics of coaching in general, you can leave a comment below. 

It would be great to hear from you!

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