8 ICF Core Competencies – Update (2024)

We may receive compensation if you visit partners we recommend. Read our affiliate disclosure.

You’re about to learn what the ICF core competencies actually mean for a life coach and their clients.

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

Let’s go right into it.

Also, check out my guide about the Best ICF Approved Life Coach Certification Programs.

What Is ICF Core Competencies?

The ICF Core Competencies are the factors that ICF-accredited coaches are evaluated on. These competencies and the ICF definition of coaching serve as the foundation of any ICF credentialing exam including the Coach Knowledge Assessment. These competencies play a huge role in maintaining the ICF’s reputation as the number one international coaching organization.

ICF Core Competencies Update

The list of core competencies was originally created in 1998 and included 11 competencies in total. In November 2019, an updated list with eight updated core competencies was released. This new list of eight core competencies is now used to formally evaluate life coaches. The updated ICF core competencies are discussed in this article.

How Many ICF Competencies Are There?

There are now officially EIGHT ICF core competencies. There were originally 11 core competencies but the list was updated in November 2019. The new list with eight core competencies is now used to evaluate coaches.

8 ICF Core Competencies

The list of eight original ICF core competencies was released in November 2019. This is the official list now used to formally evaluate coaches.

11 ICF Core Competencies

The original list of ICF core competencies has 11 points, but this list has now been formally replaced and the original performance evaluation criteria is now irrelevant. This article focuses on the updated core competencies and the updated performance evaluation criteria only.

ICF Core Competencies List

Below is a list of the eight core competencies that the ICF uses to formally evaluate life coaches. 

#1 Demonstrates Ethical Practice

A competent coach continuously demonstrates personal integrity and honesty in all interactions. He or she understands and consistently applies coaching ethics based on the ICF Code of Ethics. These standards should be adhered to in all professional interactions with relevant stakeholders.

Ethical practice includes: 

  • being honest at all times;
  • remaining sensitive to values, beliefs, and experiences of their clients;
  • using appropriate and respectful language;
  • maintaining client confidentiality as per their coaching agreement;
  • maintaining the distinctions between coaching and other support professionals such as consultants and psychotherapists;
  • referring clients to a better-qualified professional when appropriate.

It’s essential for coaches to understand the difference between their role and other support professions & refers clients to them when possible consultants or psychiatrists. If they continue the coaching process with a client who needs another type of service, they will be deemed as failing to display this competency.

Related Content: ICF Code Of Ethics: 28 Steps 

#2 Embodies a Coaching Mindset

A coaching mindset involves being able to remain open, flexible, curious, and client-focused.

A key factor to showing this competency is being able to mentally prepare for their interactions with clients and keep their emotions regulated.

A coach must always acknowledge that their clients are responsible for their own decisions. They must always understand that context and culture can have a big influence on their clients’ choices and their own.

Another big part of the coaching mindset definition is choosing to continue their ongoing learning and development. Self-awareness and reflection are two key skills to ensure their continued development as a coach. The coach must also be willing to seek outside help when necessary.

ICF Core Competencies
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

#3 Establishes and Maintains Agreements 

This competency surrounds the coach’s ability to create clear agreements regarding the coaching relationship and what clients should expect from their coaching sessions. They should be able to establish clear expectations for each specific coaching interaction and the overall coaching engagement.

This involves: 

  • giving an accurate definition of what coaching is and is not to all relevant stakeholders;
  • accurately describing the coaching process to every prospective and new client;
  • describing what is and is not appropriate in the coaching relationship;
  • analyzing the responsibilities of the client and the relevant stakeholders as part of the coaching process; 
  • clearly stating details such as the logistics, costs, scheduling, and duration of coaching sessions;
  • explaining the important points about client confidentiality and the inclusion of others;
  • makes steps to determine whether a compatible relationship is possible with the client
  • agreeing on a suitable coaching plan with the client;
  • identifying the client’s goals and measures of success for each individual coaching session;
  • reconfirming the client’s desired outcome and shaping their sessions around this goal;
  • ending the coaching engagement in a suitable way to honor the experience.

Most of these boxes should be ticked while outlining a coaching agreement with any prospective client and throughout the coaching process. It’s so important that the client acknowledges what to expect as part of the coaching agreement.

#4 Cultivates Trust and Safety

It’s essential for coaches to create a safe and supportive environment for their clients and key stakeholders. This allows them to share freely and get the most out of each coaching session.

A relationship based on mutual respect and trust is key. The coach must show transparency, support, empathy, and concern for the client to create that. They must also show respect for the client’s expression, identity, perceptions, and language during the coaching process.

The coach must seek to understand and support the client’s feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and input during coaching sessions. This should involve them making an effort to understand how the client’s identity, experiences, and values might be shaping them.

When a coach follows these guidelines, they can ensure they create a supportive environment and a coaching relationship that produces ongoing mutual respect.   

#5 Maintains Presence 

Presence is one of the most important coaching skills that is key to establishing a strong coaching relationship. As such, a coach is assessed on their ability to remain fully present during their sessions.

A coach should remain conscious, focused, observant, and responsive to their clients during every coaching conversation. They must show curiosity through the coaching process and the ability to confidently handle strong client emotions in a professional manner.

It’s important for a coach to react accordingly to a client’s emotions and insights. They should systematically explore specific concerns that a client wishes or appears keen to discuss. When a client demonstrates curiosity in a trail of thought, the coach should be aware enough to explore that topic further.

#6 Listens Actively 

Active listening is a skill that an ICF-certified coach should master to benefit clients.

This involves the ability to understand what a client communicated, not only through their words but their tone of voice and body language. The coach will be able to notice trends in the client’s behavior throughout sessions to discern themes and patterns that can be explored further.

The coach should be able to go beyond what is said when assessing client’s concerns. They must also be able to obtain information from what a client is not saying.

Active listening also involves summarising – and perhaps paraphrasing – what a client has said in order to ensure clarity and understanding. Coaches are also encouraged to build on a client’s ideas and suggestions to fully understand the essence of a client’s communication.

In order to display this competency, a coach must also consistently encourage a client to fully express themselves without fear of judgment.

Active listening absolutely requires coaching presence. It also requires a coach to respond to their client based on what they are communicating, not the coach’s own agenda. 

#7 Evokes Awareness

A coach will be assessed on their ability to create awareness within their client, and rightly so. This skill will help achieve maximum value from the coaching process.

A coach should:

  • evoke awareness by asking appropriate questions to the client;
  • invite the client to share more so they can address key concerns with full knowledge of a situation;
  • invite the client to generate ideas about how to move towards their goals; 
  • make sure he or she adapts one’s coaching based on the responses they receive from the client;   
  • help the client understand what influences their thoughts, emotions, and actions;
  • support client self-expression at all times;
  • support the client in reframing perspectives. 

A great coach partners with the client to share observations, thoughts, and feelings to create new awareness.

A great coach also challenges client’s assumptions even when this client demonstrates confidence in their beliefs. This is key when the client believes things that doesn’t help them. This facilitates client insight and is key to helping them reach their personal and professional potential.

Related: (BCC) Board Certified Coach Vs. ICF – Complete Guide

#8 Facilitates Client Growth

A coach is assessed on their ability to enable growth in their clients and session partners. This should involve:  

  • effectively preparing, organizing, and evaluating the information obtained during sessions with the client;
  • working with the client to integrate new insight into their worldview;
  • helping a client to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, and realistic with target dates);
  • using direct language to confirm the agreed-upon coaching results with clients;
  • helping the client to distinguish between trivial and significant issues; 
  • adjusting a client’s goals over time as warranted by lessons throughout coaching or changes in the client’s situation; 
  • having a clear purpose that moves a client toward their desired outcomes.
  • ensuring he or she promotes client autonomy in the design of their goals and accountability methods;
  • helping the client identify factors in the behavior that leads to personal growth; 
  • helping the client identify potential growth that may occur from their proposed action steps;
  • helping the client to identify and cement the lessons from their previous sessions and life experiences;
  • ensuring he or she promotes client’s self-discipline;
  • ensuring he or she communicates broader perspectives to help clients experience more knowledge;
  • asking the client about their progress with the actions they committed to during previous sessions in the sessions immediately afterward; 
  • holding the client accountable for the actions the client committed during their previous coaching session;
  • ensuring he or she always celebrates client successes and acknowledges their progression and the client’s ability to progress; 
  • highlighting and praising client progress and a client’s unique talents;
  • ensuring he or she supports client autonomy to help them strive for further goals.

A competent coach should be willing to accurately evaluate multiple sources to give the client information and awareness that leads to their desired growth.  

ICF Competencies
Photo by Wadi Lissa on Unsplash

Core Competencies ICF
Photo by Corina Rainer on Unsplash

There are special ICF Team Coaching Competencies if you are interested in team coaching.

ICF Core Competencies Markers

These markers are official indicators that a coach has passed each of the eight competencies during the ICF credentialing exam. The markers have been summarised in this article, but they’re available in full on the ICF website.

The markers are stricter if you’re applying for a higher authority of ICF certification.

The three levels of ICF certification (in order of authority) are:

ICF Core Competencies PDF

If you want a list of the ICF’s core competencies in PDF format, you can click here to download it.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s round off this article with the answers to some frequently asked questions on this topic.

What Is The ICF Definition Of Coaching?

On its website, the ICF defines coaching as: “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

What Are The 4 Ethical Standards Applied To the Practice Of ICF Coaches?

The ICF’s core values are integrity, excellence, collaboration, and respect. These are listed in the ICF Code of Ethics. You can discover more about the expected actions that flow from these core values in my full ICF Code of Ethics guide.  

What Are The Most Essential Coaching Competencies In The Coach/Client Relationship?

No ICF core competency is officially labeled as more important than the others.

You may find that it is more important to display mastery of specific coaching competencies with individual clients.

However, that is based upon their individual needs rather than certain competencies being more important.

What Are Some Great Skills For A Life Coach To Develop?

A great life coach:

  • always ensures client/coach compatibility;
  • partners with the client understand their beliefs;
  • demonstrates respect for the client’s thoughts;
  • notices what is working to enhance client progress;
  • adjusts the coaching approach in response to the client’s needs;
  • upholds the coaching core values;
  • maintains confidentiality with client information throughout the coaching process;
  • shows support, empathy and concern to benefit clients;
  • develops improved knowledge of client systems with time;
  • understands the client growth definition and makes moves to provide ongoing support for the clients towards it;
  • understands the ethical practice definition and makes moves to follow it.
  • allows the client to define the coaching objectives;

Thanks For Reading!

I hope you enjoyed the article about the defined standards of today’s coaching profession.

Whether you’re looking for a career in professional coaching or looking to hire a coach, this article should give you an idea of what to expect, especially with courses accredited by the International Coaching Federation.

I wish you luck in your pursuit of a supportive environment either way.

About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.