The international coaching federation (ICF) is the gold standard in life coaching. The ICF does not train life coaches, it certifies life coaches that have taken ICF accredited courses from various schools. It is therefore beneficial to understand the ICF’s stand on life coaching. According to the ICF, coaching is a process where a life coach partners with his or her client with an objective of inspiring the client to maximize their professional and personal potential. All ICF certified coaches are expected to implement the prerequisite core competencies of life coaching in their coaching sessions.

ICF Core CompetenciesICF Core Competencies

The ICF has 11 core competencies that have been designed to enhance a better understanding of the approaches and skills used in life coaching today. These competencies can also help life coaches in determining the level of alignment between the training they have received, or are receiving at their respective schools, and the training they are supposed to receive as per the ICF standards. Here are 11 core competencies:
1.Professional standards and ethical guidelines
A life coach is expected to understand the professional and ethical tenets of life coaching that her or she should always adhere to. The personal behavior of the life coach should be in tandem with the code of ethics of the ICF, as found on the ICF website. A life coach is expected to refer his or her clients to another qualified life coach when needed, i.e. if the coach discovers the client is seeking help in an area the coach is not comfortable or proficient in. Since ICF credentialed life coaches are encouraged to attend network events, they should have a number of contacts to whom they can refer such clients. It is also incumbent upon life coaches to clearly communicate and help their clients distinguish life coaching from psychotherapy, consulting, or other related professions.
2.Establishing a coaching agreement
The international coaching federation expects a life coach to have the ability to understand what a client is looking for in the coaching interaction. Upon understanding the needs of the client, the coach should then proceed to develop an agreement with the client as to the best way forward. This is where the coach should discuss and agree with the client on issues such as logistics, fees, scheduling, etc. The life coach should clearly communicate what clients can anticipate from the relationship and what they shouldn’t expect. This is an important step—it is where the coach and the client will know if they are a good match and whether or not they should engage in a client-life coach relationship.
3.Building trust with the clientBuilding trust with the client
The ability to create a supportive and safe environment is tantamount to the success of all life coaching sessions. Without this environment, the client will not feel comfortable sharing information that might help him or her find a solution to their challenge(s.) Life coaches must show genuine concern for their clients, and should consistently demonstrate personal integrity and sincerity. For instance, the life coach should always keep his or her word. Once trust is breached, the coach-client relationship will likely be shattered.
4.Coaching presence
The coaching presence refers to the ability of a life coach to create a relationship with the client in a flexible and confident style. To do this effectively, life coaches must access their own intuition and trust their gut feelings when relating to their clients. They should be open to new possibilities and perspectives. A good coach can also employ appropriate humor to infuse energy and create lightness in the coaching atmosphere.
5.Active listening
Active listening is the skill of focusing completely on what the client is saying and, equally importantly, not saying. When life coaches listen actively, they will understand what their clients are communicating in the context of their desires. Active listening will help to inspire the self-expression of the client, which ultimately leads to better understanding and a more effective coaching process. As an active listener, the life coach attends to the agenda of the client and not to his or her own thoughts and needs.
Powerful questioning6.Powerful questioning
Powerful questioning is another important core competency of the international coaching federation. Powerful questions are questions that reveal information that will be required for best coaching results. For a life coach to ask powerful questions, he or she must have listened actively to the client. Powerful questions will evoke discovery, commitment to action, and insight. They are designed to challenge the assumptions of the client in order to inspire positive change. A well-structured powerful question will direct the client towards his or her desire. Questions that cause the client to justify his or her present situation or look backward are discouraged in a coaching relationship.
7.Direct communication
Direct communication refers to the skill of communicating effectively in the coaching sessions, for example, using language that will achieve the greatest impact on the client. Communication should be articulate, clear, and direct. A life coach should endeavor to rephrase or reformulate sentences to help a client to truly understand what he or she is unclear about, especially with regards to his or her goals and aspirations. It is important for the life coach to use language that is respectful and appropriate, e.g. non-racist, non-technical, non-sexist, etc. Analogies and metaphors are encouraged to help drive the point home.
8.Creating awareness
Creating awareness is the ability to accurately integrate and evaluate various sources of information in ways that help the client gain understanding of his or her needs. Once awareness has been created, the client and the coach can then devise a plan designed to achieve agreed-upon goals. Creating awareness calls for seeing beyond what the client is concerned about by helping the client understand that what he or she is struggling with is most likely rooted in other causes. . This will help the life coach and client identify different and seemingly interrelated factors that might collectively be affecting the success of the client.
9.Designing actions
International coaching federation certified life coaches should know how to work with their clients in order to design opportunities for continuous learning, not only during the coaching sessions but also in their day-to-day lives. Coaches should help their clients to formulate desired actions to take daily that will help them to achieve agreed-upon coaching results. This can be done through a brainstorming session with the client to define the actions that can enable the client to effectively demonstrate and practice his or her learning.
10.Planning and goal settingPlanning and goal setting
Another important competency for a life coach to have is the ability to plan and set smart goals. The life coach needs to consolidate information collected from the client, then create a coaching plan that will work best for the unique needs of that client. The life coach should use the S.M.A.R.T principle of goal setting:—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.
11.Managing progress
Finally, the life coach should know how to focus on what is truly important for his or her client, while at the same time allowing the client to take action. The coach should clearly request that the client take actions to move him or her towards pre-defined goals. Coaches provide accountability by asking about steps that were discussed in previous sessions and what their clients have done in order to move forward. The coach should acknowledge and congratulate their clients on positive steps taken while challenging them to find a way to complete the rest of their goals.
So there you have it – the 11 most important core competencies for life coaching. These are the skills that every international coaching federation accredited school must incorporate in its training. You should check the course outline to ensure these are part of the training, because these skills will not only come handy in your practice, but the ICF will also use them as prerequisites for certification.
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