The International Coaching Federation (ICF) has introduced an updated Core Competency Model that comes into force in January 2021. The model sees the introduction of a brand-new competency: Embodies a Coaching Mindset. This addition underlines the need for coaches to consider how they are ‘being’ as well as what they are ‘doing’ when coaching. This blog will provide you with the details of this competency and will also give you insights on how to meet its requirements in practice. I will also explore the context and relevance of this competency and how it also informs and interweaves with other competencies in the overall model.

Why is this competency important and where does it come from?

“Embodies a Coaching Mindset” is the second of eight competencies in the updated ICF Core Competency model. It sits in the first of four ‘domains’ alongside the first competency, “Demonstrates Ethical Practice”. This first domain, “Foundation”, is focused on coaches and how they should conduct themselves, not only while coaching, but in all professional interactions with parties related to the coaching process. This competency seeks to describe some of the ‘who’ of the coach—who the coach is ‘being’ —whereas the competencies in the other three domains focus on the ‘what’ of coaching and the ‘doing’ of the coach in that process.

The combination of these two competencies underpin the level of professionalism and integrity that is expected from coaches and provides the foundation upon which the other competencies sit and are applied. Good coaching is about more than demonstrating a skill set. It is also about demonstrating a particular mindset, consistently and sincerely. It is this mindset that informs how we work generally in our coaching practice and not only in specific client conversations. When the ICF completed the job analysis process to produce the updated model, the research and surveys consistently gave rise to words such as reflection, awareness, self-awareness and self-regulation. It is these words that inform how this competency is described and how a Coaching Mindset is defined.

ICF Core Competency 2: Embodies a Coaching Mindset

Definition: 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.
  9. Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices

This sub-competency immediately reminds us that coaching is client centered. Having firmly positioned this concept in the foundational domain, keeping the client central is a theme which is apparent in other aspects of the competency model. We can see several examples of how we acknowledge and encourage the client to take responsibility for their choices. For example:

  • Competency 3: Establishes and Maintains Agreements: Partners with the client in the creation of coaching agreements. This competency makes many references to how the coach should partner with their client, therefore leaving them at choice, regarding all aspects of the coaching agreement process.
  • Competency 8: Facilitates Client Growth: Partners with the client to design goals, actions and accountability methods and acknowledges and supports the client’s autonomy in doing so.

The coach can demonstrate this aspect of this competency by asking questions that clearly invite the client to engage with and share their choices. For example:

  • “What would you like to focus on today?”
  • “How would you like to approach this?”
  • “What do you think?”

Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach

One of the terms often heard about coaches is that they are ‘life-long’ learners. When we make a commitment to study and subsequently practice as a professional coach, we are also making a commitment to keeping our own skills up to date over time. This is to ensure that we are fit for practice and are not applying ‘rusty’ skills that we learnt ten years ago which are now peppered with bad habits. This sub-competency also sets an expectation that we continue with our development, thereby extending our learning beyond our initial training so that our competence is deepened and enhanced over time through a broader understanding of coaching and complementary areas of study.

The ICF credential renewal process includes the requirement that coaches complete at least 40-hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) every three years. This CPD can be undertaken in many ways and is outlined on the ICF website. Learning and development opportunities are available from ICF Chapters and ICF-accredited training schools and also via the ICF’s Learning Portal.

Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching

Of the range of CPD activities we might undertake, reflective practice has been identified as being of significance and is considered core to the development of the coach and their professional practice. Notice that the reflective practice is to be ‘ongoing’ and therefore is expected to have some consistency as opposed to be a random activity. Reflective practice can take many forms, including:

  • Coaching supervision
  • Peer group reflection
  • Journaling
  • Mentor coaching
  • Observed coaching practice followed by debrief and feedback
  • Listening to recordings of client work

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

Core to the process of coaching is that the client’s thinking about their topic expands beyond the limitations of their habitual thinking patterns and habits. We all have patterns and strategies that help us to decide how we will approach situations. However, those patterns can also get in the way of new thinking. Contextual and/or cultural assumptions, beliefs and biases are examples of what shape our thinking and as coaches we need to challenge these in ourselves and in our clients for us both to maintain a mindset that is open, curious and flexible.

The coach might actively check their own assumptions and those of their client. For example:

  • “I realise I am making an assumption here; however, I am wondering if…”
  • “What assumptions might you be making about this situation?”

As noted in the previous section, staying open to these influences is supported by the process of reflective practice.

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

Intuition is a very powerful tool in coaching and is more effectively applied when the coach is self-aware. As this competency states in its definition, a good coaching mindset is client-centered and so any intuition shared should always be in service of the client. In this way, the coach uses intuition with careful judgement, good sense and a lack of attachment or sense of ‘knowing’. An example of how this might be displayed is:

  • “I’m feeling a strong sense of (XYZ); what do you think or feel about that?”

Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one’s emotions

Self-regulation is key to being able to remain open, curious, flexible and client-centered. Regulating our own emotions is one of the ways we stay out of the client’s way in the coaching process, so that we can remain fully available and present for them. Part of our ongoing learning and development may therefore include our personal development as well as our professional development. Increased self-awareness enables the ability to self-regulate and self-manage so that we can strike the elegant balance between drawing upon our intuition and, at the same, not bring in too much of ourselves. An example of when we might need to regulate our emotions could be:

  • Your client shares that they are getting divorced and you have just recently experienced a painful and acrimonious divorce yourself. How will you make sure that your own emotional experience does not creep into your coaching practice?

Mentally and emotionally prepares for sessions

This element begins to draw this competency together as our mental and emotional preparation will undoubtedly be informed and enhanced by what we have covered so far. In this way, our preparation is ongoing as well as session specific. Our ‘pre-session’ preparation may take on various forms, based on personal preference, such as taking a walk, doing some exercise, meditating, sitting quietly etc. It is also useful to draw upon our self-awareness to consider when and how we access our optimal coaching mindset. Are there times of the day when we are ‘at our best’? How can we be as fresh and as present for our last client of the day as we were for the first client of the day? How many clients therefore can we engage with in one day and maintain our ability to fully embody our coaching mindset? All of these questions and more, are a very valuable part of our reflective practice.

Seeks help from outside sources when necessary

So far, the elements of this competency have taken a proactive perspective on how we develop and maintain a mindset that is open, curious, flexible and client centered. However, we are also human, life happens and there may be times when our mindset becomes impaired in a way that is not helpful to our clients. This reinforces the need for ongoing reflective practice so that our self-awareness signals to us that we need to do some work on ourselves in order to be of service to our clients. Coaching supervision is a very useful source of support for this and also for our ongoing learning and development as a coach.

If you are interested in learning more about the new ICF Core Competency Model and how to better understand and integrate the new framework into your coaching practice, we will be holding our final New ICF Core Competency Model Webinar Series in October 2020. The webinars come with CCEs that can be used towards your ongoing professional development and logged for your ICF Credential renewal. To learn more, click here.

Tracy Sinclair, MCC

Tracy Sinclair is a multi-award-winning Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor, Mentor Coach and ICF Assessor. Tracy 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. Tracy also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. Tracy has co-authored a book Becoming a Coach: The Essential ICF Guide published in 2020 which provides a comprehensive guide to coaching for coaches at all levels of skill and experience, the psychology that underpins coaching and the updated ICF Core Competency Model. In this same year she founded Coaching with Conscience which exists to have a positive impact on society and our environment through coaching. As part of this work, she collaborates closely with MIND, the UK’s leading mental health charity and the British Paralympic Association (BPA). She also offers pro bono personal development and coaching programmes to young leaders (18-25-yrs). Tracy was named as one of the Leading Global Coach winners of the Thinkers50 Marshall Goldsmith Awards of 2019 and was a finalist for the Thinkers50 Coaching and Mentoring Award in 2021. She won the ICF Impact Award for Distinguished Coach in 2023 and is a member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches. She was the President of the UK ICF from 2013-2014 and was an ICF Global Board Director since 2016, serving as Treasurer in 2017, Global Chair in 2018 and Immediate Past Global Chair in 2019 and Vice Chair and Director at Large on the International Coaching Federation Global Enterprise Board in 2021.

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