The purpose of this section is to provide a basic summary of the ICF and its most important contributions. As previously stated, one the biggest challenges for the coaching profession is legitimacy. To address this issue numerous industry organizations have developed their own system of credentialing or certification. The most prominent, well developed, and widely recognized industry organization is the International Coaching Federation (ICF), which is the institution I have aligned myself to as a professional. To support the advancement and legitimacy of life coaching, the ICF developed a Code of Ethics, a set of coaching Core Competencies, numerous levels of credentialing for individuals, and a system of accreditation for coach training programs. We'll look these contributions in more detail below.


  • A nonprofit organization founded by Thomas Leonard in 1995
  • Based in Lexington, Kentucky, with regional service centers in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America
  • Current membership is over 20,000; with an average monthly increase of 500
  • ICF’s goal is to keep growing membership and maintain a solid direction, presence and professional voice for coaches.
  • The organization continues to focus on professional standards while remaining adaptive

Code of Ethics

Designed to maintain and promote excellence in the coaching profession. The ICF Code of Ethics is made of three parts, with five key sections. Below is an excerpt. For more info or to view it in entirety, you can view a web-based PDF version or checkout the ICF's Code of Ethics Overview webpage. 

ICF Code of Ethics excerpt

Part one: Definitions

Part two: The ICF Standards of Ethical Conduct (five sections)

  1. Professional Conduct at Large
  2. Conflicts of Interest
  3. Professional Conduct with Clients
  4. Confidentiality/Privacy
  5. Continuing Development

Part three: The ICF Pledge of Ethics

As an ICF coach, I acknowledge and agree to honor my ethical and legal obligations to my coaching clients and sponsors, colleagues, and to the public at large. I pledge to comply with the ICF Code of Ethics and to practice these standards with those whom I coach, teach, mentor or supervise.

If I breach this Pledge of Ethics or any part of the ICF Code of Ethics, I agree that the ICF in its sole discretion may hold me accountable for so doing. I further agree that my accountability to the ICF for any breach may include sanctions, such as loss of my ICF Membership and/or my ICF Credentials.

Core Competencies

The ICF developed 11 competencies clustered into 4 groupings. All eleven are considered crucial and, according the website, they "were developed to support greater understanding about the skills and approaches used within today's coaching profession as defined by the International Coach Federation." Below is a list of the 11 competencies. For more info you can visit the ICF's highly informative Core Competencies webpage.

ICF Core Competencies summary

A. Setting the Foundation  
1. Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards
2. Establishing the Coaching Agreement

B. Co-creating the Relationship
3. Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client
4. Coaching Presence

C. Communicating Effectively
5. Active Listening
6. Powerful Questioning
7. Direct Communication 

D. Facilitating Learning and Results  
8. Creating Awareness
9. Designing Actions
10. Planning and Goal Setting
11. Managing Progress and Accountability

Individual credentials

The ICF has created and maintained three levels of credentialing for professional coaches, which are titled Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and Master Certified Coach (MCC). These credentials serve as a badge of quality and legitimacy for coaches, helping to ensure clients that the coach is a skilled professional. As the ICF website eloquently states, "With an ICF Credential, coaches demonstrate not only knowledge and skill, but also a commitment to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics." 

Each of the three levels requires a certain amount of training hours and experience, as well as mentorship by a more experienced coach and the completion of a Coach Knowledge Assessment. The PCC and MCC level credentials also include a performance evaluation to ensure that a high level of coaching competency is demonstrated. 

Below is a brief summary of the requirements for each credential. For more information explore the ICF website or visit their webpage about individual credentialing

ACC summary

Required training hours: 60+
Hours of coaching experience required: 100+
10 hours of mentor coaching
Completing the Coach Knowledge Assessment

PCC summary

Required training hours: 125+
Hours of coaching experience required: 500+
10 hours of mentor coaching
Completing the Coach Knowledge Assessment
Submitting a performance evaluation, i.e. two audio recordings with written transcripts of coaching sessions

MCC summary

Required training hours: 200+
Hours of coaching experience required: 2,500+
10 hours of mentor coaching
Completing the Coach Knowledge Assessment
Submitting a performance evaluation, i.e. two audio recordings with written transcripts of coaching sessions