ICF Core Competency Area A: Setting the Foundation

Posted On: July 30, 2020

Written by: Jennifer Kumar (Managing Director, head Coach of Authentic Journeys) 

As I prepare for the PCC – mid level ICF credentialing exam (known as the cka- coach knowledge assessment), I’d like to share some of my insights around how the ICF core competencies apply to me as a coach.

In this post, I’d like to talk more about the first two core competencies listed under Part A entitled “Setting the Foundation.”


[Note: This post is updated from my previous post on Core Competency 1 as I realize now that I have misunderstood that I actually talked about two core competencies in this post and not one!]


How we Follow the ICF Core Competency 1: Ethics and Professional Standards

Every profession has a set of guidelines it abides by, and coaching is no exception. Often this competency is not directly discussed in pure coaching sessions in my experience, but instead is discussed in the discovery session (view the video on this post to see how we conduct our discovery call) – or the session a prospective client has with a coach to establish if there is a fit between the coach and the client.

The Discovery Session

Typically, in a discovery session with a coach – which is true with how I also operate- in addition to a prospective client speaking with the coach about what they hope to achieve by coaching and what got them interested to hire a coach, the coach also talks about their  coaching approach with the client.

In my experience, many of my prospective clients, even those who have heard of coaching before (I operate as a cross-cultural coach, a language fluency coach, a career coach, a team building coach, a virtual team building coach, and so on), are not quite sure what a coach actually does or how they do it. To help clarify this, I may offer a short coaching interaction, while also conducting this initial interaction as a coaching session as much as that is possible.

In addition, many prospective clients are not quite clear about how a coach is different from a mentor, a facilitator, a trainer or a consultant. Due to this, some wonder how I can provide specialty coaching in these areas without training, teaching or consulting. While some clients opt for pure coaching, some do want a mix of learning with coaching. That mix can be more of a set of blended facilitative and coaching sessions or a series of learning/training sessions followed up with a series of one to one or team coaching.

Coaching vs. Other Helping Professions
So, one may wonder what exactly distinguishes coaching from the other approaches. In general, in all of the other approaches the service provider is looked upon as the expert who provides information, guidance, content or fills in the blanks where the client doesn’t have the answers. Typically the service provider appears to have more ‘knowledge’ about the content area than the client. However, in coaching, it’s assumed that the client already has the answers, but for some reason is finding it hard to uncover the answers. The coach partners with the client to uncover the answers to their challenges through a series of what are called ‘powerful questions.’ Coaching focuses more on the present time and future outcomes than what happened in the past (having come from a social work therapy background, I am also aware of this difference, professionally speaking). Coaching will help a client to understand how they show up in their life, how they apply their current understanding to the world, and how they show up in other’s lives around them. So, for example, in language or culture coaching, we often have conversations about how the use of a language in a particular situation or the use of a behavior impacts a person’s impression of themselves, how others in their lives will see them, and how this aligns with or conflicts with what their ideal is. In cross-cultural terms, many of these situations relate to ‘code switching.’ A common situation may be with a manager who has a team meeting with team in the US and India, but must use a particular approach with the US counterparts that conflicts with how the team in India expect their manager to act or talk (read a case study here).  This is discussed and uncovered in coaching along with solutions and accountability plans that are created and owned by the client (rather than getting a prescription or advice from the service provider).

Listen to other’s perspectives on Core Competency 1:
The Exponential Coach – Coaching Changes Lives
Janet Harvey, MCC shares a perspective via Brighton West Video


How we Follow the ICF Core Competency 2: Establishing the Coaching Agreement

What is the Coaching Agreement? 
As Chip McFarlane notes in this video, there is both an informal and a formal coaching agreement. To expand on this, or clarify this, Coaching Changing Lives notes both a formative and sessional coaching agreement. As I actually like these terms a little better, I will go ahead an refer to agreements using these terms.

In terms of Authentic Journeys, the formative (formal) coaching agreement is the written agreement signed by the person being coached and, if required, the sponsor. This agreement outlines the basic roles, responsibilities and commitment that each party will adhere to in order to have a successful coaching program from start to finish (over a period of weeks or months).


The Authentic Journeys Coaching Agreement

1 on 1 coaching agreement with Authentic Journeys from Jennifer Kumar


The sessional (or ‘informal’) coaching agreement takes place only between the coach and the client being coached during each call.


Basic flow of a single coaching call – based on the Solution Focused Approach at Authentic Journeys

Structure of a coaching call - Based on Solution Focused Coaching

Structure of a coaching call – Based on Solution Focused Coaching


Typically, the overarching flow of a session (typically 1 hour) is as follows:

Opening of Call
We start off the session we talk about how things have been going since last call, what the progress has been on the things they wanted to work on, accountability, and successes.

Planning and Goal Setting for Today’s Conversation (the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the call) 
Then, we move into the topic for today’s session where we identify what we want to work on in this session, measures for success are defined and confirmed (either qualitative or quantitative), accountability measures, and why this topic is important, meaningful or relevant at this current moment.

[According to Coaching Changing Lives on YouTube, it is IN the coaching agreement where we set the KPIs and ROIs of coaching. It is in this section of the coaching conversation that we balance the desires of the sponsor and the professional being coached, especially when the individual being coached is sponsored by their company.]

In this section of the call, it’s the coach’s responsibility to facilitate exploration, learning and awareness through the use of powerful questions, direct communication (when needed), bottom lining, and active listening. This is done through the coach maintaining a coaching presence and not using their own agenda to move the conversation along.

As it is important to help the client manage the time during the call and to help the client feel progress is being made on what they have identified to discuss and work on, the coach also acts as a moderator through out the discussion to check in and ensure the conversation is moving in the direction the client desires. If it veers off, the coach can help the client get back on track.

Wrapping Up the Call
We close the call by creating an action plan for what was discussed and of course, plan the next call.

As noted above, coaching agreements can vary slightly depending on if the individual being coached is paying out of pocket (a private client) or is sponsored (typically, in the case of Authentic Journeys a company (90% or a family member 10%) pays for the coaching and may take part in regular updates. As that pertains to this competency, let’s look at how these types of agreements pertain to client’s working with us at Authentic Journeys.

Corporate Clients and Sponsors
When the company contacts us, they will be sponsoring the person or people to be coached. While the sponsor would be a part of the contracting, the sponsor may or may not be a part of the coaching activities (goal setting/kick off meeting, review sessions/retrospectives, and final wrap up). While it is rare that a sponsor wants to be coached with the individual or team being coached, there are cases where the sponsor or management team (if it is a company) opts to meet me at regular intervals to discuss updates, but not be coached. In terms of coaching, a sponsor is the person or entity who is paying for the person or people being coached. In 90% of my coaching engagements, the sponsor is a company, while in the remaining 10% it may be a parent, a spouse, a friend, or a colleague (in all cases of this 10%, they tend to be private clients, not corporate clients).

Authentic Journeys' team coaching model
The Authentic Journeys’ Coaching Model for Virtual Software Teams

On the topic of Confidentiality  
When talking about working with a sponsor, the topic of confidentiality is discussed at length. What information can be shared with whom. And, what information will not be shared. And, what information must be shared as per contract obligations or safety reasons. Of course, confidentiality is always discussed, even when it’s a 1 to 1 private coaching client as well. Typically, we fill out an agreement that discusses the relationship, obligations (including scheduling, fees, duration of interaction, confidentiality, and other pertinent information). In some cases, depending on the type of interaction, a different kind of agreement is signed. There is a slightly different one for private clients as compared to the agreement I use with corporate clients.

The Coaching Agreement vs. Contracting 
The coaching agreement is NOT the contract which is signed to work with the company. Most of the corporate clients I work with are in India. If it is a larger company, we create very formalized legal contracts on stamp paper with company stamps, along with a Statement of Work (SOW) for each project. In rare cases, where I work with companies or teams with a high level of security and confidentiality (financial, health care, legal), the contract from the client side may require additional paperwork and contracting. Contracts are typically signed by me (on behalf of Authentic Journeys) and the company HR representative. The SOW, on the other hand, is typically signed by the HR representative, the team manager who manages the team(s) I coach, and possibly the company CEO (if a very small startup). However, as most of the companies I work with in India are startups, only the SOW is required. In both cases, the coaching agreements are only signed by the managers and those whom I coach.

Listen to other’s perspectives on Core Competency 2:
The Exponential Coach – ICF Core Competency 2 – Coaching Agreement
Establishing the Coaching Agreement – IECL
Sheri Boone, MCC shares via Brighton West Video

Summing up Core Competency Area: Setting the Foundation 
This competency, unlike all others is best demonstrated by NOT demonstrating it. I think this was said best in the video by Brighton West when he interviewed Janet Harvey from Invite Change on this topic. While I also believe this, I feel that this particular competency helps set the base not only for the profession and how to conduct oneself (which can be an especially helpful guideline for many coaches who operate as solopreneurs), but gives some context to the profession to those who want to work with a coach as well. Be on the lookout for more insights on ICF core competencies in upcoming blogs!

If you’re interested to discuss the competencies or schedule a coaching session, get in touch with me (Jennifer Kumar, a PCC certified coach). Jennifer Kumar, author, and ICF PCC credentialed coach created the Coach 2 Coach Mastermind.


Related Posts:
Read our approach on Core Competency Area B: Co-Creating the Relationship
ICF Code of Ethics
Free course on Ethics (CCEs awarded via the ICF)

Read our insights on all ICF competency areas:
Area A: Setting the Foundation: Ethics and Professional Standards, Establishing the Coaching Agreement
Area B: Co-Creating the Relationship: Establishing Trust and Intimacy, Coaching Presence,
Area C: Communicating Effectively: Active ListeningPowerful Questioning and Direct Communication
Area D: Facilitating Learning and Results: Creating Awareness, Designing Actions, Planning and Goal Setting, and Managing Progress and Accountability

New ICF Core Competencies (3 -8) vs. the Old Core Competencies


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