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"What is ‘ethical practice’?

This blog is intended for coaches and trainee coaches looking to deepen their capability and confidence in coaching.


Without a strong foundation, a building is weak and unstable and at risk of falling down. In a coaching engagement we can think of the strong foundation as how we create and maintain the engagement itself and the two elements that the ICF core competencies call "Foundation” are demonstrating ethical practice and embodying a coaching mindset. In this post we will explore ethical practice.


Ethical practice protects both client and coach. Putting relationships on the right footing helps avoid problems later in the engagement. Challenges in coaching often arise not in the content of coaching - the things we spend most time on in coach training and development- but in the form of the coaching engagement. This is particularly the case where coaching includes multiple stakeholders e.g. the field of executive coaching. However, ethical issues also occur when coaching private individuals.

For the ICF, ethical practice a core competency, defined by a coach ‘understanding and consistently applying coaching ethics and standards of coaching’. These require that a coach:

  • Demonstrates personal integrity and honesty in interactions with clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders

  • Is sensitive to clients’ identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs

  • Uses language appropriate and respectful to clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders

  • Abides by the ICF Code of Ethics and upholds the Core Values

  • Maintains confidentiality with client information per stakeholder agreements and pertinent laws

  • Maintains the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support professions

  • Refers clients to other support professionals, as appropriate

As you can see, ethical practice is not just a list of “thou shalt nots” but reflects the complex responsibilities a coach has to the coachee, other stakeholders, the profession and society.


As with ethics generally, what to do in any particular situation is context dependent and therefore having a supervisor to whom to turn to reflect on any issues is best practice. However, there are a few common areas in which these issues frequently crop up and we will examine each of these in turn.

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