When I teach ethics to my coaching students and we examine the International Coach Federation's Code of Ethics, I'm often asked what's the purpose of the Code Preamble, or "Does it matter?". Is it just an introduction, a preface to the Code?
The way that I answer is by reading the Preamble and breaking it down piece by piece and illustrating my interpretations of it... which you know, must be correct! Lets dive in and examine what the Preamble offers.
ICF is committed to maintaining and promoting excellence in coaching.
This is an important statement because it lets the world know right away what the ICF is here for. The mission statement of the ICF in part reads "...lead the global advancement of the coaching profession." What better way to do this than by maintaining and promoting excellence? As a coach, I am thankful to have this large association working for the best interests of the profession by continually promoting excellence. In fact, this should be an objective of all coaches - to continually preserve the integrity of the (our) profession. We do this by first protecting and honoring our clients, also by a consistent dedication to increasing our competence in coaching, and finally by spreading the word about coaching and how beneficial it is to society.
Therefore, ICF expects all members and credentialed coaches (coaches, coach mentors, coaching supervisors, coach trainers or students), to adhere to the elements and principles of ethical conduct: to be competent and integrate ICF Core Competencies effectively in their work.
In this next sentence, parameters are set as to who the ICF expects to use and abide by this code. In my opinion, this statement has a broad application and applies to anyone associated with the ICF through membership and credentialing. An argument could be made that even students in an ICF approved curriculum could be held to the ethical guidelines set out by the Code. It is my thought that the Code imparts additional responsibility to act ethically in a general sense as well - not just when you are being a coach (or a trainer, student, mentor coach, or supervisor, etc.). This means being a good business person, a good consultant, trainer, etc. Coaches are given advice to be competent in their craft. We do this by continuing education and always learning. When we coach, we want to be curious with our clients - we must be curious in our own development too. We also do this by integrating the Core Competencies into our coaching - my recommendation is to print out the Competencies and refer to them often, even daily, to keep your focus sharp.
In line with the ICF core values and ICF definition of coaching, the Code of Ethics is designed to provide appropriate guidelines, accountability and enforceable standards of conduct for all ICF Members and ICF Credential-holders, who commit to abiding by the following ICF Code of Ethics:
This final sentence of the Preamble tells us that the Code along with the ICF definition of coaching and the ICF core values provide the coach with guidance, a hook of accountability and enforceable standards by which we can use in our coaching relationships and our business. You may be wondering what enforceable means. There is a process by which a client that believes a coach has breached the Code can make a complaint against a coach. The ICF's Independent Review Board (IRB) oversees this process. Once a complaint is received and validated, the IRB assigns it to investigators who collect evidence, and draft a report. The completed report is then passed on to a panel of final reviewers that will determine if a breach of the Code has happened. If so, the coach will be assigned remedial actions which could include mandatory training, etc. All ICF member and credentialed coaches implicitly agree to this by way of their membership or credential.
So there you have it - while the Preamble may look like just an introduction to the Code, once parsed out it has a lot of information and packs a pretty big punch.
What do you think? How often are you reviewing the Code of Ethics or the Core Competencies?Leave a comment below.
Scott Howard is a professional executive coach and leadership coach focusing on human empowerment and maximizing potential.