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Rules and regulations – are you a lawbreaker?

I speak to a lot of coaches who battle with authenticity while complying with the rules of their professional body. For some coaches there seems to be a real dilemma, and an internal conflict. There is the need to conform to the rules and demonstrate behaviours to become accredited while balancing what they actually do in their day-to-day coaching practice. I have heard several coaches express a clear difference between their genuine and authentic coaching and the approach they take for their professional body. There have been several comments that Challenging Coaching gives coaches the permission to break the rules!

I’ve been a member of the AC for many years and value the work of AC (Association for Coaching), ICF (International Coach Federation) and EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council), in helping develop the coaching profession. But I wonder if there is a disconnect between the professional requirements and actual real world coaching practice?

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I’ve taken some time to go back to the code of ethics and competency frameworks of the three main professional organisations to try to understand why. All three have similarities and differences in emphasis. The AC sets out by saying that it “…expects all members, whether coaches or coaching supervisors, to adhere to the essential elements of ethical, competent and effective practice as set out in this Code of Ethics and Good Practice.” Good stuff, but the use of the word “adhere” makes this sound like a law, and later in the framework the definitive phrase “you will have…” is often used.

The ICF takes a more subtle approach saying that “the following eleven core coaching competencies were developed to support greater understanding about the skills and approaches used within today’s coaching profession as defined by the International Coach Federation”. So these are about supporting understanding. But the ICF goes on to say that all competences are “…core or critical for any competent coach to demonstrate”. So if you want to be a member of the ICF, you have to follow their rules and pass their test for accreditation.

However, the ICF includes the following elements in the 11 competences, so a coach… “Is present and flexible during the coaching process, dancing in the moment.” “Accesses own intuition and trusts one’s inner knowing—”goes with the gut.” and “Is open to not knowing and takes risks.” So there is room to find your own way.

There are areas that are conspicuous by their absence in the AC and ICF. There is lack of challenge and the consideration of the positive benefit of challenge, the ‘feeling’ is of a focus on support and being non-directive person centred. There is no reference to coaching sponsors, organisation context or wider stakeholders. This is, however, addressed by the EMCC framework which states coaches should: “Understand and ensure that the coach/mentoring relationship reflects the context within which the coach/mentoring is taking place.” and “Ensure that the expectations of the client and the sponsor are understood and that they themselves understand how those expectations are to be met.”

Despite these points, I believe that the frameworks of all three main professional bodies are good at detailing the specific requirements of professional coaches. There are items that are explicit and others that are implicit. There is nothing in the frameworks that says that I can not challenge, there is nothing that says that I cannot ask about the expectations of the sponsoring organisation and the wider stakeholders. But as these elements are absent, there is not the explicit permission to consider these areas. As these are not explicit and unlikely to be assessed, I’d suggest that these are rarely considered or ‘taught’ by coaching schools.

When it comes to accreditation, there will always be assessment against the explicit competency items; it’s a list ticking point scoring exercise. Tick enough boxes against the competency framework and you’ll score enough points to become accredited. However, this does not say that you must only take this approach and in the case of the ICF, it does not say that you must only do what is stated in the 11 competences.  We can add to this, we can do more and do things differently, as long as all items in the competency framework are respected and honoured. To me the competency frameworks provide guidance on the minimum standard, and as coaches we should feel free to add our own authentic style. So I’m being authentic and following the ICF competency framework, rather than the conflict of doing one or the other.

It is refreshing to read that the EMCC describes one element of its master practitioner level as being “Professional, experienced and expert coaches / mentors who create their own coherent approach drawing on a wide range of models and frameworks.”

I think about this as the membership of a club. If I want to join a club and experience the benefits of membership, I must comply with their rules. That’s the deal. However, I can still be myself, do things my way within the norms of membership. I’m a member of the ‘car drivers club’, but I wonder how many people drive now in the same way they did on the day that they passed their driving test? As long as I stick to the speed limits, am safe, and follow the Highway Code, then I am free to drive where I want, when I want and how I want! So we are free to be authentic coaches, and challenge, without breaking the rules!

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