ICF Code of Ethics - Misleading Claims and Contracting
By Vicki Escudé, M.A., M.C.C.
(Note: Send your Ethics questions for clarification to Vicki@excellentcoach.com , and please include the number of the ethics code relating to your question.)
An ICF Professional Coach agrees to practice the ICF Professional Core Competencies and pledges accountability to the ICF Code of Ethics.
Coaches must be careful about what they claim or offer to prospective clients. Contracts serve to keep the boundaries of coaching clear, and must be used as guidelines to interpret and to respond to changing situations within the coaching engagement. Many of the ICF Ethics seem obvious, but having the guideline stated clearly gives the coach support for his or her own ethical practices. It also allows a client recourse when the ethics are violated. The coach’s behavior could be subject to review by the Independent Review Board, and consequences such as revoking membership or a credential may follow if the case has merit.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Can I guarantee my prospective client certain results, based on my past experience and research as a coach?
- How do I present to a prospective client an accurate picture of the length of a coaching engagement?
- If my client misses meetings, may I, as his coach, charge him for the missed appointments?
- I have increased my fee since my client started. May I pass that increase on to the client?
- Do I need a formal agreement if I am coaching within my organization?
- What must I include in an agreement with my pro-bono clients?
The answers to these questions are below. The following answers are quoted from the ICF Code of Ethics Frequently Asked Questions, used with permission of the ICF:
Sample situation A: I have been coaching for many years and collecting data about the success rate of my clients. May I share the results I have with prospective clients?
Answer: It is okay to share data that is appropriate and accurate without enhancement or distortions, with no guarantees in any form. The prospective client can draw his/her own conclusions. Be sure to keep any data confidential as to client identification.
Sample Situation B: My clients often ask how long coaching takes. Can I give an average time?
Answer: You can say that many of your clients coach for X amount of sessions or months, but it varies by individual goals and ability to implement new skills.
Code #13 addresses the above issues, A and B: I will not knowingly mislead or make false claims about what my client or sponsor will receive from the coaching process or from me as the coach.
Code #14 is self-explanatory, and there are no questions included. However, the ICF Code does address the importance of truthful information given to potential clients. It states: I will not give my prospective clients or sponsors information or advice I know or believe to be misleading or false.
Sample situation C: After several meetings with my client, he has begun to cancel appointments at the last minute. I think I should charge him, and my contract does not cover this. May I send him a bill for the missed meetings?
Answer: If you have not contracted with the client to pay for missed meetings, you should honor your original agreement and may not charge for cancelled meetings.
Sample situation D: When my client began coaching, I was charging a certain rate and the sponsor paid that amount. My client took a three-month leave of absence and during that time I raised my rates. I feel it is fair to ask the sponsor for my new fee.
Answer: You should honor the original agreement you and your client and sponsor signed if the contract is still valid. You may open up negotiations to begin a new agreement.
Code #15 addresses the above issues C and D. It states: I will have clear agreements or contracts with my clients and sponsor(s). I will honor all agreements or contracts made in the context of professional coaching relationships.
Sample situation E: When I coach within my own company, is this necessary (to have a clear agreement or contract?)
Answer: Yes. Particularly in this case these need to be clarified both with the client and sponsor.
Sample situation F: Must I have an agreement with pro bono clients who do not pay for my services?
Answer: Yes because there is more to an agreement than just the fee. Responsibilities and expectations must be clearly defined in order for this to be a professional coaching relationship. For the agreement to be considered valid under the law in many jurisdictions, a nominal amount of money must be transferred from the one receiving the services to the one delivering the services, for example, $1 in the US and 1 Euro in Europe.
Code #16 covers contracting and clearly understood agreements before coaching begins. It states: I will carefully explain and strive to ensure that, prior to or at the initial meeting, my coaching client and sponsor(s) understand the nature of coaching, the nature and limits of confidentiality, financial arrangements, and any other terms of the coaching agreement or contract.
If you have an ethics question that you would like to have answered, please let me know and I will initiate discussion and hopefully help you find clarity. Your questions will enhance our professional progress!
Warm regards, Vicki Escudé
(Bio: VICKI ESCUDE, M.A., MCC, Mentor Coach, is a pioneer in the coaching profession, promoting the professionalism of coaching to several areas of the country for over 15 years. She was among the first coach educators for UTD, Success Unlimited Network®, LLC (SUN), and Strategic Executive Coaching Alliance (SECA). Escudé served on the Board of Directors for the ICF, and was Board Liaison to the Ethics Committee. She has subsequently been a member of the Ethics Committee for several years, and was on the subcommittee to develop the ICF Ethics’ FAQs. Escudé has an active executive coaching and corporate coach training and mentoring practice, and is author of several coaching books: Getting Everything You Want! Coaching for Mastery; Create Your Day with Intention in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and the Fast-Track Leader series published by Get-to-the-Point Books.