How to demonstrate more ICF core competencies by having a Coaching Plan

Planning and Goal SettingNote: This article has been updated in 2023.

There’s an easy way for a coach to demonstrate more competencies in their coaching, which is by having a Coaching Plan for your coaching engagement.

Definition of a Coaching Plan

A Coaching Plan does not have to be some extensive document. It could be a simple intake questionnaire you conduct with your client.

I have clients where our Coaching Plan is defined by specific outcomes and how they might measure progress toward those outcomes.

Other clients have a more general direction such as improving leadership skills. Each coaching session is ‘unpacking,’ exploring and clarifying what that specifically means to them.

The key is the coach as a conversation with their client about what they want to improve about themselves, and their desired outcomes are documented in some way; which I call a Coaching Plan.

The Coaching plan is a living document that can be updated as your client gains more clarity. The Coaching Plan is in the background and yet can also be referred to during any coaching session, or perhaps inform an area of exploration when the client doesn’t know specifically what to focus on in a specific coaching session.

Common Mistakes Coaches Make

When coaches record sessions for the ICF credential process, they often make the mistake of finding someone they know, even a coach, to do a once-off coaching session with them. This is not in your best interest for the following reasons:

  1. If your client is a fellow coach, they often coach themselves because they have been through coach training. It’s often harder to discern the coach’s skills. (If you do have coaches as clients, design your coaching engagement for this process to be about other aspects of their life they want to improve. Not about them being a coach, preparing for their credential, building their coaching business, etc.)
  1. If your client is a friend, they may want to help you and they say things that they think will help such as, “Wow, without you I would NEVER have figured that out!” The client is so effusive as to sound contrived, which may have a detrimental impact on the way ICF Assessors score your recording.
  1. When a coach submits a once-off coaching session with a client, you haven’t built enough safety and/or trust with the client to know their patterns of thinking or behaving. And you may not feel comfortable bringing these patterns to your client’s attention at this early stage in your coaching relationship.
  1. If you are doing a first or once-off coaching session, you are likely to be in ‘performance mode,’ or even in teaching or educating mode. You might need to educate the client on what coaching is, for example, or you might want to ‘prove’ to the client that you know what you are doing, so you take charge. This affects your “Coaching Presence.” Given you are already recording sessions for a credentialing process you might already be wanting to prove yourself, or prove that coaching is worthwhile (if it’s the first time the client has had a coach). So using a first or once-off session is not setting yourself up for a ‘win.’

Have a Coaching Plan

Especially if you are seeking the MCC credential, it is in your best interest to have a Coaching Plan with your clients. Just as you would have with your regular coaching clients, make sure you go through some sort of process to establish your client goals/outcomes for your coaching engagement. This means you will be agreeing to provide multiple coaching sessions to them, maybe in exchange for being able to record the sessions and possibly submit for your ICF credential.

In The Mentor Coaching Group Program there are templates to use with clients for this process. For individual mentoring sessions, which are included in the program; we do not recommend reviewing a first coaching session with a client (although there may be exceptions).

There’s a member-only library of 40+ recorded coaching sessions of MCC, PCC and ACC skill level for our clients to listen to and evaluate. We model the process we recommend to our mentoring clients, and provide examples of first sessions to listen to, versus third or fourth sessions with the same client. You can hear the trust building between coach and client, thereby demonstrating the following competencies at a deeper level:

ICF Core Competency #3: Establishes and Maintains Agreements

During a coaching session, you can now ask questions that relate to their goals or desired outcomes. For example, where does the focus for this session fit with their overall goals for your coaching engagement? Have their goals changed since starting your coaching engagement? If so, then let the client adapt them to meet where they are at now.

ICF Core Competency #5. Maintains Presence

With a Coaching Plan, you are able to be present to more of what the client wants from your coaching relationship. You have more perspectives of the client that you can draw on; their future desires, as well as how that relates to this session.

ICF Core Competency #7: Evokes Awareness

You expand the types of questions you can ask your client to include bigger picture or future oriented questions that help them connect to what they really want. You can ask questions when the client seems to be contradicting something they say. For example, “You say you want more freedom in your life, and you have stated in your Coaching Plan that you want to find a job that offers you security and fulfillment. How do you connect the two?” Or, “Has something changed for you in what you now want?”

ICF Core Competency #8: Facilitates Client Growth

When you have ongoing sessions with your coaching client, you naturally begin the coaching session by checking in on success of actions taken since last coaching session.

In Closing…

With a Coaching Plan, and ongoing sessions with your client, you are making it easier to naturally demonstrate more of the ICF core competencies. And most importantly, have a way to understand the client areas of focus for development.

Written by Carly Anderson, MCC

Are you ready to upgrade your coaching skills, prepare for your next ICF credential, or renew your credential?

The Mentor Coaching Group Program is an ICF approved individual / group program for 30 ICF Core Competency CCEs if you complete all program components, including 10 hours of mentor coaching.

I offer a rich, experiential mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for participants. You can read some testimonials from real people, FAQs, or find out more about The Mentor Coaching Program here

I’m a long term (since 2005), experienced and active MCC Assessor. I’ve been trained by the ICF to assess using the PCC Markers. Since 2005, I regularly assess for ICF MCC, PCC and ACC credentials. I keep up-to-date with the latest ACC, PCC and MCC credentialing criteria and do my best to communicate such to all my mentoring clients in a simple manner.

One of the unique offerings for my clients is access to an extensive, exclusive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching session recordings, many of which have passed the ICF credential exam process. These are an incredibly valuable self-learning tool, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions at each skill level.

I offer other products including The Upgraded Target Approach: Clarifying the ICF Core Competency Model, as well as Ten Characteristics of MCC Skill Level. And a very unique opportunity to hear 15 consecutive coaching sessions with one of my clients in the Butterfly on the Wall Coaching Series.