Key distinction between ACC, PCC and MCC coaching

(First published May 14, 2013. Last updated November 21, 2020)

As a Mentor Coach and ICF Assessor, coaches often ask me how to distinguish between coaching at the three credential levels. Here is one fundamental distinction that I make, and it revolves around coaching the What versus coaching the Who.


Coaching the “What”

Coaching the What means focusing on the problem, issue or challenge that the client brings and thinking that your role is a problem-solver. The coach uses problem-solving questions to determine what is wrong and how to fix it. A linear, problem-solving approach is usually what determines coaching to be ACC level where the discovery part of the coaching process is minimal. 


Coaching the “Who”

Coaching the Who means focusing on understanding the client. The client still brings a problem, issue or challenge, yet the coach trusts the coaching process and the client self-discovery process.

The coach focuses their questions, observations, reflections and comments on drawing forth wisdom the client already has from their life experiences. The coach listens for and evokes from the client their strengths, values, needs, wants, beliefs, fears, dreams, and/or passions. The coach listens for client ways of speaking and expressing themselves; basically anything to do with the client mindset, thoughts or feelings.

The coach offers observations and reflects back to the client what is happening in the moment with the client energy, emotions, tone and pace shifts.

The focus is on the client as resourceful, and helping the client to place their problem in its proper context; of simply being a barrier or obstacle to getting what they really want. The coach still has attention on What the client wants but focuses on Who the client is, which is at the core of why they perceive they have the problem in the first place (Who you are determines how you approach everyday situations).

As a result, transformation and strengthening of the client’s way of being can occur and they are able to handle their ‘problem’ from a whole different perspective. More fully attending to the Who content of your client is what distinguishes MCC skill level coaching.


“What” plus “Who coaching focus

At PCC level, there is a blend of the What and the Who. The coach mostly focuses on being a problem-solver, but is also putting some focus on understanding the Who of the client. There is partial trust in the client and their ability to solve their own problem. The coach is beginning to trust the coaching process and their coaching skills to help the client see how their thinking or approach is key to moving forward.


The ICF PCC Markers are a combination of What and Who behaviors. Consider more deeply studying the ICF Core Competencies and the PCC Markers, and practice integrating more of these behaviors into your coaching style. The PCC Markers are also foundational for MCC skill level. 


How to remember the differences between ACC, PCC and MCC level coaching:

  • ACC level is coaching the What of the client (minimal discovery questions)
  • PCC level is coaching the What with some focus on the Who of the client (and self-discovery)
  • MCC level is fully focused on coaching the “whole human” or “Who” of the client, and letting the What follow

Written by Carly Anderson, MCC


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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.

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2 thoughts on “Key distinction between ACC, PCC and MCC coaching

  1. With all due respect Carly, I find this description a bit insulting. I have strived to delivery high quality (“MCC-Level”) coaching throughout my 15-year coaching career. However, I only recently acquired the ACC credential as it seemed to be growing in importance and clients were beginning to ask for certifications. By my understanding, the ACC credential is not based on testing my capacity to delivery high quality coaching but on the number of hours I can document as coaching hours. I believe I have been coaching the What and Who since I first became trained in coaching. I hope all coaches have been doing so as well.

  2. Thanks for your passionate response Neeraj. It’s clear that you care about the quality of your coaching, and ensuring that you are coaching the human being (Who) of your client and not just treating them as a result (What) to get to.

    We tend to thrive when we engage in learning something new or doing something different that uses our strengths, while deciding how to manage any gaps we have to moving in the direction we desire.

    As an Assessor for the ICF, I know that the ACC credential does assess using the ICF Core Competencies, it’s not just about having 100 logged coaching hours. If you are interested in the differences between each credential level by competency, the ICF has a document on their website called, “Core Competencies Comparison Table” which shows you what the ICF is measuring. To find this document, go to, click on the Individual Credentialing tab – then click on ACC – search on the left hand column for this document.

    Thanks again for your passion and for the standards you pride yourself on as a coach!

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