Part 1 – Distinctions on coaching session structure for ICF credential success

A coaching conversation is a conversation with a purpose. And the purpose of the conversation is ultimately determined by the client. We as the coach may support the client to define or refine the purpose or outcome of the coaching conversation. Yet the foundation of coaching is always to have a client-driven agenda for the coaching session.This is possible even within the context of coaching paid for by the company of our client. There may be company desired growth outcomes desired for the coaching, and yet what the client works on in each session toward that is really up to the client. Maybe that’s an article for another time. 😊

The above musings is to set the context for how this article came about. There are structures we engage with as a coach to ensure a successful client-driven coaching session. The content is always uniquely each client’s content; however there are coaching structure elements that are pretty constant that the coach can work with in each session to enhance the success of the coaching.


These are ICF Core Competencies I’m specifically referring to in terms of structure:

Planning and Goal Setting

Establishing the Coaching Agreement

Coaching Presence – Partnering

Managing Session Progress

Creating Awareness

Designing Actions

Planning and Goal Setting

“If you don’t know where you’re going, then you’ll end up someplace else.” This quote is attributed to Yogi Berra (an American baseball player, and manager), and applies to coaching too. If we’re planning a vacation, we decide on a destination we want to go to, and plan accordingly. If we have a business, meeting we (ideally) want to know what the purpose of that meeting is, why are we all attending.

The same applies when designing a coaching engagement. I’ve previously written articles on how to create a coaching development plan, which you can find on my blog page by looking at the right column and clicking on the Core Competency of Planning and Goal Setting.

For those who’ve seen The Target Approach, you’ll know that I consider Planning and Goal Setting, and Establishing the Coaching Agreement as Structural Competencies. These are different in skill than Coaching Presence, Active Listening, Powerful Questioning, and Direct Communication, which I call the Target Competencies.

The bottom line: make sure you have the structure of a coaching plan, whether it’s lifestyle, business, executive, leadership or any other type of coaching. And your client is ultimately responsible for the coaching plan. You may coach them to clarity about their outcomes for coaching with you, and how success is measured. With a coaching/development plan as a backbone structure for your coaching, you have a map of the territory you are working in with your client.

Establishing the Coaching Agreement

Every coaching session is a conversation with a purpose. If you have a coaching/development plan, then the client can choose which part of that plan to work on in today’s coaching session. So it’s important to ask what the client desires as the outcome for each coaching session. You may have a powerful conversation with your client, however if it doesn’t support them to move closer toward their desired outcome, then the conversation may not really be of greatest service to the client.

I discovered this the hard way many years ago. A standard question I’d ask at the end of each coaching session (as taught through my coach training program) was, “What’s your key takeaway from this session?” I distinctly remember a client saying to me something like, “That was a fantastic conversation and I definitely learned a lot about myself. I didn’t really get to talk about my uncertainty about a meeting with my new manager tomorrow, and I was hoping to do that. But it was a great conversation anyway.”

I remember leaving the coaching call stunned. I didn’t know the conversation wasn’t the ‘right’ conversation to be having today. The client followed my lead, because I kept asking questions that required the client to think more deeply about themselves. And they loved that. But they didn’t get what they wanted from this coaching session.

WOW! That was a big aha for me! I felt so bad. And I realized from then on, I needed to understand what the client wanted from the session, and check the client was happy with the direction we were going in, and if it was indeed giving them what they wanted from the session.

The PCC Markers have clearly articulated coaching behaviors that support a client-driven agenda and provide structural ‘guidelines’ every coach can use, including questions such as:

What do you want to accomplish in this session?

What outcome are you wanting to have by the end of this session?

How would you know you’ve accomplished your outcome for this session?

Coaching Presence – Partnering

By inquiring into the client desired outcome for the coaching session, you are partnering with your client, which means allowing them to choose the topic and outcome that they want to work on today.

Once you’ve partnered in crafting the coaching session agreement, the next structural skill is to partner with your client to allow them to choose the direction of the coaching.

Coaches will often go ahead and start asking questions based on what they are curious to ask. However, if you ask the client, “Where would you like to explore first?” you might find that the client wants to start in a different place than you would go. If the client doesn’t know where to begin, you can offer possibilities based on what they client has said.

For example, “You’ve mentioned preparing for the meeting with your new manager, and some uncertainty about that meeting. We could start with preparation or with what’s behind the uncertainty. Or is there something else that comes to mind?”

Credential Skill Level – Distinctions

Partnering is a key skill that needs to be mastered and demonstrated at MCC skill level, and competently demonstrated at PCC skill level. For ACC, the minimum partnering occurs by establishing a client driven coaching agreement and attending to that agenda.

In the final part 2, I cover:

Managing Session Progress

Creating Awareness

Designing Actions

For part 2 go here


Are you preparing for your first or next ICF Credential?

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