Ten Characteristics of MCC Skill Level

MCC skill characteristics 4

As a Mentor Coach for MCC credential preparation, I’m constantly in the study of what indicates MCC skill level coaching. As an ICF MCC Assessor, I’m aware of distinctions that maybe a lot of other coaches are not privy to, and want to offer you some key characteristics of MCC skill level coaching.

The ICF provides distinctions by credential level in a document called ICF Core Competencies Comparison Table

I refer extensively to that document throughout this article and have pasted wording as evidence of the characteristic I’m describing. This might help coaches to re-order the information provided by the ICF into a different viewpoint.

The following characteristics are not in order of preference; they are all equally important:

  • Connection
  • Presence
  • Partnering
  • Spaciousness
  • Emotional Content, the Light and the Shadow
  • Simplicity
  • Ignore Nothing
  • Trust
  • Vulnerability
  • Expanded Learning

Notice which characteristics you are drawn to, and which you may want to avoid. Note that I wrote vulnerability second to last, a clue as to how comfortable I am with that characteristic myself!


Being in connection with the human being of your client is absolutely paramount, and from the very first breath of a coaching session. Our clients bring issues, challenges or opportunities to explore and resolve, and your first priority is to become and stay connected to Who your client is presenting as, Who they authentically are, and Who they are seeking to become.

You certainly listen to their presenting situation (What), yet you are really listening to connect with their humanity first and foremost. And in the process you will help them move forward with their ‘issue’ and find solutions.

When you are in full connection with your client, you are likely to be fully responsive, if you are also fully present. You listen deeply and from a curious mindset of “I am seeking to understand you; how you think and feel, what beliefs, attitudes and behaviors you speak of, or imply.”

Example of Connection

I’m reminded of a Senior Engineer I coached a few years ago, who had major fiscal responsibilities for a billion dollar project. I was engaged as his coach to assist him to figure out how he could be more effective in getting his point across so that the project timeline was met. One of the things that kept coming up was his inability to connect with the people he worked with, and not just see them as the ‘completer of tasks that need to happen for him to keep to his timeline and budget.” This mindset was keeping him from being more effective in achieving results as he didn’t have direct authority over anyone, yet authority over the budget.

As he explored his relationship to himself, as well as his beliefs about others in the workplace, there was something more going on. We had been coaching for a few months when one day at the end of our in-person coaching session he said, “I wish I had known about how to express myself better years ago. I think I’d still be married. But I now know how to improve my relationship with my ex-wife, and be a better parent to our child.”

Whoa! We had never had a conversation about his personal life, although I did know he was divorced and having challenges with custody. However, our coaching connected him to parts of himself he didn’t know existed. And I know that as his coach, I had to be connected to him, and to myself, and in the process this transformation occurred.

Those surprise moments are so satisfying as a coach; you never know your true impact. Oh, and by the way, my client greatly improved his communication effectiveness at work, and many people noticed his improved attitude toward others.

Some articles I’ve written:

When a coaching session really begins

Coach the human being of your client not just their content

From the ICF Core Competencies Comparison Table. If you read the MCC skill level descriptions, you’ll find these statements relating to Connection:

Establishing Trust and Intimacy

  • Coach is connected to complete trust in new and mutual state of awareness that can only arise in the moment and out of joint conversation .

Coaching Presence

  • Coach is a completely connected observer to client.
  • The connection is to whole of who client is, how the client learns, what the client has to teach the coach.

Creating Awareness

  • The coach appears as much an explorer as well as client.
  • There is a lovely sense of connected observation of totality of who client is and what client wants, sharing that with client, and creating space for client to share back.


Being connected to your client is a foundational state of presence for an MCC skill level coach. In The Target Approach, I put Coaching Presence in the middle of the target, as our mindset, beliefs, biases and assumptions are always at play.

We need to become conscious of the impact we have on our client, and do what we can to absence our biases in particular, so we can be purely present and listening to Who our client is, not who we think they are based on our mindset, or what we think they need to do to bridge the gap from where they are now to where they want to be.

One of the things that I notice has shifted about my coaching over the years is my Presence. I believe we need to be present with our client ‘from the very first breath.’

Example of Presence

Some of my clients are very much down to business, and I honor that. However, we will often laugh about something during the session, as some lightness often relaxes the client, or helps them to not take themselves or their situation too seriously.

Some of my clients will come to the call and I’ll ask them, “How are you?” and they know I really do want to know. It’s not a throw away question that is used as a general greeting. I’ll stay present with what they are telling me and listen holistically and curiously.

All of my coaching clients are leadership/executive engagements, so they have specific business-related outcomes to work toward. Yet by engaging in being present with how they arrive at our coaching, there are often opportunities for congruent learning.

This means that the client says one thing is occurring in their personal life (e.g. “I visited my sick grandmother over the weekend and it was really tough to see her that way.”) and consider it may be related to something in their business environment (e.g. I asked, “I wonder if what you’re noticing about being with your grandmother has any relevance to what you’re dealing with at work?”) This is an example of what I call ‘congruent learning.’

A client often gains some new awareness about themselves that they hadn’t thought of, because they compartmentalize themselves between work, and ‘life.’ In the example I just gave, which is real, my client realized many things about what she was avoiding feeling about the challenging situation her team found themselves in. She was able to consider new ways to approach the situation and her team, with more authenticity. This started by being present with the client from the very first breath, not treating the ‘check-in’ as if it is a separate thing you do before the ‘real’ coaching begins.

Modeling Presence

Here’s another thing. We are always modeling Presence to our clients. I was once in the bathroom at one of my clients offices, only to overhear two employees by the basins talking about my presence and what a calming effect it had on them. I didn’t want to come out of the toilet stall, but eventually I had to wash my hands! They laughed and then gave me that feedback directly. That made me realize that I’m modeling presence to my clients all of the time (as well as listening, what coaching actually is, how to ask effective questions, and so on…..)

Some articles I’ve written:

Trust in the coaching process and do the tango

How to lighten up and create more energy with your coaching client

From the ICF Core Competencies Comparison Table. If you read the MCC skill level descriptions, you’ll find these statements relating to Presence:

Coaching Presence

  • (from ICF Definition of this competency) Being fully present and flexible with the client, “dancing in the moment.”
  • The coach evidences a complete curiosity that is undiluted by a need to perform.

Active Listening

  • The coach’s listening is in the present, but hearing also the client’s future develop.

Powerful Questioning

  • The coach asks questions that help the client create the future rather than focus on past or even present dilemmas.

Creating Awareness

  • The use of the client’s greatness is invited and welcomed. There is no evidence of “fixing” a problem or the client.


Partnering is a key concept in the ICF definition of coaching. In fact, it’s embedded in the definition: “Coaching is partnering with clients…..”

Essentially, partnering is the honoring of your client as an equal partner in the coaching relationship.

You trust your client, demonstrated by drawing out more of their self-knowledge. You allow, and invite, the client to choose what happens in the coaching session.

One of the qualities of a coaching session versus a consulting (or teaching, training) session is the client gets to choose the agenda for their coaching session, and which direction to go next within the session.

In order for our client to choose, we have to invite, or partner with them.

I sometimes use the analogy of driving a car. As a coach, I want my client to be driving the car, with me in the passenger seat, sometimes navigating, discussing the terrain, looking at our equipment, checking in on the driver’s wellbeing, and so on.

As we drive along in the coaching session, there may be two roads that intersect. Partnering means I allow my client to choose which road to take maybe by asking, “There are two roads to choose from here. Where do you want to go next?” You might even open it up further: “There are two roads to choose from here, and there’s the road we’ve just travelled on. I noticed some other roads we might have considered. What’s your thought on where you want to go next, given the destination you have in mind?

All along the way, I respect that the client is driving his car, not me. Don’t be a back seat driver and try to take control!

When a coach fully embraces the concept of Partnering, the coach stops working so hard. The client feels their own power and confidence rise as they are given the choice to choose their path forward.

Some articles I’ve written:

Partnering: the approach that differentiates coaching from other professions

How partnering improves your coaching business

From the ICF Core Competencies Comparison Table. If you read the MCC skill level descriptions, you’ll find these statements relating to Partnering:

Coaching Agreement

  • Coach returns to check regularly of whether direction of coaching is continuing to serve client’s coaching purpose and makes changes in direction if necessary based on feedback from client.

Coaching Presence

  • The coach is in fully partnered conversation with client.

Direct Communication

  • The coach invites, respects, and celebrates direct communications back from the client.

Designing Actions

  • The coach works in complete partnership with the client to design actions or, in the alternative, lets the client lead in designing actions.

Planning and Goal Setting

  • The coach lets the client lead in designing goals and planning or, in the alternative, works in complete partnership with the client to create goals and plans.
  • The coach engages the client in relating goals and plans to other aspects of what the client wants, thereby broadening the scope of learning and growth.

Managing Progress and Accountability

  • The coach has the client determine their own methods of accountability and offers support to those methods.

If you would like to dive deeper into the rest of the characteristics, you will find two options in the Store


Are you preparing for your first or next ICF Credential?

Do you want to “Sharpen the Saw” as a Coaching Professional?

Our next Group/Individual Mentoring Program commences in April 2016 (open to all skill levels) and carries 23.5 ICF Core Competency CCE units!

Don’t wait until later in the year to start your mentoring requirements or to obtain CCE units for credential renewal!

You can learn more here

Carly Anderson and Karen Boskemper offer an awesome mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for our participants. Both have been trained by the ICF to assess using the new PCC Markers.

One of those offerings is an extensive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching sessions for our participants to listen to, evaluate, debrief, and learn from, along with The Target Approach to demystifying the ICF core competencies. These are incredibly valuable learning tools, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions.

Here’s where you’ll find more about The Mentor Coaching Group