What Is ICF Coaching and Why Does It Matter to Accountants?

Gusto Editors

Do you know what it means to be an accounting coach? 

If this is a new idea for you, don’t be afraid! Personal coaching may seem like something that doesn’t fit into the world of accounting. However, adopting coaching strategies at your firm can be incredibly beneficial. These strategies can give you the ability to build strong leadership development skills and change the way your firm approaches client relations. 

We at Gusto have teamed up with CPA Academy to make coaching a possibility for your firm. Our webinar “How to Build a Coaching Culture at Your Firm” addressed the importance of accredited coaching. This webinar, led by Amber Setter, explored the ins and outs of becoming an effective accounting coach.

Amber Setter is an ICF credentialed professional coach. She has spent most of her career working for professional services firms and accountants to build solid professional environments.

Today, we will look at the International Coaching Federation and the importance of choosing a certified coach for your firm. Choosing the proper coach will increase their influence within your firm and strengthen your firm in many ways. 

Comparing coaching with other forms of development

It is common for people to assume that coaching provides the same development as other services. In reality, coaching offers a unique approach to development that creates empowered individuals. The effectiveness of coaching stems from the way it differs from other development strategies.

Many think coaching is a modified approach to mentoring. However, there is a crucial difference. The process of mentoring focuses on telling people what to do to be effective, while coaching asks the questions employees need to develop the best version of themselves.

Sponsorship is another form of professional development that people link to coaching. However, being a sponsor focuses mainly on being a support system for others instead of encouraging empowerment. Many times, sponsors become the advocate for coaching:

“Often, sponsors have been the advocate that says, ‘This employee could really benefit from coaching. We need to do it.’ And they make it happen.”

– Amber Setter

When people first hear about coaching, they often believe it sounds like therapy or counseling. Although both coaching and therapy focus on asking questions, the basis of the questions originates from different places. 

“Therapy often has a time orientation to the past … or some healing that needs to be done. In contrast, coaching assumes that you’re whole and complete, that there’s nothing necessarily to be healed. … [The focus is] where you are today, where you want to be in the future, and how to bridge that gap.”

– Amber Setter

Coaching takes steps past other development strategies by asking questions about how you can find your strength and become better by looking within. It gives you the ability to unlock unrealized potential by giving you tools for self-betterment:

“The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

– Amber Setter

When you partner with a coach, they work with you to find the best ways for improvement. Coaches ask the questions that allow you to shift your mindset to identify your core needs and define your standards. Partnering with an ICF-certified coach will help your firm achieve excellence. 

Woman discussing goals with her ICF-accredited coach.

The importance of hiring an ICF-accredited coach

An influential member of the coaching community is Thomas Leonard. Thomas was a CPA who noticed a gap in his clients’ needs but realized he did not have the tools to serve his clients properly. After searching, Thomas found that coaching could solve many of his clients’ problems:

“While he was working with people on their finances, he experienced that these clients had no idea of what their core needs were, no clue about their values and standards, and [they] were unsure of how to build a life to reflect that. … One of the big reasons he got into coaching [is because coaches ask deeper questions] like, ‘Where are you at? Where do you want to be? And how do we get you to go there?’”

– Amber Setter

At the time, the coaching profession was in its infancy, and coaches had no fundamental guidelines to follow. The lack of coaching standards motivated Thomas to become a coach himself and create standards within the profession. As a result, he established the International Coach Federation. The creation of the federation sparked a turning point for coaching, and the ICF remains at the forefront of the industry.

“Thomas Leonard made a pivot [and] joined the coaching profession. … He could easily distinguish that there was rigor missing [because] there was no credentialing process back then. … Even today, there are a lot of people who call themselves coaches but have no formal training. They’re not doing any CPE, and who knows what their professional coaching or education experience is like. [That] is just one of the many reasons I always recommend that an organization hires an ICF-credentialed coach.”

– Amber Setter

Thomas’s influence helped establish standards within the coaching community and continues to be the standard today. The ICF provides accredited programs, coach-specific training, and continuing education opportunities for its members. The training coaches receive at the ICF sets them apart from other coaching options:

“The ICF is advancing the coaching profession so that coaching becomes an integral part of business and society, and ethical coaching is a top priority. There’s an ICF code of ethics designed to provide appropriate guidelines, accountability, and enforceable standards of conduct for all ICF members and credential holders. The ICF today is kind of like the boards of accountancy we have [for accounting].”

– Amber Setter

When a coach joins the ICF, they choose to dedicate themselves to the rigorous guidelines of the federation. These standards promote credibility within the coaching industry and provide you with confidence when choosing a coach for your firm.

Female ICF-accredited coach leading a meeting.

The ICF-accredited coach training program

An ICF-accredited coach training program consists of three major parts: accredited training, a professional exam, and experience requirements. Prospective ICF coaches must complete these steps to become certified. 

“They’ve developed the core competencies [of coaching]. They established a code of conduct in ethics, have a credentialing program, and there is accredited coach-specific training. You know that when somebody goes through training, there’s really some rigor and structure to it.

– Amber Setter

After receiving their initial credit, the amount of experience is evident in their credentials. The primary distinction between these credentials is the number of work hours coaches have logged. The first tier is an Associate Certified Coach, which requires 100 logged hours. The second tier, Professional Certified Coach, requires at least 500 hours of coaching. The third and final tier of the ICF program is Master Certified Coach. MCCs log at least 2,500 coaching hours and are experts in their field. These distinctions are essential to consider when choosing the right coach for your firm:

“Why is that important for you to know? I think there are a couple of reasons. One is that if you’re asking coaches for proposals, their pricing is going to be very different from an ACC to an MCC Level. The other thing [to consider] is the amount of expertise. If you’re thinking of creating a coaching culture, you might think of where someone’s at developmentally [and match them to a coach with a similar amount of experience].

– Amber Setter

By identifying the proper level of ICF-accredited coach, you know you are bringing a quality coach into your firm who will meet your staff on their level. Choosing an entry-level coach for an entry-level employee allows them to be more accessible. In contrast, coaches on the master level would be more beneficial to work with executives within your firm. When you properly pair coaches, they become an invaluable part of your team. 

Learn more about accounting coaches and the ICF

Professional coaching provides your firm with the support they need to unlock their unused potential. The guidance provided by a coach will motivate your staff in a unique way that will manifest itself in better relationships with your clients:

“Professional coaching has the capacity to build very strong leadership development muscles and [make you] more connected with your clients and your teams. … Professional coaching has the capacity to cultivate the highest levels of consciousness.”

 – Amber Setter

If you want to learn more about how to choose the right coach for your firm, check out the entire webinar here. Also, if you want to learn more about the effectiveness of coaching in accounting, be sure to look into Part Two and Part Three of this webinar article series! 

Our mission at Gusto is to create a world where work empowers a better life. Be sure to check out our People Advisory Program to learn how you can provide peace of mind, create great places to work, and cultivate more personal prosperity. We also provide a partner blog full of resources to empower your firm. Visit our Gusto for Accountants page for more information on people-based accounting, and check out our payroll options for invaluable tools to offer your clients.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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