WABC Professional Standards for Business Coaches

The WABC Professional Standards for Business Coaches is the first-ever set of global, association-sponsored evidence-based professional standards for business coaches. These professional standards describe the practice of business coaches: what we do and don’t do. All WABC members and WABC Accredited program providers adhere to these standards. These standards also educate the public and help clients and their sponsors and organizations understand what to expect from business coaching.

WABC Professional Standards for Business Coaches


Promoting excellence in business coaching is at the heart of everything WABC does. Now, to cap off years of standards-related projects that address the ethics, integrity, competency, professional responsibility, credentialing and training of business coaches, we are proud to establish the WABC Professional Standards for Business Coaches, the first-ever set of international, association-sponsored professional standards for business coach practitioners.

Why professional standards?

The WABC Professional Standards for Business Coaches describe the practice of business coaches: what we do and don’t do. The document is intended to educate coaches, clients and the public, and to help clients and their sponsors and organizations understand what to expect from business coaching. 

In adopting professional standards, business coaching joins comparable occupations (e.g., psychology, human resources and management) in defining what makes our practice, and its contribution to clients, distinct. In doing so, we hope to further standardize the emerging profession and its practitioners, for the benefit of our clients and for the good of the public.

How were the standards created?

The WABC Professional Standards for Business Coaches are based on the real-life practice of business coaches around the world. 

The standards began as a discussion paper drafted by the Professional Development Foundation (PDF), a world leader in research and education in the professions. The discussion paper reviewed 50 professions, examined professional standards in coaching and related fields (ranging from teaching to business consulting to health and psychology) and presented possible standards for business coaches.

A global task force of senior business coaches then reviewed and debated the PDF paper, producing draft standards for WABC members to review. Based on the member review, the task force further revised the standards. On June 29, 2011, the WABC Professional Standards for Business Coaches were made available to WABC members as a guidance document. The standards have since undergone additional review and polishing by the WABC’s Ethics Advisor, the WABC Ethics and Integrity Committee and the Professional Standards Task Force and are now available here.

Acknowledgments and thanks

Compiling a set of coherent, realistic professional standards for business coaches is a huge and specialized undertaking. We are grateful for the wise counsel of PDF, in particular founding director David A. Lane, a renowned expert in standards research. We also commend Nicola Hurton, Reinhard Stelter and Sunny Stout-Rostron for their invaluable contributions to the discussion paper. The virtual platform that PDF provided was immensely helpful to the task force’s discussions.

This project couldn’t have happened without the unparalleled expertise of our international task force helmed by Melinda Sinclair (Canada) as chair and Wendy Johnson (WABC) as vice-chair. 

For the original guidance document, sincerest thanks go to Enrique Lopez de Los Rios (Mexico), Irene Vera (Argentina), Kate Lidbetter (United Kingdom), Keith To (Hong Kong), Paul Fisher (United States), Phyllis Campagna (United States), Robin Linnecar (United Kingdom), Stephen Parker (Denmark), Sunny Stout-Rostron (South Africa), Svenja Wachter (Germany), Ton de Graaf (Netherlands) and Trevor Childs (Belgium). 

For our final review round, sincerest thanks go to WABC’s Ethics Advisor, Errol Mendes (Canada); members of our WABC Ethics and Integrity Committee: Teruko Kachi (Japan), Margaret Miller (Canada), Phyllis Campagna (United States) and Svenja Wachter (Germany); and to the WABC Professional Standards Task Force: Kate Lidbetter (United Kingdom), Phyllis Campagna (United States), Robin Linnecar (United Kingdom), Sunny Stout-Rostron (South Africa), Svenja Wachter (Germany) and Ton de Graaf (Netherlands).

These senior business coaches brought to the table an extraordinary mix of consummate professionalism, experience in business coaching and standards, and passion for our emerging profession. They gave freely of their time, ideas and experience, and the field of business coaching will be long in their debt.

Thanks go to Frances Peck of West Coast Editorial Associates for editing various drafts of the standards and smoothly incorporating feedback from diverse reviewers. Her meticulous attention to detail and superior ability to synthesize have woven many strands into a coherent, balanced and readable document. Our thanks also to Yvonne Van Ruskenveld of West Coast Editorial Associates who skillfully handled the final editing piece.

Finally, we sincerely thank the many WABC members who took the time to review and comment on the draft standards. Their invaluable feedback was key to making sure that the standards accurately reflect the international practice of business coaching today.

On a personal note, we have both been inspired throughout this project by the tremendous commitment that business coaches show, day in and day out, to their industry and their community. That commitment is what these standards aim to capture and what is earning business coaching increased respect as a must-have business service and an emerging profession. 

We see the WABC Professional Standards for Business Coaches as the start of a collaborative conversation. Now that the standards are officially adopted, we hope to work with other like-minded business coaching organizations to arrive at a common set of standards that will steer business coaching into the future.

Looking forward,

Wendy Johnson
WABC Founder & President/CEO

Melinda Sinclair
WABC International Professional Standards Task Force Chair



For the purposes of these standards, business coaching is defined as:

The process of engaging in regular, structured conversation with a client, with the goal of enhancing the client’s awareness and behavior so as to achieve business objectives for both the client and their organization. 

For the purposes of these standards, client is defined as:

An individual or team who is within a business, profit or nonprofit organization, institution or government and who is the recipient of business coaching.  

Business coaches are a diverse group of practitioners. They work in many sectors, including corporate, nonprofit and government, and they practice all over the world. Some are external coaches who serve a range of clients; others are internal coaches who work for one organization. Because each client is different, an effective business coach tailors each coaching engagement to meet the client’s and the organization’s needs, rather than taking a “one size fits all” approach.

Individual client circumstances and coaching styles aside, there are certain core professional standards that an effective business coach must adhere to. Members of WABC, as part of their commitment to excellence in business coaching, view the following professional standards as required practices for effective business coaches in the delivery of coaching services. WABC will oversee these standards and members’ adherence to them.

Professional Standards

A. The Business Coach-Client Interaction

1. Professionalism and Ethics

I will apply high standards of honesty and integrity to my service provision and behavior. This means that I will:

  • Uphold WABC’s ethical guidelines, standards, and terms and policies. 
  • Honor all agreements made in the context of business coaching relationships, and all other legal and ethical obligations to the client and others involved in the coaching engagement (e.g., sponsor, organization, colleagues). 
  • Consider whether any potential engagement might create an actual or perceived conflict of interest and, if a conflict is identified, declare it and take all reasonable steps to protect the interests of the client and others involved in the coaching engagement. 
2. Client Focus

I will put the client first while at the same time respecting the objectives of the client’s organization. This means that I will:

  • Serve the client to the highest possible standards, in a way that is appropriate to the client’s and organization’s objectives and in keeping with the highest standards of integrity. 
  • Keep the client’s development and performance central to my work. 
  • Work to establish mutual trust and honest communication with the client. 
3. Business and Organizational Context

I will operate in the interests of the client’s business and organizational contexts. This means that I will: 

  • Understand the importance of context in my work, and display a strong grounding in fundamental business knowledge and processes. 
  • Ensure that I have the appropriate level of corporate knowledge to understand the developmental, political, commercial and environmental needs of the client and their organization. 
  • Ensure that the coaching engagement is appropriately aligned with the context of the client’s organization. 
4. Business Coaching Process and Contracting

I will put into place an appropriate coaching services agreement (oral or written) to work with clients towards agreed-upon objectives. This means that I will:

  • Establish up front a clear and effective agreement for the coach-client relationship, strive to ensure that the client understands the terms, and refine the agreement when appropriate. 
  • Create a coherent process for my work in agreement with the client and others involved in the coaching engagement. 
  • Communicate with the client about what to expect from business coaching services, focusing on results and agreeing how outcomes of success will be measured, evaluated and realized. 

B. Factors Affecting the Coaching Interaction

5. Boundaries

I operate in areas where clear boundaries need to be recognized and drawn. This means that I will:

  • Be aware of the relevant values, ethical practices, confidentiality agreements, business practices and human resource policies within the client’s organization, and withdraw if these impede my ability to serve the client. 
  • Be aware of relevant legislation (e.g., privacy), regulations and standards in the contexts in which I practice, and never intentionally contravene them. 
  • Recognize, and act only within, the limits of my own competence, and refer to other professionals when appropriate. 
  • Act only within the scope of my own conscience and values. 
6. Confidentiality

I will practice coaching in a way that promotes confidentiality and respects the client’s privacy. This means that I will:

  • Ensure, before the coaching engagement begins, that a confidentiality agreement is in place to specify which information will and will not be shared, in which circumstances, with whom and how. 
  • Abide by the agreed-upon terms of confidentiality, except when they are superseded by matters of health, safety, ethics or legality. 
  • Protect the client’s assessment, performance and other personal data to the extent agreed upon in the confidentiality agreement. 
7. Diversity

I will respect cross-cultural diversity and personal uniqueness at all times. This means that I will:

  • Understand how cultural dynamics and personal differences influence business relationships and outcomes. 
  • Work with the client to leverage diversity in ways that promote successful business and organizational outcomes. 
  • Understand the potential preferences and biases associated with my own cultural and personal identity, and ensure that my communication and approach are appropriate to the client’s circumstances. 
8. Responsibility and Respect

I have a professional responsibility to act as an effective role model. This means that I will: 

  • Behave and manage my practice in a way that models exemplary professionalism and reflects well on the field of business coaching. 
  • Assume personal responsibility and accountability for my professional decisions and actions. 
  • Treat all people fairly and with respect and dignity. 

C. Developing the Profession

9. Professional Development

I am committed to professional development and to continuously enhancing my competence. This means that I will:

  • Seek appropriate external feedback, on a regular basis, to maintain and improve my coaching effectiveness. 
  • Keep my learning and practice up to date through appropriate professional development, such as conference and workshop attendance, work-based learning, reading, research, training and supervision activities, presentations and involvement with WABC or other relevant professional associations. 
  • Set high standards for myself, and pursue challenging goals and performance excellence. 
10. Promotion of the Emerging Profession

As a member of WABC, I am committed to the advancement of the association and the emerging profession of business coaching. This means that I will: 

  • Commit to the advancement of both my own knowledge base and that of the field of business coaching. 
  • Promote and uphold the good standing of WABC, and behave in a way that reflects well on its reputation. 
  • Observe and promote these professional standards as set out and as they may be revised from time to time.