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Differences in Personal and Executive Coaching

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Unique Challenges of Executive Coaching

The unique challenges of executive coaching occur primarily because of the complexities introduced by the client organization and/or a coach contracting organization that subcontracts or employs the coach. These challenges include:

The need to manage across multiple relationships. The executive coaching relationship may involve multiple parties, including the client being coached, the client’s organization, and potentially also a coaching or consulting firm sub-contracting or employing the coach. The ICF Ethics Code emphasizes the need to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the client/coachee and sponsor. When they are the same person, they are jointly referred to as the “client.”

When separate, the “sponsor” is the entity paying for and/or arranging for coaching services to be provided. In all cases, contracting agreements should clearly establish the rights, roles and responsibilities. The coach must consider the contracting implications for all involved parties. It is the coach’s responsibility to have agreements outlining expectations of the coaching engagement, communication channels, materials and assessments and confidentiality with all these parties.

The maintenance of confidentiality. Because of the importance of maintaining confidentiality between the coach and client in order to establish a relationship of trust, contracting is essential. The ICF Code of Ethics has several codes that apply to confidentiality between the coach and the sponsor and client. The most important elements of the code are that: 1) there should be clear agreement with these entities on maintaining the strictest levels of confidentiality with all client and sponsor information; 2) there should be clear agreement about how coaching information will be exchanged among coach, client and sponsor; and, 3) all entities knowingly agree in writing to that limit of confidentiality.

The executive coach can be faced with thorny issues around confidentiality. For example, if the coach coaches both a boss and the boss’s direct report, is the coach confident that confidentiality can be guaranteed? Or what if the CEO asks  the coach about the progress of the client in the coaching? From my experience on the IRB and in many organizations, I have seen many ethical dilemmas worthy of another article on the topic.

Contracting and organization alignment. In contrast to personal coaching, coaching the executive requires the coach and client to examine and address the organizational environment and goals as they affect the client. This means that the coach needs to work with the client to build an understanding of not just the client’s goals, but also those of the organization as well. The contracting must reflect the agreements with the organization or boss before the coaching begins. With the client taking the lead and the coach partnering with the client, the organization’s expectations are carefully vetted and negotiated during the contracting phase. Once those goals are established in a development plan owned by the client, it will be important to keep the client’s boss or other sponsor informed of the client’s progress to ensure leadership’s enrollment in the client’s success and to be sure there is adequate transparency that gives the organization confidence in the coaching value proposition.

The method I most often use are three meetings with the boss, with both client and coach present, held at the beginning contracting phase, at the midpoint, and then at the end of the coaching engagement. In these meetings it is the responsibility of the client to share goals, progress, and strategies with the coach present to support the client.  This maintains confidentiality and client ownership.

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