Home Tools and Applications Coaching Roles Ethics in Coaching, Contracting and Confidentiality: Drawing Lines in the Sand

Ethics in Coaching, Contracting and Confidentiality: Drawing Lines in the Sand

15 min read

By Suzi Pomerantz, MT., MCC and Jackie Eiting, MSW

The following article was contributed by: http://sealthedealsuccesskit.com/

Since many executives today confuse ethics (authentic leadership steeped in morals, values, and meaning) with compliance (Sarbanes-Oxley) or risk management (ethics training rather than culture development), it is no wonder executive coaches are increasingly faced with the ethical dilemma of how to address ethics with clients.  Do we, as coaches, engage with our executive clients about ethical issues only once they’ve brought it up in a coaching session, or when we see an ethical quagmire of which the client may not be aware?  We asked these questions and more to a select group of highly skilled, successful, experienced professionals.  Among those we interviewed were top executive coaches, psychologists who are coaches, psychologists who are not coaches, and Human Resources executives at large, multinational corporations. As we suspected, several common themes emerged, including the topics that every executive coach and every person who hires an executive coach should discuss in the contracting phase. This article will highlight some of the themes we discovered, some of the types of ethical dilemmas faced by clients and coaches, and the eight things to clarify prior to every coaching engagement.

The toughest ethical dilemmas are never really black and white.  In a similar fashion, as executive coaches, the lines we draw in the sand are not always obvious to our clients and the organizations they represent.  We must make sure our individual clients and client organizations know where we stand regarding ethics and confidentiality.  This requires candid, clear communication at the start of every coaching engagement and involves an inclusive process to bring corporate representation into the mix.  To gain a better sense of how professionals view the key issues of coaching, ethics and confidentiality, we conducted a series of interviews with business leaders, psychologists, and executive coaches.

Coaches come to clients with a variety of backgrounds: some bring advanced psychology degrees and training while others rely on business education, experience, and expertise.  This diversity of backgrounds is mirrored by the diversity of roles coaches play.  Today, coaches are engaged for a myriad of business problems, including developing executives in their leadership ability and performance, helping executives understand their team (and vice versa), mentoring and motivating employees, and facilitating tough discussions. As the field of executive coaching changes to meet market demands, the lines between what coaching should or shouldn’t cover become increasingly blurry. A common and consistent point of view among our respondents was “executive coaching should be limited to behaviors, attitudes and occurrences in the workplace”.  Most of our respondents saw coaching as a behavioral intervention, being defined by the psychologists as, “a cognitive and behavioral, task-oriented endeavor” and ultimately focused on business results.

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