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Executive Coaches Share Openly and Unselfishly: Dynamic Panel Discussion at ICF Annual Conference 2003

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The Issue of Confidentiality

Moderator (Linda): How do you handle confidentiality?

Val: I haven’t much problem with confidentiality at all. I was an executive myself for 13 years, so I’m pretty practical in how I approach coaching. I meet with the company and the manager of the client, initially. And in that initial meeting, before we do any anything, we go over the goals. I ask the boss to give feedback in front of me to the client right then. What I then say to the company is that I will not meet with you again without the client present and I asked not to be called without the client present. That has worked really well. So, we have that one three-way conversation and then anything on the content of coaching is confidential but I do update the company on the process, once again, with the client present. So, we’ll say, here are our four goals, here is how we decided to measure progress on the four goals. We’ll talk about the progress, not the content, just the progress, and then the coaching itself. I leave it to the client what they want to share. For eight years that’s worked well, I haven’t had any conflict with that.

Bob: I agree with all that except the first part. We’re very clear that the client is the organization. The coachee is the benefactor of the process and we make that clear to both the organization and the coachee. So, what we look for is who writes the check. Now what we do is the same process. With each individual leader that we coach there is a mini 360 that we do–gather the information feedback then put together the plan with that individual leader. We sit down with that individual leader’s boss and have a triangle conversation, the same way Val does. Then we say that there will be updates on progress and that is again another three-way conversation. We also do what we call organizational observation, so we can identify common themes coming from multiple leaders being coached. We bring those organizational themes to the sponsor or the organization. But these are not individual development kinds of conversations.

Mary Beth: I basically agree with my esteemed colleagues, except I’m going to steal Val’s idea about having the client in the room all the time. I have not done that. I really like that idea. What I’ve done instead is to set up this norm that every time the boss asks me “Well how’s Jim doing?” I joke with the boss, “Every time you ask me that I’m going to say ‘Jim’s doing fine,’ no matter what, no matter how Jim is doing.” Because what the boss is really doing is trying to get out of their own responsibility for monitoring Jim’s performance. That allows me to do what I call guerilla coaching of the boss. Then I can say, “Are you concerned and wondering how Jim’s doing? You know we could have some conversations about how you can monitor how Jim is doing if that would be useful.” And we start by what I call coaching moments and may end with a coaching contract with the boss as well.

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