Coaching Ethics: The International Coach Federation

Introduction

Coaching which is defined by Flaherty (2010) as “interventions in competence to improve the actions of others” is an emerging and evolving field which is gaining popularity all over the world. A good understanding of the ethical guidelines is necessary for a coach to be most effective in all coaching situations. This paper will review four major guidelines for ethical practices in coaching and assess why it is important for a coach to adhere to these principles.

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Coaching Relationships and Contracts

The International Coach Federation emphasizes that coaches should begin by defining their coaching relationship with the client and establishing a contract. This step entails setting the foundation for the coaching relationship. By doing this, the coach will be able to understand what the client hopes to gain from the coaching process and the relationship. With this understanding the coach is able to “expand the individual’s and/or group’s capacity to obtain desired results and to facilitate development” (Wise & Jacobo, 2010, p.162). Without grasping what the client wishes to achieve, the coach cannot be of any help since coaching is aimed at helping clients meet their goals and expectations. The specifics of the coaching relationship including scheduling, coaching fees, and logistics will be discussed.

Through the contract the coach and the client will be able to agree on what will be considered appropriate in the relationship and what will not be. The responsibilities of both the client and the coach will be well articulated so that each party knows what is being offered. Gordon (2007) observes that it is very important for the coach to establish if he/she possesses the necessary expertise to help the client since the goals of the client might be beyond the skill set of the coach. There are a wide range of coaches including psychologist coaches, coaches with business expertise, graduate coaches, and pastoral coaches to name but a few. Smither (2011) reveals that because of this wide array of coaches, the most important thing is to find a match between the coach and the client. This will greatly influence the outcome of coaching. If there is a mismatch between the needs of the client and the abilities of the coach, the client not benefit from the relationship.

Client Protection

Huggings (2003) notes that the well being of the client is the central focus of a coaching relationship. With this in mind, the coach is required to maintain integrity and trustworthiness as he/she works with the client to achieve goals. Wise and Jacobo (2010) declare that coaching is a potent tool to guide improvement in many different arenas. The effectiveness of this tool is determined by the level of trust and respect between the coach and the client. Trust is the basis of any helpful relationship between the coach and the client (Neenan, 2008). In the course of coaching, the client will divulge information that is private. The coach must therefore exercise strict confidentiality with this information and it should never be given to a third party.

The coach can play a part in client protection by insisting on a confidential relationship with their clients to the sponsor. When this is not possible, the coach should ensure that the client is aware that some information might be provided to the sponsor (MacKie, 2007). The coach can exercise some discretion when revealing client’s information to the sponsors who are legitimately entitled to the information. Such a move will demonstrate that the coach has the client’s best interest in mind.

The coach should also protect clients from exploitations of any kind. These exploitations might include: sexual, financial, and emotional. Rogers (2012) emphasizes that the coaching relationship is aimed at achieving the wellbeing and development of the client. Any exploitation will be detrimental to this outcomes and it might even lead to the coach facing criminal charges.

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Inasmuch as most coaching clients are high-functioning individuals who want to achieve even more in life, they make themselves vulnerable by revealing their strengths and weaknesses to the coach. Biswas-Diener (2009) notes that the client will reveal to the coach the obstacles they face in their pursuit of goals and appropriate interventions and assessments will be suggested. The coach must ensure that confidentiality is maintained and the boundaries and restrictions set by the clients are respected.

Confidentiality

The coach is required to act in the best interest of the client and their organization and observe confidentiality and privacy. Smither (2011) note that trust is essential is coaching is to achieve the positive results of improving performance and developing productive behaviors in the client. Peltier (2009) advises that the issue of confidentiality should be dealt with in the early stages of the coaching process. This is because at the first interaction, the client might try to understate their real concern about confidentiality as they try to appear confident and willing. If the client does not have a clear understanding of what is at stake, they might end up revealing private information with the wrong assumption that it is confidential.

The coach should be able to rightfully assess their ability to manage information flow and make sure that the client is aware of any limitations. This is especially significant in executive coaching where the organization rather than the executive pays the bills (Hollenbeck, 2009). For this reason, the information that the client provides may be revealed to the organization. Peltier (2009) observes that the sponsor who is paying for the coaching has a legitimate stake in the outcomes and this implies that they have some claim on information that would otherwise be confidential if the client was the one paying for the coaching. The sponsor will expect some information about the progress of the coaching and even on client assessment.

Peltier (2011) notes that while the coach might be committed to client discretion, this might not always be possible and sometimes the interests of the organization may prevail over those of the client. Flaherty (2010) agrees that maintaining confidentiality to the client might be hard when there is a sponsor involved but he insists that breaking confidence will greatly damage the coaching relationship. To avoid this, the coach should inform the client beforehand about whom the coaching program will be shared with and in what detail.

Conflict of Interest

The coach should avoid conflicts of interest and in an event where such a conflict is present, the coach should decline the offer to engage in the particular contract. Coaches may be required to offer recommendations on how the client can improve their performance or productivity. These recommendations may entail giving referrals to third parties such. Peltier (2009) notes that a conflict of interest may arise if the coach is eligible to receive payment for referrals of clients to the third party. This is because the coach may resort to referring clients to certain third parties without cause so as to receive their referral fee.

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The coach should openly disclose all the anticipated compensations that he/she might get from third parties as a result of the coaching services he/she is offering to a particular client. Hollenbeck (2009) observes that when the coach fails to openly disclose this and the client or sponsor finds out on their own, the intentions of the coach will be greatly questioned. In such a situation, it will be hard for the coach to demonstrate that the monetary benefits they gained or stood to gain from the third parties did not impair the coaching relationship.

As a result of the coaching relationship, the coach is in a position to enjoy some personal, professional or monetary advantages from the client (Biswas-Diener & Dean, 2007). This is because the coach-client relationship is personal in nature and as a result of the trust fostered in the relationship; the client might feel inclined to act favorably to the coach.

A conflict of interest might also emerge when there is a fundamental clash in the moral values of the coach and those of the client. In such a situation, Stern (2007) advises that it is the responsibility of the coach to respectfully discuss with the matter with the client and if necessary refer the client to another coach. If the coach fails to address this issue, he will not be helpful to the client since he may try to impose his moral values on the client. The coaching process and relationship will also be hurt since the coach will harbor judgments concerning the morals of the client.

Conclusion

This paper set out to review guidelines for ethical practices in coaching and demonstrate their importance for coaches. The paper has shown that coaching is helpful when the coach demonstrates integrity and respect for their client.The coach should also be protective of the client and ensure that confidentiality is not violated. The objectivity and competence of the coach is also guaranteed by adhering to these guidelines.

References

Biswas-Diener, R., & Dean, B. (2007). Positive psychology coaching: Putting the science of happiness to work for your clients. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). Personal Coaching as a Positive Intervention. Journal of clinical psychology, 65(5), 544-553.

Flaherty, J. (2010). Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others. (3rd Ed.). Burlington, MA: Elsevier Science.

Gordon, S. (2007). Sport and business coaching: Perspective of a sport psychologist. Australian Psychologist, 42(4), 271-282.

Hollenbeck, G. P. (2009). The necessary and sufficient conditions. Perspectives on Science and Practice, 2 (2), 266–267.

MacKie, D. (2007). Evaluating the effectiveness of executive coaching: Where are we now and where do we need to be? Australian Psychologist, 42(4), 310-318.

Neenan, M. (2008). Introduction to the special issue on cognitive-behavioral coaching. Journal of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, 26(1), 1–2.

Peltier, B. (2009). The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application. 2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis. ISBN: 9780415993418

Rogers, J. (2012). Coaching Skills: A Handbook. NY: McGraw-Hill International.

Smither, W.J. (2011). Can Psychotherapy Research Serve as a Guide for Research About Executive Coaching? An Agenda for the Next Decade. Journal of Business Psychology, 26 (1), 135–145.

Stern, L.R. (2009). Executive Coaching: Building and Managing Your Professional Practice. Boston: John Wiley & Sons.

Wise, D. & Jacobo, A. (2010). Towards a framework for leadership coaching. School Leadership and Management, 30 (2), 159-169.

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