Do No Harm

The Ethical Implications Of Coaching

Do no harm is a basic rule for anyone who takes on the role as a coach. Coaches need to insure that they are of benefit to their clients, managing conflict and insuring confidentiality. Several professional organizations have established standards for ethical practice in coaching. A few of these are The Association for Coaching, The International Coach Federation, The European Mentoring and Coaching Council as well as The Worldwide Association of Business Coaches. Do no harm (Ho Law,The Coaching Psychologist No1 July 2005) is the most basic of these standards.

Coaching presently is a career field that does not require certification. Many people from many types of experiences have taken up the role of a coach. The professional organizations offer guidelines for sponsors and clients often look for certification from these organizations. Holding oneself accountable for certain standards is part of being a professional.

Co-Active Coaching Laura Whitworth: 170).`Setting boundaries both for the coach and for the client are paramount in every coaching relationship. Trust is key in building any relationship. Brock states that the expectation for confidentiality is to respect confidentiality of all client information ( including company and or client names) except as authorized by client or required by law. ( Complete Handbook of Coaching p 435)

Boundaries need to be in place from the very start of any coaching agreement. They establish for both the coach and the client an agreement of confidentiality, client information, personal information as well as what happens in any conversation does not get shared. This can pose a challenge at times as the sponsor often expects feedback and steps toward progress.

Issues with boundaries may arise from many steps in the coaching process. Examples would be emotional issues of the clients that are of a deep psychological nature beyond the capacity of the coach requiring a trained counselor. Issues with a sponsor where the expectation is that the coach will provide credence for some sort of a pre-planned move on their part that is looking for justification for the action. It could also be where the coach tries to build a relationship beyond the agreed contract. All of these pose problems both ethically and legally.

There is also the need for coach’s to understand their own boundaries and capacity. With doing no harm being the very basis of every conversation the coach needs to refrain from overstepping his or her capacity and into the discipline of counseling vs coaching. It is possible that there could be deep rooted psychological issues and unless a coach has an education in this area an attempt to help may actually do more damage than good. There are some life coaches  doing good working in a responsible manner, but there are also others doing the work of counsellors without any appropriate training. ( Effective Coaching, Miles Downing, :9)

Coaches need to also be aware of their own limits and what stage they are at in their  professional development. New coaches should rely on coaching supervision from more experienced coaches to help them stay within the proper boundaries and competence. The purpose of supervision in coaching is to ensure that the best interests of the individual being coached and the client’s organization are protected and that the coach is supported and continues learning.( Effective Coaching Myles downing 209).There is an additional benefit and that is supervision provides professional integrity and accountability to clients. (Advanvcing Executive Coaching, G Hernez-Broome, Lisa A Boyce :160)  Competence is defined in Human Resources terms as meeting the standard requirement to properly perform a particular job. ( Complete Handbook of Coaching :437).

Rules around coaching may often differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction posing liability concerns. Coaches need to be cognizant that their conversations may become part of some future litigation.

Coaches are agents of their hiring organizations. As such, they can be called to be witnesses if a lawsuit arises. Importantly, in cases that involve more than the individual, individual confidentiality needs can be over protected Negotiated levels of confidentiality, where parameters for handling of information by both coaches and participants are clearly spelled out and agreed to prior to coaching,  can help ensure trust and more effective outcomes.

Ethics are important in every profession and no less in coaching. Coaching derives itself from many disciplines including counseling, management consultancy, personnel development and psychology.(Excellence in Coaching Jonathan Passmore :26). All of these area have an impact on coaching. However ethics and agreeing to boundaries is not an easy process. Individuals have different opinions on values which may be based on their own Cultures and their religious beliefs . There is an argument as discussed by J. Passmore and L. Mortimer in Advancing Executive Coaching that ethical thinking is fundamental to the process of ethical decision making and needs to be a consistent process in every aspect of coaching. The author presented six stages that incorporate the coach’s own values and beliefs. This is called the ACTION model Passmorre 2009). The first stage is Awareness, being aware of a coach’s own beliefs and values as well as the Code of Ethics of the professional body  to which they belong.  The second stage is to Classify , identify the issue as dilemma. The third step isTIME, the need to reflect on the issue themselves and seek the advice and support of a more experienced coach a peer or perhaps a coach supervisor. Stage four  looks for a solution from the integration with others in their support network. The fifth staged is  Evaluation and looks at each option check with ethical codes,  possibly communicate with a sponsor and decide if the decision fits within the scope of the original contract. Finally the sixth stage is NOVATE, once a design is developed incorporate this into the coaches  own ethical belief and possibly share within their group of colleagues.

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