After listening to hundreds of coaching sessions in my roles as an active ICF Assessor, and as mentor to coaches preparing for their MCC, PCC or ACC credential, I am constantly surprised by how many times a coach misses an ethical issue.
It’s critical to the integrity of the coaching profession that coaches are aware of when they are no longer in a coaching conversation and have crossed a line or boundary into some other profession or expertise.
Here are some of the most common ethical issues I hear:
- A client talks about wanting to leave their spouse, or their business partner, and the coach does not inquire as to what professionals they are seeking advice from. For example, in a divorce scenario, the client may need to consult with a marriage counselor, a lawyer, and a qualified financial advisor. In a rift with a business partner, your client may need a lawyer or other business expert/advisor.
- A client continues to refer back to how their mother, father, family member or another significant influence from their childhood is a reason today why they aren’t happy or successful. There is usually significant emotion present.
- A client talks about an active addiction of some kind, including but not limited to obesity, drugs, and alcohol. Many coaches miss weight loss as an ethical issue as there are many shows like The Biggest Loser that show sports trainers acting as pseudo psychologists. And Weight Watches is so much a part of our culture that coaches don’t recognize that there may be deeper emotional issues the client needs to address, that goes beyond what a coach can work with.
- A client talks about a situation they are facing and the coach starts giving them advice in the form of models, books, websites, or articles to read. The coach brings an energy and attitude of “I have the expertise to help you solve your problem.” There is little inquiry about what the client has tried, what they know, or what has worked for them in the past – to draw on their self-knowledge.
- A client brings the energy of teacher or educator to their coaching, where there is often a ‘right’ answer the coach is expecting from the client.
- A coach is significantly inserting their own point of view, interpretations, and perspective, and gives their opinions as if they are truth. There is no checking with the client as to what they think. The coach sounds as if they are a mind-reader, and finishes off the client’s sentences. You could say this is a form of directing, leading and giving advice.
An indication that you may be engaging in some other profession or expertise is if the client’s energy is no different than when they started the coaching session, or their energy could wane or is lower as the session progresses. When the coach respects that there are many ways to be successful and a client discovers things for themselves, you’ll almost always hear the client’s energy and enthusiasm increase.
How to define the boundaries of coaching
For our clients and members of The Mentor Coaching Group, we have recorded sessions where ethical issues are present, and in one recording we demonstrate how to have the conversation and redefine the boundaries of the conversation to stay within a coaching model, while also inquiring about any other professionals the client may need to seek advice or expertise from. We also practice how to approach possible ethical issues in our group and individual mentoring calls.
In any of the scenarios presented above, the coach needs to recognize they are on a slippery slope and stop and have a conversation in the moment with their client. You need to be able to explain what a coaching process is, and how to define the boundaries of the conversation to being within coaching bounds. And you need to let the client know that if you inadvertently cross those boundaries again, you’ll pause the coaching and discuss it with them, and that if you feel you and the client are not able to remain in a coaching conversation, then you’ll need to stop the coaching and ask they seek out a professional with the required expertise.
I have often worked with clients who simultaneously are working with a therapist, lawyer and/or financial expert. Coaching can easily co-exist with other professionals, as long as the coach knows and enforces the boundaries of coaching with their clients.
Are you preparing to apply for your ICF MCC, PCC or ACC credential?
Or do you need Core Competency CCE’s to renew your credential (our group has 10.5 approved hours).
Our next Mentor Coaching Group begins January 7, 2014 for 3 months, and is filling fast. A maximum of seven participants. Once full, registrations will be closed.