I received a call from a former student and colleague the other day. She was facing a challenge with a coaching client and needed help thinking through how to handle it. The challenge had to do with Ethics - which is not unusual when I receive these types of calls. I think she had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done, but it wasn’t straightforward and she felt that there were risks in all directions. It was ambiguous (maybe something was amiss, or maybe not), it involved her client and others in the organization, and the worst-case scenario was serious enough that ignoring it wasn’t an option. It was helpful for her to talk it through, and she came away with a plan and the conviction that taking action was the right thing to do.
In my Coaching Master Class, we talk about Ethics first, and spend more time on it than the other competencies. In my initial class design, I put Ethics at the beginning because I thought it was a topic that we would discuss without much pre-work, as a way to “warm up” before hitting our stride with real coaching topics.
After 10 cohorts, I now see that putting Ethics first was a great decision - it is a real coaching topic.
In listening to the ethical situations the students bring to the class, I see that Ethics is an undercurrent in our relationships with our clients and their sponsoring organizations. They can arise right at the beginning or at any time during the engagement. They impact the services we offer and how we build our businesses, especially if we offer more than coaching. Whenever they come up, they can knock us off center and disrupt the coaching engagement.
Talking about Ethics proactively – that is, before we need to make some of those difficult choices - is important. Many of the Coaching Master Class students have been grateful for that opportunity and have made specific changes to their coaching agreements and initial conversations with clients and sponsors. They are ready to handle some common ethical challenges before they become a problem.
Through the conversations, students also realize the value of getting different perspectives and hearing the experiences of their peers. We talk about having a “lifeline” - someone to call to help when you're facing a challenge. Your lifeline won’t have the answer, but will listen, ask questions, notice emotions that might be getting in your way, challenge your assumptions, and refer you back to the Code of Ethics and your coaching agreements for guidance. Your lifeline is a coach, really, to help you do what needs to be done to stay aligned with your ethical code.
The coach who called me had been through those conversations in the Coaching Master Class and had done some research on ethics in coaching relationships. She had the advantage of that proactive thinking, and had the phone number of her lifeline ready.
From teaching the Coaching Master Class, I’ve learned that it’s important that we stop and talk about Ethics periodically, to check in on the ethical challenges that are cropping up in your real-world experiences. The conversations remind us of what’s expected when we face these challenges, and prepare us for when they do occur.
Who is your Ethics Lifeline?