Life Coaching Ethics



I’ve always been fanatical about professional ethics. Professional ethics define the boundaries around professional coaching. What is acceptable behavior and what is not. Ethics are important. Without an internal, personal and professional set of ethics, anything goes. A coach can hurt people.

I developed my passion for professional ethics from my experiences with professionals who weren’t ethical.  Very early in my professional career, I became committed to treating people the way I wanted to be treated. To not be like people who hurt me.

I follow the Board Certified Coach (BCC) ethical standards.

Besides coaching ethics and standards, there are state and local laws that govern professions and professional behavior. In my state, Tennessee, for example, I have a reporting requirement when I know that a child has been harmed by abuse or neglect. All ethical coaches know their local laws and follow them.

CCE-Global says “Coaching is a career in which professionals have specialized education, training, and experience to assess needs of clients, collaborate with clients on solutions, and offer strategies that assist individuals and organizations in reaching identified goals.”

First, we assess your needs. Not our needs, yours. Then we partner with you in your search for solutions.

You tell your coach what you want to accomplish in your coaching. We listen and help you find resources and strategies to help you reach your goal. Coaches have skills and knowledge to offer in service to your goals. With your permission, we share them with you when these skills and knowledge will further progress you toward your goals.

Coaching can is not counseling, consulting, sports coaching, mentoring, and educating. Defining what a coach is and does is important. Following that, the actual ethics and standards are critical to great coaching.

The main idea underlying ethical standards of coaching is “the welfare and interests of clients.” These standards require us to be honest with you about who we are and what we can do for you. Ethical coaches do not make improbable claims about what we do. We don’t lie to you or try to sell you easy fixes or quack ideas. Coaches do not use tools or techniques that are questionable.

Ethical coaches must be principled and act in a conscientious manner toward you.  Coaches don’t adopt strategies they have not been trained in. And never use strategies if we know that they might harm you.

We don’t pretend to be what we are not.

You might need mental health care, but hire a coach and not get the help you seek. Coaches do not offer any form of psychotherapy, counseling or mental health care. While good for your mental health, coaching is a different profession from any form of mental health care. Ethical coaches refer you to a therapist, psychologist, counselor or social worker.

You might want someone to help you set up your accounting records. That’s most likely a consultant in accounting. If you needed someone to work with you on setting timelines and goals for this task or searching for accounting help, coaching could be appropriate.

Professional coaching is not sports coaching. A sports coach is skilled and trained in the your sport. They help you build skills. Professional coaches could help you visualize your goals and dreams while you also work with your sports coach.

A mentor is someone in your specific career or field. They take you under their wing, offer you guidance and help you progress. A professional coach could work with you in a tangent to this. Asking great coaching questions that lead you to hear the thoughts, feelings you have around any area of your life. You’d set goals and specific action steps, discussing your results in your coaching sessions about the successes and failures of your plan.

An educator can be a knowledgeable person in any field you want to learn. Academic, professional or personal. Someone who teaches stress management is an educator. A coach might work with you on your stress management goals, including seeking a class. Your coach will help you make yourself accountable for your action steps.

Coaches are inclusive and do not discriminate in their work or work relationships. In addition, we are expected to do what they can to reduce harassment of any kind. On my website, I write:

Paperwork is also important. Coaches need to have a “written coaching service agreement” to begin a coaching partnership. Agreements include rights, responsibilities and roles of coach, client, and any other people involved in the coaching process. Everyone should be clear as to confidentiality and the legal limits on such.

Coaches ask for help in the form of coaching supervision when needed. They also refer to other professionals including mental health care if the need arises.

Coaching is a clear-cut relationship between two or more people with all of the boundaries clearly defined. Coaches keep the boundaries between people clear and clean. They plainly avoid conflicts of interest, and handle them promptly if they arise.

People who coach and are BCC certified must avoid dual relationships. This means that coaches cannot become your friend, lover, employer, employee, or any other relationship. This is for your protection such that your well-being (and not the coach’s) is at the forefront of each coaching conversation. There is a time limit on this of 2-years after the end of the coaching relationship.

This may be more difficult to understand, but coaches do not offer or accept large amounts of money, gifts or anything that can be thought of as a form of payment outside of the coaching agreement. For example, you might be so thrilled at the benefits of your coaching experience, that you want to reward your coach with an expensive gift. Ethical coaches will not accept this.

We cannot allow you to give us business advice. Or any other variation of you giving something of value you have. A gift changes our relationship from a partnership to something that cannot help you as much.

In summary, ethical coaches follow rules and place your interests in the center of the coaching relationship. They know who they are and who they are not. And they never blur the lines between their task and other professions. Or confuse the coaching relationship with a personal one.

The 4 page document, BCC Code of Ethics, can be seen here.

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©2016-18 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

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