Ethics and morals. These concepts aren’t just for philosophy class — they’re vital guiding principles in the coaching profession.
Though these terms seem interchangeable, there’s an important difference between the two: Individuals set their morals, while our society and communities hold us to ethics. For example, in a community that encourages honesty, this virtue may be considered essential to its code of ethics. If a person assigns personal importance to honesty, then it’s part of the individual’s moral code.
In your professional life, you’re guided by personal morals and ethical standards posed by the coaching community. Ethical coaching practices are paramount: they keep you and your clients safe and encourage meaningful relationships. Without them, you risk harming those in your care.
There’s no single governing body in coaching to set out the rules, but most coaches operate with the same code. Let’s explore the coaching ethics you need to incorporate into your practice.
The concept of ethics
Codes of ethics are rules and principles that a group of people — such as a professional community — are expected to follow. Doing so prevents people from harming one another and encourages important traits like respect and compassion.
Ethics may influence lawmaking, but there may be no legal obligation to uphold these principles. For example, no law states coaches must be respectful toward clients, but the community holds itself to that standard.
Coaches have confidential conversations with clients and work to help others improve sensitive areas of their lives, like health or self-esteem. Abiding by the industry’s code of ethics is the best practice — otherwise, you may hurt the people in your care, damage your coach-client relationships, and find yourself ostracized from the community.
The importance of a code of ethics
We know what society expects of us. Even if there’s a debate between different groups on hot-button ethical dilemmas, we understand that our communities value common virtues like integrity or generosity, and we protect others by acting accordingly.
But what about the coaching profession? Why is an ethical code essential to our work?
- Setting standards: When coaches explain their ethics, clients better understand the services they’ll receive. Clients know they’re in good hands when a coach demonstrates honesty, compassion, and professionality.
- Compensating for lack of regulation: The coaching field isn’t governed by outside authorities like medicine and mental health professions. Coaches must educate themselves, hone the right tools for their practice, and set the rules, including ethical ones, that guide their services.
- Improving the field: When the majority of coaches follow the same or similar ethical guidelines, it causes a widespread change in the industry. Clear ethical coaching codes standardize the work and create a baseline expectation for professionalism. This inspires coach training and certification programs to abide by the same ethical principles and requires credential holders to do the same.
- Driving accountability: Coaches must hold themselves to the codes they set. Doing so improves their practices and protects those under their care. With transparent guiding ethics, clients and other industry professionals can also hold coaches accountable for their commitments.
9 ethical standards for coaches
Productive coaching sessions are rooted in safe conversation, and successful practices focus on professionalism. The following ethics guide coaches to create excellent businesses and welcoming spaces for clients:
- Confidentiality: Coaches build trust with clients by upholding confidentiality. You should safely store personal information and hold closed-door sessions where clients can speak freely. Confidentiality isn’t just a facet of ethical conduct — it facilitates the coaching process. When clients feel safe, they can open up about insecurities and limiting beliefs, and you can make more significant strides in helping them reach their goals.
- Responsibility: Coaches must take their work seriously. You should pursue adequate education and come to work prepared, create and uphold formal agreements with clients, and keep clients’ best interests in mind in all decision-making processes. At the end of the day, your clients come to you for guidance, and you’re responsible for supporting them with your best work.
- Integrity: Coaches must accurately represent their training, certifications, and the scope of their services. You shouldn’t use deceptive marketing and billing practices to profit from dishonesty. Another part of upholding integrity is setting firm boundaries that keep the coaching relationship professional and ensure the client doesn’t have unrealistic ideas about what they stand to gain from your services. Never set anyone up for failure and disappointment.
- Equity: Coaches must not hold prejudices and should provide the same quality of services to all clients, regardless of background, gender, sexuality, race, class, and ability. Everyone deserves equitable care and support from their coach, and discrimination has no place in the coaching industry.
- Respect: Coaches encounter a range of viewpoints and values among their clients, but remaining respectful is important. Even if you have a different personal outlook, it’s not your place to impose your perspective on the client’s worldview. Doing so cultivates tension and mistrust, damaging the relationship between the client and the coach.
- Upholding well-being: Clients seek coaching services to improve their lives, and helping clients reach their goals should be a coach’s focus. Many of your clients may be vulnerable, and you must contribute to healing, not harm. This also includes looking for signs of mental health decline or self-harm and making an appropriate referral when necessary.
- Humanity: Ethical practices run on the basic principles of humanity, like kindness and compassion. A professional boundary in coach-client relationships may exist, but that doesn’t imply you should act robotically. Demonstrate empathy, act thoughtfully, and react to clients with attentive facial expressions and approachable body language.
International codes of ethics for coaches
As a coach, you want to help others become their best selves. Your intentions are good, and you naturally hold yourself to a professional standard. However, borrowing a code of ethics from a well-respected community body (or using one to inform your own code) can help you confirm you’re operating with the right values.
Several coaching organizations have created codes to help professional coaches operate with similar standards worldwide. Here are a few to check out:
- EMCC: The European Mentoring and Coaching Council offers an ethical code that spans professional conduct and excellence in the coaching practice.
- ICF: The International Coaching Federation’s code of ethics highlights the organization’s core values: professionalism, collaboration, humanity, and equity.
- IAC: The International Association of Coaching’s ethics guide covers everything from straightforward pricing to client safety.
- AFC: The Association for Coaching’s Global Code of Ethics focuses on excellence, accountability, and professional conduct.
Consider writing a formal ethical code for your coaching practice. Creating this document can help organize your ideas and pinpoint the guiding ethics of your practice. Plus, this document is a great reference for coaching clients who want to know what values drive your work and the standard they can expect when working with you.
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