Coaches should challenge unethical clients

What should coaches do when they think clients are doing something unethical? Should they challenge them? This is a real hot potato at the moment, especially given the fallout from the banking sector, the environmental pressures and the continuing lack of confidence in the current business model. And according to the Index of Leadership Trust, released earlier this month (October), leaders are widely perceived to be prioritising profits over principles.

Some think we should stop playing god and remember our place- which is to serve the client sitting in front of us, and the organisation sponsoring the coaching where this is the case. Others think coaches have a responsibility to speak up, with some- including Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) chairman Peter Cheese going as far as to wonder whether the current crisis might have been averted if more executive coaches had voiced concerns earlier on. Speaking to Coaching at Work, for our news story on coaches’ responses to the ILM’s Index of Leadership Trust it has just published with Management Today, Cheese said that “The coach acts as a mirror to the individual so they have better understanding of the context they are operating in and of what is good practice. Historically if they had been doing that really well, maybe we wouldn’t have had the problems we had.”

Cheese questions the basis of any coach-client relationship where the coach keeps quiet when they see issues in decisions, where they are compromising ethics. According to the report, less than two-fifths of CEOs place ethics at the heart of business decisions, hence the spotlight being once again on what coaches think they should do when faced with potentially dodgy client behaviour.

In the same issue of Coaching at Work (November/December, Vol 6, Issue 6), Neela Bettridge, executive coach and founder of sustainability consultancy Article 13 writes that “An integration of who we are, with what we do, what we say and how we say it has never been more important, as we approach the perfect storm of a changing business model, rising economic powers and environmental pressure.”

I think she is absolutely right. That goes for our clients too, especially leaders under the spotlight. Personally, I feel we should reflect back what we think we see, including where we think clients may be acting unethically, albeit unconsciously. This is not about getting too big for our boots, or having our own agenda. This is about acting as a mirror, considering the wider picture, not colluding with our client, and not being scared of our client. Most clients will thank us for it.

  • What do you think? Should coaches challenge clients on ethical issues? Take part in our online poll here: ethics poll

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