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Ethical Issues In the Coach Community
Keeping in mind that nobody is perfect

When one speaks of ethics, one shares a personal matter.  This article only concerns my perception, and is therefore in the first person.

I have participated in a number of different coaching associations in different countries ranging from Romania to Morocco to France and both the US and European ICF of course. in the course of this experience, I have sometimes seen the association's first days, sometimes i came as a visiting participant, sometimes I have been an active member, and sometimes i was just giving friendly advice to the president, the board, or the members.  This experience has given me the opportunity to see how different coaching communities in very different countries often make the same strides as well as the same mistakes.  They very often display very similar growth processes.  

In this article, I would like to list a few of the critical ethical areas faced by the coaching communities in different areas of the world. These critical areas have regularly required  special attention on the part of association members  Knowing these may help increase awareness and accelerate the growth process of coaching communities, wherever they may be, and in this case, in Romania.  Before jumping into the subject, however, let me underline that my intent is not to criticize but to support, not to judge but to warn.

NLP, TA, PCM, and the rest of the Alphabet Soup.

It often seems that confusion between very different fields is one of the characteristics of an emerging market.
  • A very long time ago in the '80s, I met a therapist who had succeeded in negotiating a contract to be a trainer in a small organization.  He had sold his knowledge of TA to an unsuspecting HR.  The results of his therapeutic work in an organizational was catastrophic, and TA was never to be mentioned again in that system. 
His mistake was to believe that because he was a great therapist, knowledge of Transactional Analysis would suddenly transform him into just as competent a trainer.  Of course, this would mean that trainers would also automatically become competent therapists, thanks to some knowledge of TA.  The fact is, a body of knowledge has never been equivalent to a profession.

It is useful to look at history.  Consider Transactional Analysis and NLP.  In every country, these techniques can account for hundreds of thousands of training hours for hundreds of participants who want to become "professionals" in the field.  This training market is very important.

For the participants, however, there is a catch.  There is no such thing as a Transactional Analysis "profession", not any more than an NLP "profession".  These are fields of knowledge but not professions.  Professions are manager, trainer, therapist, analyst, consultant, driver, dentist, etc.  In organizations today, fifty years after appearance of NLP and TA, how many managers know about or use NLP or TA concepts worldwide?  The relative answer is none, to speak of. These can be considered as rather select and obscure, albeit interesting, fields of knowledge.

Objectively, if there is a market for professions, there is no real market for these knowledge-based techniques. In those fields, the ultimate goal for students is to train enough to become trainers who will in turn train students to become trainers.  Compared to the development of coaching in less than twenty years, NLP and TA communities the world over have proven to be closed circles, if not specialized ghettos.  Training in either of those areas does not lead to competency in any practice, except of course, as a teacher in the field of NLP or TA.

It so happens that coaching is a very specific profession that rests on precise skills rather than on a body of knowledge. It has rapidly gained worldwide recognition and all managers in most organizations seem to know about it, more or less.  This what TA and NLP have never succeeded to achieve, in spite of efforts for decades.  This may explain why NLP and TA practioners are suddenly saying today that they are coaches.  Thirty years ago they would have said they were trainers or consultants.  Saying that NLP or TA is coaching is a marketing gimmick, but does not add clarity to the situation.  None of the founders of  tA or NLP ever refered to coaching.

Now TA and NLP are maybe extremely useful tools for a coach.  The same is true about other useful knowledge such as knowing how to read a P&L sheet (which stands for Profit & Loss in organizations), knowing about marketing strategies, follow up on KEY P.Is, and other such business competencies.  In coaching, psychological approaches are not privileged any more than other useful bodies of knowledge.

The ethical conclusion is that if one knows TA or NLP, one is not necessarily automatically a coach.  Training specifically as a coach concerns learning totally different coaching skills and competencies that are not taught in TA and NLP schools.  To be a coach in an organizational context, one also needs to know basics of how organizations are run.  Consequently, coming from a business environment my be more useful than being a trained psychologist.

Conferences

The speed at which coach training workshops, seminars, conferences and schools sprout on some markets is often bewildering.  What a market, one could think.  It would be a shame not to jump on the bandwagon and make loads of money, profiting from people's gullibility.

Some criteria are necessary to clarify what is really offered on any market.

A conference is not a training situation.  One doesn't become a coach by participating in occasional conferences.  Conferences are a form of show-business extravaganzas, often too expensive, where participants pay to be seduced by charming speakers. It is one of the few places in the world where one pays so much for a sales job, knowing that after the conference, you still need to get trained.

Coaching is a profession that rests on specific communication and rather demanding relational skills and techniques.  These are far from being natural or inborn.  On the contrary.  An important part of coach training in fact rests on first unlearning a large number of ingrained communication and relational habits.  This is the most difficult.  As a consequence, coach training is 90% practice and 10% theory.  This is far from what is offered in conferences.

For a small successful conference, get a couple of big names to impress the public, aim for 200 participants and charge them at least 300 € each for a day.  You get 60 000, minus  expenses.  Entertainment is an excellent business in Las Vegas too.

Workshops and Seminars

By definition, these offerings are short and focused.  A workshop should be centered on a specific and limited tool, angle, strategy.  It should be practical.  Ideally, the participants to a workshop or seminar are already professionals, or at least have foundational knowledge of the field acquired prior to the workshop.  Unless this is an "introductory" workshop.

Seminars are longer than workshops, and are sometimes really focused on practical and behavioral training.  Some of them are presented as long term cycles spread over a number of months.  This is the case of some basic training and supervision cycles that can be spread over one to several years span of time.  It does seem coherent that if one is learning a new profession, to start a new career of sorts, the training will rest on more than a few days in one or two workshops and conferences.

Coach Trainers and Schools

On this subject, it is also good to get informed.  Training to become a coach needs to be a very focused process.  Again, it takes time, commitment and practice.  Numerous participants who really commit to the process also end up changing a number of things in their own lives.  Indeed, accompanying other people through changes has some personal side effects or collateral advantages.

To become a coach may also require a number of other adjustments that are indirectly related to the professional field.  Many coaches also want to become independent or liberal professionals.  If these come from the more protected employed environment, setting up your own shop is a big change.  One has to learn how to sell, market, do some minimal accounting, follow the laws with good legal expertise, do some safe financial planning, set up a shop and decorate it, maybe open a website, etc.  The list is very long.  This list, however is not particular to coaching.  Should one want to open a massage salon, the necessary competencies are the same. 

Some schools and trainers claim that they accompany future coaches through all these dimensions until they are established.  Watch for the loopholes in the promises, and watch for the strings that may be attached.  When starting a new profession, there are no miracles.  It takes hard work and resilience.  It may also take some training from professionals in the field of accounting, marketing, sales, etc.  These are not necessarily offered by coaches.

I would suggest that coach trainers and schools train participants to become very good coaches.  The participants then need to become the entrepreneurs of their lives.

Now it is also important to choose a good school focused on coaching. Some criteria are not necessarily pertinent.  The price for good training is neither necessarily high nor low.  Price is often a marketing factor not really related to real value.  Hunt for value for money. 

The location is not a factor.  People travel to get the best, usually located in capital cities.  They stay home for comfort.  Local schools are not always the best. 

Choose the trainer, not the school.  Some schools publicize big names, but most of the real training is done by beginners who have little experience, except in training.  Coaching is so contradictory to training that to learn  and teach coaching, you have to be a coach.  Teaching coaching is not at all the same as teaching in other fields.  Teaching in a coaching perspective needs a totally different type of teacher.

Coach Professional Associations

Beware of schools that create their own associations that validate their schools and trainers.  These are closed circles designed to self-validate the quality of the schools and trainers.  Aim for  independent schools that have obtained their validation from independent associations.  School administrators and owners should not hold elected positions in an association.  There is a conflict of interest in doing so because one will be tempted to sell their own school or training in the association.  To give an example, to be elected in a administrator position in the ICF, one should not earn more than 30% of their income from training or supervising coaches.

Professional Certification

Certification processes are different.  A good certification process generally focuses on acknowledging observable skills in a profession, not knowledge.  For coaching, it is useful to have a live exam that will acknowledge the capacity to coach, not a written one about knowledge of what is coaching.  Normally, like when one wants to pass a driver's permit, certifications examiners pass no more than 70% of the candidates.  They do not belong to the school that has trained the candidates.  They are independent.

Rumors and Confidentiality

Coaching is a profession that is reputed to respect confidentiality.  It is of the utmost importance that coaching communities keep confidentiality about who woks with what client.  Too many coaches talk too freely together about clients and their issues.  This may bring discredit to the community and to the concerned coaches.  Bragging about clients using names and talking about their issues is unethical, even if one thinks that when talking to another coach, that is acceptable.  It is important to remind coaches of the confidentiality issue in all supervision situations, to ensure client safety and coach reputation.  And coaches who forget this should be gently reminded.

Coach Communities

 Community rests on collaboration.  Community building rests on the idea that by working together everyone will win at the end by developing a common image and a larger market.  In some cases, it seems that the coach community is more focused on internal fighting, sometimes called competing, rather than working together to build a larger common market.  This type of behavior is closer to negative individualist strategies than to community development.  When this happens within a coaching community, it becomes part of the larger environment's problem rather that a solution.

It is very important that coaches model collaborative behavior to offer clients another option, especially in individualistic markets where everyone believes that a solitary territorial approach is more effective than working with others to achieve collective results. It will be an excellent model when coaches will openly support each other in each coach community.