Coaching Ethics: Understanding the Importance to build Trust & Credibility

Jan 24, 2018

This post is part of the Mastery in Coaching series.

Impermanence is the first truth. Craving being the cause of impermanence is the second. Disengagement to end craving is the third truth. The eightfold path to disengage is the final fourth truth.

– Buddha, paraphrased

Dictionaries often refer you to morals when you search for ethics. Somewhere down the line, ethics has become equivalent to doing the right or wrong thing in context to societal mores and customs.

Ethics are always about the person and the world that person lives in. It is often a dilemma to separate the two. In professions like coaching, the world tends to limit the person.

Ethics are often expressed as Codes of Conduct. Some codes become commandments (ten or more depending on who wants to control). Often the implied right or wrong is judged by truth.

What is Truth?

In line with Buddha, Rotary Club wants to test if the truth would be beneficial.  Question is, if beneficial, would it be to all and at all times? Truth is situational, not absolute. As Buddha said, it is impermanent.

Yet, there is a center, a true north that it points to.

In coaching, Carl Rogers established this true north as “Client Centricity.” Without this as the lone star there can be no coaching, and therefore no ethical code of conduct. Coaching is not about the coach; it is always about the client. That is the only coaching ethic to remember.

Coaching is not about the coach; it is always about the client. That is the only coaching ethic to remember.

International Coaching federation, EMCC and others have laid down codes of professional conduct based on laws and prevailing customs for members and credential holders to pledge to. Some of the major codes are about:

  • Unambiguous outcome agreements to contract for the journey to ensure client centricity
  • Clearly defined boundaries between coach, client and sponsor to avoid conflicts
  • Clearly defined boundaries on what coaching is and is not
  • Confidentiality on client related issues
  • Personal integrity is representation and behaviour
  • Continuous professional development
  • Conformance to local laws
  • Equality & Diversity (only EMCC)
  • Supervision (only EMCC)

Despite allegiance to these codes there are many complaints from clients, within credentialing agency supervision (and outside as legal suits), despite the fact that coaching as yet is not a regulated licensed profession. Many of these have to do with ambiguous definition of boundaries of what falls under coaching, unfulfilled expectations and, from time to time, other common law violations.

From a personal as well as professional ethical standpoint, it is important to differentiate solution-offering practices of mentoring and consulting, and therapy based de-conditioning practices in psychology from the outcome oriented, asking based, awareness creation approaches of coaching.

Coaching needs to be seen as an equal, respectful, trusting partnership between coach and client, working to client’s interest in learning and outcome, with no judgmental interference from the coach. Coach’s ego needs to be invisible.

Supervision in coaching enhances ethical behavior of coaches. Supervision in the hands of a trained supervisor leads to reflective awareness through different lenses about one’s process in the practice of coaching, disconnected from how well one performs in competencies. A good supervisor holds the mirror to a coach as the coach does to the client. A good part of what the mirror says is about coaching ethics.

A good part within coaching ethics is about our contracting with clients and sponsors. In my experience, almost all companies I work with provide a template agreement drawn up by their legal department enforced by the purchase department. These agreements do not provide for coaching ethics and do not allow changes by the coach.

Despite this, we need to convey to sponsor and client the boundaries of interaction, principles of confidentiality, commitment to desired outcome as well as conditions of contract in terms of fees, logistics, cancellation and other locally required markers to ensure that there are no potential misunderstandings and conflicts.

The responsibility to uphold coaching ethics is with the coach, not the client or sponsor. One way to do this is to establish personal standards of ethics at a much higher level that what the profession calls for and commit to do whatever is beneficial to the client.

The best way to learn this is when we train ourselves to be coaches with ethics as the foundation and the True North, by considering various possibilities and how best we may deal with them with integrity, responsibility and authenticity, both professionally and personally.

Questions for the Coach

  • Do I understand and differentiate between asking and telling?
  • Do I differentiate coaching from the spectrum of mentoring, counseling, consulting, teaching, training and therapy?
  • Am I aware of my boundaries with the client being coached and the sponsor who may be paying for the coaching, and whose interest I should uphold in the event of a conflict?
  • What are the limits of my confidentiality?

What is Coaching?

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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