When we think of Ethics in a profession, we may get lost in legalistic discussions of rules, rubrics, and detailed guidelines of how professionals should behave. Simplifying that to a common sense approach (which maybe is not so common) may help make the application more simple, clear, and practical.
The first preamble embraced by the ICF (International Coach Federation, 2013) is:
Preamble: ICF Professional Coaches aspire to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects positively upon the coaching profession; are respectful of different approaches to coaching; and recognize that they are also bound by applicable laws and regulations.
And from the Introduction to the ethical standards for the Board Certified Coach (BCC) from the Center for Credentialing And Education:
BCC certificants and applicants have the obligation to maintain high standards of integrity and conduct; act in a manner that protects the welfare and interests of clients; accept responsibility for their actions; act consistent with accepted ethical and legal standards; continually seek to enhance their occupational capabilities; and practice with fairness and honesty.
This standard and those that follow it should really be common sense, but as busy and distracted humans, reminders can help.
Since 1932, Rotary International has utilized a Four Way Test as its hallmark to guide member conduct. Its simple steps may assist t] the coaching community to understand and implement the ICF Standards of Ethical Conduct. The Four Way Test provides a concise and easy reminder of the intent of all the ethical guidelines of our profession.
The Four Way Test of the things we say and do (Rotary International):
- Is it the TRUTH?
- Is it FAIR to all concerned?
- Will it build GOOD WILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
- Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
Like many things in life, we sometimes complicate the original intent. Of course we need ethical standards and systematized procedures for our profession of coaching. And yet, using the Four Way Test provides a great shortcut and reminder that can help all of us avoid most ethical dilemmas.
Another Rotary principle is to “encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise.” Once again, this reflects what we do as coaches. We are in the business of serving … serving our clients’ greater good and more purposeful living, and serving the larger ideal of a more purposeful and loving world. That is ethical and professional behavior!
The wisdom of this 100 year old service club with millions of members worldwide is worth considering and embodying in your life and your business as a coach. (Click here to read more about the Four Way Test.)
Here is a coaching scenario that exemplifies the ethical standard described above, and that also applies to the Four Way Test of Rotary.
Coach Carl has been coaching Client Carol for 3 months, when Carol asks Carl if he has experience with reviewing business and marketing plans. She is at the point of her business that she feels she needs a coach/consultant to assist in the method and details required of such a formalized document. Carl is a fine life coach and has helped Carol immensely in designing her life and business to be more fulfilling, to have more balance over her time and to delegate more in her business. However, Carl really has neither formal experience nor training in designing business/marketing plans.
As an ethical coach, Carl tells Carol the truth that while he can help her get clearer on her vision and long term desired outcomes for the business she is in, he would refer her to a business advisor or consultant who specializes in the drafting business plans. He tells her that he can give her a couple of names and encourages her to ask around in her community. Carl honestly tells her that even if she needs to stop the coaching relationship for a time, so that she can focus her time and resources with a new consultant, it would be ok with him. His fair approach is to add that if she can afford the time and money for both him and a business consultant, then that is her decision. But, he says his goal for her is to get what she wants and he does not have the specific expertise for what she is requesting. Carol thanks him and asks for a couple of names and says she will also ask around in her local group. (This approach by Carl is also a clear example of several other ICF ethical standards regarding being honest about his level of competence and not implying outcomes that he cannot guarantee.) Carl’s actions create more good will and more friendly relations with Carol; and they are beneficial not only to her, but to his reputation as a coach.
In the coming weeks, write the Four Way Test on a note card and place it near your phone or computer (along with a copy of the ICF ethical standards). Observe how these simple criteria assist in the application of coaching ethics and can greatly affect your coaching.