Life Coaching Ethics - What Are They, And Why Do They Matter?
Why do life coaching ethics matter, and who defines them? Tune in as John and Noelle discuss ethical considerations for working with coaching clients.
The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring Lumia Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!
This episode originally aired in February 2020. The accompanying blog was updated in September 2022 to include new resources and information.
Ethics for Life Coaches
Coaching ethics is one of the most important things every newcomer to the field should learn. Good coaching won’t happen if you don’t maintain a clear understanding of the ethical boundaries that guide all coaching sessions.
What are "ethics"?
Ethics are a moral philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. Ethics define your scope of practice as a coach, and offer clear guidelines for how to work within it.
In life coaching, embodying qualities such as integrity, respect, and honesty are just a few reflections of ethical practice.
Along with these personal attributes, you'll want to be famliar with what a code of ethics for coaches looks like in practical terms.
Why Are Ethics Important In Coaching?
Imagine hiring a lawyer, or an eye doctor, and having no real idea what to expect. And yet, that’s what is happening for consumers out there looking to work with a coach. Instead of “coaching,” what they may be getting instead is advice, counseling, consulting... or something else entirely.
In an unregulated industry, who decides what constitutes "ethical coaching"? Here at Lumia Coaching, we look to the International Coaching Federation (ICF) as the standard bearer for best practices in the field.
As the largest accrediting organization for coaches globally, the aim of ICF standards is to bring professionalism and accountability to the field of life coaching.
One of the main ways the ICF does this is by developing guidelines that will help the coaching industry become universally recognizable to practitioners and consumers worldwide. In other words, the ICF helps us define and quantify ethical practice for coaches. This in turn helps the general public to know what they can expect when they hire a coach.
The ICF Core Competencies represent the gold standard of coaching. They not only show us how to coach better, they also help to build public trust in the coaching profession itself. And while you don’t need to be certified by the ICF to practice as a coach, we believe it’s worthwhile to be familiar with these concepts.
In this podcast, we'll focus our discussion on a couple key ethical coaching topics:
If you don't already have it, you may also want to grab a copy of the ICF Code of Ethics!
Defining the "Client"
The client is the person or group that is being coached. A client can be one individual, a couple, or an entire work team.
How do life coaching ethics factor into how we define who the client is?
Let's take the example of a coach who is working with a couple. One way to look at it is when coaching couples, there’s person A and person B in a relationship... and then there is the relationship ITSELF. A relationship coach is working in service of the relationship. This means the coach is not standing in favor of one person over the other.
Sponsorship & Confidentiality
Sponsorship is when someone pays for another person's coaching. A common example of this is when a boss pays for their employee’s coach, or when a family member pays for a loved one's coaching. This is where defining your confidentiality policies becomes incredibly important.
To establish trust, there needs to be a confidential space that's developed between coach and client. If the sponsor believes they have a right to be briefed or updated on how the coaching is progressing, this needs to be clearly spelled out and agreed to by all parties up front. As a life coach, it’s your responsibility to clarify who has access to information about the content of a coaching session.
Equality and Barriers
What does equity look like in the space of coaching? The ICF standards of practice include an expectation that coaches center their clients’ perspectives and experiences, which requires us to be able to see a client’s whole life.
The way a person experiences the world is informed and influenced by their identity. It therefore stands to reason that as coaches, we are most effective when we hold an awareness of where our clients are coming from - especially when a client’s identity is different in some way from our own.
When we aren’t aware of how our own identities influence our experiences in life (both positive and negative), we’re less likely to recognize how our client’s identities in turn shape their experience. This can lead to miscommunication, lower levels of trust in the coaching relationship, or the application of the “wrong tools for the job”!
As a coach you hold a vantage point from which you can see your client’s whole life, how they intersect, and certain challenges and obstacles that they might not even recognize themselves.
For more on this topic, check out our interview with Dr. Justin Sitron! He teaches the course on Intersectionality in Coaching for Lumia's Life Coach Training program.
Boundaries serve to protect both coach and client. Setting the coaching agreement or the contract regarding the roles, responsibilities, and rights of everybody involved is one thing that really helps you set solid boundaries on paper.
In the beginning, people may think that contracts and coaching agreements are only for “professionalism’s sake” but really, it serves a very important purpose. Not only is it ethical to always have a coaching agreement, it is also a tool for both clients and coaches to refer to and be reminded of the parameters that have been agreed to.
Aside from what’s on paper, setting boundaries is a muscle you build. It’s your intuition that serves as the internal compass that tells you where to turn and how to go. You cannot write everything down so it’s important to learn to listen to your intuition. As your relationship with your client deepens and as you and your client continue working together, there will be instances where the line gets blurry. Turning to your intuition for clarity is a great way to be reminded of the boundaries every ethical coach should keep in mind.
Want to explore this topic further? Tune in as John and Noelle discuss it in the podcast episode Creating Boundaries Within the Coaching Relationship.
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