Ethics in Coaching

Brennan and Wildflower (2010, p.370) suggest that there are a number of common behaviours required for ethical practice in coaching and mentoring. Gert (1988) states that a code of ethics will provide foundational guidelines in what is expected from those within the profession. Ethical codes are the standards of conduct that define the essentials for honourable behaviour within a particular profession (Brennan & Wildflower, 2010).

The increased success within coaching since 1995 in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia has resulted in an exponential growth of coaching programs and coaches entering the field worldwide (PwC, 2007). Coaching has grown to be widely accepted within business and professional organizations. Despite the popularity, success and professionalization of coaching globally, there is not one overarching body or government that has oversight of all professional coaches (Brennan & Wildflower, 2010).

An online search of “ethical practice within executive coaching’ returns results of 3.8 million articles, websites and associations. When the word “executive” is removed, the results are 6 million (Google, 13 March 2016). In my opinion as an ACT Master Coach, these figures highlight the importance of ethics within coaching but also create difficulty when trying to research what is right and wrong with regards to ethics within coaching as there is not one unified global standard.

There are numerous awarding bodies within the realm of executive coaching and each have their own ethical codes of conduct, which attempt to define acceptable behaviours. The codes of ethics are limited in their use as they imply what a coach should do and not what a coach actually does. An area of ethical concern often stated by respected coaches is one of competence (Brennan & Wildflower, 2010).

In the context of competency frameworks within coaching, there is an ongoing debate as to their usefulness (Bachkirova & Lawton Smith, 2015). Horton (2000) suggests the ‘competency movement has no single origin’ but such frameworks became popular for benchmarking management skills after being introduced by Boyatzis (1982). Within the context of coaching, competency based frameworks have become subject to critique. Cox (2003); Garvey (2011); Drake (2009); Cavanagh and Lane (2012) and Bachkirova (2015) argue that reliance on competency frameworks oversimplifies coaching practice and expertise and stultifies more creative solutions for a meaningful ‘rite of passage’.

An effective coach is far more than a set of skills and techniques. Novices may require a list of competencies that defines what they are to be taught, many of these competencies seems less useful for assessing and developing people at more advanced levels: ‘as novices they learn the rules, as intermediates they break the rules, as masters they change the rules and as artisans they transcend the rules’ (Drake, 2011, p143).


Ethics should be considered as they arise in a situation; understanding that they can change depending on situations, stakeholders and perspectives as opposed to mandated ethics stipulated by organisational hierarchy.

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