This week I was introduced to a new phrase by a client of mine: coach-guilt. My client operates as an internal coach in a large organisation. She raised three coaching dilemmas wth me and concluded, ‘you know I think I am suffering from coach-guilt’. We laughed at the turn of phrase. However, there is a serious side to this quip that merits further exploration because it threatens the very credibility of the coaching profession.
All three dilemmas faced by my client related to contracting challenges:-
- what do you do when you have a three-way conversation with the coachee’s manager and the manager tells the coachee something different to that which they told you in private?
- what do you do when one of your clients asks you to coach them on an interview for a new job outside of the sponsoring organisation?
- what do you do when your clients do not get in touch with you to organise the next coaching session? Do you chase them or leave the ball in their court?
As coaches we frequently face these dilemmas and we face them alone. Often there is no accountability framework in place, our conversations are confidential and the individual client is pursuing their own private agenda. This is a dangerous cocktail of circumstances. We may have supervisory coaching relationships to call upon, but even this mechanism relies upon self-regulation. Therefore, the only guardian of our coaching contract is our own conscience. If we do not hold our own feet to the fire then our standards and ethics can erode without anyone else noticing….at least for a while. We find ourselves not speaking up when we should do (dilemma 1), colluding with our clients on subversive agendas (dilemma 2) and letting coaching relationships slide into irrelevance (dilemma 3). And then the coach-guilt kicks in.
None of us are immune from this casual drift to the dark side. The coaching session I referred to at the beginning of this blog was the last one in the client’s programme. With a shock, halfway through the session I realised I had not re-visited the coaching agreement we had put in place at the beginning of our work. Now it was me who experienced an acute sense of coach-guilt! Quickly, I loaded up the relevant agreement on my laptop. My client and I scanned through it and were alarmed to read the following phrase under the heading ‘Involvement of Other Stakeholders’: ‘We have discussed the risks of working in a ‘boundary-less’ environment and the need for our own contracting to be precise and up to date if we are to do our best work’. It seems we had been aware of this risk from day 1 of our work and yet had both still struggled to keep it at bay.
It is for all these reasons that Ian and I emphasise the topic of contracting in our work on challenging coaching. The contracting challenge starts with us. We challenge ourselves to ‘build the contract and honour the contract’ not in lieu of external regulation, but as an inspiring example of personal responsibility; the sort of personal responsibility that we are role modelling for our clients. Rigorous contracting and re-contracting keeps you free of coach-guilt, builds trust, enforces healthy boundaries and so enables ourselves and our clients to do our best work.
In conclusion, I urge us all to take a long hard look at our contracting habits and rid ourselves of any coach-guilt that has accumulated over time. We do this partly for the sake of our own reputations and partly for the long-term reputation of the coaching tribe as a whole. For if we become a profession racked with coach-guilt then, sooner or later, we will reap what we sow. Putting this another way; if the road to coaching hell is paved with good intentions then the road to coaching heaven is paved with superlative contracting. Coach-guilt no more.