What makes an effective coach?

Listening, questioning and empathy are often cited as the key qualities of an effective coach, but how can coaching professionals build on these qualities to be both effective and ethical?  In this post, Ioanna Iordanou, Rachel Hawley, and Christiana Iordanou authors of the Henley Centre for Coaching’s Coaching Book of the Year 2017 ‘Values and Ethics in Coaching’, share their advice for coaches who are seeking to foster ethical practice in their work.

Coaching is about cultivating conversations that foster compassion, self-understanding, and the opportunity to flourish. Done well, it offers individuals a safe space to think, reflect, and take responsibility for the actions that will help them develop and achieve their intended goals. The coach’s role is pivotal. Indeed, it is the coach’s ability to listen attentively, ask good reflection-provoking questions and facilitate a structured discussion that will enable the client to consider their options and take responsibility for their goals. But is this enough to be an effective coach? Indeed, what makes an effective coach?

An effective coach is an ethical coach. It should not be taken as an assumption that there are coaches who are not guided by moral principles; rather that ethical practice goes beyond this. It takes conscious effort to continuously hold values and ethics at the forefront of the coaching practice. For coaches seeking to foster ethical practice this means:

  • Consciously striving to explore and reflect on the personal and professional values that guide our practice- Are these always in concert or are there instances when they clash?
  • Developing awareness of organisational values and principles that can influence the work we do in the institutional contexts in which we offer our services.
  • Making full and active use of the array of opportunities that are available to us in our effort to keep developing professionally for the benefit of our practice, our clients, and the profession as a whole e.g. supervision and CPD activities such as attending conferences and practitioner meetings, reading about recent developments in the field, pursuing further training and qualifications, and encouraging an evidence-based coaching practice.
  • Developing greater awareness of our skills and capabilities recognising the limitations and boundaries of our professional expertise. This includes consciously reflecting on the educational background that we bring into and enrich our coaching practice with.
  • Exploring our personal and professional values and ethics in relationship – who we are in the coaching relationship; where (in what institutional context) we coach; and how (what theories and models we use) we coach.
  • Considering and reflecting upon our ethical responsibility, not only to our clients, but to the wider social system we make part of, as a whole.
  • Focusing, not only on solving ethical issues but, also, on creating those conditions and conversations that will bring them to the surface.

Ultimately, we believe that what makes an effective coach in this ‘post-professional’ coaching era is being an ethical coach. This means fostering a professional coaching culture that prioritises a shared understanding of ethical standards, regardless of prescribed recipes for best practice. Developing and maintaining a common ethical mind-set that is geared towards social and collective requirements is vital. In practice, this means capitalising on the ethical strategies we already have in place: clear contracting; conscious reflection and reflexivity through critical enquiry; regular supervision; continuing professional development; and, importantly, open and shared communication between colleagues and relevant shareholders, including inviting the input of clients. These are just some of the strategies that enable us to maintain a conscious (rather than idealistic) ethical coaching practice – creating a positive professional culture that is driven by integrity and commitment to embrace the complexities of contemporary life in an era of ongoing change. Being an effective coach is a journey of discovery; understanding our values and ethics holds the key to navigating this complex landscape.

Find out more about Values & Ethics in Coaching.

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