So far, I’ve focused on the importance of the:

  • Spiritual: Discern the will of the Father, helping those you coach to do the same
  • Relational: Value the other person
  • Personal: Embrace your unique contribution
  • Interpersonal: You can’t want something for someone else more than they want it for themselves
  • Inspirational: Help people tap into their creativity
  • Intellectual: Challenge for clarity
  • Analytical: Analyze to Energize

This week I shift focus to the pragmatic aspects of coaching.

Lesson #8 – Coaching Etiquette

This lesson can be learned the hard way. Like the seven proceeding lessons, experience is the best teacher. The notion of etiquette makes me nervous because you might interpret that the author, me, is an expert on the topic. Far from it. However, I have observed when certain things build rapport vs. detract from the coach relationship.

Boundaries are vital when coaching leaders. A principle in coaching is “confidentiality”. But what happens when the issue moves into the grey zone – from important information, to a “secret”, for instance. When you have been given information, that would be helpful for others to know. What do you do?

Honestly, this can be a challenging dilemma.

When certain agreements have been made up front, what do you do with information that could, and perhaps should, be shared with others?

One simple, but sometimes overlooked step is – ask permission! Asking permission to share the information from the person you are coaching. I have wrestled with this on ocasion and have forgotten the direct approach works best.

Let me take this up a level.

When you are asked to coach multiple members of the same team, including the team leader, what is the best scenario if confidentiality is an issue for you? One suggestion: bring another leader in to coach the other members of the team so that you are not the “information broker” of the entire team.

This assumes you do not have supervisory responsibilities. If you are a supervisor who is using a coach approach then there are certain obligations you have as an employee to the organization you serve. This is an exception. But if you are external to the organization, like coaching a church planter or regional leader; the “multiple coach” scenario applies.

In the big scheme of things, confidentiality is challenging to keep all the time, in every situation. Stakes are high. Coaching etiquette touches on many topics, but confidentiality is certainly high on that list.

Here are five reflections on how to determine if information should remain confidential:

  1. Will keeping the information confidential make it uncomfortable for you?
  2. Will this information do harm to other people? This might cause personal harm or mission drift.
  3. What could the repercussions be if you don’t share the information?
  4. What could the repercussions be if you do share the information without permission?
  5. How will this affect your coaching relationship if you keep this information confidential?

Finally, take this lesson seriously. Relational trust is incredibly complex but can be destroyed in a moment. I like Warren Buffet’s quote on a related issue – integrity: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

When it comes to coaching etiquette – you will seldom be criticized to taking the conservative approach to preserve the integrity of the relationship.


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