What do I mean by integrity in my coaching practice?
Integrity means I feel a sense of validity within what I am doing, and an understanding of the shared purpose with the client. The integrity is partly about my own inner confidence in how I feel about talking about what I am able to offer, and how I am doing it. And then the outer confidence is about how I am actually working with my clients.
What is the structure of my framework for understanding the shared purpose
My framework typically follows a very specific sort of contract with the client, in which there are eight steps; in each step (session) there are different processes that I will engage in with my client. It is important that I have explained what is going on, so that it’s also very clear to them. This leads to all sorts of integrity between the coach and the client, because the client then can say, ‘Yes, I'm ticking these boxes’ as they are taught and align this with the agreed aims and objectives of the session or the sessions, and program. Setting up my framework in this sort of way is challenging. The client is then aware of what will be coming up, but we are working to help them to move forward in a goal-oriented way, however that might be. It also aligns with my integrity including my background, my knowledge, my qualifications, my understanding of what I am doing, and that then facilitates the integrity of the session with the client, where the client feels confident that the session will help and work for them every session.
With an overt framework that is going to run over, say, eight sessions, and because if I see a client eight times, I want to be as authentic with them, and have as much integrity in session one, as I do in session eight and all the other sessions. It’s as clear to them that this is how each session would flow, and that’s where they can be comfortable with the continuity of how their coaching will be carried out. Importantly, this will depend on how you are doing the coaching, in what context, and what's been agreed to retain that continuity.
Coaching is situational and requires flexibility
A lot of coaching is also situational. And of course, the contract can change. So it could be that you start off, but then something changes and you might think, well, actually, this is a better way to go. And then the client comes up with something, and that is different again, so that could introduce yet another change. If this is the case, and it fits with your fundamental integrity in the way you are practicing, the way you are delivering, the way you are communicating with the client, then this is clear with your clients as it has been explained fully at the start of the coaching engagement.
At the same time, if your coaching contract is with an organization that sponsors your delivery to their employees then I think, if you have the values of its commercial organization you are coming in to and you are doing this work for them, then you need to understand fundamentally their values. You wouldn't necessarily have to agree with everything, but you need to be on message with their values and understand where they are coming from, and know what the parameters within that are in order to get a sense of integrity, from your perspective, as an independent coach, but working from their situation.
Therefore, it's important to consider the situation that you are in. What works in one situation with one organization, or one private client, isn't necessarily transferable to the next one as one really good piece of work that worked really well on one occasion might not work the next time. That is where integrity comes in and it is important to understand the subtle differences, all the time. This is because you are having to change some of what you're doing and take a different way to approach coaching. Coaching requires us to be flexible and do the homework on an organization’s standard values, as well as independently having that conversation even with the client, or with or with the organization, as part of your preparation for the coaching assignment to maintain your coaching integrity.
Let me share an example. I work with a lot of younger people in various places and backgrounds within their schools. Geographical location and the type of school can influence the types of careers students might consider and can be affected by the kind ethos of the school. This is really important to consider whilst coaching the students. As a coach, I am curious about the various backgrounds that can shape the coaching conversation as this is important to how I practice. I also need to be able to be authentic and to integrate the conversation within that situation. I consider the students’ history, although I cannot know all of it, but just having those important threads in place when we start talking to people is valuable. It doesn't have to be everything. But it is useful to have this information beforehand inn order to provide a context. It's very important to have that bigger picture, in order to drill down to the detail during coaching.
I have also been adapting my framework to fit the assignments and each situation. I have recently come across a situation where I had some information fed back to me as part of a group from an organization that had changed their policy, framework and process of the career coaching without consulting the career coaches who have been delivering their program for a number of years. There was a degree of autonomy in the way coaching was delivered, which allowed coaches to work either loosely or explicitly within the agreed framework and provide results. Having that autonomy and thinking outside of any sort of box at all often positively increases the student’s experience and can be less constraining and constrictive even for the coach. With the new generalized one-size fits all framework that was being implemented this had the danger of missing the subtleties of the need to tailor the approach for each student. This new way may not necessarily always be particularly authentic with my own way of delivering coaching.
Changes happen, and that’s part and parcel of the work of a coach. The culture and the situation in the environment are important to consider as is how much we tailor what we are saying to the organization as a coach and how much we need to adapt to be flexible within an organization. And then what they want and require from us, and our own integrity and authenticity, which goes along with that can be quite different to what's being asked at times. So, then the question is how I feel about my integrity, autonomy and authenticity as a shared understanding continues to align, or not, within that culture and my framework.
Connecting my framework: Authenticity, Integrity, Flexibility through shared understanding with my clients
In my framework, shared understanding is the tipping point between integrity, flexibility and authenticity that’s arranged like a triangle from which I can best optimally work.
Everyone has their own framework, and it is actually very subjective because everyone has had their own experience, where they come from with their backgrounds, and what they're prepared to achieve. The organization itself has its own framework and its own tipping point. And as a coach coming in to deliver the work, resonance needs to be found with that shared understanding.
Depending on the situation for every coach, some may be fine with the required framework, others may just go along with this, whilst others still will say no because they have been asked me to do something that they are not particularly comfortable with and which does not fit with their framework and approach. Having that clarity and authenticity of how you operate as a coach can reduce your flexibility in the type of assignments you’re willing to accept, and I think where the tail starts to wag the dog is when the problem comes i.e. whoever's paying for the service starts to change the service.
Finding that shared understanding between all the different parties who are engaged in the entire process needs to be in balance, otherwise the results desired from coaching will not work successfully. People will feel compromised, and, they may become disenfranchised, even when the idea started out with good intent. This is why the coaches’ integrity, from start to finish, is so important.