Business and Life Coaching

Ethical principles in coaching

When working with people, their lives, values, dreams, future etc there is always the possibility of misunderstanding, misconduct, abuse and mistreatment. Not only can it bring harm to the client, but also to the coaching environment and industry. High ethical standards, values and code of conduct are therefore necessary.

The International Association of Coaches (IAC) formulated what they call ethical principles. (  These four principles can also be seen as values within the coaching situation serve as ethical guidelines. The first two principles (competence; integrity) focus on the coaches themselves and the other two (professional responsibility; respect for People’s Rights and Dignity)  focus more on the coaching situation.

Being in Pastoral ministry for 14 years and in mobilising ministry for nine years, make these four ethical principles very appealing to me. I want to elaborate on these principles.

Ethical principles for coaches


When competent, coaches can maintain high standards in their work. Competency means the coach is qualified within the field of coaching and also keeps up with new developments within the field of coaching.

One can only be competent if know your boundaries and coach within this boundaries. With this ethical principle I agree with the implied ethical conduct as been stated by IAC “Coaches provide services only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, or appropriate professional experience. Coaches should only accept work as they believe they are competent to perform.” (1.04 (b))

The ICF Standards of Ethical Conduct (Section 1 (2)) puts it like this “I will accurately identify my coaching qualifications, expertise, experience, certifications to the best of my ability.”

The onus is also on coaches to raise and broaden their competency levels through maintaining expertise. The IAC code of ethics states it like this

“1.05 Maintaining Expertise.

(a) Coaches maintain a reasonable level of awareness of current best business practices and professional information in their fields of activity, and undertake ongoing efforts to maintain competence in the skills they use.

(b) Coaches keep themselves informed of new technologies, practices, legal requirements and standards as are relevant to the coaching profession.”

As the course at VIP Leadership & Strategic Coaching Institute continued, and I gained in experience of different coaching situations I could experience growth in my competency levels and also in bringing a higher standard in the coaching situations.


Integrity has to do that coaches will operate well within themselves, their believe systems, values, needs and their competencies and limitations. This will help coaches to clarify their roles within coaching situations.

Coaches must also live with integrity with their personal issues. The ICF Standards of Ethical Conduct (Section 1 (4)) state it clearly “I will, at all times, strive to recognize personal issues that may impair, conflict, or interfere with my coaching performance or my professional coaching relationships. Whenever the facts and circumstances necessitate, I will promptly seek professional assistance and determine the action to be taken, including whether it is appropriate to suspend or terminate my coaching relationship(s).”

I have experienced this when I coached two members of the leadership team of the organisation I’m the Executive Director of. During this time I have delegate the managing duties to the Operational Manager when these two members were involved. This was to upkeep the principle of integrity by clearly clarifying my role.

Ethical principles for the coaching situation

Professional Responsibility:

The IAC describes the ethical principle of professional responsibility on how it will reflect on the individual coach as well as the profession at large.

Coaches have the responsibility to see that the coaching process progresses. The IAF states

“1.11 Making Progress.

Coaches take reasonable steps to ensure that the client progresses, and in cases where there is no progress coaches strive to minimize any harm to their client.”

Coaches also have the professional responsibility to guard against misuse of the coaching situation or information gained in that situation for personal or other gain. This goes hand in hand with the integrity of the coach. The IAF states

“1.12 Misuse of Coaches’ Influence.

Because coaches’ professional judgments and actions may affect the lives of others, they are alert to and guard against personal, financial, social, organizational, or political factors that might lead to misuse of their influence.”

I would like to take the professional responsibility a bit wider that it must also reflect on society. I would like to see that the professional responsibility will also expand to a responsibility to help building a healthier society. Coaching is not only about the individual as such, but also about the individual’s role in society.

Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity:

Respect for people’s rights and dignity means that coaches treat clients with dignity and respect being aware of cultural differences, and the client’s right to autonomy, privacy, and confidentiality.

In a coaching situation coaches are privileges to confidential information.  The importance of confidentiality is shown in the 19 clauses about confidentiality and privacy in the code of conduct of the IAF. The IAF states

“Section 4: Confidentiality/Privacy

As a coach:

22) I will maintain the strictest levels of confidentiality with all client and sponsor information. I will have a clear agreement or contract before releasing information to another person, unless required by law.”

Respect for people’s rights and dignity also come to the front in coaching situations where there are differences in gender between the coach and the client. The setting and place of the coaching session must be as such that it will protect and respect the rights and dignity of the different persons.  The ICF Standards of Ethical Conduct states

“17) I will be responsible for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern any physical contact I may have with my clients or sponsors.

18) I will not become sexually intimate with any of my current clients or sponsors.”

We live in a multi-cultural country with a very good constitution on human rights.  We are aware of cultural, individual, and role differences, including those due to age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socio-economic status. However this is not going to ensure that respect will be there.

Coaching can really help to cross the cultural divides when we become aware of differences and celebrate it through respect. I became aware of this in the cross-cultural coaching sessions with two persons from the so-called “coloured” community. Past experiences of the apartheid era are still present.

I will strive in the future to keep with this four basic ethical principles in order to serve the client and the coaching industry to the best.


  1. International Association of Coaches Ethics and Guidelines (
  2. The International Coach Federation Standards of Ethical Conduct (

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