Ethical Dilemmas for Leaders as Coach: Dual Relationships


Dual relationships are one element to think carefully about for the leader coach

dual relationshipsThe leader coach encounters as many, if different, ethical dilemmas as an external coach, dual relationships are one of them.

For example, you may be coaching two people on the same team, and they may tell you things about each other.  It can be hard to separate out who said what and therefore where the lines of confidentiality lie.  Confidentiality is, of course, paramount, so it’s important to figure out whether you can continue to coach them both and if you do, how you will keep data separate.

In another scenario, you may also find yourself matched with someone who you consider to be a friend.  How possible is it to stay in coach-mode rather than slipping into patterns of behaviour that you have developed in your friendship?  We may think we can do this, but it’s really quite difficult as they may try to hook us into that friendship behaviour.  Contracting for this new relationship will be key – if you decide to take the assignment.

Perhaps you’re coaching someone on your team to step up to a promotion.  You are noticing that you are delegating a lot of development opportunities to this person, and fewer opportunities to other members of your team.  As Line Manager (rather than as coach), you are asking yourself

“Is that fair”?

What about when it comes to performance management for members of your team?

Have you ever noticed how employees keep their vulnerabilities well guarded at performance management time, so they don’t appear to be weak or somehow under-performing?  That gets spread over the year too, where you provide coaching to your team members, because they aren’t quite sure whether they can trust you to keep their admissions to yourself when it comes to assessing their performance for ratings and monetary rewards.  Think about whether you are best placed to coach your team members, or whether you would be better off coaching people on other teams where they can be more confident in your neutrality and confidentiality.  By all means, use a coach-approach with your team members, asking them to think for themselves rather than giving them the answers; but beware of the implications of setting up a full-blown coaching “contract” with them.

There is no one right answer to any of these dilemmas, but it pays to think them through as you encounter them, deciding on a tailored way forward, depending on the situation and the quality of relationships.

What experience do you have of dual relationships in coaching?  How have you handled these?

Read more about ethical dilemmas around boundaries for leaders as coaches.