Coaching Integrity in Business

ICF Code of Ethics
When to Terminate the Client Relationship, Part 3
A Series of Articles based on Ethics FAQs

By Vicki Escudé, M.A., M.C.C., B.C.C.
Executive Leadership Coaching, LLC

(Note:  Send your Ethics questions for clarification to , and please include the number of the ethics code relating to your question.)

As a follow-up to the previous ethics column concerning when to terminate a client in which the 20th Code was referenced, a UTD student requested some additional discussion. 

The 20th Code is the following: I will encourage the client or sponsor to make a change if I believe the client or sponsor would be better served by another coach or by another resource.
The scenario discussed was as follows:

  • What if my client wants specific information of a consultative nature, and I have some ideas and expertise that might be helpful?  May I share my ideas with my client?

As a follow-up to the previous ethics column concerning when to terminate a client in which the 20th Code was referenced, a UTD student requested some additional discussion.  With permission to include the letter, here are the questions from the student:

“My question concerns the first scenario and what we are being taught in our classes.  While I agree that we should / could encourage the client to consider where they may go for help or expertise my question is: What if the client knows about your particular expertise in this area?  What do you do if the client says something like ‘I know you have a background in this area.  It’s one of the reasons I came to you.  Please!  Just help me – tell me what I could do?’

“In our class, we are very clear about our role as coach. But we are also taught that if we DO choose to step out of the coaching role and into the consulting role we can do so IF we make clear to the client that we are doing just that.  We can say something like “OK, I am going to step away as your coach for a minute and put my consulting hat on.  Is that OK with you?”

“I would love to hear your thoughts on how to balance the grey with what we are being taught in class!”

Judith W Henry

My answer:

If a client has a request for information and you have the answer, then, instead of having them look for the answer elsewhere, the coach can simply provide it.  These types of questions and answers are generally factual in nature, and can be found in an outside resource. 

If the client, however, is looking for your OPINION or judgment as an expert, then giving it to him/her is the gray area.  Only you can answer your question, ultimately; however, here are some ideas that might inform your answer.

You might ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the answer my opinion or belief (consulting/judgment/observation-feedback), or is it a fact?  If it is a fact, then giving the answer is simply saving the client the time.
  • If my client hires me because I have expertise in an area, is consulting referenced in the coaching contract?  If so, when the “consulting” issue arises, there are guidelines in place.  If there is no consulting provision, then the contract could be amended to include certain consultation.
  • Do I, as coach, know of resources such as books, courses or other professionals that might spur the client’s thinking or give the client new information, without relying on the coach?
  • If a client only needs new information, consulting, training or teaching, then ethically the coach must consider terminating the coaching contract, as there would be another professional, consultant, or resource that would fit the client better than coaching.
  • Is there opportunity for discovery for the client, when giving answers would stop the process? Have I explored “limiting beliefs” with the client, to see what might be blocking new ways of thinking and behaving, rather than jumping to the conclusion that the client lacks information?  When the client seems stuck, and cannot move forward, there is generally a limiting belief or blind spot.
  • Does stepping into consulting result in more and more dependency on me by the client?  Are my sessions becoming more consultative than coaching?
  • Is consulting with the coaching client fulfilling some need the coach has to be the one with the answers?  Remember, most coaches have been successful in other professional areas, and have become “experts.”  It is difficult for the coach to “give up” being seen as expert, and instead be simply a partner in exploration.  However, to do so is a higher level of coaching, and is of greater long-range benefit to the client.

It is so much easier to “tell” the client something than go through the process of discovery through coaching conversations.  That is why throwing in consulting, and putting on the ‘hat”, so to speak, is a slippery slope.  Sometimes the “consulting hat” is a euphemism for the coach being frustrated, or wanting the easy way out without helping the client transform his/her thinking.  How wonderful and empowering it is when the client spontaneously “discovers” more effective behaviors because of new awareness and insight. 

Bio:  VICKI ESCUDE, M.A., MCC, Mentor Coach, is a pioneer in the coaching profession, promoting the professionalism of coaching to several areas of the country for over 15 years.  She was among the first coach educators for UTD, Success Unlimited Network®, LLC (SUN), and Strategic Executive Coaching Alliance (SECA).  Escudé served on the Board of Directors for the ICF, and was Board Liaison to the Ethics Committee.  She has subsequently been a member of the Ethics Committee for several years, and was on the subcommittee to develop the ICF Ethics’ FAQs.  Escudé has an active executive coaching and corporate coach training and mentoring practice, and is author of several coaching books:  Getting Everything You Want!  Coaching for Mastery; Create Your Day with Intention in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and the Fast-Track Leader series published by Get-to-the-Point Books.