Who Chooses Your Leadership Coach?

humanresourcesIf you are the prospective client, you are the one who chooses the leadership coach.  Period.

The HR department or your boss may want to review and approve the choice, which is appropriate since company resources are involved.  At the same time, however, it’s critical for the prospective client to be the one who chooses the leadership coach because the process of choosing empowers the client and builds her or his commitment to making needed or desired changes in behavior.

To get a better sense of the nuances of this decision, consider the other end of the spectrum, the ill-advised practice of the HR department and/or a boss choosing a coach for an employee with no participation by the prospective client (in my experience, this does happen).  In such a  situation, it may be difficult for the newly hired coach to avoid the impression that he or she is operating as an extension of the boss or HR.  And given the lack of the client’s choice in the matter, it’s also hard to imagine that the client will be optimally motivated to make needed changes.

An important ethical issue that can surface in these situations is “who is really the client…the employee or HR and/or the boss”?  This issue often arises in companies where the HR department maintains a “stable” of leadership coaches to work with employees in leadership roles.  Over time, these coaches can develop inappropriately close ties to HR personnel and bosses that can compromise their coaching relationships with their clients.  Even when prospective clients choose a coach from a pre-approved or recommended list, there can be tendency over time for these coaches to act as if HR is the client, rather than the employee, since pleasing HR personnel can assure the coach a regular stream of income.   In the most ethically-compromised situations, coaches may even breach client confidentiality by inappropriately sharing information from coaching sessions with HR personnel or the client’s boss.

Effective HR departments I’ve worked with will often assist a prospective client in identifying, evaluating and hiring leadership coaches, but are careful to respect the integrity of the coach, the coaching relationship and the confidentiality of what transpires there.  With these HR departments, the assistance is facilitative and supportive of the employee getting the most out of a coaching relationship.  Depending on company norms, HR may also play a role is setting up a 360 assessment for the employee in order to identify opportunities for improvement to be explored in coaching.  HR may also provide a lists of coaches they have worked with previously or direct the prospective client to online listings of coaches.  In addition, HR may provide other helpful materials that spell out what the prospective client should look for in a leadership coach and emphasize how best to utilize a coach.  In some cases, HR may even recommend a process for the client to interview, evaluate and then select a leadership coach.

A footnote.  It is entirely appropriate for a boss or HR to want to know whether the client is making progress toward goals established at the beginning of coaching.  These discussions are not casual conversations, but rather scheduled as face-to-face meetings with the coach, client and boss, usually on a three, six or twelve month basis.  In some organizations, the head of HR may also sit in.  In these meetings, progress is usually discussed in general terms, with all parties sharing their perceptions of progress and making suggestions about ways to further support desired changes on the part the client.  When one or more goals are met, these discussions also may focus on prioritizing remaining goals or adding new ones.