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Part I – 4 Principles for Managing Confidentiality

What do you do when, in the middle of a 6-month coaching engagement, the boss of your coachee calls you and wants to talk privately about concerns he has with your coachee?

Your coachee, Sally tells you during your coaching engagement, which is being paid by the organization, that she’s applying for a job at a competitor company. You run into the VP of Talent Management for whom you have a long-standing trusting relationship, who asks, ‘How’s it going with Sally?”

Peter, a new recruit to lead a major and highly visible division, was referred to you for onboarding coaching to help make sure his transition is successful? After only two sessions it becomes apparent to you that Peter is under-qualified for the role. What do you do?

These scenarios are all too common for any executive coach who’s been around awhile. And, the answers are not as clear cut as you might think. The answer to all of these questions is, “It depends.” It depends on many variables, but the most important is trust – the trust you have, or could lose, with your coachee, with HR, and with the coachee’s manager. Below are 4 principals and 4 lessons I use to guide my decisions in such tricky situations in order to do the right thing. It isn’t always easy, but to be a highly effective coach for the organization, and not just for a single client, you need to be willing and able to walk the line of confidentiality between your coachee and the organization.

4 Guiding Principles:

1. Be as transparent as possible, encouraging all parties to speak with each other, with or without you.

2. Avoid allowing stakeholders to put you in the middle, where you end up knowing something about your coachee that your coachee doesn’t yet know.

3. Find ways to make sure you are doing what’s right for the organization and what’s right for the coachee. Even when it may not be initially obvious, you can typically find a way to honor the needs of both the organization and the coachee. If not, always do what’s right for the organization. Incidentally, this is the same principal that should guide all the organization’s leaders, managers and employees – doing what’s right for the organization even if it’s not ideal for oneself.

4. Don’t ever say anything to or about your coachee or anyone else in the organization that you wouldn’t want anyone besides the person to whom you’re speaking to hear.

Read “Who’s the Client – Your Coachee or the Organization? – 4 Lessons” to find the answer.

-Dr. Jeff Kaplan

Dr. Jeff Kaplan is a business psychologist and executive coach who coaches executives and high potentials to lead with heart. Jeff helps leaders to work more collaboratively with others, recognizing that people are an organization’s greatest asset.