There won’t be any guesses around where I stand on this topic. Long-term relationships with coaches are not healthy – they limit a person’s true development, motivate the client towards an external locus of control and shift accountability. Additionally, such relationships raise a number of ethical questions that, as professional coaches, we must be aware. 

This article provides 3 key issues and tips that we can do to make sure that our practice is an ethical one in service of the long-term success of our clients.

Challenge 1: Long Term Coaching Relationships Question Ethical Practice

The idea that we can create a relationship with a paying client where they become dependent on us does not sit well with me. For example, if in coaching relationships we take on accountability for the client, doing check-ins or ask clients to email us when they have worked on something then we might be creating co-dependency. This raises a key ethical consideration as to whether we are in relationships that support more our monetary gain than the coachee.

Tip 1: Create Coaches in your Clients

Instead of focusing on monitoring your client’s progress, work on developing individuals who are more accountable to develop themselves – create new coaches! Having an aim of sustainability from the start of the coaching sessions means that the client can’t help but reflect further on what is happening in the coaching sessions and how they can manage their own development. Asking questions (particularly towards the end of the session) such as ‘What are you learning about how you like to work?’ ‘How can you keep on doing what we have done in the coaching session, outside of here as well?’ ‘Who else can support you in developing yourself?’ are key. 

Challenge 2: Long Term Coaching Relationships Limit Intrinsic Motivation

 This builds on the point previously made about accountability. If we foster relationships where we take on responsibility for the coach’s actions (which is common in long-term coaching) then the coachee might start doing things for us, rather than for themselves. This leads to challenges, particularly with individuals who have a stronger external locus of motivation (i.e. they can start believing that their success and reward comes from influences outside of their control, including the coach.) It also blurs the line between whether the client requires your coaching service or actually, just you. If what the client wants is specifically you, then are you harming the coachee by being in this continued service with them, particularly at the point of termination? How will the coachee be able to undertake challenges and keep on developing themselves when you’re out of the picture?

Tip 2: Develop a Partnership

If you are working with your clients in a partnership then you do not need check-ins and by doing so accountability quickly shifts to the coachee. You’re now working at the same level; on the same page. This in turn supports the client develop their intrinsic motivation for doing something. People who focus on their intrinsic motivation want to do something for themselves rather than for others; and they’re typically more successful. Think of the smoking example. The chances for a smoker who is intrinsically motivated (e.g. stopping for their own health reasons) are much higher than those whose motivation is extrinsic (e.g. to save money). When clients do things because they want to do them, in service of development points that they have decided upon and are monitoring, will not only prove more successful but will also lead to the person be less stressed and have improved wellbeing.

Challenge 3: Is a Long Term Coaching Relationship perhaps Mentoring or Therapy?

Long term coaching blurs the lines further between mentoring, therapy and coaching. This is not to say that coaching is always short term and therapy or mentoring long term. However, when working with individuals in a coaching context we are typically working with their behaviours, focusing on their future and supporting them in creating change. Skilled master coaches are able to work in a concise number of sessions to achieve this. 

Tip 3: Be Clear On What is Coaching and What Is Not 

If what you are doing is giving the client advice and support on tasks that they are doing then that is not coaching work. This happens a lot as coaching in the UK is an unregulated business. There of course is nothing wrong with great mentoring however it’s important for the practitioner to be aware what remit they are working in and to ensure that they have the scope and expertise within that particular field.

Do you have any discussion points around issues and tips in long-term coaching relationships? What’s your experience and how do you drive ethical practice in your coach-coachee alliance?