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Coaching case study: Who do we tell? The conclusion


Richard Hawkes concludes his two-part coaching case study that has a tricky ethical dilemma at its core.

The story so far:
Simon a very respectable advertising executive was on a sailing weekend with some good friends and was goaded into stealing a GPS navigation system from the chandler. He is full of remorse and has admitted this to our coach, so there is a slight stalemate in that the coach is in a very difficult position, as is Simon. (For the full story so far click here).
The last interchange between the coach and Simon went like this:-
Coach: "What are you going to do about it?"
Simon: "Nothing and hope it goes away. Unless the people who were with me tell on me than it may all pass – oh I wish I had bought it away from the boat and thrown it away. I have a terrible feeling that it will be mounted on the boat and stare at me when I next go away on a sailing weekend; perhaps I'll see if I can pop down and remove it quietly; then it will be forgotten about."
So, broadly based on the comments we have received from you following the case study last month, we shall continue. Unfortunately there is no satisfactory end to this so for the sake of this intervention, we shall go for a compromise.
They continue...
Coach: "Well Simon, what impact will that have on you for the long term?"
Simon: "I know that you have not advised me but I know what you are thinking; I'm running away from it. I need to face up to what I have done, but if I do what I really should do and go to the police, that will destroy both my life and the lives of my family – wife, children, parents and indeed some friends. What a state I've got into.
Right Simon, talk to yourself, think about this objectively. I am where I am and there is no going back, so remorse will not achieve anything. If I go to the police, it will destroy many lives and cause much unhappiness. What do you think coach?"
Coach: "Tell me, Simon what do you think I should think?"
Our coach certainly did not fall into this trap and get into the advisory or mentoring role.
Simon: "Firstly that I (Simon) have let you down and put you in an impossible situation. Second that the solution lies with me (Simon) and that you (coach) are not here to advise consult or tell. Thirdly that you (coach) are going to let me (Simon) resolve this myself".
Our coach also did not fall into the trap if commenting on any of this and giving a view, so he continued...
Coach: "OK tell me now what I should do if our roles were reversed, but you are a good mate of mine."
A great move, role reversal. What a powerful coaching tool in the right circumstance and when and if there is a slight log jam.
Simon: "I would suggest that you make anonymous reparation to the chandler. If you cannot get the navigation system back then send the cash to the chandler for the full value of the piece of kit. I would tell you that it would be much better if you could got the GPS system back unopened and send that back anonymously. That means that you must go and talk to the owner of the boat and ask if you can go and collect it. He is a professional man who also got carried away over the weekend and should just agree to let you do that. You should then go and spend a day on your own doing some community service again and anonymously. Go and help others who need support. This is a way of penalising yourself for what you have done."
Coach: "Anything else?"
Simon: "Yes. I would suggest that you should make a pact with me that I never go on another sailing weekend as penance."
Coach: "So what are you going to do?"
The role reversal is over and it's done its work.
Simon: "I am going to do just that and get the system back and take all the other advice I have just given myself.
But...what about you coach? When we started this programme we agreed that if there were any health and safety issues that might affect somebody else came or anything else that might affect others detrimentally came up we would stop the session".
A great conclusion and Simon has come very neatly to his own actions and is now thinking about others rather than feeling sorry for himself.
Coach: "Simon, we have built up a trusting relationship over the time of our coaching programme. You have had enough pain internally over this. Any more will make no difference to the shame and anxiety you feel. Shall we move on?"
Our coach is sidestepping any discussion about the morals of this issue. He clearly has made his own decision as to how he wants to handle this.
Simon: "Thanks, I can never thank you enough for this. Now about timekeeping and the lack of focus that Christine is suffering from - and your lack of will to do something about it..."
The big moral of this story is to get you contract with your coachee absolutely firm and to cover all eventualities. Whilst to the book, the coach should be reporting Simon to the police and indeed may make himself an accessory by failing to do that, how many times in life are people behaving like a coach and looking at the human being sitting opposite us and making moral decisions on the best course of action? I am sure it is many times and in this case, this is the course our coach decided to take. On another occasion with similar circumstances our coach may have taken a different line. The coach certainly would have taken a different line if the crime had been almost any degree more serious. You may have taken a different line on this one. In the end, we have to actually make a judgement based on our own integrity.
This may not be the correct conclusion. It may not be your preferred conclusion, but it is the one our coach decided to take in this particular circumstance. We all hope that we will never get into this position in our coaching career.
The participants and circumstances of this case study are completely fictitious.

Richard Hawkes is a leading business coach with Unlimited Potential. If you share your own contracting arrangements or ideas with him, he will make a compilation of the key points and write an article of the best practices as presented to him. Send your contract or script to

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