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October 17, 2021

An Open Letter to Coaches Regarding Ethics in Coaching

Dear Coaches,

I love what we do but I’ve gotta say… we can do better!

I believe in the power of coaching. It’s transformed me and my life for the better in so many ways. In our fast-growing, unregulated industry, we have an opportunity to share the potency of coaching and build a powerful industry.

I’m excited to be part of this.

I used to think that coaches were charlatans. I used to balk at the personal development industry, be better, mind-shifting blah blah. I thought they were just ripping people off. And then I delved a little deeper. I was disproven. I realised that coaching is transformational. Coaching has helped me release so much suffering. Coaching has helped me create more safety, empowerment and confidence than I thought possible. Coaching has changed my life for the better in infinite ways.

I have seen and worked with coaches who over-deliver with love and generosity. I have spent lots of money in this industry and often with joy and an amazing return on investment.

Unfortunately, I’ve also had negative experiences.

I am saddened by some of the things I have witnessed and experienced in our coaching industry lately. It’s not everywhere. There are still lots of great coaches who offer incredible services. However, there is a growing number of coaches whose desire to make money is overtaking their desire to help people, and it’s not pretty.

I’m not obliged to speak out. In fact, part of me doesn’t want to. I’m afraid I’ll be criticised and ridiculed by my peers, especially coaches who are high profile and influential who are profiting from these practices. I think this is a reason why so many coaches don’t speak out. We don’t want to rock the boat or put ourselves in the firing line.

And yet many of us are feeling manipulated, abandoned and betrayed by our coaches, teachers and mentors, in an industry that supposedly is fuelled by love.

I want to encourage more of us to speak up, so we can lift the coaching industry. This letter is an attempt at this.

I am not claiming to be morally perfect and I freely admit that I was also attracted to the earning potential of the coaching industry. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to make money, but not to the detriment of my clients. Over the last few years, I have seen a growth of undesirable practices that I want to call out. We can do better in our industry. We can hold ourselves and our industry to a higher standard.

The indiscretions are nuanced and so are the ways that they are justified. Here are just a few of the unethical practices that I have experienced and witnessed in the industry: manipulative marketing (pyramid-style marketing); marketing that lacks transparency; programs that change midway through; programs that reduce in what is promised; programs that underdeliver for the exorbitant price charged; programs that require more investment than initially asked; business models that treat people as though they are disposable.

The indoctrination of certain thinking exacerbates this, including but not limited to: making profit a priority (over the current client’s experience); a policy of “don’t ask questions”; coaches making themselves unavailable or unwilling to listen to feedback; a flavour of “it should be easy to spend large amounts of money” (and I have been guilty of doing this because I bought into this thinking and I am sorry!); putting 100% responsibility on a client for creating their own results and experience; responding to feedback with “manage your mind” or “you did the program wrong”. Gaslighting.

These are just a few examples of the questionable practices I have witnessed, and usually, it isn’t just one of these things that come into play, it’s many of them. The excuses and justifications are so glorious.

It’s what we do, not what we say, that truly matters. These actions are impacting clients who put their money and trust in coaches.

These coaches are teaching that this is the way to make money, they are imploring us to join them as their clients and encouraging us to imitate what they do in business. I want to say, it’s not the only way.

Let’s hold ourselves and our coaches accountable to a higher standard. Let’s be honest and transparent about what we are offering. Let’s prioritise our current client’s experience. Let’s talk honestly about pricing and value. Let’s make sure we are accessible to our clients, that we are asking for feedback, listening to feedback and responding accordingly. Let’s acknowledge when we can do better. Let’s not use coercion, manipulation and dishonesty in the process of our business.

I am not above reproach and criticism. I’m just committed to doing better. I am committed to helping other coaches do the same.

Nicky Hammond
The Coach’s Coach