Beyond codes of ethics to ethical maturity

A recent article by Kara Swisher in the New York Times appeared under the headline Who Will Teach Silicon Valley to Be Ethical? Tech companies have been attracting a fair amount of criticism this year over their grasp of ethics. But they’re not alone in finding this area a minefield. The shareholder value view of firms, which has it that their sole purpose is to make a profit, still shapes leadership thinking in most organisations. This infects even those – like the BBC or NHS – that aren’t ostensibly profit focussed but where stripping out cost often crowds out other considerations. Where a reductionist view of purpose prevails, it’s not surprising that questions of ethics may receive scant consideration.

Kara Swisher considers various solutions including companies appointing chief ethics officers, putting in place official systems of ethics or (radical idea) chief executives stepping up to the plate to provide more leadership. She quotes an unnamed ethical consultant who complains that appointing custodians of ethics would be no more than window dressing because “we haven’t even defined ethics yet”.

Running through all of this is an assumption that ethics can be defined to delineate universal principles that clearly determine ethical or unethical behaviour in all eventualities. Coaching has been pursuing this track for some years. Every professional association of coaches has a code of ethics that its members commit to follow. And yet coaches, who are privy to ethical dilemmas more than most in business, must know that ethical choices are highly contingent on the contexts in which they arise. This is the essence of the well-known trolley problem: it’s obviously wrong to kill someone; but what if doing so saves the lives of five others?

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Looking for senior leaders or coaches who want a fresh approach to their development

Are you a coach or a leader who needs a reflective space to think creatively about how you work with others? If so, we may be able to help each other. I’ve just started a one-year diploma and I’m offering discounted access to leadership or coaching supervision to people willing to be practice clients.

This is an opportunity to experience a rich and creative space for developing yourself. Your part of the bargain is to show up in a spirit of experimentation and to be prepared to give me feedback on your experience. I’m looking to try out new approaches, in particular to facilitate ways of reflecting that get beyond the constraints of language and cognitive thinking. So there might be, for instance, drawing, imaginative work, mindfulness or reflecting while walking outside. There’ll also be observation in the moment on how our work unfolds and what this might say about your work with other people. You’ll need an appetite to learn in ways that are possibly unfamiliar. The point, as I see it, is to take you beyond the habitual routines of your working life so that you can access aspects of yourself that might sometimes be bracketed out of how you normally approach your work.

I’m taking my diploma with the Coaching Supervision Academy, the top international provider of supervision training. As part of my assessment, I need to work with a number of practice clients over the coming nine months. Although I’ll be trying some new methods and approaches, I’m an experienced professional. I’m an APECS-accredited executive coach who has been practising for 12 years and already provides supervision. For more on my background, please check out my coaching profile and testimonials.

Supervision can be thought of as supporting people who support other people. It grew up as a discipline to help professionals such as psychotherapists, teachers and social workers. Many coaches work with a supervisor to get quality assurance of their work. (I always recommend to prospective coachees that they only work with a coach who is supervised). Applied to leaders, supervision offers a thinking partner who can engage dispassionately with your challenges and help you find new perspectives. Good supervision should help you maintain your energy, or regain it when depleted, and make you feel someone has your back even as you are challenged to think afresh. It’s a connection of heart and intuition as much as of the mind; one that might leave you stirred, but not shaken.

If this sounds like it might interest you, let’s talk. I can offer five one-hour sessions between now and next summer. I’m looking for a mixture of senior executives, coaches and perhaps one small group. I’m open to working both by videoconference and – for those within reach of London – face to face.

If you’re paying your own way, the cost would be £50 (GBP) per hour. If your company is paying, the cost is £100 (GBP) per hour. In addition, VAT is chargeable for those in the EU. There may be some occasional ad hoc additional cost, such as venue hire when a private room is needed for face-to-face work. But, given the aforementioned spirit of experimentation, it may not always be necessary to use a private venue – for instance, if we choose to meet and walk. If you are familiar with costs in the executive coaching market, you will appreciate that this is very good deal.

To find out more, please email supervision@vogelwakefield.com or message me via LinkedIn.

Image courtesy Stewart Baird.