Knowing the Boundaries in Coaching and Mentoring

There are boundaries to the mentoring and coaching role.  These are largely shaped by legal and ethical issues.  I consider them to be important in my practice because having the awareness and skills of a good mentor or coach is not sufficient in itself to guarantee the professional relationship you embark on will be successful, effective or appropriate.

Boundaries are important to recognise and learn, because the role of a good and effective mentor/coach includes managing this in a conscious and appropriate way throughout each meeting and over the lifetime of the relationship.

The mentoring or coaching relationship is built on mutual trust and respect and these form the foundations of the boundaries that should be put in place.

At the start of a mentoring/coaching relationship you need to explore openly and up front what these boundaries are, who is responsible for what and how the  meetings will work. In addition, make sure the dos and don’ts around issues like contact outside meetings, stepping into non mentoring areas such as advice giving, and of course, being able to do something if things goes wrong, are all discussed.

Code of Ethics and Conduct

Both the EMCC and IOEE have excellent Codes of Ethics and Conduct for Mentors/Coaches and are well worth a look.  The EMCC covers it well by highlighting in particular how a mentor or coach must operate within the limits of their own competence and be aware of conflicts of interest that could be of a commercial or emotional nature.

The IOEE Mentor Code of Conduct scopes the role out really well and helps with understanding where boundaries lie.  It starts with this:

“A mentor does not give advice, rather helps the mentee to weigh up situations, through a process of reflection, questions, challenge and feedback allowing the mentee to come to a decision themselves.  The mentor will conduct themselves with dignity and will act in a way which respects diversity and promotes equal opportunities”.

How do I do this?

Drawing on my own experience, I have learned that these are things I have to work on and work at. They don’t just happen without conscious thought,  effort and communication with my mentees and coachees.  As a mentor and coach I am not there to do their job for them and such boundaries require my professional competence and awareness.

Before I meet with a mentee or coachee I work on boundary setting with them up front and discuss my role and theirs in the relationship, so expectations are set before the first meeting takes place.  After that I invite feedback at the end of every session once we have started with our meetings.  And finally, I continue to develop and build my model of good practice by using reflective practice and continuous professional development.

Building a trust based relationship holds the key for me as a practitioner in how setting and managing boundaries work.  This involves three things:

  • Competence
  • Integrity
  • Caring

They are all critical to developing and maintaining trust.  It is my responsibility as the coach/mentor to implement all of these dimensions and manage them during the process.

It is important for anyone who is a coach or mentor, whether new to it or a seasoned professional, to take time in thinking about and modelling these qualities.  I recommend good time and planning is given to setting boundaries as holding them in place makes for a fruitful and beneficial coaching/mentoring relationship.