Working as an independent coach with loyalty, objectivity and authenticity, by Sally East

beautiful middle age woman working at laptop on the terrace

I’ve been thinking about loyalty, in my life as well as in coaching. To start with I explored coaching through authenticity, and the idea of how centred we are within our roles in my first piece with the good coach, and I’m now expanding that to encompass what it means with regard to how loyal we are to our employers. This came about after I started thinking, over the summer, of how I’m working for one particular employer quite a lot, although I'm self-employed.

I'm very loyal to them because they're very loyal to me. I got into this mindset of, "I'm really loyal to these people, and I really need to keep working for them all the time," but because I am self-employed I need to look outside the box AND see what I'm doing, where I'm going, and be loyal to myself. Since then I've been working on that being a part of what I do, having that clarity to differentiate better what that means for me.  I'm loyal to them in executing the contracts and doing what I am assigned to do well. That's fine, AND I'm also working on other important things, which I'm doing in the background/ alongside; for example, working on my own website, working on my continuous development, as well as other projects, so I'm also being loyal to myself. The idea is, you can be loyal to more than one person or situation. I think sometimes, we get ourselves hooked, particularly with reliable clients, on demonstrating loyalty to them and feeling- I don't know what the word is, really- a sort of trust between you and them, which is real and subsuming but then not having space for other things. It’s about managing with care and clarity how our values, in my case authenticity, manifests itself as a healthy external quality/attitude of being loyal to employers, clients and myself. 

Understanding (objective) loyalty: checking for product authenticity

There's this connection between {i} my own individual loyalty and authenticity, {ii} loyalty to an organisation, whether it's as an employee or contractor, to broaden it out, and {iii} the loyalty it builds into its people.

  • You've got the evidence that they're doing really well, but actually, how loyal do you really personally feel to them?

  • How much do you buy the product?

For me, it starts with buying the product. I have to buy the product. I have to believe in the product to be authentic with it. And then, I’m loyal to the company, and the clients as well. I have to understand where the client’s coming from. I have to know what’s happening for them. I have to get the idea. Within that, of course, comes objectivity.

Objectivity is acknowledging one is being loyal and authentically saying, "Yes". Within that, one also has to have an objectivity - as well - of oneself. It's easy to get stuck in the mire, isn't it? You have this loyalty, this trust and feeling of, "I need to do this. This needs to be the best I can do." Yet, you also need to have that overarching objectivity saying, especially when you're working with clients as an associate or with employers as an employee, you need to then say, "How far is my loyalty going?" I believe, it comes down to boundaries.

  • How far will I go with his employer or client?

  • Where are my boundaries here?

  • Is this person or people or organization, are they overstepping those?

There needs to be a safety net, like a radar, for checking out the loyalty. Not necessarily all the time, but at least some of the time.

A self case study

In the last 18 years, I've had the "luxury" of being able to work as an employee but was given the freedom to choose how I worked. It was like working as a self-employed person but got pay as you earn tax. In the UK employer’s sort out the tax. With the work that I am now doing, which has crossed over in the last 12 years or so, I'm now self-employed and working as a permanent associate for a company. I've had the benefit of working in two different ways, almost being in the same position, except for how the tax is handled. Working in both places it almost feels the same; feeling very, very loyal to them, but with both of them having challenges about where my boundaries lay, how loyal I could carry on being because there's other things out there.

In the first case, I was with for first employer for 15 years and I became less happy with them as I became more and more disenfranchised with the actual product. At that point, I had a good talk with myself and said, "No, come on. That's it. Off we go", and after quite a long time I bowed out gracefully and gradually. It wasn't overnight. I took the time to redefine loyalty and reestablish the kind of relationship I wanted to have with the employer: that sense of a continuum in a way. It's almost like, "I am loyal to them," but as a self-employed person, having control over my own time. This meant being able to change my own work pattern, place, and actually saying, "No, this is as far as I'm going to go with this. This is the strength of loyalty that I'm going to have with them.

Realising the (psychological) contracts, managing the boundaries

As individuals we accept certain things, and because I am high on conscientiousness, which I also think comes into it, I accept conscientiousness as a premise. "Well, that's good", you might think, but it's also got pluses and minuses. Minuses, I might be over conscientious. Then, I have to say, "Well, I might be over conscientious but I'm aware of that. How do I pull back from that?" This is where the contracting, I think, comes in. The concept of the psychological contract, I think is really important here because we're forming, all the time these psychological contracts with our clients, both formally and informally.

Forming a healthy working relationship with people we work with is where I think it is really important to know what’s being implicitly agreed to in that contract. It’s really trying to define for oneself what’s being expected to be delivered as a coach and other occupations we might occupy, AND actually defining what those boundaries, those limits, those contracts means for ourselves that then eventually leads to sustained loyalty. For me, I think the first is not being, to an extent, taken advantage of. I work hard. I like what I do. I enjoy what I do most of the time. The second would be appreciating the pay in the sector that I'm in. I'm in education. It's not great, and so I won't work for less than a certain amount. Next is the extrinsic and intrinsic motivation: being given acknowledgement for what one does, not a pat on the back all the time but just the employer or the client appreciating what I do, how it's working etc. Even if they don't necessarily always appreciate what you say, but they appreciate that you're there for them. This is really important for me, and that goes into my definition of loyalty or not. If I start to feel that contract starting to be broken off or fragmented, then that's where I start getting a bit twitchy.

Acknowledging how loyalty fits into and guides my practice as an independent coach

Reflecting on what is most important to me, it is interesting how I focused and chose loyalty as a natural extension of how I check out my authenticity and know whether I’m living my purposeful life. For me,

  • Loyalty is about managing boundaries. With friends, I’m loyal to them for a very long time. Sometimes, something might suddenly happen and it's like, "Oh, that really shakes the loyalty." In that same way you have to set the boundaries with your clients/employers and revisit them and see, "Where are we? Where is the relationship?” Whatever relationship it is, I think, it's about healthily testing loyalty and checking in with each other, "Where am I, where are you?" Even when everything's all right, everything's comfortable and not waiting until there's a point where you suddenly think, "Hang on a minute."

  • Loyalty is also about delivering, "This is the thing I'm here to deliver. This is what I need to be doing. I need to be doing my best for this person." It's about doing the best for the situation we signed up to do. It's remembering what you're there for and that’s why clarity on the contract is important.

  • Finally, it is being mindful of loyalty in everything, and objectively seeing it sometimes as part of the bigger picture, especially when I am working for other people. It is seeing what is happening as you go along with it whilst remaining authentic, and then reflecting on it all and saying, "For me, myself, where do my loyalties lie for my direct clients and as part of my bigger picture?"


Connect with Sally East via LinkedIn

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I am currently working as a freelance career coach predominantly for an organisation that provides assessments and coaching for young people in schools to help them to make decisions relating to A levels, Further and Higher Education, and careers.

I also work with adults looking for career transitions. The test that I use looks at aptitudes, interests and personality, and helps individuals to gain an insight into these relating to the work environment.

My background of teaching in pre and post compulsory education within a largely widening participation environment enables me to help individuals explore their skills, interests and their own personality, and to maximise this within their career choice.