Question: What kinds of ethical questions come up for the coach in situations where the client is thinking about leaving the company? How do you best handle the client's emotions in such stressful times? How far is it possible to delve into areas of privileged information?
Lisa runs a small treasury team. To be strictly accurate, that had been the case until she was introduced to the new Head of Finance at 11 o'clock this morning. In that meeting, Lisa finds she's fallen victim to the post-merger variation of that popular children's game known as musical chairs.
"No fish can have two heads," Fat Sid tells her, indicating that the music just stopped. "Before it was like this: You had your treasurer; we had our treasurer. Two companies, two treasurers." Lisa notices that Sid has taken the trouble to structure his explanation in a way that Accounts people can readily understand. Pushing his palms together into a vice-like gesture he continues, "Now we've been merged into a single organization there can only be one treasurer for us all. I'm sure you see the sense in dat?"
Lisa nods silently in the face of Sid's faultless logic, a lump swelling up in her throat. "Lisa, the most important thing you gotta realize," Sid announces with a fatherly smile, "is that the new treasurer ain't you."
The meeting takes all of five minutes. Lisa rushes off to frantically find Fink.
"I can only apologize for the immense ethical dilemma I've put you in," she sobs, a tear trickling down her cheek. "You're being paid by the very company I'm seriously thinking of leaving. I'll understand if you say you can't talk to me."
Fink takes a bite out of his butter almond croissant then sends it on its way with a large gulp of warm latté. "How buoyant is the market right now for your kind of job?" he asks with an abstract expression suggesting his mind is meandering along the sunny boulevards of some better world.
"I'm not sure," answers Lisa with a hint of surprise in her voice and a pinch of indignation.
"Maybe you should find out?" suggests Fink obliquely.
"Maybe I should," she says slowly through clenched teeth.
"There really is no dilemma," adds Fink brightly. "If you want to go and they want you out, then you both share a common interest. Then the best help I can give," he determines with a conspiratorial air, "is to speed things up a bit. It'll be a lot less painful if we make it happen fast."
Lisa is starting to question the wisdom of calling in her coach. The frustration she now feels reminds her of the sense of worthlessness she'd experienced in her uncomfortable conversation with Sid.
"Of course," he continues, "if you'd wanted to stay and they'd wanted to keep you, you'd also share a common interest. There'd be no dilemma for me in that case, either." Lisa's concern grows. Fink seems to be distracted with his own ethical riddles and hardly interested in her problems at all. Is this how a coach is meant to behave in troublesome times like these?
"It could only start to become a problem if you both wanted different outcomes," adds Fink with a certain abstract animation. Now that he has emotionally prepared her and captured her complete attention, Fink introduces his critical question, catching her completely off guard.
"Do you?" he asks.
"Do I what?"
"Do you want a different outcome from the company?"
Lisa ponders. "I don't know," she says at last, exasperated.
"Why not?" asks Fink.
"Well, I don't know what they want, and to be truthful, I don't know what I want either."
"Good," says Fink. "Now we're getting somewhere."
"Look," says Lisa. "I just lost the job I loved. I've lost my team. Sid's talking about redeploying me elsewhere in the new organization."
"From what you say, it sounds as if the company wants you to stay," observes Fink. "Does Sid want you on his team?" he enquires mildly.
"You'd know the answer to that better than I would," says Lisa. "I know Sid confides in you, but I understand you can't tell me what he says."
"I can't?" asks Fink.
"No, of course you can't," says Lisa.
"And why is that?" asks Fink.
"Because of confidentiality, that's why!"
"Ah yes," agrees Fink. "You are, of course, correct to say that I can't tell you what he tells me in confidence."
For the third time today, Lisa feels she's getting nowhere fast. But Fink continues, "You could ask me what I think," he suggests.
"I could ask you what you think about what?" she asks.
"You could ask me whether I think Sid wants you in his team."
"Let's see if I've got this correct," asks Lisa in amazement, "You can't tell me what Sid's told you because of client confidentiality?"
"Right. But you can ask me what I think Sid would tell me if I were to ask him," responds Fink. "That would be totally ethical as it would simply be my personal opinion. Naturally it would be based on everything I know. And I might be wrong. You're not forced to ask me. But I'd be happy to answer you."
"And what would you say?"
"You mean if you were to ask me if I think Sid wants to have you in his team?" he teases.
"Yes," screams Lisa, distinctly pronouncing each word. "What would you say?"
"I'd say he'd welcome you with open arms. Sid might lack a few social graces, but he certainly knows a solid finance person when he meets one. And good people are hard to come by. This company's going through tremendous change right now, and many of the post-acquisition decisions have been based on political turf wars instead of cold business logic. Search beyond the obvious and look towards the future. This place will look very different in six months and there'll be lots of opportunities turning up all the time for good people.
"Of course, if you'd rather take your chances elsewhere..." he muses.
"No," says Lisa with a wry smile, "maybe not just yet. Why go out fishing when the music's only just starting up again in here?"
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© Laurence S. Lyons. Laurence S. Lyons identifies himself as the author of this work. Illustrations © Janet Schatzman 2007-2008. Each "Ask the Expert/Dr. Fink" article is released under license to WABC under 'temporary copyright' limited to a one-time eZine publication. The "Dr. Fink" character and "Dr. Fink's Casebook" story title are proprietary to Dr. Laurence S. Lyons.