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The Challenges Facing Contemporary Professional Coaches and Their Clients

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Ralph Stacey (1996) noted in his provocative and deeply thoughtful analysis of organizational complexity and chaos that it is at this edge when organizations are most likely to be creative. However, the potential for learning and creativity require that we understand how these processes taken place in a white water environment.  We need to know more about the nature of knowledge acquired in the midst of turbulence (as well as complexity and uncertainty) if we are to be successful in learning and creating in 21st Century organizations. One of the major challenges facing the field of professional coaching concerns this dynamic acquisition of knowledge within a turbulent white water world.

Irony and Learning

Robert and Susan are confronting challenges that lead us into worlds not only of complexity, uncertainty and turbulence but also of irony—to use the term employed by the philosopher, Richard Rorty (1989). These are worlds in which we often find ourselves holding two or more beliefs and values that are contradictory at a fundamental level. There seem to be four challenges inherent in this notion of an ironic world that hold major implications for anyone engaged in professional coaching.

First, we have to live among co-existing value perspectives. These differing perspectives are often equally compelling—while being contradictory. We long for freedom, yet appreciate protection. We believe in social justice and a global community, yet also want our borders to be secure and our own citizens to obtain jobs (rather than seeing these jobs outsourced to other countries). How do we embrace and live with these contradictions? There is a second challenge. We must be able to recognize these contradictory perspectives, even though they are often embedded in a social unconsciousness (Foley and Bergquist, 2009). Third, we must be able to abandon both (or all of) these perspective—this involves grieving and a high tolerance for ambiguity. Fourth, we must be able to “evolve” new perspectives that either embrace multiple perspectives or move beyond these contradictory perspectives.

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