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Published in Jan 2015 edition of HR Future Published in LPC with gracious permission of HR Future.

Understanding the impact of racial dynamics is essential for effective coaching especially in the South African context where coaching is fast becoming a preferred approach to individual empowerment and organisational transformation. Being mindful of our history and current socio- political context we approach coaching not as a value neutral intervention but one that is sensitive to and able to hold our rich and complex contextual dynamic.

Context matters

Coaching is a helping relationship where the coach facilitates a process of self-awareness and willingness for behavioural change. It assumes the coachee is capable of and has the potential to grow and do what is required for effectiveness. At its heart coaching is a relationship of equality, mutual trust and respect.

From a Gestalt perspective, deep change is located in relationships with self and in relation to others. We are always figuring out who we are in relation to others as we move towards self- acceptance and congruence and with significant others in our world. When the coachee leaves the coaching room, they enter into the real world full of assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices. The coaching context serves as a powerful space for experimenting with relational healing and growth where the coach can model acceptance and positive regard especially across racial lines.

In the South African context we have lived through a history of systematic discrimination and active efforts to undermine and destroy the will of Blacks. The scourge of apartheid eroded not just people’s livelihoods but also their psychological state as Steve Biko reminded us ‘the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed’. Coaching is in the business of mind-set change and the historical shaping of South African minds needs to be acknowledged and recognised.

In our new democracy, institutional efforts have been installed to redress some of these injustices. The ‘Affirmative Action Act’ and the ‘Skills Development Act’ have been transformative policies in changing the profile of the workplace in South Africa. Business participation and ownership has also been enabled by the ‘Black Economic Empowerment Act’. Despite these strong policy measures, twenty years into democracy we are still playing catch up in the workplace, given the massive educational and rights divide of the past. Both Government and Corporate SA are faced with the skills gap between Black and White and are working hard at addressing this through diverse interventions of varying success. It’s in this context that coaching is emerging as a potentially powerful process that can enable not only sustainable skills transfer but also effective management and leadership in key national institutions and corporates. What is the role of race dynamics in learning and development in the SA context?

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