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Coaching for Empowerment

The 90’s was characterised by a frenzy of skills development initiatives including technical skills training, mentoring, high potential management development programmes, accelerated leadership programmes, management shadowing and the placement of ‘token Blacks’ in high visibility jobs. Given the need for changing management demographics from White to Black and the need for skills transfer, a new cadre of retired, retiring and forced to retire White male senior managers transformed to become management consultants. In reality, we have only changed the organisations racial face but still remain dependent on the expertise of a small group of people who bring not only their skills but also their values and beliefs which have an impact on organisational culture.

In the last 10 years coaching has taken off in South Africa and interestingly the same dynamics describing the 90s is playing out again. The majority of coaches in South Africa are still White– many transforming from management consultants to executive coaches actively engaged in government and corporate institutions. From a systems perspective it seems all we are doing is recycling necessary White male skills, knowledge and experience back into the workplace without seriously exploring indigenous sources. It could be argued that most business in South Africa is based on western technology and business management models which in a large part have been successful until the rude awakening in the failings of western capitalism.

Value Neutral Coaching

What values do we bring into the workplace as coaches? Coaching in the South African context should not just be a vehicle for enabling ‘skills transfer’ as interventions that perpetuate old patterns but should serve as an instrument of social change. I don’t think we can coach in a value-neutral way in South Africa given that the dynamics of race and gender play out in many coaching conversations. We can ignore these dynamics as irrelevant or acknowledge this as part of our history and evolution and find ways to meaningfully integrate a practice that is fully authentic to the South African experience.

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