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Coaching and Expertise in the Six Cultures

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How exactly does anxiety get addressed in organizations? Menzies Lyth (1988) suggested that it gets addressed through the “social defense system”—that is, the patterns of interpersonal and group relationships that exist in the organization. Other organizational theorists and researchers similarly suggest that the rituals, routines, stories, and norms (implicit values) of the organization help members of the organization manage anxiety inside the organization. Yet, these rituals, routines, stories, and norms are not a random assortment of activities. Rather, they cluster together and form a single, coherent dimension of the organization. This single, coherent dimension is known as the “culture” of the organization. As Edgar Schein (1999) has noted, the culture of an organization is the residue of the organization’s success in confronting varying conditions in the world. To the extent that an organization is adaptive in responding to and reducing pervasive anxiety associated with the processes of organizational learning and related functions of the enterprise, the existing cultures of this organization will be reinforced, deepen and become increasingly resistant to challenge or change.

Reducing the Anxiety/Increasing the Expertise

Perhaps contemporary organizations can best reduce the fear of their leaders, employees and other stakeholders through bringing together the diverse perspectives that the six cultures bring to the organization. Taken in isolation, each of the six cultures provides a vehicle that is only partially successful in reducing the fears and anxieties of people about their own learning. Furthermore, even when successful, each culture alleviates only the symptoms of the anxiety—not its ultimate source. Fear and anxiety will only be fully addressed when people feel that they are being freely served with the skills, knowledge, strategies and resources of all members of the company—regardless of culture.

I propose that it is crucial to appreciate each of the cultures so that one can receive and engage expertise that comes in many different forms and can operate effectively within and among each culture. With this openness to multiple sources of expertise and with knowledge and appreciation of the diverse cultures, one can also more effectively influence and improve the quality of change that is required in contemporary organizations. With this sense of appreciation, each culture and each source of expertise can become a force for improvement rather than destruction in our organizations. Each new source of expert perspective and practice and each culture can contribute to the learning of leaders rather than reinforcing limiting and inflexible assumptions about the nature and direction of the enterprise in which these leaders are engaged.

Professional Culture

The primary vehicles for containing and eliminating anxiety in the professional culture are the demonstration of wisdom and credibility on the part of the coach. If she can exhibit extensive knowledge of the specific type of business in which her client is working or if she can exhibit a broad-based knowledge of how organizations work and how leaders lead, then her client is likely to feel more at ease and less vulnerable to the leadership challenges that he faces. Even without this knowledge, a coach can be of great value to her client if she can assist the client in finding and evaluating the validity and usefulness of specific sources of expertise. If a coach can show that she is credentialed (such as ICF certification) or if she can relate her client’s leadership issues to a specific theory (e.g. model of leadership) or specific expert-based research findings (e.g. leadership competencies) then she gains credibility with her client and is likely to be influential in her coaching interactions with him.

Managerial Culture

When a leader and coach interact under the auspices of this culture, anxiety is likely to be contained and eliminated if the coach can provide services (or recommend services) that yield measurable results – the leader improves her performance in a specific way (such as being able to increase revenues in her department by 30%). The successful managerial coach is often himself an “expert” on matters related to measurement (such as return-on-investment). Measurements and categorizations are often an antidote (even if temporary) to anxiety.

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