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Coaching and Expertise in the Six Cultures

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The virtual coach faces a difficult task in helping his client make sense of her world – it is not only a matter of digesting a large amount of information; it is also a matter of thinking and acting at a very high level. Kegan (1994) suggests that we, of the postmodern era, are “in over our heads” (certainly a source of profound anxiety) and it would seem that coaches to these virtual, mid-21st Century leaders are particularly needed to help their clients address these major VUCA-Plus challenges (Bergquist, 2020).

Tangible Culture

Given the postmodern challenges facing contemporary leaders, it is obvious that the tangible coach is potentially of great value—for leaders long for coaching strategies that are directly aligned with the tangible culture. They want to be able to meet with their coach face-to-face; they seek out a time and space that is safe. They want to be assured that existing sources of expertise can be trusted. When effective, the coach who is aligned with the tangible culture will help create a “sanctuary” in which her client leader can talk about anything and feel deeply.

This coaching client may have no specific agenda, nor does he necessarily want to improve his performance, find a higher level of consciousness, or become more influential. He mostly wants to find a place where he can “be himself,” “talk to someone who holds no agenda other than being there for him,” or “simply be listened to by someone who cares about my personal welfare.” These needs are not easily articulated in a formal coaching contract. However, as in the case of the alternative culture, the coaching strategies associated with the tangible culture may be immediately effective in helping to reduce postmodern anxiety – though this type of coaching is often reserved only for those with sufficient power, wealth or opportunity to meet in person with a coach (often in some retreat site)—and to be in a position of power that enables them to rely on established sources of expertise. VUCA-Plus is a hurricane operating somewhere else in the world. Thus, the tangible culture – more than any of the other five cultures – is often associated with coaching services that are reserved for the elite. The risk is that VUCA-Plus will come swirling in and disrupting (or even destroying) the sanctuary.

Conclusions: Beyond and Beneath the Anxiety

Our analysis would suggest that there are not only many sources of expertise –and sources of anxiety– associated with leadership of a contemporary organization; there are also many ways in which coaches can help to alleviate the leader’s anxiety and assist in the discernment of multi-source expertise. It seems that the coach is herself challenged with diverse sources of expert advice about how best to provide expertise and help her client manage the anxiety.

Many psychological theorists suggest that human service providers should not be in the business of reducing anxiety—for anxiety is a signal that something is wrong in the life of the person being served. The anxiety we are talking about here is a normal (and collective) reaction to stress that helps one deal with a tense situation in the organization—not the disabling anxiety disorder that becomes an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations. Just as pain is an important source of information for the health care provider regarding the nature of an injury or illness, so anxiety might be a source of information about the “malady” facing an organizational leader regarding his own behavior or some broader systemic problem.

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