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Coaching and Expertise in the Six Cultures

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As a coach working in the virtual culture, one is challenged to keep up with its fast-paced dynamics and with the constantly shifting nature and status of specific expertise. VUCA-Plus reigns supreme in this culture—with its portrayal of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, turbulence and contradiction (Bergquist, 2020). The challenge of coaching about expertise is often particularly great. Coaches and the users of coaching services who are aligned with this culture conceive of coaching as a vehicle for the engagement and use of knowledge and expertise that is being produced and modified at an exponential rate in our postmodern world.

Those aligned with this culture tend to value a global perspective and make extensive use of open, shared, and responsive learning systems.  Coaches and leaders conceive of the coaching enterprise as linking the leader’s learning needs to technological resources that enable the leader to access a global market and learning network. They are participants in what Thomas Friedman (2006) describes as a “flat world” which has abandoned organizational and national boundaries—as well as in David Smick’s dangerous curved world (with data folding back on itself in a self-reinforcing, exponentially-exploding manner).

Leaders who are aligned with this culture turn to coaches who speak about learning organizations. As Peter Senge (1990, p. 4), one of the early proponents of the learning organization has noted: “The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be the organizations that discover how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization. Learning organizations are possible because, deep down, we are all learners.” Furthermore, those aligned with this culture, as learners, do not avoid taking risks and making mistakes, but they do try to avoid repeating the same mistakes and taking the same unsuccessful risks.  Ideally, they learn from their mistakes—including their misguided reliance on invalid or useless expertise. At an even higher level of learning, an appreciative perspective is engaged, and members of this culture learn from their successes as well as their failures. Both coaches and leaders associated with this culture embrace many untested assumptions about their ability (both coaches and leaders) to make sense of the fragmentation of expertise that exists in the mid-21st Century world.

The Tangible Culture

Expertise in this culture is based on a long-standing, established, trusting relationship. The expert has been right most of the time for many years. Of greatest important is my trusting of the expert’s intentions (“good will”). If I don’t know the expert well, then I rely on the expert’s well-established reputation and recommendations made by people I trust.  “It is good to see you again. How are you and what do you have to tell me?” As we find in many non-Western societies, the relationships must first be established, and then the sharing of expertise occurs. Meals often precede advice, and a tour of the plant may be a prerequisite to sitting at the conference table.

To operate in this culture, one must be patient and respectful. Wisdom is often shared through the telling of stories or through honoring some person or event that holds the potential of embodying important insights from the past that can be brought into the present. The appreciative perspective that I have introduced in this essay tends to be aligned with the tangible culture and its recognition of accumulated wisdom from many years of practice by those who are well-intended as well as informed. Like those in the professional culture, there is respect for expertise coming from prestigious institutions—but also respect for new ideas coming from outside the mainstream (after all the history of human progress has often led us into the “backwaters” of civilization).

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