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Coaching and Expertise in the Six Cultures

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Coaches will tend to navigate in the tangible culture from an appreciative and historically based perspective when working with leaders who are seeking credible and useful expertise.  Coaches and the users of coaching services who are aligned with this culture conceive of coaching as a vehicle for the identification and appreciation of an organization’s roots, community and symbolic grounding. This organizational arrangement is at the opposite end of the continuum of the virtual culture.

Those aligned with this culture tend to value the predictability of a value-based, face-to-face coaching process. Leaders turn to coaches who focus on deeply embedded patterns (traditions) in the organization. Cultural change is either considered impossible or unwise. A strong emphasis is placed on the full appreciation of the existing and often long-standing dynamics of the organization—this emphasis being most fully articulated by those embracing an “appreciative approach” to leadership (Shrivasta, Cooperrider and Associates, 1990) and coaching (Bergquist and Mura, 2011).  Coaches and leaders associated with this culture embrace many untested assumptions about the ability of organizations to “weather the storm” of faddish change. They conceive of the coaching enterprise as the honoring and reintegration of learning from the existing sources of distinctive wisdom located in their specific organization.

The Nature and Purpose of Organizational Culture: Meaning, Leadership and Expertise

Although most organizational coaches and leaders tend to embrace or exemplify one of these six cultures, the other five cultures are always present and interact with the dominant culture in an actual coaching session. The dynamic interaction among these six cultures is critical.  We would suggest that each culture has an “opposite” on which it depends and with which it shares many features and assumptions. Thus, the alternative culture, which has evolved primarily in response to faults associated with the professional culture, is nevertheless dependent on it and shares many values and perspectives with this culture. Similarly, the advocacy culture grew out of opposition to the managerial culture but looks to it for identity and purpose—and shares values and perspectives with it. We similarly suggest that the tangible culture has reared its head in opposition to the virtual culture’s lack of acknowledgement of the value of face-to-face or historical contact, and that tangibility and virtuality need one another.

It is important, as we have noted, to acknowledge and seek to fully appreciate the wisdom (as well as distorting assumptions) that reside at the heart of the coaching profession. While it is tempting to be caught up in the often exciting world of the virtual culture, and to find a comfortable home in the professional, managerial, alternative or advocacy culture, the history of coaching enables us to recognize the value to be found in all six of the cultures, and leads us to no longer rest comfortably in one of these cultures when seeking to find credible expertise and when working with leaders in their own engagement with diverse sources of expertise.

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