Home Concepts Organizational Theory Professional Coaching, Plato’s Cave and the Sociology of Knowledge

Professional Coaching, Plato’s Cave and the Sociology of Knowledge

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The third event was a presentation made by one of us in a course being taught in Singapore. In this presentation, Plato’s allegory of those living in a cave became a central element, as it was in the previous writing of Bergquest and Eggen. However, the presentation and conversation extended beyond the cave. What happens to the person who has left the cave? Or the person who returns to the cave? How is this person received by those still in the cave? What are the implications for those who coach? Are they coaching those who dwell in the cave or the person who returns to the cave? Do coaches live in the same cave as their clients or are coaches among those who somehow live outside the cave? Do coaches dwell in their own cave and are the coaching strategies they embrace and practices in which they engage just as much shadows on the wall as the shadows being viewed by their clients? Some very provocative questions.

In seeking  to integrate these three investigations, we have retained the four-fold model offered by Bergquist and Eggen. They proposed two interrelated dimensions of the sociology of knowledge. One dimension concerns a distinction drawn by Olalla between the static or dynamic nature of one’s notion about Being. Is “being” a noun or a verb? Are we talking about an object or about a process? The second dimension concerns the basic assumption that it is or is not possible to ultimately identify the basic nature of being—in other words, to accurately describe and validate reality. Those who believe this description is possible are called “objectivists” and those who believe it is not possible are called “constructivists.” Four different perspectives are available when one combines these two dimensions

Perspective One/Static Objectivism:  Static Notion About Being/Objectivist Perspective Regarding Being

Objective and verified description of a stable reality

Perspective Two/Dynamic Objectivism: Dynamics Notion About Being/Objectivist Perspective Regarding Being

Screened and interpreted version of an external stable reality

Perspective Three/Static Constructivism: Static Notion About Being/Constructivist Perspective Regarding Being

Biased and resistant descriptions of reality

Perspective Four/Dynamic Constructivism: Dynamic Notion About Being/Constructivist Perspective Regarding Being

Reality created in the interplay between two or more people and/or events

While these four perspectives are inherently of interest to those who are involved with the sociological study of knowledge, they are also directly relevant to the field of coaching and specifically to the way in which clients define their own being—their sense of self. Each of these perspectives defines one’s sense of self in a quite different manner. They do not simply involve different belief systems. They encompass different notions about the very nature of a belief system, and in this sense are profoundly different from one another.

Leadership and the Four Perspectives

Before turning to each of these four perspectives, we want to establish a base for our examination. Specifically, we offer a brief case study concerning an organization in which a set of basic assumptions (shadows on the cave’s wall) are now being challenged. One of us serves as Executive Director of The Society of St Vincent De Paul in Singapore. This is a Global Catholic Charity that focuses on helping the poor and needy. Historically, it was founded in 1833 by a group of Parisian students led by a brilliant young lawyer, named Antoine Frederic Ozanam. The Society’s christening reflects the works of St Vincent de Paul who dedicated his life to serving the poor. The Society has grown, comprising more than 45,000 conferences with 700,000 active members (or Vincentians), existing in 143 countries worldwide.

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