William Bergquist, Vikki Brock and Agnes Mura
Introduction: A Case Outline
Susan Stracker* is an executive coach. She is deeply involved with three clients right now who absolutely drive her crazy. They have made her professional life difficult not because they are problematic; rather, it is because they are each quite different in their approaches to leadership and in what they want and expect from their coach. Susan feels like a chameleon who must constantly change its color (coaching style) depending on the divergent needs of her clients.
How can Susan expect to offer a coherent and consistent message regarding her coaching if she must constantly change her approach and style to meet the diverse needs of her clients? We would suggest that Susan Stracker is not alone in this state of confusion and inconsistency. Many coaches, including ourselves, have faced a similar dilemma. As such, we would propose to Susan that the dynamics of her diverse coaching strategies are, in part, a result of the differing organizational cultures in which her clients work and in which they come to “know” the reality of their organizations. Furthermore, we would propose that her frustration is a product of her own coaching culture—her assumptions, values and aspirations as an organizational coach.
In this essay we will identify and discuss six different organizational cultures that we believe strongly influence the ways in which contemporary organizational leaders and organizational coaches frame their work and their expectations regarding the assistance that a a coach might provide. We then turn to the intercultural dynamics created by the interplay among these six cultures and focus, in particular, on two aspects: the ways in which culture and coaching help to create meaning among coaching clients and the ways in which culture and leadership help contain the anxiety that inevitably exists in contemporary organizations. We conclude by examining the specific ways in which each of the differing cultures of coaching help the client (and the coach) create meaning and reduce anxiety associated with their daily work.