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I returned from Rwanda in the past week where I found myself coaching a senior Kepler (Kigali) University staff member. The trip left me wondering about culture and its impact on coaching – it did not seem to interfere.

Later I learnt that the woman’s husband was killed in the 1994 genocide, an all too common story in the region, and yet her daughter is now a director of the university, a demonstration that leaders can be nurtured from any culture, even one is such a state of flux.

I do believe that culture is important, particularly as we can easily make assumptions. For example, I coached another woman who was going for interview on her pitch for the job, to make it more succinct and impactful. But Rwandans do not prioritise such succinctness and I only came to realise that later as my understanding of the culture deepened.

However, that which is most personal is most general. We can transcend culture by exquisite listening and empathy.

culture

This requires more than active listening. It requires listening for thoughts with respect, listening for feelings with empathy and most of all listening for intentionality. What is behind this narrative. What is the structure of the experience. At this level all men are created psychologically equal. We all need to be heard, understood and witnessed. We all want to feel that we matter. I care and you matter. To listen like this we need to pay enormous attention. Nothing can distract. We have to train our brain to maintain a single point of focus.

The brain does not like to be tied to one point, it wants to wander. So we need to practise mindful meditation to develop the focusing part of the brain.

To witness the concern for excellence of the Rwandan widow, and her resilience in the face of unspeakable suffering was a privilege. The profundity of her experience transcends culture. The coach needs to tread softly and gently in the precious interior of peoples’ lives.

It is a privilege not accorded to many and many coachees will talk to coaches about subjects that they have never spoken of before.

There is a great relief in having an understanding other listening carefully to us. The effect can be as powerful as the best pharmaceuticals and neurobiology experts are now starting to understand the power of words and primal empathy.

Do we need to be clinical psychologists to do this? NO!

We need to have the intention to be useful and the discipline to know how best to do this. Often the best way to be useful is to listen without interruption.

Giving advice is often counter-productive. Knowing that you are not going to be interrupted allows the mind to search without constraint. And people usually have all the resources they need to be effective.

It is merely a question of accessing such resources. How? By asking positively oriented, open, neutral questions such as what would you like to happen? How might you achieve this? Any other ideas occur?

It is a question of getting out of the way to allow the coachee time to think – the most precious time of all.

If you are coaching in a very different culture, acquaint yourself with local norms. Consult experts. But most of all trust your attention and intention to transcend any cultural misunderstandings.

Pushing the edge for a coach is necessary for development. Trust your client to meet you half-way. And the result will be a kind of magic!


PD-and-Trainer-Andrew-McLaughlin-11.jpgAndrew McLaughlin is a Programme Director on the IMI Diploma in Executive Coaching and IMI Diploma in Organisational Behaviour. He is an experienced executive coach who has worked with national and multi-national companies including Revenue Commissioners, Departments of Industry and Commerce and Defence, OECD and EU. Andrew is a Master Practitioner and certified trainer/consultant of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Andrew regularly volunteers to work in Africa in a university setting. [post_title] => Relationships of Trust Delivers Liberating Results in Coaching [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => coaching-liberation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-11-08 09:50:18 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-11-08 09:50:18 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.imi.ie/?p=20334 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24621 [post_author] => 42 [post_date] => 2018-12-10 10:32:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-12-10 10:32:46 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24625" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Are icebergs a good metaphor for cultures in organisations? (Picture Source) What happens when two cultural icebergs meet in a merger? (Picture Source)[/caption]  

If you’ve previously read any articles on the topic of organisational culture, you've probably noticed that many include references to icebergs. The metaphor of culture as an iceberg is actually a very good one.

We see only the visible artifacts of organisational culture, the tip of the iceberg, while the underlying assumptions, values and beliefs remain hidden from view, below the waterline. And yet, these hidden values and beliefs shape the way the organisation works on a daily basis. As occupants of the organisational iceberg we rarely consider what’s keeping us afloat. There is an enormous amount that is unseen, but which is responsible for much of what happens around us. Culture shapes “how we do things around here”. But beware! The iceberg metaphor also acknowledges that culture can be a hazard. The Reinforcing Cycle of Culture Culture is shaped by, and in turn shapes, organisational behaviour. In this regard it is self-reinforcing, and therefore it can be stubbornly stable and difficult to change. If the existing culture is enabling the organisation to achieve great results, then this stability can be a real asset. However, when two stable cultures meet as part of a merger, underlying assumptions and values come to the surface and can literally sink the new organisation. How to Sink a Successful Merger Cultural stability creates challenges once the culture needs to change and adapt. This is a contributing factor in why mergers and acquisitions often run into difficulty. Attempting to merge two different organisational cultures can create enormous tensions. Organisational members are torn between their attachment to the old culture and the attractiveness, or otherwise, of the new culture. Rarely is the result of a merger the emergence of a composite culture that represents the best combination of the two existing, pre-merger, cultures. There are two key variables we should consider when two organisational cultures meet. The first is how willing are organisational members to leave their existing organisational culture behind? The second is how attractive to organisation members is the other organisation’s culture? These two variables provide us with four potential outcomes:
  1. Assimilation: The new culture can be willingly embraced if the new culture is more attractive than the existing one. For example, organisation members see the opportunity to be part of an organisation that is a technology leader and may be disillusioned with the existing organisation’s failure to innovate. .
  2. Integration: When organisational members find the new culture attractive, while still valuing elements of the old culture, they strive to establish a culture that is a combination of elements of both cultures. The effectiveness of integration can vary across a broad spectrum, from the “best of both worlds” to the “lowest common denominator”. .
  3. Separation: There is a real challenge people are wedded to their existing culture and don’t see anything attractive about the new culture. The result can be that the two cultures continue to exist in isolation from each other. This may be sustainable in the short-term but can mean that the expected synergies from the merger are never realised. At an individual level, some individuals will leave the organisation in preference to embracing the new culture. .
  4. Deculturation: This occurs when organisation members are unhappy in the old culture but feel they don’t fit into the new culture either. They feel that culture change is being forced upon them. This leads to frustration and alienation with the result likely to be a highly dysfunctional business. .
The outcomes described above serve to highlight how organisational culture has a large part to play in any merger or acquisition. Culture changer is difficult and needs considerable effort if it is to be successful. So, when faced with the iceberg that is culture, it’s important to proceed with caution.
billy-byrneBilly Byrne is an IMI associate on the High Impact Leadership programme. He is an executive coach, leadership development specialist and an associate at KinchLyons, Organisational Psychologists. Billy holds masters degrees in organisational behaviour and coaching. He is a chartered fellow of CIPD and Council Member of EMCC. To date he has completed sixteen marathons. For more on coaching and how it can impact individuals and the organisation as a whole, explore our IMI Diploma in Executive Coaching. [post_title] => Iceberg Ahead! How Organisational Culture Can Sink Your Next Merger [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => iceberg-ahead-organisational-culture-can-sink-next-merger [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-12-17 15:40:42 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-12-17 15:40:42 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.imi.ie/?p=24621 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 33685 [post_author] => 94 [post_date] => 2019-12-09 13:27:33 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-09 13:27:33 [post_content] => [post_title] => Bulletproof Teams: Building Resilience in Organisations [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => bulletproof-teams-building-resilience-in-organisations [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-12-17 14:35:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-12-17 14:35:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.imi.ie/?p=33685 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) )
Andrew McLaughlin

Andrew McLaughlin

5th Feb 2020

Programme Director on the IMI Professional Diploma in Executive Coaching and the IMI Professional Diploma in Organisational Behaviour.

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Relationships of Trust Delivers Liberating Results in Coaching
Iceberg Ahead! How Organisational Culture Can Sink Your Next Merger
Bulletproof Teams: Building Resilience in Organisations

Coaching vs Mentoring

As children, we all had the teacher who stood in front of the classroom, told us to take our textbooks out and then went through the lesson by rote.

No imagination, no engagement, no connection.

This is not the case when we talk about coaching and mentoring. Both are development techniques that use personal bonds to make learning stick, bringing views from the outside-in to challenge preconceived assumptions of the individuals involved.

One thing to remember that I have discovered through personal experience is that this whole engagement with people is joyous. ‘There’s a huge amount of satisfaction in it, and that for me is one of the dominant themes when we talk about coaching and mentoring.

 

Humans desire connections
One of the most fundamental aspects of human psychology is our desire, closely approaching a need, to connect with other people. It elevates our thinking in almost every way and will both support and challenge our worldviews, which is crucial for critical thinking.

The first thing I’d say is talk to strangers because everyone in the world knows something more about something than you do.

In today’s modern world however, we are being increasingly encouraged to distance ourselves from one another, primarily through digital means. Even phone calls between colleagues at each other’s desks have been replaced by chat channels, and we find ourselves busily multi-tasking tasks that seem removed from any human activity.

And when we remove emotions from a task, we largely remove the brain’s ability to remember and learn from it.

When it comes to coaching and mentoring, this human emotion and engagement are inherent in the process. They are methods of learning and self-learning that is hard to match because they address so many of the core needs of a human mind.

 

When and Where
My advice for mentors is never to say, ‘do this’ or ‘this will work for you’. Rather, say ‘I did this’ or ‘this is what I experienced’, and leave it up to them whether they can draw from your experience.

For mentoring then, it is about sharing experiences.

On the other hand, a coach’s role is to facilitate the thought process of the other person, so you would much more rarely share your own experience. It may, indeed, muddy the waters of their thinking as humans are prone to draw conclusions from other people’s experiences that aren’t applicable.

 

We are all coaches and mentors
Coaching sits right in the centre of any managers key list of skills and it’s something you do every day. If you cultivate it to its fullest degree, your career and other careers will benefit hugely. In the final part of your life, it’s about passing the torch, and mentoring is a hugely satisfying way of passing that torch.

Both subtle parts of the same art, mentoring and coaching are some of our most powerful tools to make learning and development impactful on both the teacher and pupil. At its heart, mentoring is about sharing experiences between two people from different ends of the spectrum while coaching is about drawing out the answers from another.

Learning is joyful, particularly when we do it with – and through – other people.

Individuals and organisations looking to make learning stick and to develop individuals as both people and professionals, should be using coaching and mentoring as core pillars in their strategy. By knowing and applying the subtle differences between the two, a leader can do the thing that great leaders do; create stars around them.