I was invited recently to work with the leadership team of an international Christian organisation. The team is interested in thinking and moving beyond coaching as a process or methodology for one-to-one conversations towards coaching as an organisational culture. I presented these thoughts below to show what it could look like and involve in practice. These leaders are keen to ensure whatever approach they adopt is consistent with Christian beliefs and values. This will help to ensure personal and organisational integrity. It struck me that two issues in this may be of interest to About Leaders readers: (a) what coaching can look like as a cultural phenomenon and (b) what it can look like in a faith-based context.
As a general principle, people, teams and organisations are most inspired, engaged and effective when people work together to achieve change. In the Bible and in current-day Christian experience, we see this principle at work when God engages with humanity, and His people engage well with each other, to fulfill God’s Kingdom purposes. Coaching is one such way of working together well. It can be regarded as cultural when it represents a common way of seeing and doing things. It is based on a belief that people hold insights, gifts and talents that can be released with the right kind of attitudes, relationships, support and challenge. Releasing them can make people and organisations more resourceful.
Coaching entails a particular type of relationship that is sometimes described as ‘co-active’ (Kimsey-House). Co- implies working with; -Active implies achieving something. Some examples of collaborative questions in a coaching relationship could include, ‘What are we here to do/achieve?’ and ‘How shall we do this?’ They are goal-orientated and invitational. This calls for a special kind of leadership and participation. At its heart, it involves leaders acting as facilitators of other people’s learning, growth and resourcefulness rather than always trying to direct, manage, and control. It also involves everyone being willing to take personal and professional responsibility for their work, and to engage in reflective practice.
A core condition for a coaching culture, and a key outcome where it is successful, is trust. This includes trust that God’s Spirit is able to do more than we can ask or imagine, and that God has endowed everyone with gifts and talents and that, given the right conditions, people can achieve great things. It also involves trust that people have insights and abilities that lay outside of their own knowledge and experience, as well as outside the knowledge and experience of their leaders and peers.This makes a coaching culture affirming, optimistic, and hope-inspiring. If surfaced and used well, these can prove incredibly valuable. It’s about tapping into the God-given potential of people, teams, and organisations, and enabling it to flourish.
In a coaching culture, people are recruited and affirmed for a spirit of curiosity and a passion for learning. This implies an attitude of humility, feeling comfortable with not knowing, being active in challenging and inviting challenge, proactively seeking out developmental opportunities, and being confident to innovate and take constructive risks. It means that conversations between people and between teams will be characterised by healthy relationships: love, grace and truth; a clarity of purpose, posing questions, surfacing assumptions, testing paradigms, using creative-inclusive methods, and seeking God’s perspective, heart and will. It also means contributing and working together to achieve positive change.
Capability To create, embed, and sustain a coaching culture, leaders need to develop co-active mindsets and behaviors, as well as coaching skills and techniques. It means embracing a commitment to model a coaching spirit in relationships, team and project meetings, communications etc. It also means praying for wisdom and humility, and courage and forgiveness, to be truly human. Finally, it involves reflecting and reinforcing a coaching ethos and approach in policies and procedures, e.g. recruitment and selection, induction and orientation, goal-setting, personal development, performance review, talent management, reward and recognition. At heart, it’s about modelling God-in-the-world in practice: in who we are, what we do, and how we do it.