According to the ICF (International Coach Federation, 2009), coaching is defined as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. This definition is the foundation for the coaching relationship and process followed by nearly every international coach training school. This conventional understanding holds that the client is the expert in her or his life and is resourceful enough to find the answers to the challenges they may be going through. The coach is expected to create self-awareness through asking thought proving questions and refrain from giving advice or telling the client what she or he must do. In effect, the coach must not provide the answers but encourage the client to generate their own solution and strategies. What is left undebated is that this perspective and practice is completely developed on a Western cultural ethos where the individual is the center of attention and is in control of her or his life. With the advent of globalization, coaching has gained acceptance as an effective leadership development practice in multinational corporations across the world. Unfortunately, like much management theory and practice, most coaching schools operating internationally teach a coaching approach that works in a Western cultural milieu. To believe that this approach is universally applicable, risks being culturally myopic.
Using a qualitative research methodology, this collective case study explores how executive coaches acrossAsiaadapt coaching – from the conventional definition – to make it culturally congruent for their clients. It presents how coaching is adapted to an Eastern ethos; thus, constructively challenging concepts and practices that are believed to be universally applicable. Coaches working with clients from different cultures will appreciate that they need to flex their coaching styles, and if need be, their understanding of what coaching is, to suit the social context of their clients. They need not feel any dissonance or any frustration in doing this.
Significance and Benefits of this Study
Most coaches have been trained in coaching models and processes that have been developed from a Western perspective and context. A process that works between two people from a Western culture may not be as successful with someone from another culture. Culture influences an individual’s mental maps, and Asian organization cultures are different from Western organizations. Coaches need to recognize that a client raised in an Asian culture, and working in an Asian organization, may perceive the coach differently, and have different expectations from the coaching relationship. Thus, the coaching process needs to be culturally congruent.
I have worked in Asia for the over 15 years and for the past 7 years have been working in the US. Based on my own experience as one who has worked as a coach in different countries and people from different cultures I set the following research question for this study:
(i) How do coaches inAsiaadapt their coaching to account for these differences?
The foundation for this research was triggered by our work as executive coaches in the Indian milieu, and the experiences of our peer coaches acrossAsia.
How Asian Coaches Adapt to Cultural Differences
Given the fact that cultural differences influence behaviors, expectations and relationships at work, it seemed natural to explore how cultural differences would influence the coaching relationship and how coaches would need to adapt to accommodate these differences. Thus, the research question for this study was framed – How do coaches inAsiaadapt their coaching to account for these differences?
The key findings are discussed below.
The Role and Status of the Coach. One of the unique aspects of coaching inAsia was the status of the coach. The conventional understanding of the coach-client relationship is one of equals. However, due to the impact of tradition in all Asian countries and the widespread influence of Confucianism, the coach was seen as a respected elder whose role was to impart insight and advice, and give solutions to the various problems that the client was facing. Seniority and experience were key factors in coach selection and more often than not, the coach was older to the client. Asian clients expected their coaches to give new ideas, solutions, and advice. Contrary to the conventional understanding of coaching, clients expected their coaches to have the answers – receiving advice and input from the coach was seen as getting value for money. One disadvantage for coaches was that since clients expected a mature person, it was difficult for a coach to work with someone younger to him or her. One respondent expressed that, the coach was regarded as a teacher and the relationship was viewed as a teacher-student one; this according to her was the mindset of many Asians. A Singapore based coach shared that treating the coach as an elder, and wanting advice and guidance was integral to Confucianism, and so part of Chinese clients’ expectations, especially in Singapore which was 76% Chinese.