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An African approach to traditional coaching

​Coaching is becoming an increasingly important tool to help African leaders meet the business and personal challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. While South African coaching models have typically drawn on a western paradigm, I prefer to approach each interaction by asking: “How can we enhance the coaching of African leaders to make it more relevant to the African context? 

Uniquely African challenges Africans have a long history of fighting colonial legacies, but now they are emerging confidently as leaders with their own distinct voice. However, there are a vast array of issues influencing African leaders, which coaches cannot ignore. For example, most African countries, including South Africa, are shaped by profound diversities in cultures, languages and traditions. Not only must leaders be attuned to these, but they must also continue to deal with a legacy of colonialism and western patriarchy. Coaches need to question and understand these influences and how they manifest in society and the workplace. In addition, in leading African economies like South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, to list just three, leaders are also being challenged to tackle the demands of competing on the world stage and in global markets that are dominated by fast-moving technological progress. At the same time, fundamental basic issues of poverty, unemployment, social inequality and a lack of infrastructure and resources continue to dominate the landscape, as they do in many emerging markets.

Coaching effective leaders Given this delicate balance, professionals who coach in Africa have to recognise and understand the African milieu. This is not to say they need to rule out the western influence to coaching and the value it has brought to the profession, but rather that there needs to be an appreciation of the adaptation required to suit leadership coaching which speaks directly to the African leader’s unique challenges.  On the one hand, coaches must recognise the value inherent in the foundations of coaching; these are constant and do not change. For example, the insights of 1980s business coaches like Graham Alexander and Alan Fine, together with Sir John Whitmore’s GROW (Goal, Reality, Options and Will) model and other International Coach Federation competencies are still extremely influential in Africa’s coaching framework. These models are process driven and goal orientated, and they call for the coach to help identify each leader’s goals and what action steps are needed to achieve these ambitions. That said, it must be recognised that by tailoring this approach to better suit Africa’s unique challenges, the coaching experience can be even further enhanced. How do you go about achieving this? Firstly, it is vital that coaches get to know their clients intimately, as multifaceted individuals. This helps to build trust and develop a rapport. This level of connection allows the coachee to be genuine and authentic, and enables the coach to develop a keen appreciation of where this leader has come from, the trials they’ve faced and how they have overcome these to achieve success. Once the relationship has matured to this stage, only then is the client truly ready to start working on their current challenges and the issues at hand. They are able to say: “I trust you in this relationship, so let us start the journey of you helping me to explore the issues, get to a solution, and help me get a clear vision of where I am going with this.”  

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