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
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
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