Business Coaching in South Africa, by Sunny Stout Rostron

Business coaching, like much else in South Africa, was isolated from mainstream professional development due to international restrictions during the years of apartheid. Thus, it is only in about the last five years that coaching has sprung to prominence in South Africa.

However, as might be expected, many of the problems and inequalities from the past remain. In 1994, South Africa held its first democratic presidential election. Although Nelson Mandela—after 27 years of imprisonment—became president, the demographic imbalances created by 50 years of dictatorial white supremacy still hang heavily on the country. In this context, coaching in South Africa faces daunting challenges. At the same time, coaches have unique opportunities to significantly engage and intervene in the on-going process of transforming the country from a racial tyranny into a free, open and democratic society.

South Africa is a land of enormous diversity. Of the 11 official languages, the main ones include English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana and Sotho. The variety of languages reflects the country's wide ethnic and cultural differences. Language can also represent a minefield of cultural and power politics, since it was used in the past to promote minority racial groups and suppress the majority. The white population, who are still the main beneficiaries of coaching, tend to be monolingual, or, at best, bilingual (English and Afrikaans). Africans, on the other hand, commonly speak not only English, but several African languages as well. The choice of language in professional settings is often viewed as a reflection of past power dynamics, and must be negotiated with sensitivity and tact.

In a country in which racial differences were the main driving force of daily life for so many years, it is inevitable that color still plays a major role in public discourse and personal sense of identity. This is a potent issue to which coaches must be highly sensitive, and they must learn to navigate these delicate waters with flexibility and skill.

Coaches in the developed world would probably be startled to discover how often, both in private conversation and in public debate, the issue of color predominates. The main identifiers are obviously "white" and "black." But in South Africa, there is a third category, defined by a term that western societies would regard as offensive or unacceptable. "Colored" refers to mixed-race individuals, most of whom so define themselves. They are predominantly Afrikaans-speaking. These racialized categories are a source of personal, educational and business friction and misunderstandings. Thus, for coaches, there are minefields to negotiate when dealing with either personal or professional issues.

For me personally, this represents an unusual opportunity to be part of the changing landscape in a fledgling democracy. In other more privileged and wealthier societies, the coach probably does not encounter such raw personal hurts and structural imbalances; here, open and frank discussion is gradually dismantling them. In this sense, it is an exciting time to be a coach in South Africa, working with individuals and leaders at the cutting edge of this crucial transformation.

Multicultural and diversity issues

Difference—of gender, race, culture, language and education—creates huge challenges in any workplace. Emerging from its traumatically divisive past, South Africa is in the early stages of trying to work with these complexities and its own unique burden of history.

As currently practiced, coaching is viewed as a privilege far beyond the hopes of all but an elite few. This presents an ethical dilemma. Previously privileged executives are still the ones who benefit from all that coaching offers. The irony is that many who would also benefit are working in the same organizations, but as "previously disadvantaged" (i.e., black men and women), they may not yet qualify for coaching. Often they are not employed in sufficiently senior executive positions to qualify; with coaching they might be.

In South Africa, most organizations remain subject to male culture and assumptions. Corporate culture continues to be dominated by white male norms, language and behavior. Although women have made serious inroads through the glass ceiling and into the boardroom, most South African organizations still reflect the culture and values of a male point of view. Women face complex and difficult challenges in the workplace.

Ironically, one place where women are beginning to feel equality is in South Africa's parliament, which is predominantly black and 50% female. However, women still face disempowering behavior and stereotypes from both female and male colleagues at work, regardless of their occupational field.

Research and development

Important academic research is underway in South Africa. A growing number of masters and doctoral students have recently completed, or are in the process of completing, current market research projects, and their papers are circulating worldwide.

Some of the difficulties in the marketplace stem from the lack of enough qualified, certified coaches to service the needs of small, medium and large organizations. Purchasers of coaching services demand measurable results, value for money, recognized accreditation, sustainable ethics, standards, and continuing professional development.

One development is the creation of the Coaches and Mentors Association (COMENSA), whose mission is to create an umbrella association in South Africa to provide for the regulation of local coaching, to develop the credibility and awareness of coaching as a profession, and to promote the effective empowerment of individual and organizational clients. One of the roles of COMENSA has been to build relationships and alliances between purchasers and providers of coaching services. This has encouraged collaboration across many different functional areas, such as the training and development of professional coaches.

A second area of development is inside organizations. Companies such as Standard Bank, Old Mutual, Woolworths, Netcare and Pick 'n Pay are in the process of creating their own standards and competencies to regulate the hiring of external coaches, ensuring their  alignment with the specific ethics, standards and competencies of those organizations. These corporate bodies are also beginning to investigate the possibility of developing their own internal coaches.

A final development is the collaboration among business coaches themselves, who are forming alliances to offer coaching services to corporate executives and their teams.

Coach training and certification

Two key issues in South Africa today are the dearth of black coaches, plus a lingering perception that coaching is "exclusive" (i.e., not dissimilar to South Africa's recent history under apartheid). On the other hand, there is a new range of quality coach training programs, both commercial and academic, which are often influenced or supported by international coach training programs. However, because the young, aspiring black managers are busy gaining their years of experience in the business world, many are not yet ready to step into the position of executive or business coach. They want to build their competence, expertise and credibility before tackling the task of coaching other aspirant leaders.

Another issue which has surfaced—and one of the underlying reasons for setting up an organization for coaches and mentors—is that any new profession attracts mavericks as well as pioneers. With the development of coaching as an identifiable, legitimate profession in South Africa, and with international support and pressure, some of the problems of unregulated and untrained coaches will begin to recede.

Challenges coaches face today

In South Africa four types of coaching have emerged: executive coaching, providing one-on-one services to leaders or senior management within organizations, entrepreneurial coaching, one-on-one coaching for entrepreneurs building their own businesses, management coaching as the primary way for managers to develop people and achieve results, and life coaching to support individuals wishing to make significant changes in their careers or personal lives.

The key challenge remains overcoming the legacy of apartheid. With such a diverse work force—in terms of language, race, culture and history—we still do not have enough black coaches working at senior management levels. Due to the country's destructive history, this is only the second generation of skilled and "in demand" black business leaders. First generation business leaders were often forged in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Looking to the future

Business coaching in South Africa has a positive and powerful future. That bright future is attributable to the explosion of coaching inside organizations, the development of coach training programs, the inclusive, democratic process of COMENSA's creation of ethical codes and standards of competence, the development of a supervisory framework, the collaboration of executive coaches, and the benefits of international partnership.

The coaching profession is still in its formative stages in South Africa, in the process of becoming a profession in its own right. Over the next few years, we will see increased regulation of coaches, with a demand for qualifications, specific standards and ethics, and recognized certification. There is an exponential explosion of coach training within the country, both academic and commercial/corporate.

Coaching is the trend of the moment. If it continues to develop at its current rate, conforming to internationally accepted standards, coaching will make a significant difference in helping to develop individuals, executives, their teams and their organizations. It will usher South Africa into the future with the very best of inclusive and transformational business practices.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide ( 2006, Volume 2, Issue 2). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Ethical Communication in the Global Workplace By Nerella Campigotto

Posted by Nerella Campigotto

Communication skills are considered fundamental in the workplace; but let’s take this a step further and consider the implications of applying these skills in a cross-cultural setting, and doing so ethically.

Effective communication involves expressing oneself clearly, being a good listener, using appropriate body language and ensuring how a message is delivered and received. It is inherently a two-way process. Communication operates through a system of customs and principles that are essentially determined by people’s cultures. When the communicators don’t share these principles, a communication breakdown, or miscommunication, will typically occur. Of course there are various types of communication in the workplace: face-to-face, email, phone, etc., and for each of these, the style of communicating will vary according to culture.

Webster’s Dictionary defines ethical as “conforming to an accepted standard of good behavior,” and the Oxford English Dictionary defines ethics as “a set of moral principles or code.”  Consequently, when we speak of ethical communication in the global workplace we see that cultural customs and principles affect both the communication style and the definition of what is considered ethical.

Let’s look at three areas where communication styles differ across cultures and how we can overcome some of the challenges presented and still ensure we maintain an ethical approach.

1. Explicit vs. Implicit

Most Western cultures, especially Anglo, Germanic and Scandinavian groups, will communicate explicitly, that is, almost all important information is communicated in a direct and unambiguous manner. This style also reflects those cultures’ ethics, which are to communicate clearly and truthfully without being vague or misleading.  Such cultures as Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American tend to communicate implicitly; they rely on the context to communicate the most important information and may take relationships and setting into account, resulting in an indirect and ambiguous style. Ethics in these groups require that politeness and avoiding embarrassment take precedence over truth; in fact, for many of these cultures there is no absolute truth. The avoidance of saying “no” in some Asian cultures is an example of how these two styles can threaten communication.

So how can we ensure that we are not offending by being too direct, and conversely, determine what is being conveyed in a vague response? Simply being aware of the situation certainly helps. Making others feel comfortable and relaxed can override what is said, and asking open-ended questions can help to clarify vague answers. Being aware of your own values and principles, and not judging the other party by your standards can alleviate a lot of frustration.

2. Non-Verbal

We use several non-verbal signals when we communicate, such as touching, facial expressions, gestures, body positioning, eye contact, speech volume and tone, physical distance etc. These can have different meanings across cultures.  Another major difference is the use of silence. Most Western cultures tend to want to fill long silences, and this can be perceived as arrogant by cultures where silence is interpreted as a sign of respect. We may interpret avoidance of eye contact as an indication of dishonesty or lack of sincerity, whereas in many African cultures it is considered respectful.

In the global workplace it is best to observe and then modify our non-verbal communication signals to reflect those of the other party where possible.  I am not suggesting to completely mirror these signals, but things such as avoiding touching when it creates discomfort is an easy adjustment to make. Also, don’t make assumptions based on your own non-verbal communication style. Instead, rely more on verbal clarification. A smile is sometimes used to hide anger so you may want to make sure you have understood correctly by verifying the meaning verbally.

3. Language

One of the reasons English has become the lingua franca of the business world is because of its richness, directness and precision. The Thesaurus exists only in English, and there are about 200,000 commonly used words in English (whereas French, for example, has 100,000). Some speakers of English as a second language, especially those from cultures that don’t want to lose face, pretend they understand when they really do not. On the other hand, pretending not to understand when in fact they do is a negotiation technique used by some others. Unfortunately, we now have the phenomenon where two communicators are often both non-native speakers of English, adding another dimension to the challenge of global communication.

Language is fraught with difficulties such as idioms, slang, jargon and euphemisms; these should be avoided when communicating ethically with a non-native speaker. Keep it simple, clear and use standard language. Clarify what you are saying and offer the other party the opportunity to do the same.

In conclusion, we can see that this is an extremely complex issue, but to begin the process of communicating ethically in the global workplace we should build awareness so we can anticipate the differences, and then observe and adapt, while still maintaining our own values and ethics. In fact, one could say that taking into consideration both your own and the other party’s cultural factors when communicating, in itself constitutes ethical behavior.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (October 2008, Volume 4, Issue 2). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Cultural Intelligence: The Key to Global Leadership, By Nerella Campigotto

Posted by Nerella Campigotto

We live and work in a world that is an integrated entity, increasingly influenced by external cultural factors. For those in leadership positions it is now not only necessary to have a high IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence), but strong Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is also increasingly regarded as a necessary skill to succeed in today's global business community.

Leadership entails communicating a vision and influencing others towards a goal; achieving this across cultures is no easy feat. Defining the characteristics that make a good leader can be daunting. Much of the research and information we are exposed to about this topic is U.S., or at least Western-focused, where leadership skills tend to be measured by organizational performance such as productivity and morale. Nevertheless, universally there are basically two types of leadership—task-oriented and relationship-oriented. People from different cultures react differently to these styles.

In addition, leadership quality, as with charisma, is often about perception; a person perceived as a leader will gain respect, power and authority. Indeed, we may say that it is the followers who determine a leader's greatness. Successful global leaders understand how leadership is viewed in other cultures and how the expectations of culturally diverse followers influence leadership behavior.

Let's look at three ways leaders can demonstrate cultural intelligence.

1. Building awareness

Culturally intelligent leaders are open to knowledge and develop new skills to help them succeed. This means understanding the cultural attributes of the followers and what their expectations are. These attributes can be in a number of areas, such as the relationship between the leaders and their followers, what role seniority plays, how problems are handled and attitudes towards efficiency, punctuality, deadlines, etc. Often tradition will prevail over logic, so it is important for the global leader to learn about the history and values of the followers' culture. This may be achieved by developing alliances with other leaders from different cultural backgrounds who can provide different perspectives for comparison.

2. Adapting

Culturally intelligent leaders are comfortable in adapting their behavior to suit different circumstances without changing their inherent leadership style. With stronger awareness they can determine whether, for example, their followers are from an individualistic versus a collectivist culture, whether they work better in an autocratic versus a bureaucratic environment, whether they are motivated by incentives versus punishment, whether they respond to an informal versus formal approach, etc. Successful global leaders spend time with their followers to understand their comfort level and listen to what is said and not said.

3. Communicating

Culturally intelligent leaders understand that the way they communicate is critical to their success. Once they are aware of the cultural attributes of their followers and have adapted to their environment, it will be easier to tweak their communication style accordingly. Apart from the obvious need to use clear language, this may also mean determining how much information needs to be imparted in order to achieve the required goal and what the consequences and/or rewards are for the followers. It also means adjusting communication styles to take into account whether the follower's culture is one that exhibits an implicit rather than explicit manner, as well as non-verbal communication traits.

To summarize, whether a leader's style is task-oriented or relationship-oriented, he or she can work towards increasing cultural intelligence by applying the three steps above. By being aware of the cultural attributes of their followers, adapting to the cultural environment and communicating accordingly, leaders are more likely to achieve success. There is no doubt that a healthy dose of CQ is an indispensable asset for today's global leader.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (October 2008, Volume 4, Issue 3). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Five Keys to Successful Business Coaching in India, By Kim Benz and Sasmita Maurya

Posted by Kim Benz

India has perhaps the oldest tradition of coaching-related services in the world. The lives of all great rulers of ancient India were impacted by the powerful presence of their 'gurus'individuals who, in many ways, were similar to modern-day mentors or coaches. But, ironically, modern Indian business leaders have been very slow to incorporate the coaching advantage in their success stories.

Business coaching itself is very new in India, and is commonly viewed as yet another buzzword for consultancy and training services. Certified business coaches are almost non-existent. Where they do exist, they are active in the corporate sector in large metropolitan areas. Most companies are hesitant to embrace coaching. For one thing, business coaching is often perceived as excessively expensive; for another, many high-profile executives do not wish to admit their own need for coaching.

Ms. Herjeet Dutt, the Chief Consulting Officer of Practice Success Dot Com, asserts, "Business coaching has always existed in India, although most of the time it gets clubbed (associated) with the consultation, facilitation or mentoring process."

Indian businesses are largely a mix of two representative clusters:

  • Cluster 1: Multi-national organizations, local entrepreneurial ventures that have expanded their business offshore, and local business organizations with public holdings and stock market listings.This cluster recognizes the need for coaching in a limited sense—in-house mentorship is more widely practiced. As the investment in development of high-potential employees continues, the need for business coaches will increase here.
  • Cluster 2: Closely held businesses with no stock market listing, partnership business/trading companies, and independent business owners.This cluster makes a minimal investment in employee development, and coaching is most likely to be viewed as an expense.

There are five keys that are critical to expanding the role of business coaching in India:

1. Create increased awareness of professional business coaching

Business coaching is a fuzzy concept in India right now. Many consultants, who view coaching as the latest 'fad,' label themselves as coaches. In reality, they provide consulting and training services. So the challenge in India, in order to generate interest and professional legitimacy, is to clarify what business coaching really is. Decision-makers must be educated to distinguish the differences among consultancy, training and coaching.As a practical matter, many coaches consider the certification process both expensive and risky, due to the almost non-existent current demand for professional business coaching services. At the same time, certification is critical to improving the perception of business coaching's legitimacy and professionalism in India.According to Ajai Singh, a certified coach based in Mumbai, there is potential for growth: "There is some organizational movement towards investing in the development of high-potential individuals using the coaching methodology, and I expect that in another couple of years, coaching will become a remunerative practice for qualified, certified individuals.

2. Develop flexible coaching models

The core goal of business coaching in India is to introduce new mindsets, leverage existing strengths, and deal with weaknesses in the workforce, thus creating the synergy required to enhance skills and overall performance. A basic coaching model, described by Avinash Kirpal in his article, Coaching for High Flying Corporate, is the GROW model: Goal setting, Reality checking, Option analysis, and Willingness to take action. And many individual coaches use models that are closely analogous to Kirpal's.India has over 18 different languages, and an equal number of variations in traditions and cultures. When developing or adapting coaching models for Indian clients, it is important to evaluate the geographical location of the client organization, its local work culture, and the traditional mindset of its people, since cultural factors have a stronger influence on the workforce than organizations' corporate personalities. Business coaches must therefore be sensitive, open, adaptive, and flexible with coaching models.

3. Network for increased impact and business development.

Networking is critical, since the coaching business in India is largely dependent on word-of-mouth referrals. What often works best is a multi-faceted approach to creating an appreciation for the value of business coaching services. In India, as in many countries, the established networking tools of business publications and journals, websites, business conferences, and personal contacts are the primary venues for effective networking. References from existing and previous clients help to increase the credibility of many service providers, and they work effectively for business coaches, too.

4. Set high standards for business coaching

Formal coaching qualifications and international credentials, including membership in respected coaching associations, set high standards and substantiate the coachs credibility. Decision makers may feel more confident in hiring business coaches with credentials and qualifications, and be more successful in justifying their expense.Ajai Singh says, "There are too many individuals calling themselves coaches, when actually they are consultants or mentors. My personal feeling is that anyone who wants to call him- or herself a coach must have some kind of formal training or accreditation from one of the plethora of coaching schools around the world."

5. View the coach/coachee association as spiritual rather than strictly professional

A coach in India must be viewed as a committed member of the 'organizational family.' This is the land where a guru (teacher) occupies a pedestal almost higher than God! But to be a guru demands undivided devotion to teaching and service. Building trust between the client and the coach depends on some degree of personal bonding as well.Commander Girish Konkar, CEO of Beyond Horizons, has an interesting observation from his experience in the Indian business scenario. According to him, "Here, coaching is looked upon as a spiritual association, as opposed to a 'business/commercial' association. Indian history describes the strong association with a guru throughout any learning process. Almost all rulers of ancient India were known to have had a guru for spiritual, emotional and administrative/political guidance."

    In addition to the five keys described above, some intangible factors also play a large role in business coaching in India. As MBCI accredited mentor and business coach Floyd Vaz shares, "There is one intrinsic credential that is far more important than any professional credential, and you cannot really be trained in such a thing. That is to have a genuine, sacrificial, unbiased love for the people and organizations you coach—in other words, serving them to be the best they can be."

    Perhaps that is the key to the highest standard for business coaching in India—or anywhere else.


    Dutt, Herjeet. 2006. Telephone interview, October 27.

    Kirpal, Avinash. "Coaching High Flying Corporates." Brefi Group. Available at http://www.brefigroup.co.uk/coaching/index.html

    Konkar, Girish. 2006. Telephone interview, October 27.

    Singh, Ajai. 2006. Survey response, October 18.

    Vaz, Floyd. 2006. Survey response, October 28.

    Kim Benz, BS, RCC, founder of TrilliumHill Consulting, is an organizational design and leadership consultant/coach. She specializes in research and development issues, and works extensively with scientists and engineers. Read more about Kim in the WABC Coach Directory. Kim can be reached by email at trilhill@aol.com.

    Sasmita Maurya, MBA, is a mentor and trainer. Her work with technical graduates, helping them to hone their interview skills and manage job-related issues, prepares them for their first placements in industry. Sasmita can be reached by email at sasmitamaurya@yahoo.co.in.

    This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Spring 2007, Volume 3, Issue 2). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

    If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.