Healthy Leaders


The “Real Stuff” of Cross-Cultural Coaching

Tina Stoltzfus HorstTina Stoltzfus Horst

Recalculating my coaching GPS

“Tina, can we hear more about your family? How is your daughter’s health? Are you yourself feeling well? How was your vacation?” Nischal and Jongja gently led me back to friendly conversation once again. I ground my teeth. I took a deep breath. I reined in my desire – my need! – to get to the destination: the “real stuff” of coaching.

Later in the session, they asked me, “Could you do four sessions in three days next month? Could you do those sessions on a Friday and Saturday (my days off)?” Again, though I wanted to run in the other direction, my internal GPS system began “recalculating”.

“I hate this part of cross-cultural coaching!”

Cross-cultural missions coaching demands more of us as coaches than our normal coaching load ever will. One of the things demanded is humility. For instance, it’s terribly humbling to recognize that:

• You don’t know any longer what’s appropriate in some coaching contexts
• Your normal expectations for the structure of the coaching sessions need adjustment
• The personal boundaries you maintain with clients may have to be set aside for the unknown

Personally, I hate this part of cross-cultural coaching. I really like knowing the answers and having clear expectations. I have to give those luxuries up when coaching cross-culturally. I have to take comfort in Jesus’ example of coming to earth as a learner, a child, who needed spoon feeding and diaper changing, as all of us do.

Cross-cultural coaching demands humility!

When I began coaching Nischal and Jongja, I had to learn what worked for them in the relationship. I needed to understand why it was so difficult for them to schedule sessions. Were they putting me off? Why were they asking for such inconvenient dates and times?

When I got a concrete visual picture of the eight-hour trip they took down thousands of feet into the city on a wildly dangerous mountain road, just to get good internet for our sessions, I had a revelation about this couple’s astounding commitment to coaching!

Resetting my coaching GPS … again!

Because I chose to invite this couple to help me understand their context, Nischal and Jongja took joy in teaching me. When I jumped too quickly into the coaching appointment without giving enough time for personal sharing, they gently led me back to friendly conversation. I learned from Nischal’s reflections about the challenges of bringing coaching to a status-oriented culture. As I heard how he related to his colleagues, leaders and those working for him, I learned better how to relate to him.

I learned through many mistakes how to show honor in their culture. On a visit to their location, I (a woman) forgot protocol and greeted Nischal (a man) in front of his friends with a two-handed handshake – a huge faux pas – which I have regretted to this day!

Sometimes we will make wrong turns with our clients

We won’t always get the details of culture right. Yet, when our attitude is humble and Christ-like, when we are ready to learn and try again, allowing the Holy Spirit to spur our internal GPS to “recalculate” over and over, when we let the client lead, rather than our culturally bound expectations, there is grace and transformation ahead!

Questions: What have you learned as a result of inviting your cross-cultural clients to help you understand their context? How is your internal GPS being reset?

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