The Impact of Our Cultural Identity as Professional Coaches

It’s not surprising that the results of the 2016 International Coach Federation NPO-NGO Community of Practice survey found cultural competency was a high priority area of interest.

What is cultural competency?

Culture is an abstract concept that can be hard for us to define. Therefore, there is no one set definition for cultural competency. The seminal work of Georgetown University Social Scientists Cross et al in 1989 offered a definition of cultural competence that is still in use today:

Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency or those professions to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.

Culture is a set of shared understandings, thoughts, actions, customs, values and so on. Competence is used to imply a capacity to function effectively with others who may not share the same culture. While you may not use cardamom in your family’s traditional recipes, you understand and respect that other people do.

How many spices can you name?

Why does it matter?

Our local communities are becoming more diverse and globally connected through technology and demographic changes. Organizations are “internationalizing” – employees are geographically dispersed, from different countries, and different cultures. The workplace requires individuals to be aware of different cultures, to interact with people from different cultures, and to interpret new cultures as they are encountered.

By 2050, the United States will consist of a majority minority population.  This means that today’s minority groups, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as those of any race other than non-Hispanic, single-race whites, who currently account for only a third of the U.S.’s current population, are expected to increase to 54% of the U.S. population within a generation. As the U.S.’s cultural diversity increases, so will the need for our cultural competence.

These changing workforce and societal demographics are revolutionizing the learning demands for leaders today.

What’s the impact for coaching?

As professional coaches, a critical component of success is that we acknowledge the impact of our cultural identity as well as the cultural identity of our client.

Cultural competence is essential for success. With these changing cultural and demographic trends, how do coaches need to be culturally competent to support today’s leaders? How do we understand our cultural identity as coaches and how does that influence the way we support our clients in designing actions?

Where to start?

Begin by examining your individual cultural identity. By understanding your own cultural identity through self-reflection you are more prepared for the cross-cultural learning process. For example, if your cultural identity is American then you are more likely to place a high value on time as a concept and as a commodity.  Americans do battle with time.  We talk about saving time and beating the clock. Whereas other cultures have a more relaxed view of time.

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture.  He identified six dimensions of culture and has plotted the relative comparison of 76 different countries. You can select two countries and compare the dimensions of power, individualism, long-term orientation, etc.

Want to improve your cultural competence?

Vista Global Coaching & Consulting also provides custom trainings and workshops on cultural competence. Or if you’re looking for an opportunity to explore cross-cultural leadership, check out the Vista Leadership Academy.  Currently accepting applications until June 1, 2016,  Vista Leadership Academy is the only cross-cultural, multi-generational leadership development experience that combines a virtual classroom model with a transformative leadership journey in Oaxaca, Mexico. Learn more about the Academy’s Program…

Listening: Possibly the Most Important Leadership Skill


Too often leadership development programs focus on a leader looking inward or building demonstrative skills like ability to delegate or exuding confidence. But often the most successful leaders are adept at focusing on others in the form of listening.

Do you think you are a good listener? You may want to think again.  The Center for Creative Leadership describes some key indicators in their resource Listening and Leadership. Some of the most common signs that your listening skills need improvement include:

  • You’re easily distracted. Solution: Do your best to stop multi-tasking and be present enough to listen to your team.
  • You fear silence. Solution: Embrace the quiet moments and do not feel obligated to fill silences or respond to every comment.
  • You give advice too soon. Solution: Wait to here the full story and do not feel compelled to be the expert.

For a comprehensive list of resources for your improving listening skills, check out Beth Kanter’s recent blog Ways that Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Can Build Virtuoso Listening Skills. It should be required reading for every leader!


Thoughts on the Social Sector’s Leadership Gap

The Nonprofit Quarterly recently published an Op-Ed by a retiring nonprofit leader,  Nancy Wackstein, who feels concerns about a Leadership Gap in the sector are overblown.

Research about the sector’s need for succession planning first gained traction in 2009 as explored by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Great Recession may have delayed the retirements of many Boomers but concerns about recruiting the next generation of leaders remains constant.


Ms. Wackstein describes an encouraging experience. And it’s easy to agree that “baby boomers really do not have the monopoly on compassion, commitment to social justice, or very hard work.” But it’s more likely that Ms. Wackstein’s experience is an exception to the rule. Plus, as she describes, she put intention in mentoring her younger colleagues.

Organizations that avoid the pitfalls of the leadership gap are headed by leaders like Ms. Wackstein who value and model shared leadership.

For recent research on best practices in leadership development and succession planning, check out the new eBook by Olive Grove and Vista Global titled, Proactively Plan for the Inevitable: A Guide To Leadership Transition and Succession, to learn more.



New Bridgespan Blog: Three Key Roles Funders Can Play in a CEO Transition

Grantmakers can accelerate their impact in the social sector by supporting leadership transition. My colleagues at Olive Grove and I wrote an article recently featured on Bridgespan’s blog titled “Three Key Roles Funders Can Play in a CEO Transition.”


There is a strong case to be made for funders to support their grantees during executive transitions. By helping them develop strong leadership pipelines through internal talent development, create realistic thoughtful succession plans, and evaluate the financial health of organizations to sustain a transition, funders can position the organizations they support to not only survive a transition, but thrive during and after it.

Read the blog and find out what grantmakers can do to help organizations undergoing leadership transition.

Improve Leadership with Diversity and Cultural Intelligence

A recent blog in the Standford Social Innovation Review by Molly Brennan explores new research by Koya Leadership Partners and Education Pioneers, that finds diverse teams of varying racial and ethnic makeup produce better results.  A conclusion that many of us who specialize in leadership development have already witnessed anecdotally.

In the social sector, the importance of a nonprofit’s leadership team reflecting their constituency is more critical than ever. As Brennan points out, to succeed, nonprofits need to move past diversity statements stated in an organization’s list of values.  Nonprofits must start cultivating leadership teams that backup such statements.

Brennan continues in Five Ways to Build Diverse Inclusive Leadership Teams to outline concrete tactics that can greatly benefit organizations in both the private and social sectors.


Where is Home?

Cultural Intelligence begins with knowledge. It’s critical for you to know yourself, know others, and find a way to lead together. Vista Global offers workshops on Cultural Intelligence for you to:

1. Examine the trends that are driving the need for greater cultural intelligence

2. Define culture, cultural intelligence and map personal cultural identity

3. Recognize the cultural lenses through which you operate

By exploring the national ethnic and demographic trends impacting the social sector, as a workshop participant you’ll learn the foundational elements of cultural intelligence required to build a thriving organization.

Through building skills in self management, empathy and listening, you can build bridges to mutual understanding. Gain greater awareness of how to adjust behavior to interact with various cultures.  Contact Mary to schedule your organization’s workshop today.


When a Nonprofit Is Your Friend for Life

Being dedicated to social impact can be a life-long pursuit and passion. Do you have a personal story of when a nonprofit became your friend for life?

My friend for life, AMIGOS, taught me that if you open yourself to discovering other cultures and the way people live in other places, you will build bridges that make the world a better place for all to thrive.

How did we meet? The power of word of mouth

In the Spring of 1987, on the campus of UC Berkeley, I found myself sitting in the Study Abroad office going through piles of pamphlets and flyers of “Summer Abroad” experiences. As a 21 year old self-supporting college student,  I wanted to do something adventurous and meaningful over summer break while improving my Spanish skills.

None of the flyers or pamphlets were compelling. Uninspired… I asked friends what they have done during the summer, particularly a friend who was studying Spanish. He urged me to check out Amigos de las Americas and I was thrilled to find their program was a perfect fit. The program entailed spending 6-8 weeks in a rural community in 1 of 8 different Latin American countries.

How did we become friends? Sometimes it takes a village

Before the internet (when dinosaurs roamed the earth), college students had to make a phone call and request an information packet be snailmailed in order to apply. After receiving my application, I was shocked to learn the program cost $2500!

Keep in mind, at that time, $2500 was the same amount as tuition for a semester of college. At first, I didn’t see how I could apply for the program and pay for the next year’s tuition because I would also lose that income from not working all summer.

AMIGOS was there to help, by providing a fundraising letter template. I sent an appeal letter to family members and family friends, a total of 25 appeals and waited. Generously, donations began to arrive as $100 came in, $50 came in, $25 came in…

I waited to deposit the checks, so I could return the donations in the event I didn’t meet the fundraising goal. With just a few days before the application payment was due, I was still short $500. Then, one more check arrived, exactly $500 from my Great Aunt Harriet.  Aunt Harriet, then retired, had served as the Dean of Randolph Macon College in Virginia for decades.  The note included with her check said,  “the best investment in education is seeing the world.”

I spent 8 weeks in Ecuador that summer which inspired me to pursue a graduate degree in Latin American Studies and embark on a career of working to make a difference in my local community and communities globally.

How did we stay friends? Giving back comes full circle

Twenty-five years after that summer in Ecuador, I was Chair of the Board of Directors of AMIGOS. I wanted to continue my commitment to creating opportunities for other students to change themselves…and help change the world.

What’s Your Story?

Do you have a nonprofit friend for life? I want to hear from you! Share your story in the comments below or contact me. Part of my mission at Vista Global Coaching & Consulting is to help leaders make a difference in the world. Share your story so we can inspire others to do the same!