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Coaching & Social Status by Keith E. Webb

Aug 9th, 2011 | By | Category: Missions Coaching

Does coaching work only in Egalitarian societies?

This question emerged from discussion around cultural differences in social structures of societies. In the USA and the Netherlands, for example, inequality is viewed as not good and they strive to eliminate it to be more egalitarian. Whereas in many Asian and Middle East cultures inequality is expected and not a problem.

Coaching is sometimes described as a “partnership” of the coach and coachee “learning together.” The meaning of these terms are very different depending on your cultural view of equality in social structures.

In Indonesia, “partnership” is rarely equal. There’s a saying, “there are no peers” meaning everyone is either above or below you on the social ladder. If they are above you, they direct down to you. “Learning together” usually means the person with the higher social status instructs the other. So, how might Indonesians view coaching? They will view it through their social hierarchy lens.

“Stop Asking Me Questions, Just Tell Me”
Indonesians I coached assigned me a higher social status and expected me to provide answers, not questions. I was surprised when they didn’t like being asked questions to come up with their own answers. I loved it when people did that for me, but they didn’t (at first).

Part of my Indonesian coachees’ hesitation was that those with higher social status provide a covering for those lower – providing the plan, the means, and taking responsibility. That’s comforting. They were cautious of doing anything that would damage relationships or bring shame on themselves or their group.

During their initial protests, it was tempting to dismiss coaching as not suitable to Indonesian culture and switch to providing answers as they expected. However, it’s the social structure under-girding the relationship that is effected by whether or not a culture is egalitarian or not. The discovery process can work in both social systems.

I adjusted my coaching. I used the discovery process of listening, asking questions, and no advice-giving but I provided more than a normal amount of acknowledgement and reassurance that I would be there and stand up for them regardless of the outcome. Trust was built and coaching produced some great results.

How About You?

  • What social support do you need to provide your coachees?
  • How might you have compromised the discovery process for the sake of culture and what can you do about that?


Dr. Keith E. Webb is a professional certified coach helping organizations develop the capacity and skills of people while multiplying organizational results. Keith is the author of The COACH Model for Christian Leaders. He developed the 61-hour Core Coaching Skills Certificate Program and offers a free monthly newsletter with articles like this one.
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One Response to “Coaching & Social Status by Keith E. Webb”

  1. vbharms says:


    I really appreciate your article on status-based social structure and coaching. Although Brazil is quickly updating in many areas (including in the area of professional coaching), I have also run into similar situations in training events with Brazilian “peers” (church-planting and leadership-development roles). The expectation seems to be that the teacher, leader, pastor, missionary…give conclusive answers. Something I’ve intuitively avoided for many years.

    Yet only more recently have been discovering how coaching really applies. I look forward to tracking with your blog in this are of cross-cultural coaching.

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