May 25, 2014
In my most recent visit to California, I was introduced to a couple of people in their mid to late 20’s who described their job as “life coach.” I must say I was a bit skeptical about this claim. But the fact is that there are many people of various ages describing themselves with this professional title. “Coach” and “coaching” are at the top of the buzzword list now, right along with “leadership”—at least in managerial English. And, in Rosinski’s view, they are connected––coaching is critical to the development of global leadership.
Already familiar with Philip Rosinski’s previous work on intercultural coaching, I was eager and delighted to be invited to review his latest book. What awaited me was both surprising and in many ways satisfying. At the start and throughout, Rosinski undergirds his authority with a personal, experiential perspective, his story, reflecting on the various disciplines absorbed in his education and his life work.
In Chapter 1, he takes us on a helicopter ride to view what coaching can be all about from various perspectives. This is a scary ride, because the categories he cites seem to suggest combining in a single individual, in some sort of general practitioner, what have been in recent times the professional specialties of priests and gurus, interculturalists and anthropologists, psychologists and therapists, managers and government officials, doctors, nutritionists, and sports coaches, etc., each of these a lifelong vocation in itself. He uses a case study to show how all of these dimensions may be involved at a critical point in a single coachee’s life and performance needs. Wheeew!
Rosinski is right, life is complex, and people's lives are complex, and all this complexity is happening in a world that is very complex. We are threatened by disintegration in ecological, economic, political, etc., domains, in which the actors lack a holistic perspective and consequently are likely to aggravate one problem in attempting to solve another. Each may be concerned with his or her own problems or domain and, when it comes to issues outside one’s silo, couldn't care less, or feels helpless. The question is how to apply the KISS principle to managing complexity. Must we return to shamanism or court jesters…? Maybe. Read on…
Next, Rosinski tackles leadership from the perspective of its current complexity and he documents tragic practices in several business sectors, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and finance, underlining inadequate responses, both corporate and governmental, to these disastrous, if not criminal policies. This is part and parcel of what has become our every day reality. Where do we go from here?
Part 2 of the book explores the deployment of six heuristic perspectives, one at a time, in succeeding chapters: physical, managerial, psychological, political, cultural, and finally, the spiritual. Fitness occupies some 29 pages, while management a scant 8, psychology 19, politics 9, culture 30 (with lots of tiny print) and spirituality some 20 pages. There is lots of contemporary and classical wisdom juxtaposed in these chapters, but I also wondered why the managerial and the political were given such short shrift.
This reader was disappointed by the chapter on culture, which felt antiquated, given the new research and emerging practices, relating complexity and context, applying discourse analysis, etc. Cultural constructionism as an open system, however, is described in a later chapter. Rosinski's cultural analysis tool, the COF assessment is somewhat more flexible and open than many of the expressions of domain-oriented boilerplate that we find in current intercultural practice. He also encourages the use of other models. Cultural coaching is an art, and Rosinski notes that art forms and objects can have a great place in providing insights to our work, and integrating it in our perception. The topic of spirituality touches on several traditions but largely homes in on the rich and long-standing relevance of the Talmudic.
Part 3 of the book works to connect to these six perspectives, by helping us realize that they are in fact parts of a whole in which we are immersed. The model is holographic and is explored in terms of physics, psychology, systems theory, and constructivism.
Chapter 10 is patterned on “the hero's journey,” that is, recognizing the various kinds of archetypes in search of fulfillment within us as we face the challenges of life. Having been personally trained in Jungian psychology and a fan of Joseph Campbell as part of my involvement in the men's movement, I find these articulations somewhat useful, at least from a male perspective, and would be curious to hear how women readers of this same material react. At any rate, Rosinski makes the point that these parts of ourselves, these archetypal roles, are too often latent, but we can tap into them for the resources to address both our inner complexity and that which surrounds us.
While the heroes’ adventures may sound like totally individual challenges, it is only in bonding with others that the process of individuation reaches fulfillment. This is the topic of the chapter on “Unity through Deep Bonding.” Other-acceptance and self-acceptance are part of the philosophy and spirituality of our project.
Finally, there is a short two-page appendix in which Rosinski describes his search for a symbol to model this entire process. He decides that the Möbius strip will serve as a transitional object that visibly and tangibly illustrates both unity and infinity, blending complexity and integrity.
The reader must ask and answer this question: Is a Global Coaching simply a concatenation of pop psychologies, californicated spiritualties, organic menus, fitness metrics and New Age nostrums? Or, is it something more? Is it rather, an attempt to articulate a life-long learning process in the context of a helping profession, the author sharing the map of his life path and appealing to ours? Providing himself as an example, rather than as a model, he opens for us his knapsack of current cultural survival lore, resources likely to resonate with us and with our clientele, contemporary humans adrift in the global culture and grasping for flotation devices?
I have often been critical of the coaching movement as exemplifying the maxim, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.” (The more things change, the more they remain the same.) Most of the things that coaches do have long been done in much the same way in other times or in other professions. So, what's the fuss all about? But, perhaps I have it wrong. What is being highlighted here is not the novelty of the content or freshness of the practices, but sustaining the effort to holistically integrate into life and profession diverse elements, whose disparate and disproportionate fragmentation in individuals and in systems is what has been propelling us to the brink of disaster in our personal, professional, and sociopolitical lives.
The books implicit warning here, for those who would be “life coaches,” is not to be seduced by a single solution, or methodology, or discipline, but to be lifelong seekers of integration, open not merely to the mash of models Rosinski has served up for us in these pages, but to those we will discover along the way. If perchance you meet the Buddha when taking this road, kill him!
Coaching should not be limited to a single profession called “coach” but belong to all of the professionals that we listed in the third paragraph of this review. These, and others as well, are invited to become coaches, which is to say, learn to be integrators and mediums of the many perspectives beyond their own specialties that will make them more effective in both managing themselves and helping others in what they do. How “elder” do you need to be to do all this well? Frankly, going on 75, I am still cruising the inside passage from popery to potpourri.