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Coaching Cultures? Values, meaning and all that - what about Virtues?

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

Over the past decade or so the practice of developing values-led strategies has taken hold in many organisations where the organisations espouse, at least, that they are values-based and are clear about what those values are and sometimes what they mean.

Organisations though are filled with individuals and individuals have their own values and bring their own meaning in life, maybe they don’t explore that often enough, but this blog is intended to make people think.

One question I really don’t like is this: “What value do you add?”.

I don’t like it because it is a subjective and somewhat judgment based question. If you as a leader or coach find yourself asking it then I’d say you need to start with a question about yourself – “Why would you ask such a question of anyone?”.

I suggest that a better question is “What meaning do you bring to the values?” or “What do these values mean to you and how do you bring them to life in the spirit in which they were intended?”.

Sure this might stump some people as they try to get their head around what you are asking, but the major difference is that it is focused on the individual and them finding their own path and meaning, within the framework of the values.

I think that a culture that attributes meaning rather than value to its employees is a much richer culture as a result.

There is another element which I would also like to bring in here around virtues. Virtues are a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being.

How often do we talk about virtues in our organisations?

Of course, this might mean we have to spell out what moral behaviour we also expect to see in our people. To put it simply, if people behaved in the best interests of their organisations, their colleagues, and themselves to affect the greater good then this might take us some way towards a kinder and more inclusive culture. A culture that values how things are achieved in the best interest of all parties, as well as what is achieved, will be one where more people feel satisfied and engaged.

This brings me to the point about coaching cultures – where we have less judgment, more meaning, more virtues, and more purpose.

So a coaching culture would have high regard for the quality of the relationships, conversations, trust, and honesty of the individuals – this in some ways, would be put above all else, especially in the initial phases of the engagement in coaching.

There is a beautiful old proverb that says “Actions speak louder than words” attributed to John Pym (1628). This is incredibly relevant in organisations that aspire to have positive cultures but fall short by espousing values without congruent meaning - this is deadly, especially if the ‘bad’ behaviours are exhibited by senior people and are observed by the rest of the organisation. This might well generate a cynical, self-centered organisational culture where people will feel that what’s good for the Goose, isn’t actually good for the gander (to use another metaphor) and so they become toxic or 'we're out for ourselves' types of cultures.

So here’s what I think. Positive cultures have a lot in common with the fundamental principles of coaching. If we could all have coaching type relationships where we contract with each other to follow a few simple rules then we could potentially get there.

So here are some great aspects of a coaching arrangement:

1) There is a contract that sets out some principles and tangible elements to make the

arrangement meaningful and to a large extent professional.

2) It follows an agreed ethical code of conduct.

3) Time is taken to get to know individuals in a meaningful and supportive way. This in many

ways is an essential precursor to the actual work or subject matter.

4) The relationship is respectful, focused on finding tangible outcomes and is in many ways a

partnership where there is no hierarchy. Coach and coachee are equally important to the

process and both are learners.

5) From a coach’s perspective, they agree to act in the best interest of their client or


6) The conversations are based on trust and being trusted, openness and honesty, the

agreement to not give offence or indeed to take offence, as the spirit of the arrangement

is to be positive even if some challenging conversations are had or mistakes are made.

7) It is confidential, which in turn makes it a safe space to explore ideas, thoughts, emotion

and in some cases to look at physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

I could go on....

Now the point here is that a true coaching culture does not happen without elements like these being believed and acted out. Coaching cultures though are not comfortable cultures; they are positive and constructive, challenging, highly engaged, they respect differences but aim for congruence. There is also a fundamental belief that people can be empowered and can change and that challenge and reframing are positive elements because in this way it is possible to learn and grow.

Coaching cultures are virtuous cultures and this image shows hands reaching out virtuously to create meaningful human links
Reaching out

Respect, engagement, trust, honesty .... and all of those things are equally as important as the outcomes because without them the outcomes are rarely achievable.

This post builds upon my previous blog called exploring My coach gave me Eudaimonia but I’ve never felt better.

Please let me know what you think – I’d love to hear from you.


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