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Coaching Postmoderns

Posted by Gary R Collins on July 30, 2010 Comments 2

Coaching Postmoderns



One of the greatest benefits of teaching is hanging out with students and learning from them. One morning, many years ago, a young graduate student stuck his head into my office and asked what I knew about deconstructionism and postmodernism. I had no idea what he was talking about but I soon learned. The student coached me in finding things to read. We talked about his generation, the non-traditional ways in which even seminary students were thinking, and the apparent irrelevance of much that he was learning from his professors. During his years in graduate school I learned a lot from that student.

            I’m still learning. I like hanging out with learners, innovators, young leaders and people who are not like me. They keep me connected with what’s going on and they challenge me to think about ways in which the world – including the world of coaching – is being pushed to change. I’ve learned how the postmodern way of thinking has penetrated the culture and moved us beyond the structured, fact-oriented, scientific approaches that characterized what some have called modernism. Condemned by some and ignored by others, postmodernism has taken hold most firmly in people who are younger. Many may know nothing about postmodernism but they live out its philosophy.

            Rick is an example. We go to the same fitness club and sometimes talk informally in the locker room. Rick is 23, a college graduate who works in a coffee shop and lives at home because it is cheaper. He works hard at his job, apparently pays his bills, and likes to party on the weekends. He enjoys hanging out with his friends, checks his text messages constantly, plays in a band, and describes himself as “living in a eco friendly, save the environment, fight for Tibet, serve people, recycle everything type of culture.” Rick says he’s interested in spirituality but he doesn’t care for the church. Despite a degree in computer science, he has no vocational goals and assumes that “it will all work out whenever.” He finds it “interesting” that I am a coach and suggested that coaching might be good for him sometime. But right now Rick is “just trying to find” himself and “figure out life.”

            How do we coach with people like Rick who aren’t likely to connect with the getting-from-here-to-there linear models of coaching that have emerged from the results-oriented world of business?


  • Recognize that for many of us coaching postmodern people is like reaching across cultures. If we don’t understand the new culture we will not be effective in working with the natives. 
  • Commit to building trust and relationships before and during coaching.  
  • Respect community so that we are open to interactive group coaching experiences where people work together in relationship with others. Many postmoderns prefer to find accountability in a community of mentors and friends with whom they share life.
  • Be real (in no way phony), transparent, willing to learn, flexible, humble, never paternalistic, affirming, patient, available and comfortable talking about our own experiences including our failures.
  • Understand that postmodern people may care little about our training or certification but care a lot about our authenticity and our willingness to connect and show respect.
  • Use stories frequently and encourage the people we coach to think of how they can develop new stories for their own lives.
  • Move away from messages that emphasize success, vision casting and steps toward goals – at least until we know how each person (don’t call them clients) views these things.    
  • Recognize the importance of values, self discovery, meaning and reflections on careers, relationships, spirituality, and life.
  • Be open to innovations like finding creative ways to use technology, social networks, text messages, art, or imagery.
  • Engage more interactively with people in coaching rather than staying rigidly with the traditional approach that waits for them to come up with all the answers.
  • Rethink what it means to be a Christian coach. This might mean engaging postmoderns in discussions about spirituality before focusing more on Christianity. It also means letting them see a Christ-follower who has a faith that works and who demonstrates compassion for the poor or marginalized.
  • Be cautious about using the word “coach” because of its association with athletics. “Guide” might be a better word. I most often talk about “journeying” together.


            Might it be that some of our methods need to be changed so they connect better with people who aren’t much interested in traditional views of success, don’t think in linear ways and might not respond to accepted methods of coaching? Maybe we need to move away from models that build on the business ways of thinking and develop new approaches around postmodern values of experience, community, and authenticity. Most often postmoderns don’t buy the idea that coaching leads to greater productivity and then to success. They have seen this model lead to driven lifestyles, broken homes, greed, insensitivity to others and destroyed lives. This is a generation that is willing to replace power and the drive for success with authenticity and fulfillment. What does that say about the way we coach in a world of postmodern thinking?


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This post is taken from Christian Coaching Magazine and was published in an issue earlier this year. You can subscribe to this monthly publication at

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Eva Says:

Dear Gary, thank you soooo much for this post. I am just finishing a LC course based on your book. To start with I will use my newly acquired skill and mindset mainly with my older teenagers to help them find their way forward in life. Your article just makes so much sense and adding this perspective to what I have been learning these past weeks will definitely benefit my teens. Again, thank you so much!

Tim Page Says:

Hi Gary.

Just to highlight a typo - the link has a '-' instead of '.'

Thanks for sharing resources. If you are ever in Ireland, would be good to meet up for coffee.

Tim Page

© 2014 Gary R. Collins, PhD.
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