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Unconditional Coaching Relationships by Tony Stoltzfus

Feb 10th, 2014 | By | Category: Featured Content, Transformational Coaching

Coaching is an unconditional relationship. This means you as a coach offer full acceptance and unqualified belief to your client, independent of performance. This agape’ concept comes straight from the gospels:  

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon and you will be pardoned. Give and it will be given to you…”    Luke 6:35-38

Because God loved us when we were unlovable, because God believed in us while we were messed up: we can do the same for those we coach. To love unconditionally is to imitate God. 

Not long ago I was coaching an international leader through a training course. Midway through the training schedule, he began missing coaching appointments. He would always e-mail me and apologize profusely, but when we rescheduled he’d miss again.

It was a challenging situation for me as a coach. Because he lived halfway around the world, all of our appointments were in the early morning or the middle of the evening. It was frustrating and inconvenient for me to keep sitting by the phone at odd hours waiting for calls that never came. I couldn’t just say “sayonara,” because he was a key leader in a strategic partner organization. After five missed appointments in a row, I discovered that he was so embarrassed at standing me up that he had contracted with another coach to finish the training course without even telling me (and I was director of the coaching school)!

One of my personal commitments to my clients is that when we have a coaching appointment it’s going to be about you, not me. That means I’m going to leave my own agenda at the door, so when I’m coaching we’re talking about your growth and not about my frustrations with you. In this situation, it took a fair amount of praying get to the point where I could talk to the client with a clean slate!

We finally managed to set up a meeting to evaluate his status in the training process. To prepare, I carefully planned the question I wanted to ask to initiate our discussion. I wanted a gentle, neutral, non-judgmental opening that gave him a chance to explain himself. On the surface, it seemed like he had really blown it. But I believe that people have a good reason for what they do. If things break down or the client does something that seems irrational to me, there is a good reason (at least from the client’s perspective) for why it happened. I decided to try to understand (and help the client understand) the beliefs that were driving his actions.

After chatting for a few moments, I asked my opening question: “I know we missed a number of appointments over the last while. Could you talk a little about what was happening there?” He started to talk about the experience, and in only a few minutes began to share that when he was a child his father had beaten him physically every time he didn’t get a perfect score on a test. He made the connection for the first time that he’d spent his entire adult life running away from failure at work, in his marriage and in relationships.

But this time things were different. We faced the breakdown together, we talked things through, he apologized and I forgave him. The two of us went on from there with a close, healthy relationship. We didn’t go through any special healing process, and I don’t remember if I even prayed with him during that appointment. But he was such a transformed man that I began to get e-mails from others in his organization: “What did you do with him? He’s a totally different person now!” That appointment changed his life, because this time no one beat him when he failed.

Tony Stoltzfus is an author, leadership coach, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on this topic can be found in Tony’s book, Leadership Coaching.

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