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Influence Authority and Responsibility by Tony Stoltzfus

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

A key second principle that allows coaching relationships to be unconditional is that they are purely influence-based. As a coach, you don’t hold a position of authority in your client’s life like a boss, pastor, mentor or counselor would. There is absolutely no expectation that your clients have to listen to you just because you are “the coach.” It is not your job to tell your clients what to do or to hold them to your own standards. The clients set the goals and make the choices. Your relationship gives you influence with your clients, but all the authority to make the decisions rests with them.

Here’s the payoff. In effective leadership (and healthy organizations) authority and responsibility go together. The person who is responsible for something should be able to make decisions in that area. Likewise, whoever makes the decisions should also be responsible for the consequences of them. In coaching, the clients keep all the authority to make choices about their lives, so they carry all the responsibility for those choices as well. Stated as a coaching principle, it goes like this: 

You are not responsible for the client’s outcome. 

You won’t realize just how freeing that is until you start coaching! If your clients make wrong choices, they are responsible for them: it isn’t your fault. If your clients do something great, you can celebrate with them, but they get all the credit. Because you are not responsible for the client’s outcome, you can let go of having to make sure your clients do things right. You are free to relax and believe in them.

Here’s an example to help flesh this out. Say that you’re a manager, and you hire an individual into your department. Because you hired and you oversee that employee, her performance reflects on you. For instance, if she skips work half the time and quits after three weeks, you made a bad hire. It’s your department, and you are responsible.

Bearing responsibility for the outcome changes how you work with that person. Say that one day this gal comes in all excited about a new product idea, but you think it might lose the company a bunch of money. Because you are responsible, you’ll have to be convinced that this will work before you OK it. Your ability to unconditionally believe in her is limited by your responsibility for the outcome of her choices.

If I’m a coach retained by this same individual, my response is different. I’m not there to be an expert on this business, and it’s not my job to determine whether this is a good idea or not. I’m there to partner with her and help give her the best chance to succeed at what she believes she should do. Because I’m not responsible, I’m free to be genuinely excited about her idea. We’ll brainstorm together, think things through and maybe come up with a plan to present the idea to the boss. But when the appointment is over, I won’t waste a moment worrying if it is the right idea or not: that’s her responsibility to carry.

Here’s another way to look at it. As a Christian, when you sin does it reflect negatively on God? Is His character sullied because you did something wrong? Does it mean He made a bad call when he invited you into the Kingdom? Thankfully, it doesn’t. The reason why is because God has given us the gift of free will. We have our lives as a gift from Him, and we are solely responsible for how we steward them. God could use His authority to force us to do what’s right, but he has temporarily laid down His potter’s right, and instead given the authority and responsibility for our earthly choices to us. The gift of free will is what enables us to be sons and daughters instead of slaves. The choice of how to live our life is ours, and the outcome of our choice is ours alone to bear.

At the last judgment, no one will be able to claim that God made them sin, or that it was God’s fault that they turned out the way they did. On that day, when God reasserts His full authority over all His creation, those who freely gave their lives to Him as Lord will be able to live under His total authority and still maintain their freedom as sons. Those who freely rejected His rule will receive the outcome that they chose and that God’s holiness will then demand: to be separated from Him forever. God is not responsible for our choices—we are.

Coaching honors the free will of the client because God honors free will. A coach keeps people responsible for their own lives because God does the same. Coaching is imitating how God relates to us.

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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