Influence versus Authority in the Coaching Relationship

influence versus authorityHow do you determine influence versus authority in your coaching relationships? Authority plays an important part in relationships. In healthy leadership and healthy relationships, authority and responsibility go together. The client is the one who bears the consequence for his choices (he’s responsible and the coach isn’t), so the client should also exercise the right to make those choices (he’s in authority and the coach isn’t). Since the authority to decide rests with the client, a coach must function by influence versus authority. There are two wonderful benefits to functioning solely through influence. Since you are not responsible for the client, you can relax. You don’t have to make sure the client’s life works: that’s not your job. You are not responsible for the client’s outcome. Letting go of this responsibility is what allows you to really believe in the client unconditionally. Second, since the client chooses the goals and the steps, it’s not your fault if they don’t work. (Those of you who are pastors probably see the benefit of this immediately!) There’s no blame-shifting in a coaching relationship. If what the client decided to do isn’t working, the client takes responsibility for it and together you just fix it.

You are not responsible for the client’s outcome.

Coaching is essentially an influence relationship, and coaching at its best is relationally transparent, authentic, deep, safe and fun. In my former role as a coach trainer I reviewed a lot of evaluations clients did of their coaches, and one of the most prevalent comments I saw concerned the impact of the relationship itself on the client. Many people feel that just being with and knowing a coach has been transformational. It is a powerful thing to be heard, to be believed in, to be accepted and to be loved.

Coaching is a relationship. It should be based on influence versus authority.

I believe the biggest reason Christians in general experience so little transformation in their lives is that they ignore the Bible’s relational mandate leadership coachingfor how to effect change. We were never meant to live the Christian life alone. Christianity is an interdependent, community-oriented faith. And yet when we set out to improve our prayer life, or deal with our anger problem, or increase our income, or become a better father; most of the time we work on it completely alone. Coaching puts change back into the context of a learning community, where God always intended for it to be. You cannot live the life you were born to live without relationships that influence you toward change.

Tony Stoltzfus is a best-selling author, leadership coach and master coach trainer, and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on the role of questions in the coaching relationship can be found in Tony’s book, Leadership Coaching.