At CTI, the definition of a Co-Active leader is: “One* who is responsible for their world.”
(*Psssst! EveryONE is a leader…. You know what that means? Everyone is responsible for their world.)
I’ve spent a good part of my adult life UN-learning the role in my family in which I was “the responsible one.” Growing up, I believed the way to receive approval and love was to be the good boy, to do what I was told, to get good grades in school, to perform at a high level in all ways, and to feel responsible for creating and maintaining harmony in my family and beyond.
“Responsibility” was my personal calling card and badge of honor. I applied it to every situation, achieving a good deal of success and garnering admiration from others.
A good dose of therapy, coaching, and spiritual development, together with a restructuring of old beliefs, helped me achieve a greater sense of personal balance, leading to a shift in my understanding that shouldering responsibility for others while ignoring my own needs can be detrimental, not only to my well-being, but to others as well. I was finally able to claim, “I am NOT responsible for my world!”
One of the most important cornerstones in the Co-Active model states:“People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.” As Co-Active coaches, we understand that our old notions of “helping” and “fixing” actually disempower others, leading to passive dependence on the “professional” to remedy a difficult situation. Instead, we place the responsibility for addressing a challenging issue squarely onto the shoulders of the person being served by the coach.
In fact, the entire coaching profession arose around the recognition that the best way to serve those who seek change is to ask powerful questions, driven by the coach’s sincere belief that the client has the answers and is, in fact, responsible for creating or not creating the change that they seek to make in their lives.
Yes! Not only had I come to relieve myself of the burden of being responsible for others, but my chosen profession reinforced this notion through its fundamental approach to holding others accountable for their success and sense of well-being in their work and elsewhere, with the coach cheering them on from the sidelines.
As members of a coach training organization that also provides a life-changing experience of leadership development through our leadership program, we at CTI began to realize that we are here to play a bigger game than the training of coaches, as we consider the concerns of our world. It became clear that it was not enough to train coaches in a mindset bent on helping clients achieve their own agenda. No, we learned that we must hold a bigger stake for our planet and everything on it. We came to realize that coaches and clients alike must be conscious and committed stewards of our planet, even as we coach people to achieve their personal goals. This bigger, wider lens had us look first at the impact we each have on our world as leaders, as we shifted from being a coach training organization to a leadership development organization — one that includes coaching as leadership development.
We came to realize that when we operate from an innate sense of responsibility in every aspect of what we think, say, and do, we are co-creating a better world. As we began to understand that a leader is someone who is responsible for his/her world, questions emerged: What is a coach’s role in that context? Are we now to go backwards into the land of codependence and believe that a coach is now responsible for a coaching client’s progress?
On a personal level, that small voice within began to complain: “Oh no! I’m responsible for my world? I’ve been working to get away from that mindset. What am I to do? I mean, my world is a pretty big place. In my mindset, my world extends to all that I am conscious of and aware of. All of it. From the environment I live in, to the air I breathe, to the peoples across the country and the planet… that is a pretty big world to be responsible for, isn’t it?”
We must distinguish between “responsibility” and “control.” These two notions are often collapsed and treated as one. We say to ourselves, “If I am responsible for it, I must have to control it.”
Dog training provides us with an excellent example of this collapsed distinction. In dog ownership and training, there is an important sense of both responsibility and control: When someone visits my home, I am responsible for my dog’s behavior. It is also my duty to control my dog so that he behaves properly around visitors. When we collapse the notion of “responsibility” and the notion of “control,” we no longer see them as separate. We then assume that being responsible for something means we must also control it.
But we must come to understand that we can be responsible for our world while not thinking, acting, or feeling as if we must control it.
Imagine the neighbors and strangers who live on your street or in your building. Imagine encountering them with a heightened sense of responsibility for the quality of their lives, while at the same time relinquishing any sense of control for ensuring that they fit your picture of well-being for them. How would it feel? How much of that old “responsibility” weight would you be carrying? How might it affect what you did and how you interacted with people? How much more spacious might you feel if you knew you were fully responsible but not in control?
I know that when I imagine this, my shoulders are squared, I breathe deeply and easily, and I’m more curious and engaged from this place. Besides, it’s comforting to know that not only am I responsible for my world, so are you — whether you know it or not. I invite you to operate with this understanding. Try it out, and share what you discover.