To God, success is more about becoming the right kind of person than doing all the right things.Fulfilling your inward potential as someone created in the image of God is what enables you to do what you were created to do. Doing flows out of being; so real success is about who you are.
The beauty of defining success in being terms is that you can experience success even in the midst of outward failure. One client I coached came to me because of a negative performance review: his boss had turned him down for a promotion because his co-workers evaluated him as distant, aloof, demanding and hard to work with. He came to me somewhat bewildered—he’d always seen himself as good with people. He was at a loss for how to respond.
At first, he saw that review as a very negative event. It jolted his self-confidence and threatened his career. But as he began to grasp why people saw him as distant and how he could change, his perspective changed. That seeming-failure taught him to slow down, pay more attention to emotions and feelings, and enjoy his life and work more. At his next review, things turned out much differently.
Most people would see that first review is as a failure or defeat—he wasn’t “doing it right,” and so he suffered the consequences. This is a golden opportunity for the coach to reframe the situation in terms of becoming. Adverse circumstances are like a plow that breaks up the compacted ground of our hearts so that the seed of real change can take root. So seeing those who face adversity as beneficiaries of a great opportunity for inward growth is a powerful approach. When this man discovered he was not who he thought he was, he hired a coach, did the heart work of taking an honest look at himself, and changed. By laying hold of the opportunity for heart change, his negative review became a life-changing success.
Another client came to me because he felt like a failure. He had left a job and a home he really enjoyed to pursue a different career; but once he was in it, he realized it didn’t fit him at all. Now, with three years of preparation and tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of education down the drain, he wondered if he had totally missed God’s will for his life.
Once we got down to that feeling, it provided a wonderful chance to coach from an alternate perspective. “Here’s how things look from where I sit. Your marriage has been in trouble for years, but this year you finally asked for help, and you are making great progress. For the first time, you hired a coach to help you discover God’s will for your life, instead of making those decisions on your own. And you are working intentionally at your devotional life and spending more time with God than ever. This doesn’t look like a failure to me! I’d say you are more in the center of God’s will for your life than you have ever been.”
Success in this situation was not being in the right location, doing the right job, like many clients believe. It was becoming the man God called him to be. Sometimes when we are moving forward, outwardly it looks like we are sliding back!
Think of it this way: if you are coaching someone in decision-making skills, is it most important that the person makes a good decision or becomes a good decision-maker? If I help you make a good decision, you’ve done one thing well. But if I help you become a great decision maker, I’ve affected every decision you make for the rest of your life. Becoming a different person bears more fruit than doing something right.
Tony Stoltzfus is a master coach, author and coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. A presentation of a thorough, practical toolkit for coaching Christian leaders to discover their identity can be found in his book the Christian Life Coaching Handbook.