Last week we started a discussion on making some simple adjustments in our approach to those we lead.
During my tenure at a medical pregnancy network, first as a volunteer and then as the director, I learned some valuable concepts that I apply to my life and leadership settings. By making a shift in my thinking, I am able to view my leadership influence in a new way. When I am actively engaged in this way of thinking, I am able to go from being an exhausted leader to an empowered leader.
The second concept that liberated me as a leader is understanding the difference between being “responsible to others” versus being “responsible for others.”
Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend have written several books about healthy boundaries. In a nutshell: We are responsible for our own choices. We are not responsible for other people’s choices. In terms of natural consequences, I know that A + B = C. However, I may still think to myself, “If I had only been more convincing, Mary would not have done “A” and then she wouldn’t be in this mess. In reality though, Mary’s poor choice rests entirely on her. She is completely responsible for her decisions. Her decision may sadden or inconvenience me, but I don’t own responsibility for it.
We are only responsible for others when they are entirely dependent on us for survival. Very few people fall into that category. Newborn babies, severely disabled people, and elderly people unable to function need our attention for survival. If we fail to care for them, or provide others for the task, they will die. For everyone else, though, we are responsible to them.
Here are the important distinctions:
When I am responsible for others, I have unhealthy boundaries.
My job is to carry, protect, and rescue them. I personalize their feelings. I focus on ME, and am more concerned about finding solutions and right performance than listening. I expect them (although I may never say it out loud) to live up to my expectations and goals. As a result I feel anxious, even fearful, and exhausted. The weight of others’ choices is on me.
When I am responsible to others, I have healthy boundaries.
My job is to empathize and encourage, to speak the truth in love and challenge them to make good decisions. I focus on THEM. I am concerned about listening to them and really hearing them, showing unconditional love. I am a helper-guide or coach, trusting God and letting go of the outcome. As a result I feel relaxed, confident, and empowered.
I have a long history of believing I was responsible for others. I carried responsibility for others into my family and ministry relationships. When things were difficult, I lamented that I hadn’t prayed harder, taught the Bible better, or loved the people more. The reverse was also true. When my children achieved great things, it was an indication of my success. When people of our church experienced breakthroughs in their relationship with God, it showed off our ministry abilities. The pressure of being responsible for so many people was enormous, and I suffered under the weight of it. God, in His mercy, began to teach me about healthy boundaries. Ten years ago, while training at the pregnancy center, I learned the difference between “being responsible to others vs. being responsible for others.” The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the many ways I had taken the responsibility for the choices of others, whether good or bad. By understanding this simple idea of being responsible to others, I began to experience freedom.
Next week we will take a look at the concept: “Caring” versus “Carrying.”
Do you struggle with taking responsibility for others?
If so, identify some people you have taken responsibility for.
In what ways will your relationships change when you are responsible to them instead of responsible for them?
Ask the Lord for wisdom to relate with people in healthy ways.