Many times coaching clients offer either/or solutions to a problem. For example, a client who thinks he either has to be the nice guy or the guy who holds the line.
This case illuminates that scenario. Georgia has recently been promoted to nurse manager after working in the same department for five years. She and a peer applied for the role, and Georgia was selected. Georgia is now concerned about how she will lead. She has always built solid relationships and been well liked. She is worried that now that she is the boss, she will have to change. Furthermore, she fears that she will no longer be liked by those who were once her peers.
Georgia tells her coach that she knows how to be friends with co-workers and she knows how to lay down the law. In her mind, the only options are to be a friend or lay down the law.
The coach asks, “What do you get from being friendly with your co-workers?” “Well, I am able to show that I care about those with whom I work. Honestly, I really do want them to see that I’m still Georgia, and becoming their boss didn’t change me as a person.”
Then the coach asks, “What are you afraid will happen if you are friendly with those you lead?” She says, “I’m afraid that when I need to enforce a policy, they will not take me seriously.”
Her coach asks, “Give me an example of somebody in your life who was a strong boss and deeply cared about you?” Georgia describes a boss she had when she started working at the clinic. Georgia highly respected her and also felt deeply cared for.
The coach asks, “Is there anything you can learn from this former boss that applies to you? It seems as if that boss could be friendly and lay down the law. Is that right?”
Georgia considers this and says “Perhaps. I can see that my either/or thinking is keeping me from having the courage to lead well. Can you help me to find ways to tap into the courage it takes to lay down the law?”
This breakthrough created new and more important options for Georgia to explore.
An important part of coaching is to uncover viable choices from which the client can consider. And either/or thinking is limited to 2 options. As a wise elder once said, “when given two equally bad choices, pick another.”
From “either/or” thinking to “yes/and” presents a “third way.”
The third way asks the coach to notice the client’s patterns. Is it their behavior, a way of thinking, or some pre-conceived notion? This observation guides the coach towards what kinds of questions would best serve the client. Some examples of questions might be:
Can you be an approachable boss while holding people firmly to the commitments they make?
What is more important to you – being liked or being respected?
If you thought about managing to the results while preserving good relationships, does that offer you any other options?
Can you imagine a world where you can be a strong leader and friendly with your co-workers at the same time?
I’m noticing that you present this issue with two oppositional ways of being, is there a way that these ‘opposites’ can exist together?
If you had no limitations and could make up another way of being, what would that be?
Back to the Georgia and her coach.
Her Coach asks, “Have you had to access your courage to make other tough decisions?”
She says that she has to do it all the time with her teenagers. Her coach explores this, and they find parallel behaviors between how she handles her kids and how she might handle a situation at work that requires her to lay down the law. They role-play a few scenarios, and Georgia commits to practicing with her mentor.
Through this process, Georgia found not only more options for this particular situation, but she grew as a leader and a boss by thinking about her challenges in a different way.
Either/or is a great way of thinking when there is an urgent decision. But the most strategic and effective decisions emerge when new options are discovered – a ‘third way.’