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How to Reconcile Two Opposing Right Answers (a.k.a. Size Doesn’t Matter)

“I did it!” said Bekka, her face beaming. “I’ve finally earned the respect of my leadership team. Hallelujah!”

 

Six months ago, Bekka stepped into her mother’s shoes to lead an association her mother founded.  The mission is to support the education and personal development of professionals who serve the elderly.

 

Her passion for this work is raw.  When her grandfather’s health declined sixteen years ago, the professionals her mom hired to assist him didn’t display the personal maturity to care for him appropriately.  What saddened her the most was how disrespectful and short-tempered they were when they spoke with him.    

 

After witnessing this behavior up close, Bekka’s mother founded an association that helps professionals develop the interpersonal skills and capacities to remain patient, caring and calm in the face of challenging client behavior. 


When Bekka replaced her mother as Executive Director, she hired a coach to support her transition into this new role. Her primary goal was to earn professional credibility with the leadership team. “Although I’ve been in healthcare for over a decade, I’m new to eldercare. Plus, I’m younger than everyone else on staff,” she said, frowning. 

 

She felt the greatest unease during strategic planning meetings.  “I really want to expand our impact by tripling in size,” said Bekka, her knee jiggling in frustration. “But I’m getting pushback from many of the staff. They want us to remain small because our small size fosters the intimacy needed for the deeper, more vulnerable self-development work that members value and expect,” she added.

 

“I get their point,” she continued, “but if we stay this small, we’ll never have the transformational impact on the industry that we could have.  We need to grow.”  The question that kept them spinning was: How big should we be?

 

When Bekka brought this to our coaching session, I asked, “What’s the real problem you are trying to solve?”  Her answer was clear: “Mission.  We want to fulfill our mission as best we can,” Bekka said.

 

Then I asked, “What’s the relationship between your size and your mission?”  After a long silence, Bekka responded slowly. “It’s a good question because we are assuming intimacy and size are inversely related…that if we grow, we will lose the intimacy that is foundational to our impact.” After another long silence, she looked up and asked, “Is this a false binary? Let’s map this as a polarity.” 


How to Reconcile Two Opposing Right Answers

Bekka learned about polarity thinking when she worked in healthcare[1], an industry that, like family businesses, is riddled with polarities.

 

Once she mapped the polarity, she realized, “Ah!  It’s a false binary as I suspected!  Our size doesn’t matter.  We need both intimacy and growth in membership to expand the impact of our mission.” Her smile grew big.  “Should we be big or small is the wrong question.  The right question is how can we both grow and maintain the intimacy that makes our work transformational for members?”

 

How to Reconcile Two Opposing Right Answers

At their next strategic planning session, Bekka had a plan.  She acknowledged that it’s “right” to stay small to foster intimacy, and it’s “right” to grow large to expand the impact.  Then she showed them how to reconcile two opposing right answers.

 

“Instead of building a strategy focused only on membership growth,” she said, “let’s brainstorm how to maintain intimacy no matter how large we grow.”  Immediately the team’s creative juices started flowing. They replaced the “how big should we be” question with “how can we maximize impact by both growing membership and curating an atmosphere of safety and vulnerability?” By the end of the meeting, they had a robust plan in place.  It felt like a dam opened up to release a flood of creativity. 

 

On our next coaching call, Bekka’s eyes sparkled with pride. “The team really appreciated the polarity framework because it changed everything.  It help get us out of a futile argument about size, and focused our energy in a whole new way,” she said.  “And I could feel that I had earned the respect of the team.  That’s what I’m most proud of.”    

 

I can’t wait to see the impact they have on eldercare as a result.

 

 

To learn more about polarity thinking and how to apply it in family businesses, join my mailing list. That should tide you over until Hug of War: Leading a Family Business With both Love and Logic is released in July 2024!


PS: I’m still beta testing the family business polarity assessment so leaders can see how well they are leveraging the most common tensions in family business leadership.  To access the assessment, join my mailing list and check the box next to “Please send me the complementary family business assessment.” 


[1] To learn more about polarities in healthcare, read POLARITY Intelligence: The Missing Logic in Leadership, by Tracy Christopherson and Michelle Troseth.





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