Rabbit said, “Honey or condensed milk with your bread?” 

Winnie the Pooh was so excited that he said, `Both!’ and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, “But don’t bother about the bread, please.”

At 54 I still love Winnie the Pooh. He was a regular at my bedside as a child and my mum loved doing the different voices. Likewise, my wife is a big fan so “Both! Said Pooh” is a regular phrase in our household when someone asks for a choice between two nice things!

Why talk about this conversation between Winnie the Pooh and Rabbit? What has that got to do with coaching and leadership? 

Stop thinking of challenges and problems as either/or

Most successful people love a challenge, and get antsy if things are too easy for too long. that’s one of the reasons they’re successful. They look for a challenge and once that’s overcome, they go looking for a new one.

There’s a little psychological trap here that people who love a challenge can fall into. It’s not a visible problem like Pooh getting trapped in Rabbit’s front door. No, this is a hidden trap that we need to bring into our awareness to deal with. The trap is unconsciously thinking of challenges and problems in a frame of either/or. This is how clients often present issues in a session – as a struggle between two things. “I’m struggling with this situation. I could do A, or I could do B…”

This unconscious habit of thinking of things as either/or supports our internal programming because as long as it’s either/or we can struggle with it. It’s being presented as a dichotomy by the unconscious, even when it’s not. This is Pooh’s genius. It’s not in his nature to struggle with anything so doesn’t frame the choice as a dichotomy. To him, the obvious answer is both!

Because of my love of Christopher Robin’s companion, in coaching sessions it can be difficult not to shout out “Both! Said Pooh”! Thankfully I’m not as impulsive as Pooh (or Tigger) so I hold myself back and challenge the either/or nature of the dilemma.  

“Is it really either/or or can it be ‘also/and’?”

“How could you do both?”

“What if you lengthen the timescales? Are both possible if you think months rather than weeks?”

“If you did one after the other, which would be first and why?”

Develop your either/or detector

I’ll wager as you read this you can think of situations where you’ve struggled with an issue and then realised you were struggling for no reason. I’ve known for years now that my unconscious will present things as a struggle when they’re not. I kick myself when I realise I’m still channeling Rabbit when I need to be channeling Winnie the Pooh. He may be a bear of very little brain but he has the right of things here!

So it’s a good practice to develop an either/or detector. When your people come to you with issues that seem a struggle at face value, they may have just fallen into the either/or trap and there’s a more elegant solution if the challenge is approached differently.

There’s another reason to look out for this tendency in your people. People with this habit can often bite off more than they can chew, especially if combined with a high need for recognition and/or perfectionistic tendencies. The either/or trap is a clue that these team members might be susceptible to overcommitting and/or overwhelm.

Owl thinks he’s the clever one, Rabbit thinks he’s the sensible one but in my book Winnie the Pooh is the wisest.