I’ve worn contact lenses or glasses to see since I was 6 years old. During a visit to the doctor before I got glasses, my mother took great offense when the doctor said, “Maybe you should buy him a dog. He’s going to need one to help him get around in a few years.” She didn’t fully appreciate the doctor’s dry wit, but I love retelling this story.

Today, I still wear glasses. I rely on them to help me see clearly. I also use “putting on glasses” as a metaphor to help clients see things differently.

Perspective is everything

Lawrence Kohlberg, a Harvard researcher and professor, conducted extensive studies on human moral development. His studies were based on the premise that moral development was a cognitive function, and that the ethic of justice was the highest-order moral we develop. Carol Gilligan, a feminist and student of Dr. Kohlberg’s, noticed that women scored differently on some of the scales used in their research. She also noticed that most of the study participants were men and boys. She began to ask questions.

Gilligan’s perspective allowed her to see the results of their work in a way Dr. Kohlberg was unable to – as a woman and feminist. She noted that women had a different imperative when approaching a moral issue: “to solve the moral problem in such a way that no one is hurt.” (Wildflower, L. excerpt) Gilligan’s contributions showed the ethic of care as an equally high category as the ethic of justice. It was through Gilligan’s lens of feminism that Kohlberg was able to see his research and its implications differently, and he quickly added more women into his study groups. They achieved clarity through Gilligan’s perspective.

Practical application

Let me show you the glasses metaphor again. All glasses are not the same. In Palm Springs, the brightness of the intense desert sun can be harsh. Sunglasses, especially polarized lenses, give your eyes some relief from the brightness and allow you to see things clearly. Reading glasses help you see small print and bifocal lenses give you the advantage of correcting both near and distance vision. Recently, a lens company invented something that gives color-blind people the opportunity to see the colors they’ve not been able to detect before.

So how does this relate to coaching? Simple: in order to give you the benefit of seeing yourself differently, I have to have an array of glasses for you to choose from. Sometimes you’re looking at “blind spots,” the areas that you’re unaware of until something triggers a reflexive response. Sometimes you need to look at yourself from a different perspective or need clearer distance vision. Sometimes you need to do some very delicate work with fine materials and have to magnify what’s in your view. And sometimes, you need sunglasses to filter out the harsh things and see with greater clarity.

Many people can relate to the physical act of putting on glasses. That’s why I find the metaphor so powerful in working with clients. It quite literally changes what you see!

Reference: Wildflower, L. (2013). The Hidden History of Coaching. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bradley K. Ward, PCC, TICC is a leadership and personal transformation coach at Brad Ward Coaching in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you reach for the impossible!