This was one of the first questions I had to answer on the first day of my Executive Coaching Training Programme back in 2011. I remember feeling uncomfortable, awkward, vulnerable and a bit out of my depth and I also remember the lightbulb moment I had when I first heard myself say that I wanted to set up my own coaching and consultancy practice.
To be clear, I’d never wanted to, or ever thought about setting up my own business. I was set, or so I thought, on continuing to grow in my role of HRD, moving to a Global role with a large global company and being more able to travel as my son’s got older. So, to hear myself say I wanted my own company was a total surprise and something I reflected on, and then forgot about until I was asked the same question two years later and came up with the same answer – within three months I’d left my HRD role and started my own consultancy.
I also realise how naïve I was on that first day of the programme.
I’d been on many coaching skills training days, attended workshops and had been coaching managers and leaders internally for years, this programme was about taking those skills to another level and gaining a formal qualification. I was not expecting to be coached to the degree that I was during this programme, and I wasn’t expecting to have the lightbulb moments that I had during the programme in addition to learning many coaching skills, tools, techniques and getting clear on my own coaching style.
The question ‘who are you?’ is something I regularly include in coaching relationships, workshops and training programmes. At the start of many workshops, I’ll go beyond asking ‘what’s your role?’ and ask, ‘who is the person behind the role?’
Quite often in business relationships we’re curious about the role that the person does but rarely do we dig beyond this to understand the person, and yet behind our role and our job title there is depth in who we are.
Who Are You? when asked, very often starts with the description of the job, our occupation, the company we work for and how many people we are responsible for, but the more we ask it, and the more we keep repeating it, then the deeper our responses will be.
On the first day of my Coaching training, we kept on answering this question as we moved around the room working in different pairs. We weren’t allowed to repeat anything we’d already said, and we kept being asked the same question over and over for almost an hour.
The longer we spend with this question, the deeper the responses will be. We move past the superficial layer of our occupation and start to strip back the layers much like peeling back each layer of an onion, and we move more toward our core. We start to get to our values, our priorities in life, our dreams, hopes and aspirations. We move from the superficial comfortable layer, to the vulnerable, often unexplored layers of ourselves. We unlock the parts of us that often remain hidden. We move to our true self.
I love having deep conversations with people. I love getting to know people’s likes and dislikes, their passions, what makes them tick and what fires them up, and yet so often we don’t always know the answers to these questions.
I find that often when I ask ‘who’s the person behind the role?’ people get uncomfortable, we don’t want to be seen, we don’t want to share that part of us, or because we’re so rarely asked we’re not sure how to answer it.
I’d invite you to explore who you are by sitting with ‘who are you?’ for a long period of time. Ask it of yourself with a notebook and pen and scribble away for 30 minutes or more. Ask it of those in your teams, or your close circle and explore the depth of the person in front of you. You may be surprised by the answers and so might they.
If we’re prepared to sit with these three words for any length of time, we really can uncover hidden depths, our greatest truths and what really matters to us. And from here, we can make the changes that we need to make to help us reach those depths.
Kelly is an Executive Coach for Rebellious Leaders at kellyswingler.com and Founder of The Chrysalis Crew.
She leads and coaches with an open heart, an open mind and has the courage to challenge the status quo and do things differently so that we can all love our roles, find balance in our lives and so that we can all change the world of work for the better.