The Big and Little of You and Why Both are Important for Self-Awareness

In the ezine article for September, we mentioned the concept of the “big and little who” as coined by Carly Anderson, MCC. Thinking about both fosters possibilities for advanced insights about ourselves and about others.

Your “who” represents the way you think through situations, your values, your beliefs, your assumptions, your needs, your wants, etc. Sometimes the “who” part of you is given minuscule attention as you are dealing with the “what” you want to achieve or do.

Your “big who” connects to your values and principles. It’s who you are and what you hold on to as guiding principles as you move through your days. We spend a significant amount of time in our Powerful Coaching seminar on this concept. Many leaders share that they have not taken the time to give priority thinking to what principles are at the center of who they are as a person and as a leader. They say they know, and yet have not taken the time to clearly articulate those principles. They appreciate having time to think about themselves at their best.

That big “who” moves with you as you journey through life, somewhat like your coat of armor, your insignia, or your family crest. Ideally, we never have to be reminded of our big “who” and yet realistically, if not careful, we might lose sight of our big “who” while dealing with the immediate demands of the day.

Your little “who” has to do with who you are in the moment and it connects to your big “who”. For example, let’s say that you’re feeling anxious about a short timeline you’ve been given by your supervisor and you mention it to your coach, saying something like, “I can’t believe that we were only given a couple of weeks to complete this big task! When am I going to find the time to get this work done? It’s this sort of thing that keeps my stomach tied up in knots!”

If we just talk about the task and ignore your feelings then we have missed an important opportunity to strengthen your own self-awareness and personal growth about how you best deal with situations when you have a heightened level of anxiousness. Coaches don’t step over such comments. As coach leaders, let’s not either.

A coach might respond by saying that she can feel the anxiousness in your voice as you describe the current situation. She might then ask if you would like to spend a few minutes talking about the feelings that are coming forward before you begin to put together a plan to complete the task on time. This opens the door to considering your “who” when dealing with stressful situations, which happens for every leader. A coach might then ask how you want to best think about these emotions, rather than deciding for you how to move the conversation forward. You say, “Let’s just deal with it head on. What makes me get so uptight at times like this?”

Taking the time to consider your “who” in this situation is critical for ongoing development and self-awareness. Here are a few sample questions that get to the “who” of the matter.

  • You said you were tied up in knots. That must be painful. How do you best release the knots?
  • What are ways you keep yourself from getting tied up in knots?
  • Which of your guiding principles will be of help to you in releasing the knots?
  • Let’s say that you have moved to a place where you no longer let events determine your level of anxiety. What strategies have you put into place to prevent over-anxiousness?

While a coach would certainly not ask all of the above questions, she knows that it is important to ask questions about how the client wants to untie knots and prevent them from happening, as much as possible. When we better understand who we are, both from the big picture and in the moment, we are more apt to stay congruent with our ideal state.

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Vicky Dearing, PCC, M. Ed.