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.

The Importance of “Who” in Coaching

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you, Ralph Waldo Emerson, for reminding us that wisdom comes in the moments, the steps, and the hours! Maybe this is why coaching has become the way of those seeking thoughtfulness and wisdom. It makes a difference for all involved.

Coaching is a dynamic process that calls for individuals to look inwardly, as well as outwardly as they move toward their desired actions and results. It is a creative process where you, with an experienced and skilled thinking partner, a.k.a. coach, step into a space of openness and at times uncertainty in order to know more clearly about thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and actions. It is truly an enriching opportunity for growth and development. As leaders, we may be very strong on the outward component of this process (the “what” we want and are doing) while not yet where we desire to be on the inward component (the “who” we are).

I jokingly describe my earlier leadership style at times as somewhat like “a dog after a bone.” While it’s not a bad thing for a dog to be in search of a bone and to protect that bone once it’s found, it is also beneficial when the dog considers how the hunt will take place and with whom he might share the find. I was all about getting the results desired and yet along the way – I didn’t always take enough time, with a thinking partner, to deeply consider what I was learning about myself in the process. I needed a coach and didn’t yet realize that need.

Thank goodness, times have changed! Today, more and more leaders understand that thinking, including their own, is a critical component of any productive organization. There is no way to achieve the daunting goals expected of schools and school leaders today without taking the time to purposefully and thoughtfully think about best approaches aligned with clearly articulated values of who we are as individuals, as teams and as organizations.

As a flight attendant offers clean hot towels to refresh hands before a meal, the start of a new school year hands to each of us a fresh opportunity to consider “who” we are as we go about the “what” of our work. In so doing, we are deepening our own self-awareness, a necessity for any leader. And for a baseline on self-awareness, let’s use Tasha Eurich‘s definition from her highly engaging book, Insight: Why We Are Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life (2017). “Self-awareness is the will and the skill to understand yourself and how others see you,” says Eurich. This must be why coaches ask clients what they are learning about themselves as they consider best approaches to deal with challenges and opportunities coming their way on a daily basis.

This month, in all three of our social media articles, we will delve into practical ways for each of us to become more self-aware, which in turn will strengthen our “who”, both big and little, as described by an admired master level coach, Carly Anderson. Let’s begin.

Most likely you have identified a set of principles that guide the way you live your life, personally and professionally. Think about your top three to five principles. Here are some examples: honesty, patience, respect, positive influence, empathy, challenging status quo, excellence for all, growth and innovation, etc.

Now, think about the last conversation you had at work or at home that became heated. You know – where you and the other person had differing opinions and points of views about the subject at hand, and where emotions became elevated, as did your own heart rate. Next, consider some or all of the following questions that might come from your coach.

  • How do you best handle conversations that become heated?
  • As you look back at that particular conversation, what did you learn about yourself and the way you dealt with the conflict?
  • How did your behaviors align with your core principles?
  • What metaphor best expresses who you were in that conversation?
  • What metaphor best describes who you would have liked to have been in the conversation, if you’d like to have a do-over?
  • How will this conversation impact the way you deal with other high emotion conversations?
  • What question do you hope someone does not ask you related to that conversation?
  • If you were the other person in the conversation, how would you describe the whole situation?

It would be wishful thinking to say that you will never be in a heated conversation. Of course you will, unless you plan to live in isolation. The real question is, how do you want to “be” when you are dealing with this type of challenge? When we know how we want to be in those tough times, then we have a strong handle, somewhat like a straphanger on a fast moving tram, to hold on to during the conversation and a baseline to reflect on as we think back about the way we actually were. And, as we follow Emerson’s thoughts about wisdom, it’s helpful to consider what we learned from a particular conversation that will most benefit us as we carry on. After all, even when we didn’t handle a conversation as we had intended, there is always an opportunity to learn and prepare ourselves for the next one.

Finishing Strong: When you don’t give up, you cannot fail

Photo credit: Wikipedia
Photo credit: Wikipedia

When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another. ~ Helen Keller

It’s not good enough to do your best, we must do what is required. ~ Winston Churchill

Photo credit: Wikipedia
The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy. A man does what he must— in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers, and pressures — and that is the basis of all human morality. ~ John F. Kennedy

How will you motivate your staff and colleagues to FINISH STRONG?

What will you pay ATTENTION TO and how do you want “TO BE” to FINISH STRONG?

One Person’s Influence…

This month’s blog post is about one of our own – Riva Korashan – who passed away in January after a brief illness with cancer followed by pneumonia. We at Coaching For Results Global are still trying to figure out how best to deal with this sudden and deep loss and we decided that one way is to share our loss with our readers in the hopes that we not only shine the light on Riva but also send a reminder out about how precious life is and how grateful we are for the wonderful friends we meet and spend time with along the way. Here are words from CFR Global President, Frances Shuster, who shares personal thoughts.

To learn more about Riva and the impact she has had on others, go to and click on “coaches.”

Picture at Right – Riva Korashan (left) and Frances Shuster, October 2011

I am still reeling over the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Riva. She left us far too soon. I see constant reminders of her all around me. I hear her beautiful voice singing, “I Hope You Dance”, which she led at the close of each of our in-person meetings.

Riva was my first CFR coaching circle coach. We talked on Sunday nights. Then I coached her. Sunday nights again. So each week, when 8:00 p.m. Sunday night Central Time rolls around, I remember our deep and life-changing conversations.

When Kathy, Karen, Edna and I worked with Riva’s Leadership Academy in New York City, the first thing that struck us was the evident deep respect and regard with which Riva’s United Federation of Teachers Teacher Center (UFTTC) colleagues held her. We knew that about her, and it was uplifting to witness that those who had known her longer and on a daily basis also felt the deep love we had for her.

Left to Right: Edna Harris, Frances Shuster, Riva Korashan, Karen Anderson, Kathy Kee in New Your City

That work in New York City was the genesis of my love for the City. I have visited a number of times since, each with Riva being my husband, Jim’s, and my enthusiastic and effervescent guide. She took us to places from her childhood and newer loves in the city as well. I will never visit there again without feeling her presence.

I have a number of “Riva stories” to share. I invite you to share yours here on our blog.

As a friend,
Frances Shuster, PCC

Which Door Will You Open?

Sitting across the restaurant table from Ava, I could see her eyes cloud with pain when I asked about her topic for today’s coaching conversation. She systematically chewed her bottom lip, sucked in a long-ragged breath, and plunged in, “My adult niece asked to move in with me for six months and I’m already regretting saying yes. I like my life the way it is. My husband and I enjoy our solitude, we relish our time together. This could wreak havoc in our world. I am so worried.”

Gently probing, I asked Ava what was the most important thing to know about the situation. “I am afraid I will destroy my relationship with my niece, because I really don’t want her to live with me.”

I asked Ava to envision two doors. Behind both is a future with her niece. Behind the first is a relationship which is carefully designed. Behind the other waits a relationship devoid of goals or planning. “Which door will you choose? ”

Ava grabbed a pencil and began to scribble on a paper napkin. “My goal for my relationship with my niece is:
To provide support.
To be generous.
To be respectful.
To model a strong work ethic
To be loving.
To be thoughtful.
To be available.

For the first time that morning, Ava smiled and asserted, “I am in control of determining the outcome of this relationship.”

Like Ava, we always have a choice in determining our future. Even the effects of factors beyond our control can be impacted by setting goals for how we will respond to certain circumstances. It is, at once, as simple and profound as that. Your future, (and mine), will be determined by two things: the goals that we set, and the commitments that we honor. What goals will you write for 2012? What doors are awaiting your consideration?

by Reba Schumacher, ACC
Coaching For Results Global

Reba Schumacher is certified through the International Coach Federation as an Associate Certified Coach. She is a veteran Texas public school administrator with thirty-three years experience. Currently she is an independent consultant and leadership coach, and her experience supervising highly effective, visionary school principals and district directors contributes significantly to her success as a coach. To read more about Diana and other CFR coaches, go to and click on “coaches.”