by: Gerard O'Donovan
(The question that is the gateway to spiritual enlightenment)
Having been a coach for many years, in addition to having been involved in the training of at least 1400 coaches worldwide, I have come to the conclusion that one of the greatest skills that we, as coaches, possess and need to perfect is the ‘art of the question’. In fact, one could say that another definition of a coach is Master Questioner.
It is important to remember that the quality of our life is determined by the quality of questions we ask ourselves. Some people ask themselves very mediocre questions indeed. For example, “What time shall we go to down the pub?” Others look at someone who has achieved great things and ask themselves “Why not me?”. It is similar to the difference between “I can’t afford it” and “How can I afford it?”
As coaches we have two responsibilities towards our client. The first is to provide them with a first-class coaching experience through the effective use of questioning skills. The second is to educate them in the techniques and benefits of self-questioning, helping them to realise the importance of regularly asking key questions.
Of course when it comes to asking questions we can get very sophisticated and clever indeed. We can use questions with suppositions and presuppositions. We can use open and closed questions, we can get involved in nested loops, we can use hidden questions and open questions and in fact we can make ourselves feel and look very clever indeed.
However I learned a long time ago the importance of simplicity and it is my opinion that the greatest coaching question of all is “Who am I?”
This question is very often ignored. Why? Because it is easy to ignore; it can take us on an uncomfortable journey and one we might prefer to avoid. And yet it is essential if we wish to understand our core, the real person, the immutable, incorruptible and authentic ‘me’. The “me” we are really meant to be.
This question is the one that helps people come to a deep and satisfying realization of who they really are. So this is one of the key questions that we must teach our clients to ask of themselves on a regular basis. ‘Who am I?’ Again and again.
True happiness and fulfilment in life is only achieved when our actions and goals are congruent with our core values. Yet the sad truth is most of us do not really know what our core values are. Unfortunately we take on board the values of others, the values that are impressed upon us by the media that constantly bombards us, and the values of the people we work with and the companies we work for. It is rare that the values that we attach to ourselves are our true values. The inner conflict that this creates is one of the underlying causes for the level of unhappiness and depression in today’s society.
You see our values are in fact the mirror of who we really are yet few of us look deep enough into the mirror to see the truth. Many thousand years ago there was a word written above a doorway in ancient Greece. The word was “ Knosti” and it was written above the doorway of the Delphic oracle. It is as true today as it ever was those thousands of years ago. It simply means “ know thyself”
There is an old adage that says that if you don't know where you're coming from then you don't know where you're going. The same is true here, if you don't know who you really are how can you possibly know what you really want out of life, what is truly important and how do you know where you are headed. I learned a long time ago that most people don't really know what they want in life, but are prepared to go through hell to get it !!!
Being able to answer the question “Who am I?” with clarity and honesty will start the process that will make a profound change in the direction your life takes. This in turn will affect those close to you; your family, your friends, and your work. The way to make a real change in the world today is simply to do it one person, one mind at a time. Start with the person who is closest to you - yourself of course!
HOW DO I ASK THE QUESTION?
It is important that when we ask ourselves the question “Who am I?” we allow time for the answers to come. The truth may have to percolate up through a number of layers, and this takes time. You may have to ask yourself this question a number of times. For example, you may ask “Who am I?” and the answer may come back ‘I am a teacher’, ‘I am an electrician’, ‘I am a solicitor’ etc. The truth is you are none of these things. You see you are not what you do! You are far more than that.
So when you ask yourself the question “Who am I?” and you get an answer, you may then need to ask again “and who else am I?” And again “Who else am I?”.
It is morally essential that we eventually find out who we are. So many of us wander through life in a kind of emotional and spiritual amnesia, deadening our response to life by producing images of ourselves that are far from the truth.
I recommend that when we engage in this important process that we do it in a place of solitude and stillness in order that we can be truly present for the answer. We cannot really experience anything without being present with it. True presence requires that we be attentive to what is happening in the here and now. It is our responsibility to be aware.
EXERCISE ONE – Six months to live
Imagine that you have just come back from a visit to your doctor where you have been informed that you have an incurable disease and only six months to live. However, during these 6 months you will be perfectly healthy, fit and active. Now write down what you would do, who you would see, where you would go and, very important, who you would spend your time with - and why. Would you change any aspect of your life right now? Would you continue to work in your job/career? If not, why not?
Explanation: This should very clearly point you in the direction of what is important or even essential in your life. It is so easy to procrastinate but you need to attend to these things right now. It is obvious that these things are extremely important to you, so you should endeavour to achieve them as soon as possible – as a matter of urgency.
EXERCISE TWO - Direction
This exercise will provide you with excellent pointers towards the direction in life in which you should be heading. It is important that you sit quietly with pen and paper, and write clear, specific answers to the following questions. Do not be influenced by others, or let negative thoughts distort your answers. Please give due time and consideration to this exercise; it is not uncommon for its completion to take several hours.
1. Imagine that there are no barriers whatsoever to you achieving anything you want in life, what and where would you most want to be? Would you be President? An opera singer? Perhaps a great athlete, or successful businessperson?
2. What in the past has given you the most satisfaction and pleasure?
3. The following list of words generally encompasses what we desire in our life. Write clearly your own definition of what each word means to YOU.
Explanation: If you do not really know what it is you want in life, then how can you possibly achieve it? The answers you provide in this exercise will lie at the very heart of your final goal list. They will guide you towards what makes you happy and has true value in your life.
WHO AM I AT WORK?
It amazes me when I see the leaders of major companies like BAT (British American Tobacco) being hailed by the business community worldwide as paragons, and real exemplars of how business should be run. Yet, there are tens of thousands of people dying every month around the world because of their product. Society is putting on pedestals men and women who create products that kill, purely for profit. I sometimes wonder if the inmates have taken over the asylum!
However, what price has been paid by these decision-making men and women?
Like so many others in similar scenarios being played out in corporations all around the world, these individuals are subjugating their own values for those of the company they work for. If only they would ask themselves “Who am I?” we might see a profound and radical change in the thinking of these leaders.
I have found that when I have worked with men and women in these positions and supported them in answering my question “Who are you?” I have enjoyed watching them travel slowly towards a true realisation of self. It is at this point that they have started to make a change, to really make a difference within their companies. Making and carrying out decisions that are based on power rather than force. Making a positive difference in the lives of the employees and thousands of customers of that corporation.
Much is said about corporate social responsibility; it is a phrase that is bandied about with gay abandon and in some cases a solomneous that belies the real truth, which is that most people follow and adopt the company culture, ethics, morals and values rather than expressing their own thoughts. This leads them to do things that are not congruent with their own core values.
Therefor there is a great need for all of us to get back in touch with our core values, because the truth is that in most of us these are highly commendable. It 's just a case of getting back there and re-remembering who we are.
DO I EVEN KNOW WHO I AM?
If we are not sure of who we are right now then how much more difficult it is to try and work out who we really want to be in the future. Especially as the media does such a fantastic job of indoctrinating us into believing what we really should be. From advertisements on television we know we should all be young, slim, good-looking, tanned, without spots or glasses. From numerous magazines we learn that by paying a lot more attention to ourselves and spending lots of our hard earned money (and in some cases, yet to be earned money) we can really make ourselves young, sexually desirable, good-looking, and successful.
The result of this is that we end up setting goals for ourselves that have actually been foisted on us. Not ones that are congruent with or even based on our own true core values.
For many years I believed one of the greatest coaching questions of all was “What do you want?”. This question can be asked in so many ways, you can come at it from so many angles and for several years I believed this was the question of questions.
However, long ago I realised that for some of the reasons stated above this is not the great question it ought to be because, as we have seen, we don't really know what we want at all.
I now know with a deep and profound sense of knowing, that there is a higher question, a more important question, a question that reaches deep down to the core. That question is “Who am I”??
You see coaching is about performing at your best through the individual and private assistance of someone who will challenge stimulate and guide you to keep growing.
Essentially it is about helping you to reach self actualisation - a point at which you not only truly know yourself but within this knowledge possess a feeling of comfort with and understanding of the person you discover.
Coaching (or if we don’t have a coach, self-coaching) is indispensable if we want to really reach our full potential, to be all that we can be, to truly reach a point of self transcendence.
Written by Gerard O'Donovan Founder of Noble Manhattan coaching Ltd
Free Coaching Reports at
Europe's leading executive coach
About The AuthorGerard O'Donovan
Founder and CEO of Noble Manhattan Coaching Ltd.
One of Europe's longest established coach training companies, and the CEO of the European Coaching Institute one of the world wide governing bodies from the profession of coaching.
Gerard's whose previous experience includes many years in the armed forces, he has applied the attitude of discipline and thoroughness to the development of his own business.
He wishes Noble Manhattan to be seen as the foremost in "offering an invaluable and professional service" to all its clients, and he is able to achieve this because of his own accomplishments, bringing to the company extensive personal experience, knowledge and a unique style of teaching essential life skills.
One of the most highly sought-after executive coaches in Europe.