By Julie Johnson
I am great

I am great

I am frequently asked: “What theme comes up most often in your coaching sessions?” Without any hesitation, I can tell you what that one theme is. I shall share it in a (true) story form.

A couple of years ago I had a coaching session that ended up being deeply moving for us both. We were meeting for the second time. The coachee started out by chattering about a number of things that seemed unrelated to any goal, and I found myself getting impatient. After a few minutes, I interrupted and said something like:

“I am still not clear about what you would like to get out of this conversation. We don’t have many sessions together, and I want to make sure that we have a discussion today that you consider very, very important. How can we do that?”

After a long pause, he shared “I’ve been passed over for a promotion.”

I replied “Is this the first time?”


“So it’s a pattern?”


“Tell me more.”

At that moment the whole discussion deepened, turning a sharp corner. He shared that he was not one to beat his own breast in front of everyone about the great things he had been doing. He believed that good work should be noticed by others, not espoused by the doer.

Over and over again he had watched with frustration as others ‘tooted their own horn’, and that it often paid off in (sometimes undeserved) promotions. He happened to be comfortably self-confident – he KNEW he was doing great things. He just didn’t want to brag about them.

We agreed that saying “I am great” was not an option, and confirmed the strong value of humility that stood behind this, which needed to be honored.

Then I said, “You know, I think you do some great things. I mean, really! It is not that you are so great, but you are proud of your work. Do you do some great things?”

He replied slowly, and after a long pause: “Yes, I also do some great things.”

“How does it feel to say that?”

“Better.  Much better. It’s not about me, it’s about my work.”

A couple more insights quickly arose:

Those who had passed him over had not even been aware of all of the great things he was doing, so they made the best decision they could, using the information they had.

Being passed over was keeping the organization from making the best use of his talents, so not only was his silence limiting his own career, it was not serving his organization in the most optimal way.

Then I suddenly felt a very strong sense of gratefulness. I was grateful for the opportunity to have this meaningful conversation. I offered, “Are you grateful to be able to do great things?”

He suddenly looked equally moved, and said “Yes, I am deeply grateful.”

As we broke down the components that fed into this gratefulness, we came up with three gifts. He pulled it together as follows:

“I am grateful to be able to do great things.

I am capable
I am motivated
I have the opportunity

Now I feel ready to be able to speak of my work in a way that is aligned with my values, makes the best use of my talents, and benefits my organization.”

Many people in this world have the first two gifts, capability and motivation, but will never have the opportunity to make full use of them. When our coachees come to us wanting to increase the visibility of their work in a way that is not self-centered and egoistic, we coaches can help them realize that gratefulness can help them to be able to speak of the great things they are doing with pride and humility.

Many of you coaches out there may have encountered some variation of this theme. I would love to hear your stories! If you would like to share, please email me at:  [email protected]

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