The One Question All Professionals Need to Ask Themselves

Katy Montgomery

Katy currently serves as the Global Director of the Career Development Centre at INSEAD where she manages career services professionals across three campuses: Abu Dhabi, Fontainebleau, and Singapore. Katy previously served as the Associate Dean for Student Development at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

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“Who do I admire?”

It’s one of the most telling and open-ended questions coaches have students or clients ask themselves. The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential” and involves the coach helping the client participate in self-discovery.

Once a name (or names) of who they admire are offered up, the coach asks follow-up questions to elicit details:

  • What do you admire about this person?
  • What have you learned from this person?
  • What qualities does this person possess that you hope to emulate?
  • Name three adjectives that best describe this person.
  • What are this person’s core values?

I was reminded of this question in a coaching appointment with a student the other day. Immediately, I began to answer the question myself. The first name that popped into my mind, without any hesitation: Cathy Caldeira Atkins, Founding Partner of Metis Communications. Bonus quote:

Here, we will do our best work EVER.”

Metis Communications

I have known Cathy since 1993 and in addition to being a person I admire, she also happens to be one of my best friends. Below are my responses to those follow-up questions:

What do you admire about this person? Cathy is smart, but approachable. She “gets it” and has an uncanny ability to see the big picture, yet succinctly grasp nuance. Cathy is a verbal person: she is clear and articulate; she is a a strong writer and always speaks with an authentic voice. She is an entrepreneur who is willing to take risks, but takes her responsibility for others seriously.

What have you learned from this person? I need to open myself up to take smart risks. You should never stop learning. Humor is everything: your guiding light, your safety net, your ability to cope. If you don’t care, why do it.

What qualities does this person possess that you hope to emulate? Cathy is incredibly open-minded; she does not make rash judgments and is engaged with the world and those around her. She has a generous spirit—she is not a taker, but a giver. Intellectually curious, she reads and absorbs new material, her mind always moving.

Name three adjectives that best describe this person. Wicked (her company is based in Boston) smart. Gritty. Passionate.

What are this person’s core values? Cathy’s core values include: maintaining strong and fulfilling relationships; striving for excellence; being your authentic self (no imposters!); and leading by example.

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