Being in an executive coach is a great honour. I deal a lot with emerging executives and it is a humbling profession as it allows me into the deeper parts of peoples fears and courage.

Here is an amazing story of just that: Courage.

But this story unfolds in a rather different way. It starts off a little strange and then bends this way and that and eventually reveals a tale of that is almost disturbing and sad but joyful at its conclusion.

So here it is.

A young CA came to see me a few weeks ago. When he introduced himself, I was taken aback by his softness and gentleness. It was not engaging. Rather it was off-putting and worrying. He was decidedly meek and mild, in fact too much so, that I doubted his ability to work among other people!

And here is the best part: he wanted to be more assertive and, I suppose, was asking me to coach him to be able to present himself differently.

If I had to tell you that this was going to be impossible I mean it in every sense. The guy was this over-soft, wimp-type character basically asking me to turn him from lead into gold. Furthermore he was sure that he could become a strong and forceful leader!

There is a time when truth-telling is essential. I am not one for holding back on this ideal and am know to be blatantly honest (in a nice way).

I proceeded to tell him how I saw him. Soft and gentle and even spiritual. We had this long discussion about his spiritual persuasions and how he could use them to promote himself. One of my suggestions was that he should try and find work with a company owned by people who had similar spiritual values and who might accept his meekness as an attribute rather than a liability.

In my view the guy was so far down the line that I would never employ him to, say, manage people – if I took him on at all, he would need to be in the background doing some sort of number-crunching work. He couldn’t even ask people to assist him without them sniggering at his perceived wimp-ness. And this is not an exaggeration!

But, I was intrigued with this person. He was a CA after all and had done his articles at one of the Big 4. How did he survive that?

When I dug a bit deeper, he started to tell me about some of the projects he worked on and how successful they had been. He seemed to have played a meaningful role in their delivery. How could this be?

I pushed the boundaries even further as I suspected that he was deceiving himself (and me) – he seemed to be making himself out to be a lot more than what I saw sitting in front of me.

And then he said “Please repeat that, I didn’t hear you.” I was a little irritated by now as he was starting to look foolish. I asked him why he was avoiding my questions and he said “I’m hard of hearing”.

I was stunned!

All of a sudden I realised what was going on and I became angry. I said to him “Why didn’t you tell me that?” When he told me that he had, I was even more taken aback because if he had he certainly had not made it clear to me. He might have muttered something early in our conversation but it was played-down.

Now, here is the thing. Had I known he was hard of hearing I would have perceived him completely differently. He wasn’t meek at all – he was talking like a person who had a hearing disability. All my preconceived ideas about him did a complete summersault! Instead of seeing a meek wimp on front of me I saw an enormously courageous young man.

Why was I so angry? Because he had withheld something so important that I had judged him totally inappropriately. I thought it dishonest of him.

Of course it had nothing to do with dishonesty – it was about his fear of disclosing his disability.

The remarkable paradox of the whole situation was that, by him disclosing his disability, he automatically and substantially enhanced his personal power and presence. No longer was a wimp but a strong and courageous man.

Needless to say, he was completely overwhelmed and relieved to learn that what he thought needed to be kept a secret was probably his greatest asset!

The moral of the story?

There is nothing more valuable then just being yourself!