Strengths Coaching Blog

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bringing Strengths to the World -- in the Right Way

By Paul B. Allen, Strengths Evangelist at Gallup

Don Clifton is known as the father of strengths-based psychology because he spent his life trying to find out what was right with people. The Clifton StrengthsFinder is the culmination of more than 50 years of his work -- this assessment that was first administered through interviewers using tape recorders has now led millions of people around the world to discover their strengths.

In the ’90s, the youngest Ph.D. at Harvard told Don Clifton that the assessment wouldn’t reach a large number of people unless he put it on the Internet. So Gallup’s technology team, under the guidance of CIO Phil Ruhlman, created a Web space where anyone who purchased one of Gallup’s bestselling books, like StrengthsFinder 2.0 or Strengths Based Leadership, could take the assessment using an access code found in the book jacket. Today, coaches, leaders, and individuals can purchase codes online through Gallup Strengths Center, making it easier than ever before for people to discover their strengths.
 
In those early days, Don Clifton wondered if someday a million people would know what their strengths are -- last month, Gallup passed the 8 million mark.

And now Gallup CEO Jim Clifton is setting our sights even higher.

Jim believes that, while it may someday be possible for Gallup to help a billion people in the world discover what their strengths are, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. The right way involves coaching.

In an era of social networks and smart phones, unleashing the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment online might allow Gallup’s strength science to spread quickly all over the world. Millions of people could post their top five strengths -- or their full 34 -- on their favorite social network.

But Gallup’s aim is not to go viral for our own sake. We do not intend to give hundreds of millions of people a quick, one-time interaction with the world’s most accurate psychological assessment.

Our goal is to transform the world with strengths science and strengths coaching -- to eventually help millions of organizations of all sizes become strengths-based organizations.

Properly implementing strengths requires effective personal coaching, so that individuals truly understand their strengths and learn how to use them. It requires training, so that managers know how to work with each individual in a group, and so that teams can maximize their productivity. It requires a culture where strengths are championed by company leaders and they permeate the entire organization.

If you want to see an energized, strengths-based company, just look at Rackspace, a world leader in Web hosting. Robert Scoble describes it in this way:

"At Rackspace Hosting we're religious about using Gallup's StrengthsFinder 2.0. Every employee has their five strengths on the back of their badges and if you ever meet our chairman, Graham Weston, don't bring this up, because you'll end up with a multi-hour interesting conversation about corporate culture, people, and how to build great teams using this system."

And what an incredible company Rackspace has built!

If you want to see an energized, strengths-based school, read about New Technology High School in Napa, Calif., described by Brandon Busteed at a recent White House education event.

While many companies’ employees are bored, stressed, discontented, or even actively disengaged, strengths-based organizations have the right people in the right seats, doing jobs that they love and are naturally good at. The result is energy, engagement, and productivity.

Decades of Gallup research reveal that people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job.

We’ve seen this happen in some of the world’s best run companies. When a leader from a large organization embraces Gallup’s strategic consulting, including our strengths science, incredible results follow.

These organizations see remarkable results because the most important capital in any company is its human capital. And strengths science, combined with strengths coaching, allows human capital to develop more fully than anything else we have studied.

It’s time for more companies to become strengths-based organizations.

Contact us, if you want to learn how.

Paul Allen, Gallup’s Strengths Evangelist, is located in Washington, D.C., where he is dedicated to the task of taking the Clifton StrengthsFinder to the world. Prior to joining Gallup, Allen started several software and Internet-based businesses during a 22-year career as an entrepreneur. Allen received his bachelor’s degree in Russian from Brigham Young University. He and his wife, Christy, have eight children, ranging in age from eight to 23. They live in Falls Church, Virginia.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Being and Doing: The Busy Intersection of Strengths Coaching

By Curt Liesveld, Gallup Learning and Development Advanced Consultant

For the past 14 years I have had the privilege of working as a coach and consultant with Gallup. I call it a privilege because in this role I am given the opportunity to think about human talent and its relationship to human strengths. I can literally say that I have thought or talked about some human talent and strength, either my own or that of another person, every day of the past 14 years. This intense practice of a strengths-based approach to development and life has had a profound and positive impact on my view of and appreciation for people and my theory of human development.

I have come to the conclusion that a strengths-based approach to coaching requires one to care equally about the nature (being) of the person being coached, as well as the quality and quantity of their performance (doing). In my experience as a Gallup strengths coach, I have noticed that this balance is not always easy to maintain.

I have worked with nonprofits that placed a high value on the human beings in their organizations, but they neglected to establish clear expectations what these valuable humans needed to accomplish. On the other hand, I have also worked with for-profit organizations that have very high expectations about what is to be accomplished, but are oblivious to the unique identity of each individual employee and how they might best accomplish these expectations.

As a coach, we each will have our own biases that cause us to be more people-oriented or more performance-oriented in our approach. The source of these biases could be our own talent profile, our experience, our values, or the organizations or industries we serve. By nature and experience, my tendency is to focus more on “being,” that is the nature of the people I am coaching. What I have learned is that when I help a person get a clear understanding of their own unique identity, it is often quite interesting and enjoyable, but by itself this understanding doesn’t generate transformation or growth. If I want a person I am coaching to truly be well, I need to help them do well. Utilization completes actualization.

While I am biased more toward the “being” side of the coaching, your talent, experience, and values might bias you toward the “doing” side. When a coach pushes a person to perform at a higher level without any appreciation for or understanding of who that person is, they miss the important factors that contribute to the sustainability of and engagement in performance.

I have found the words “soul” and “role” to be helpful in my discussions with coaches. The soul of a person is about a person’s being. The unique thing about the soul of a person is that it is invisible and internal. This probably explains why people often need some help understanding their souls. I have found that the Clifton StrengthsFinder is a powerful tool that can quantify and clarify that internal, invisible soul. The role of a person is what they do. It is the place they serve or the part they play. The role of a person is often much easier to identify, because they are external and tangible, and therefore observable.

A great strengths coaching relationship will constantly be toggling back and forth between the soul and the role. Between the personal identities of the people being coached and the functional results they need to deliver. Between being and doing. As coaches, we need to be aware of biases that prompt us to choose one and not the other. Our approach to being and doing can never be an either/or. It must always be both/and. If we are truly strengths performance coaches we will equally commit ourselves to the souls of those we coach and to the important roles they are expected to play. When we help a person discover how they can fulfill their role within the context of their own soul, we have added value to both the person and their organization.

Curt Liesveld is an experienced strengths coaching practitioner and educator based out of Gallup's Omaha office. A coauthor of the book Living Your Strengths, Liesveld has played a significant role in bringing a strengths-based focus to churches and faith-based organizations around the world. Liesveld earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He received his master’s degrees in divinity from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich., and in counseling psychology from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Five Clues to Talent: A Guide to Real-Life Strengths Conversations

By Maika Leibbrandt, Gallup Learning and Development Consultant

It doesn’t matter if you’re stuffing a carry-on into an overhead compartment or stirring a fizzy drink at a cocktail party. In less than 10 minutes, you can bet on one question flying your way: “So, what do you do?”

All too often we reply with a general description of our career. And while we may have the best intentions, we miss out on an opportunity to focus on what makes each of us unique, to spotlight talent and to help others do the same.

The best way to help people focus on strengths may be to simply change the question. Why don’t we ask, “What do you love to do?”

If we leave the focus on talent to structured coaching sessions, we miss the opportunity to change the real world. Don Clifton highlighted questions that help direct people to talent in his 1992 book Soar with Your Strengths. Today these “Clues to Talent” are a staple of strengths education. Let’s also consider them a framework for strengths-based conversations. The obligation we have to those we lead, serve, and love is to help reveal to them their strengths, and these clues help us get there.

Five Clues to Talent:

Yearning: Clifton calls yearnings “part of the wisdom of the body.” Think of this as the pull or attraction to one activity rather than another. A leader might learn of the yearnings of her team by asking, “What do you know you can do well, but haven’t yet done?” or, “If you had an entire week of your calendar open up and couldn’t work on previous commitments, what would you spend your time doing?”

Satisfaction: It is rare to find pleasure in places we don’t also find strength. It is important for us to pay attention to individualized intrinsic motivation, the activities or opportunities that we genuinely enjoy. To help learn what gives others satisfaction, a coach may ask, “What sorts of activities do you finish and think, ‘I can’t wait to do that again’?” or, “What are you doing (at work or at play) when you’re truly enjoying yourself?”

Rapid Learning: Our third clue to talent deals with the way we are naturally wired to learn. Some patterns are so ingrained in our DNA that they open pathways of understanding we wouldn’t otherwise experience. To shed light on these pathways, consider asking about a person’s learning. “What have you done well that you didn’t need explained?” or, “What activities do you execute naturally, but struggle to break down into steps for others?”

Glimpses of Excellence: We are not alone on this planet, and neither are our strengths. Thankfully, others may offer clues to our own talent in the ways they recognize us. Success is a compilation of moments, and it takes a trained eye to notice these moments in everyday life. Listen to these experts, be they coaches, teachers, or children. Help others weave a story from these moments by asking, “What have other people told you you’re great at doing?” or, “In your previous experience, what were you known for doing well?”

Total Performance Excellence: The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it “Flow,” and describes the optimal state of intrinsic motivation. Don’t worry; getting people to talk about this does not take heavy textbooks. Simply inquire about times when all the pieces fell together. Do this by asking, “What are you doing when time seems to disappear?”

In a recent Gallup poll, half of Americans reported not using their strengths every day. As the torchbearers of the talent message, we have a long way to go. Whether you’re a coach, parent, manager, or passenger on a plane, every single interaction is an opportunity to help others excel. It all starts by changing the conversation.

Maika Leibbrandt works to help leaders improve the engagement of their followers and customers all over the world, first in the United States and Canada, and now in the Middle East and Europe. Since joining Gallup, she has consulted in several industries, including education, finance, retail, automotive, healthcare, and government.

Leibbrandt earned her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism with emphases in history, English, and Spanish from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Oh…I’m a Woo!

By Ryan Darby, Gallup Learning and Development Consultant

Can you remember the first thoughts and feelings you had when you saw your talent profile? I can. I literally said, “Oh…I’m a Woo!” And my life made so much more sense. At the time, I was somewhat struggling in my career. My performance was fine, in fact, better than it had ever been. But my stress levels were high, and I was coming home day after day emotionally and physically exhausted.

At the time, I was a teacher and researcher at the University of California, San Diego. Most of my time was spent in solitary activities, such as writing and literature reviews. In fact, on the days I struggled the most, that was all I did. It wasn’t that I actively disliked these activities, it was just that they physically and emotionally drained me. When I came home from these days, I hardly had energy left to play with my young daughter or talk with my wife.

When I wasn’t laboring in solitude, I was teaching in front of a classroom or brainstorming with my colleagues. These days were completely different than my days in isolation. I felt energized and happy. I would come home eager and willing to be with my family.

It was not until I took the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment that I finally saw this pattern and understood what was happening. I had Woo sitting right there in my top five, eagerly waiting to come out and play. Being talented in Woo meant that I drew energy and enjoyment from social interactions, especially novel ones. Interactions like teaching or working with colleagues fed my Woo and brought me the enjoyment and satisfaction that only comes from being the authentic me. When I veered too far from who I naturally was, I was essentially wearing someone else’s shoes. I could walk around for a little while, but it slowly became uncomfortable and eventually painful. The hours of solitude were perfect for others -- they just weren’t for me. And I would never be truly happy or successful until my role fit me. I’m happy to say that, although it took a little while, I was able to find that role. My role now involves a lot of people time, and I’m happier and more engaged in my work than ever before.

When I coach clients, I always try to keep this experience in mind. As coaches, one of the most important things we can give our clients is an understanding of who they are and who they are not. A true understanding of what makes one unique is, I believe, the secret to success. Moreover, as I experienced, self-awareness is liberating. There is a sense of relief in knowing that you aren’t crazy; you are just you. And sometimes, that you comes with a lot of Woo.

I’m curious, do you remember your first time seeing your talent profile? What were your thoughts and feelings? Did you have a similar experience? A different one?


Dr. Ryan Darby is one of Gallup’s leading Learning and Development Consultants. He works with the world’s top organizations to transform their corporate cultures into engaging and thriving workplaces. Darby has a doctorate in psychology from the University of California, San Diego, and a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. His academic expertise and publications are on the influence of emotions on decision-making and behavior. He currently lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.

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