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Monday, February 15, 2016

StrengthsQuest: Coaching Others Starts with Knowing Yourself

by Becky McCarville

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” -- Lao Tzu

Transformative. Powerful. Energizing.

These are the words used by participants who have completed Gallup’s Accelerated Strengths Coaching course and the Successful Strengths Coaching module.

Coaching others is the goal for many who pursue certification as a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach. But few anticipate the potential impact the courses will have on them as they work toward becoming certified. The intensive, immersive process -- which involves varied learning experiences and setting actionable individual and professional goals -- can be transformative.

Discovering Strengths

There are two learning paths to becoming a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach: completing three separate two-day modules toward certification (Successful Strengths Coaching, Coaching for Individual Performance and Coaching Managers and Teams), or completing the Accelerated Strengths Coaching program, an intensive, four-and-a-half-day course that consolidates Gallup’s two-day courses.

Sarah Crawford-Parker, Ph.D., assistant vice provost and director, Office of First-Year Experience at the University of Kansas,  says that focusing on all 34 talents gave her a chance to reflect on how to use strengths in her daily work and as a manager.

“It’s so foundational to understand those 34 talent themes really well -- and what success looks like for each one of those talent themes -- and then how to direct those toward performance,” Sarah says. “When you start to interact with individuals, whether it’s at work or at home, [strengths] becomes this lens through which you better understand the interactions that you’re having with people.”

The University of Kansas has been using strengths with incoming freshmen since 2012, as well as in a variety of other programs. Sarah was part of a group of five people from the University of Kansas that went through the accelerated course together, and they had the opportunity to process what they learned from the class over dinner each night. 

The coaching course gave Sarah and her colleagues time to reflect on what they are doing well and to develop a plan for extending the strengths-based approach across campus. “We’ve been [using strengths] for enough time that we see the value of continuing to expand,” Sarah says.

“It was not unusual in these conversations for individuals to point out one another’s talent themes in action,” Sarah says. “These conversations gave us time to think about how to use strengths to advance work on our campus -- for example, developing programs to connect domestic and international students or to bridge academic and career advising. The benefit of sending [several people] to the training was that it was easy to find experiential opportunities to apply what we were learning.”

Learning to Coach

Throughout the courses, participants are given the chance to practice coaching with each other. The diverse backgrounds of the participants in the training course -- those in higher education, business people, managers, life coaches, bankers -- give participants many opportunities to learn from one another.

Robin Diller Torres, director of first-year programs and leadership development and adjunct lecturer in psychology and communication at Marist College, says that she regularly exchanges resources with another member of the class. She also keeps in contact with other classmates from Paris and Sweden and has been asked by a different classmate to coach his or her spouse.

“One of the most powerful aspects of the course was to come into a room that was literally international in scope yet small in numbers, where we worked with like-minded people starting out in the same basic space,” Robin says. “We were pursuing the same kinds of goals with amazing teachers and working together in different clusters so that we all got to know one another. I cannot imagine a learning environment that could possibly have been better.”

Students received specific guidance and tools on how to lead individual coaching conversations, focusing on how they can be transformative in nature, Robin says. But to be effective advisers for others, coaches need to learn how to apply their innate talents to their lives in the professional and personal realms.  

Sarah explains that during the class, students have time to figure out their individual strengths before coaching instruction begins. “You don’t start with the coaching piece,” she says. “You start with fundamentally understanding strengths and what you do well, and then how that [affects] how you might enter into a coaching situation.”

The course provides a balance between individual professional development and coaching others. Participants use their new understanding of their strengths to help others achieve their goals, Sarah says.

Cathy McKay, Ed.D., Supplemental Instruction and Ivy Prep Coordinator for Central Indiana Ivy Tech Community College-Central Indiana,  was surprised by the accuracy of her Clifton StrengthsFinder profile when she took the assessment in 2014.

“I was not just shocked at how true it was, but just how much I can apply it to my life [and] career,” Cathy says. When looking at all 34 talents, especially the ones toward the end of the list, she asks herself, “Is this really a weakness, or is this where it needs to be for what I do? It shows [that] after you’ve been in a career for so long, it starts to become a part of you and a part of what your strengths are.”

Cathy runs three different programs at the college, and her goal is to implement strengths among the student leaders, who vary in age. Knowing their strengths could help student leaders engage their peers and understand how their strengths relate to one another, and it could help balance the teams and make the program stronger, she says.

Cathy started her strengths certification program by taking the first two-day module toward coaching certification, Successful Strengths Coaching, rather than taking the accelerated course. She was initially uneasy when it came time to practice coaching with another participant. “I had never done any kind of coaching before -- my background is not in coaching,” she says. “It wound up being so natural. The conversation just flowed, and we were able to relate to our strengths. We were able to set goals for ourselves.”

Cathy compares the experience to a church retreat and marvels at how much she learned. Every hour was amazing, she says. “When I got done that first night, and I had to go back to my hotel, I didn’t want to do anything. I was exhausted because of everything that . . . we learned,” she says.

Robin is a licensed mental health counselor, and her background is in community psychology. Focusing on strengths, positive psychology, hardiness and personality types are already part of her philosophy.

“The whole strengths concept and process for turning talents into strengths is so much in the wheelhouse of what I like to do [and] how I like to focus with people,” Robin says. “It provided a wonderful context for promoting positive change in individuals and for others [influenced] by those individuals.”

Outcomes of the course will vary depending on each person’s goals. Each participant receives resources -- the Strengths Coaching Starter Kit and the Coaching Managers Teams Kit -- to help them understand, apply and integrate strengths.

“The print materials alone that came with the class were fantastic. There were so many resources,” Crawford-Parker says. “I think that we all felt really supported when we left.”

Learn more about Gallup’s Strengths Courses for Educators
Learn more about StrengthsQuest

Becky McCarville is a writer at Gallup. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and is currently working toward her master's in English. Becky's top five strengths are: Learner, Achiever, Responsibility, Maximizer and Input.

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