Strengths Coaching Blog

Friday, June 9, 2017

Great Questions to Help Clients “Aim” Their Strengths - Called to Coach S5E19

On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Gallup Subject Matter Expert, Ella Washington, Ph.D.





Ella Washington, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist providing subject matter expertise to Gallup’s clients in leadership, diversity and inclusion. Ella’s research and client work focuses on women in the workplace, barriers to inclusion for diverse groups, and working with organizations to build inclusive cultures. 

Today's topic is coaching strategies for aiming your CliftonStrengths themes. Ella has a “secret sauce” to the “aim it” part of coaching.

Two things that Ella keeps in mind:
  • We all have our experience and background that we see the world through
  • Strengths are another lens we see the world through
    • Strengths gives us a common language we can use to talk to diversity in a different way
    • Clients often aren’t sure how to talk about diversity and language
    • The world sees us through a lens, and our diversity is how they see us first (age, gender, race), but strengths is a way we can get the world to see who we are as an individual
    • Some of our themes are worn on the outside; some are internal and hard to see

During this webcast, Jacque and Ella role-played two scripted demonstrations from real coaching calls of Ella’s, then each call was unpacked.

First demo insights
It was clear that the client was all about the Woo, hadn’t taken the time to think about how her other strengths were coming into play; running into someone she couldn’t win over created a roadblock for her; Ella helped her realize that Achiever could help her in this situation.

Questions Ella asked her client include:

  • What situation or goal do you want to aim your strengths at?
  • Seems like you are leaning into your Woo, what other strengths could you use?
  • What do you think is important to your colleague?
  • How could you use your Achiever to work better with him?
  • If you ask his advice, what kind of response would you get from him? 
  • What would your Achiever say instead of your Woo?

Additional discussion:

  • What I (Jacque) would call your technique is the dial it up, dial it down technique. All of us have those strengths we’re aware of, but we use them unknowingly, but in some cases we may need to dial some of them back and draw on another one
  • I (Ella) ask a very simple question: what’s the situation or goal you want to aim your strengths at? This is a perfect bridge question to the aim it part of the call. It was apparent that Woo was the strength she leaned on the most and was letting other strengths fall by the wayside. “That’s your Woo talking now, what would your Achiever say”? Her goal was to get her colleague to work better with her, not to like her. What is the bottom line? What is your ultimate goal?
  • Objectify the theme, allow the person to disconnect from the theme and view the issue through it
  • How can I intentionally use a theme more?  Look at it from a distance
  • What would my Theme X say in that situation?
  • We have a committee in our head…the people around the table are our themes…who do I want to come forward for this situation?
  • Maybe we need to call someone else to the meeting…look at our 6-10…or get someone else on your team;
  • Helps you think about partnerships
  • What theme have you used to have success with this in the past?
  • Push to get it into a new situation
  • More questions to ask:
  • When have you seen this happen before?  How was it successful?  How did you get there?  What would you have done differently if you could do it over? 
  • Use your strengths as your assets to tackle the situation

Second demo insights
The client described a “big blow up” on the team that resulted in one member distancing themselves from the rest of the team; the client wanted to know how they could be a more effective team player.

Questions Ella asked her client:

  • What is important for you to get out of our call today?
  • Then I did name it, claim it, and then circled back to situation
  • What theme do you really want to be known for on your team (answer:  Positivity )
  • How did it show up in this situation?  Responsibility showed up instead and I was angry
  • What would it be like to lead with Positivity in this situation?
  • Honor who you are…if responsibility is causing you frustration, how can you channel your responsibility and positivity in a more productive way?

Additional discussion:
We have a choice at the beginning of the call to dive right into the issue or do some exploration first. I almost always come back to it; I take notes during the meeting; what they talk about in name it and claim it almost always gives insight into the issue and helps me when we get back to it. 

  • Focus on the client versus all of the other people
  • Our job as coaches is to be present and really focus on the individual, to be their advocate
  • Action planning really helps my clients
  • What made you angry? What could help you be less angry in the future?
  • Keep the conversation very crisp; don’t ask for a lot of details around the situation; don’t let clients go on and on
  • Name it and claim it help you gain context around the individual
  • Mirror back to client what you heard them say
  • When a client has a hesitation it’s always a potential moment for insight; usually means they are thinking something but are afraid to go there
  • Ask what they are thinking or feeling; this uncovers deeper feelings and thoughts
  • Let the conversation flow and have that present connection so you can pick up on cues
  •  I (Ella) have a coaching notebook that helps me stay present
  • Writing down notes helps keep me present
  • I generally don’t use the notes after the fact; they aren’t detailed
Jacque asked Ella - What do you do to prepare for a call? Do you have a routine/structure?
  • I always look at the strengths and previous notes from former conversations
  •  I do have questions I like to ask, but I still like to let the conversation flow; my questions are ready if I need them, but I let the conversation evolve in a natural way
  • How do your themes help you make sense of the situation?
  • Have you ever dealt with this situation in the past?
  • How did you manage it?
  • What was the outcome?
  • What could you have done differently?
  • Towards the end of the conversation…
  • What new insight do you have about your strengths and how do you want to put that into action?
  • What are your takeaways from today’s call?
  • Personal insight, emotional insight, action items
  • The amount of time I spend on each part of the call varies
Discussion about a challenging call that Ella had:
  • The coachee was a very self-aware person, he knew his strengths, he knew himself, he had a career helping other people
  • What could I possibly help him with?
  •  I asked - What else do you want to discover about yourself?
  • There is always more you can learn about yourself, give them time to stop and think
  • This client was thinking about retirement and the next phase of his life
  • What if you have a reluctant coachee? (their employer sent them to coaching or they are putting the blame on someone else)
  • Ask them how they know they are maximizing their strengths; make it more internal for them
  • Even if they are maximizing one or two strengths they always find room for growth
  • Help them know that the session is about them, that you will walk away from the call with insight that they can put into action to help them be more effective; what would you like to walk away with?
  • They need to know that you are in your corner
  • Personal issues will come up and that’s ok
Final insights:
  • Individualization is my super power in coaching -- I lean all the way into it during coaching sessions
  • Jacque’s Top 5 are Woo, Maximizer, Input, Focus, Connectedness -- I lean a lot on my Connectedness; I use a lot of intuition; each session is different and unpredictable

Letting the conversation unfold
It's all a process of self-awareness. The person you are coaching always needs to be at choice. They are choosing to participate - and moving at a pace that is comfortable for them. 

Don't miss out on the 2017 CliftonStrengths Summit in Omaha, Nebraska on July 17-19. Register today!

Visit Gallup Strengths Center to browse our myriad of products and learning opportunities for strengths-based development.

Continue the coaching conversation on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a great way to network with others who share a passion for strengths!

Ella Washington is an organizational psychologist providing subject matter expertise to Gallup’s clients in leadership, diversity and inclusion. Ella’s research and client work focuses on women in the workplace, barriers to inclusion for diverse groups, and working with organizations to build inclusive cultures. She has conducted inclusiveness audits, learning workshops, and strategic planning sessions with clients in order to support their goals of building a more diverse and inclusive workplace. She works with Gallup clients in retail, manufacturing, higher education, technology, government and non-profit industries.

Ella’s top five strengths: Individualization | Focus | Harmony | Achiever | Discipline


Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Cheryl Pace, contributed to this post.

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