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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Cooking Up Strengths: Know What Your Client Is Craving

by Ralph Rickenbach

I have a special offer for my clients -- a unique way to coach that has made a difference for them and for me. Rather than meeting in a traditional coaching setting, we “eat about it.” I invite them to a meal my wife cooks for them. Clients and their spouses bring their CliftonStrengths 34, and coaching happens alongside food and fellowship. This practice grew from an idea my wife had, and throughout the meals we have shared, one important pattern has emerged: Different people hunger for different things.

When I coach, my clients ask me different basic questions. A popular one I think connects to the work of CliftonStrengths: “How can teams work together more efficiently?” Even in answering this seemingly simple question, I have to consider what it means to the person asking it. For some, working together more efficiently means knowing their place. Others want to know how they can grow. Some are interested in a combination of the two.

As humans, we all progress in our ability to tackle problems of increasing complexity. This is what Einstein was talking about when he said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

People start without awareness of themselves; they are concerned only about survival. Soon, they begin to understand that their mom is another person, and they start to value the family as a place of security. Next, they conquer the world, sometimes using sheer power. Did you ever hit somebody just to get their toy? This is the time for rules, regulations and hierarchies for social embedding. Later, people begin to strive for recognition, success, accomplishment and value, before they start to see that self-actualization, tolerance and ecological awareness are necessary to clean up after the mess that pure “strive and drive” leaves behind. And then, they start integrating all those worldviews, applying whatever solution is necessary for the problem at hand and mixing them for a more holistic treatment without prejudice.

Well, not everybody grows through all those steps. But understanding that we are all on different steps helps me as a coach to remember to clarify how best CliftonStrengths might benefit each individual client and to allow the way they apply CliftonStrengths to differ. In my view, I consider different types of people, based on the questions they ask. Traditional people with a focus on truth and order tend to ask for their place in the hierarchy, often in church. Modern people love efficiency in business, while postmodern people crave becoming better human beings. And some, but these are really just the few, know that all this has its place and time.

CliftonStrengths is a postmodern tool aimed originally toward a modern problem -- self-awareness, tolerance and knowledge of others to enhance teamwork. It can even help people in a traditional setting to find their place. And as such, it is an integral solution, if used accordingly.

By inviting my clients into a family setting and committing to asking open, nonjudgmental questions, I can see the most complex worldview my clients have adopted and reach out to them at that level. Why preach a goal of self-actualization if all they are looking for is to be more productive? Why talk about productivity when the goal is to find their place, to fit in? I help them understand their varied talents in relationship to their varied goals, without expecting that one size will fit all.


Often these clients leave the dinner knowing how to name, claim and aim their strengths in their whole life, not just in business. And they know that their spouses, their gang they go to football games with, the other church members, their coworkers and their friends in the Greenpeace chapter are wonderfully and uniquely made individuals, candidates for mutually complementary partnerships.

Sometimes some of my clients leave with the revelation that they do not need a counselor telling them what to do, or a coach who gets them to find out what they should do, or a mentor who has lived through what they are going through and can guide them. They need a trusted friend who recognizes that the world is chaotic and nobody can predict it, but this helps them navigate those waters.

Last, but not least: How does such a meal work?

I am a fast eater, which gives me time to talk about the basic theory of CliftonStrengths during the second half of the meal: What are talents, themes, strengths, weaknesses, domains? And my wife chimes in with the impact CliftonStrengths has had in our marriage. During coffee -- there is no coaching without coffee -- I listen to people’s first impressions, previous successes, life situations and struggles. This is the best preparation for the coaching that follows.

Next, spouses recognize the strengths in each other and feel secure enough to reveal some things that would never surface in a “professional” setting, and I benefit from all of the knowledge a spouse has. Usually one partner connects with my wife while the other gangs up with me, but suddenly my wife and I find ourselves very quiet during those times. A conversation starts and a culture begins to emerge. Mission accomplished.

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Ralph Rickenbach is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach in Switzerland. He works with churches, companies and individuals. His experience includes 30+ years of computer programming and software architecture, leading international projects in such diverse fields as artificial life and meteorology. Ralph also is a pastor and teacher in an international network of churches and owns his own coaching company.


Ralph's Top 5 strengths are Ideation, Learner, Deliberative, Intellection and Futuristic.

1 comment :

Janelle Gregory said...

Really interesting concept! I can see how this would work well. Thanks for sharing!

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