I recently attended an event that explored applying a strengths based approach to coaching. I have summarised my reflections and takeaways into the why, how and what of a strengths based approach. This is how I often think of things since being inspired by Simon Senek’s TED Talk, ‘Start with Why’.
The ‘Why’ of a Strengths Based Approach
“Everyone is a genius but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”Albert Einstein
This quote shared by Claire really summed up the why of discovering people’s unique gifts including their strengths for me. For those left brainers, Claire shared some of Gallup’s latest data giving a compelling business case:
- People are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life when utilising strengths.
- Approximately only one in three people can strongly agree that they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day, this is a lost opportunity.
- Teams that have managers who focus on strengths are more likely to be engaged. A manager can account for as much as 76% of the variance in engagement.
- Teams that focus on strengths are 8.9% more profitable and 12.5% more productive.
Furthermore, a Nebraska School Study Council in the 1950’s showed that when you start with a strength you get exponential results and if you start with average you get average results. In short summary about 6000 tenth graders participated in a speed reading study. Those students who read the fastest at the study’s outset experienced the greatest gains after training, from an average of 300 to 2,900 words a minute. The students who read slowest at the outset also made gains but they were marginal in comparison.
Gallup have a 'dream big' vision which I love for 1 billion people worldwide to be focusing on strengths. To achieve this vision coaches are a key part with them needing 1 million Gallup Strengths Coaches to apply the learnings. Currently almost 11.7 million people have been through their Clifton StrengthsFinder to uncover their strengths.
Facebook were the catalyst to bring the StrengthsFinder online and open it to the world. Previously the access codes to take the survey were only available in books and Facebook were buying lots of them and then disposing of them. They challenged Gallup to make the codes available online and they went through a process of disruptive innovation and opened the Gallup Strengths Centre in 2011.
The ‘How’ of Strengths Based Approach
Strengths based coaching is a key part of the how to make Gallup’s vision a reality. This is a key part of IECL’s coaching philosophy to truly unlock people’s potential.
Gallup’s strengths based coaching approach is built on the belief that a person's most direct path to individual growth and improvement begins with a primary investment in his or hers greatest talents. A coach creates a faster path to reaching that outcome. This does challenge assumptions in conventional approaches to managing performance focused on areas for development.
Tips to coach to strengths:
- Discover your counterpart’s strengths through a survey like the Clifton StrengthsFinder or VIA Character Strengths
- Use Gallup’s action planning tool to set goals via the Strengths Centre
- Download the Gallup Strengths App – once you’ve taken the survey this gives a just in time reminder of top strengths everyday
The Strengths based approach to coaching is also powerful in a team setting. We experienced this recently with our IECL delivery team. Through a Gallup consultant we explored areas including: What are our collective strengths as a team? What is our competitive edge? What are our gaps? How do we communicate? What drives us? What actions can we take to improve our effectiveness to improve our collective goals? This was very insightful.
Strengths can also be applied in education. If you have any 10-14 year olds in your network try the Youth Strengths Explorer. I have bought a copy of this for my 11 year old god daughter and am looking forward to her discovering her top three strengths!
The ‘What’ of a Strengths Based Approach
Gallup’s approach involves identifying natural talents and then helping educate people to turn these into a strength. Two definitions that are useful here:
- Strength = the ability to consistently provide near perfect performance in your role
- Recipe for strength = talent x time investment
Talent is a natural recurring pattern of thoughts or behaviour, Claire ran a fun experiential activity to demonstrate this. She read a series of statements and we had to stand up if we related to that almost all of the time. One example was “Stand up if you press the elevator buttons a few times when waiting for the lift”. This is an example of an activator talent. Activator is in my top five strengths, when used well it makes things happen by turning thoughts into action. A pitfall of the strength overplayed can be impatience.
To find natural talents in our team members (and in ourselves), it is useful to reflect on our childhood. What were we drawn to? What did we yearn for? This is a good indicator of our operating lens and an insight to our biggest potential. It's also important that we look at the areas we are not as strong in, and work out how best to avoid commiting any of the five dysfunctions of a team.
I question what would happen if 1 billion people knew their strengths? Unlimited potential! At a Conscious Capitalism event last night there was conversation about algorithms already starting to do many manual labour jobs opening up the opportunity for more humans to express their potential.
I will leave you with a quote from Donald Clifton, the founder of the Clifton StrengthsFinder: “What will happen when we think about what is right with people versus what is wrong?”.