Research Paper By Audrey Mark
(Strengths Coach, CZECH REPUBLIC)
All coaching centers around helping clients address thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that they want to address in some way: understand, change, strengthen, etc. We can also say with confidence that coaching can be considered evidence-based – our work has a scientific foundation.
Dr. Don Clifton spent the majority of his life dedicated to helping people understand how to maximize their potential after becoming very curious as to why most psychology books (as of the 1980s) were focused primarily on what was wrong with people – not on what they did, or could do, well. He in turn began to focus the application of his scientific research to help companies place the right talent in the right roles, and this is where he started coining the term “strengths” to denote those traits or qualities of an individual that suited specific roles within a company. He later expanded this research to apply it to every individual in any life situation, heavily leveraging the positive psychology movement that coaching stems from. This is how the “CliftonStrengths” movement began to grow and is based on research involving millions of individuals and thousands of companies. The American Psychological Association designated him the “Father of Strengths-Based Psychology” shortly before his death in 2003.
The practice of Strengths coaching now uses an assessment to help with a client’s self-awareness to help focus the coaching journey with positive psychology-based, and very specific, language. Research firmly supports the idea that a person’s personality – the patterns that make up our thoughts, feelings, and behavior – is firmly in place by age 3 and is only more discernable by our 20’s.
When I started learning about Strengths-based coaching my first thought was – great! This is going to be a definitive roadmap for what I will be best at and therefore guarantee my success and happiness. It will have all the answers. The reality is that understanding and working with one’s strengths requires dedication and willingness to uncover them, and then the real work begins learning how to grow and manage them. There is no easy fix, but the reward can be high if you are willing to do the work.
Strengths and Careers
In the framework of career choice, there are again no easy answers, as one’s strengths – loosely identified as naturally occurring talents, that one is good at and enjoys, that is then perfected over time – do not function alone, but rather in a complex dynamic depending on each individual. Some talents indeed lend themselves to particular career choices, but many apply to a wide range of jobs and other pursuits.
So, what’s the point of looking at our strengths about our career choices? If we can assume that the majority of people strive to achieve happiness in their everyday choices – personal and professional – then we can conclude that the more things one can do well, the greater chance one has of being happy. Focusing on one’s strengths is a way to increase the probability that you will find happiness in whatever you do. Developing one’s strengths, our natural talents will provide more opportunities to find happiness amongst the things we do well that also give us energy. Many of us have honed skills over time, cultivating many things we do well, but that depletes our energy when we do them. This indeed is a clue that these are skills that do not build on our natural talents.
What is clear from the research is that employees that use their strengths are six times more effective and engaged. When you are using your strengths, managing them well, understand the pitfalls and traps to be avoided, then you have a better chance of achieving well-being, hope, self-efficiency, and again being engaged in the work you are doing – all of which should lead to higher overall satisfaction, at least in the professional realm (strengths can be applied just as effectively to personal relationships and growth). Additionally, there is ample research that shows when teams take a strengths-based approach – identifying and sharing, building on them, and appreciating others’ strengths – teams are 12.5 percent more productive.2The same research showed that employees that understand and consistently use their strengths report having more positive emotions, energy, greater feelings of respect – all factors that contribute to a better quality of life. The best part is that further studies have found that this benefit is cumulative over time.
Coaching Career Choice with Clifton Strengths
How can we apply this knowledge to coaching for career success and happiness? The approach, as you may have guessed, turns out to be the same for any area in which an individual would like to maximize their strengths.
Strengths-based development revolves around three steps: awareness, acceptance, and a resulting behavioral change.
This process is a conscious one that aims at pulling into the light what we take for granted as natural. Naming it and sharing it gives it power, and allows us to consciously choose a path forward toward maximization of our natural talents.
It goes without saying that the identification of one’s strengths is the first step to maximizing them. An official assessment is handy, but there are many ways to detect one’s strengths. The key is to understand when the activities you are doing demonstrate:
- Interest in something
- Ability to quickly pick something up
- Excellence in some field/domain/activity
- Achieving the state of “flow” where time stops while you are engaged in something
- Satisfaction and increased energy
In this case, it’s useful to look back at past experiences that have generated these conditions or speak with friends and loved ones to see what they have observed. Various exercises can be also used to help a client imagine a future where they are realizing their strengths. Using these prompts will give us clues to what our clients might find satisfying, and work where they can say their strengths would be flexed and grown.
Through the coaching process we can help clients gain this self-awareness:
- Do you know your strengths and understand them?
- What strengths should you be using at work that you aren’t, or aren’t using to their fullest potential?
- What strengths are you mismanaging to your detriment?
- Are you in a role that allows you to utilize your strengths? Or is there another role you would find more fulfilling?
- Dig deep into what your most fulfilling day at work looks like. What types of tasks energize you? When do you lose track of time because you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing?
Sometimes we aren’t very thrilled with the set of strengths we’ve been dealt, or simply don’t understand them. Here is where you as a coach is the key to helping a client discover the beauty in every strength.
One of our very basic tenants in coaching is that each individual has something positive to offer, and this applies just as importantly to strengths. I am still struggling to understand my “connectedness” but can see a positive application. For each strength, there is a way to manage it and away it can be mismanaged. Our job is to bring out the best in each person and help them understand how strength can be overused or out of control, and help them find the balance.
Another key part of the acceptance phase is understanding that each person is unique and has different strengths. The key being that different isn’t wrong or bad, but can be complementary and helpful. We can learn to appreciate these differences and also to rely on them when other strengths are needed – at work or in other relationships.
Once you own your strengths, you can grow them.
The change process is the maximization of one’s talents by perfecting the management of one’s talents. The conversion of potential into true strength.
As we all have most likely seen in practice or personally, change may be the most difficult aspiration that we take on, as coaches and individuals. A growth mindset is what will allow a client to identify areas of growth, and find the motivation and courage to address them.
Once areas of potential and areas of mismanagement have been identified, we can go on a coaching journey with our clients to wherever they choose to take it, following whatever coaching model and process we most closely identify with.
In the end, it’s not about what job is perfect, it’s about using your strengths for whatever job you have chosen. Can you align your work with what you do best?
Strengths are also not the only factor to be considered when looking for an ideal role. Values alignment and interest are also fundamental factors that should be addressed in conjunction with strengths to find the ideal role that will result in your client’s fulfillment. Strengths are, however, a tool that can be used to help a client begin an awareness journey towards growth.
The relationship among abilities, interests, and achievements may be likened to a motorboat with a motor and a rudder. The motor (abilities) determines how fast the boat can go, the rudder (interests) determines which way the boat goes.
 Children’s Behavioral Styles at Age 3 Are Linked to Their Adult Personality Traits at Age 26, Journal of Personality 71:4, August 2003, Avshalom Caspi Hona, Lee Harrington, Barry Milne, James W. Amell, Reremoana F. Theodore, Terrie E. Moffitt
Sorenson, S., (2014).How Employees’ Strengths Make Your Company Stronger, Gallup Press.
Hodges, T. D., & Clifton, D. O. (2004). Strengths-based development in practice. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (256-268). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; Clifton, D. O., & Harter, J. K. (2003).
Rath, T., &Conchie, B. (2009). Strengthsbasedleadership. Gallup Press.
Strengths-based Development in Practice, T. Hodges, D. Clifton; In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (256-268).
Strong, E.K. Jr. (1943). Vocational interests of men and women. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.