If you work with high-powered business types—or happen to be one yourself—you may have overheard the buzzy term “strengths coach” pop up in conversations.
If it sounds like some sort of secret weapon executives use to get ahead in their careers, that’s actually not too far from the truth.
Strengths coaches can help you climb the career ladder, but they don’t just focus on guiding those gunning for the C-suite.
The StrengthsFinder helps people pinpoint where their natural gifts and tendencies lie, which Gallup categorizes into 34 “talent themes.”
For example, if your strongest theme is “activator,” it means you waste no time getting things done. Or perhaps you’re more “woo”—someone who likes to win over new people and build personal connections.
Itching to get more insight, we interviewed Gallup-certified strengths coach Kristin Sistos, founder of Los Angeles-based Percheron Consulting, to walk us through what people in her profession do.
“Each person’s development program is going to be unique to that person’s themes and strengths,” says Sistos, who was actually one of the first people to go through Gallup’s certification program in 2013. “My personal mission is to really help an individual maximize their potential…it’s about being your best self.”
Who Could Benefit From a 1:1 With a Strengths Coach?
This form of coaching could work for pretty much anyone who wants to get more insight about themselves, but there are a few situations in which it could be especially helpful.
Here’s a big one: You’re constantly butting heads with someone at work—which could be a result of having vastly different talent themes.
An activator, for instance, may clash with someone who is deliberative, which describes someone who takes more care in making decisions.
“You can see how your natural themes can sometimes create conflict—the challenge is to turn them into productive conflict,” Sistos says. “Appreciate the differences and what that person brings to the table, instead of being annoyed by their theme.”
Another reason you may need a strengths boost? You’re feeling dragged down by negative feedback from your supervisor.
“A lot of organizations are focused on what you don’t do well. It’s not engaging—it’s draining,” Sistos says.
But a strengths coach can help you steer yourself into roles or projects that will allow you to shine. “If you’re a natural public speaker, we could get you presenting more,” suggests Sistos.
“It’s about seeing that glimmer of excellence and pushing it further.”
How to Prep for Your Session
Sound enticing? Don’t book that appointment until you’ve actually taken the StrengthsFinder (prices start at $9.99) because you’ll need to know your talents before meeting with a strengths coach.
Each item in the assessment presents two different statements (e.g., “I can get other people excited” versus “I can calm others down”) and asks you to select along a spectrum which statement best describes you. The resulting report gives you a personalized description of your top themes and talents.
Wish you were a little less analytical and a little more futuristic? It’s not uncommon to be disappointed by your results—but you shouldn’t be.
“Someone with a lot of relationship-building themes—empathy, relater, or developer—may get down and say, ‘I can’t believe I don’t have an execution theme,’ “ Sistos says. “It doesn’t mean you can’t get something done. It means you’ll get things done through other people, by building relationships instead of sitting down and hammering it out yourself.”
Embracing your natural talents will also be beneficial when it’s time to pick your strengths coach—you may decide you want to find someone with themes that you can relate to, or that complement yours.
“It’s kind of like [your process with] a therapist. It may take more than one person to [find] the right personality match,” Sistos says.
She suggests assessing potential strengths coaches based on their themes—many put their own top themes in their profile on the Gallup directory or their own website—and then arranging a get-to-know-you call.
“If you’re futuristic, maybe you want to bounce ideas off a coach who is also futuristic,” Sistos says. “Or if you have a really strong executing theme, but you need to work on your relationship building, maybe you can find a coach who is strong in relationships.”
Sistos personally counts the maximizer, achiever, and focus themes among her own top 10. “I’m a very goal-driven coach. If you want to work with me, great, but my expectations are high and you better be ready,” she says. “You might want a more laid-back coach. Think about who would mesh best with you.”
And make sure to ask about rates. Sistos charges about $150 per hour for individual clients, but says prices vary widely from coach to coach.
What to Expect From Your Strengths Coach
Sistos says there are three main parts to a strengths coaching model.
The first is awareness, or understanding what your specific themes are; the second is application, or how to intentionally apply your theme in real settings. And the third is achievement—setting a challenge or goal that you set out to achieve for yourself.
The first session will probably be pretty similar from coach to coach and client to client. If your coach is nearby, the session could be in person, but many coaches are also willing to work via Skype.
The strengths coach will walk you through each of your top themes and explain them more thoroughly. Expect this session to take about an hour and a half, Sistos says.
After that, the direction of subsequent sessions will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish. You might identify specific goals—like learning to get along with co-workers or exploring a wholesale career change—and start devising a plan with your coach on how to apply your talents to reach them.
For instance, perhaps you’re an achiever who gets easily bored in meetings, so you need to figure out how to stay engaged. You and your coach may decide that researching the meeting objectives ahead of time—and then noting how the meeting’s discussion points help move those objectives along—helps you tap into your natural achiever tendencies to want to get things done.
You may also discover through conversations with your strengths coach that you’re using your talents to your disadvantage.
“Sometimes we misapply our strengths and they become our greatest weakness,” Sistos says.
“You’re never going to change who you are, so how do you shape them in a productive way?”
She uses the example of the communication theme, which is often associated with extroverts who like to talk. On the positive side, someone who falls into this theme may be able to really paint a picture with their words. But on the other hand, they could be perceived as bombastic.
“You could look at it as, ‘That person is a big talker and they never shut up,’” Sistos says. “Or you could look at it as, ‘That person is a great person to help me find the right words to say what I want to say.’”
Honing your communication talents into a real strength could mean the difference between the colleague everyone loves, or the co-worker no one wants to be stuck in an elevator with at lunchtime.
So how long does a strengths discovery process typically take? That depends on you, but “you could achieve a lot in four sessions,” Sistos says.
You could also set up an arrangement where you check in with your strengths coach once a month or once a quarter—or, after a few initial sessions, come back to your coach ad hoc whenever you have a new challenge or goal you want to work on.
What Success Looks Like
So how do you know when your coach’s services are no longer needed? In a nutshell, it’s when you think your talents have evolved into strengths.
“Once individuals have successfully applied their themes to two or three real-life situations—and have been able to do that on their own—they don’t need a coach anymore,” Sistos says. “For me, it’s about self-sufficiency. Go forth and conquer! But come back to me if you have questions or you feel stuck.”
Another telltale sign? You’ve fully embraced your talents and have stopped fixating on your weaknesses.
One of Sistos’ most recent clients had already done a lot of self-reflection seminars and workshops, so Sistos initially didn’t think she had much more to offer the woman. But, the client was often criticized for being disorganized and having her head in the clouds, so she felt she needed to work on those criticisms.
Ultimately, Sistos helped validate that the client’s themes—being strategic and futuristic—were something to be proud of.
“One of her biggest takeaways was the idea that ‘it’s OK to be me,’” Sistos says. “For her to walk away from a talk with me with a greater sense of herself was incredibly rewarding.”
Eager to set up a strengths session of your own? Check out Gallup’s Certified Coaches Directory, which you can search by name or location.
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