- Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
- Season 6, Episode 28
- Discover how to focus your CliftonStrengths coaching, make it more personal and relational, and even bring it to clients around the world.
On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach Michael Dauphinee, who operates his own consulting company and travels the world to do that. Our conversation was hosted by Gallup's Jeremy Pietrocini. During almost two decades, Michael has been a Strengths Coach in a variety of corporate and nonprofit settings, nationally and internationally.
Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above.
Guest host Jeremy Pietrocini: In your own words, tell us about your journey of being called to coach and what you do in your day-to-day business.
Michael Dauphinee: I worked at Hewlett-Packard as an international negotiator for 6 years. I got into a bit of a 9-to-5 rut, was involved with a nonprofit in San Diego when CliftonStrengths had launched. It was around 2000, and no one really knew what "StrengthsFinder" was. We started using StrengthsFinder with our volunteers, it became the language we spoke.
When I turned 30, I had a moment (it's in my new book, Extraordinary, comes out Sept. 4) that made me realize that what I was doing wasn't my life, I needed to do something different. I realized that StrengthsFinder showed me my strengths, but they were what I had been spending the majority of my life trying to "scoop out of me." A year later, I walked away from HP and spent a year traveling the U.S. and Western Europe talking about strengths with nonprofits and community leaders. My hope was that someday I could do workshops and make a full-time living out of strengths.
I got a call from Eagle Sports, an inner-city nonprofit in Detroit that was putting kids in uniformed intramural athletic leagues and tutoring them. They asked me to come teach them about strengths -- they were my first client, about 12-13 years ago. One client led to another and another; in the early days I primarily did workshops, but did not coach.
But eventually, clients said, "We need someone to walk with us and help us answer questions"; and they felt like I understood them. Part of the power for StrengthsFinder is that it accelerates the intimacy. We are wired as human beings to resist people who don't know us well. And to suddenly have language for what we think feel, and do -- it magnifies things, speeds things up.
Before I knew it I was consulting and coaching; Eagle Sports led to the United Way, which led to the Detroit Lions, which led to Fiat Chrysler, which led to … on and on. In the early days, it was mostly workshops; now it's coaching.
In the last two years I've become passionate about fragile and conflict-affected environments and seeing if we could take CliftonStrengths to global places. I realized that to have the power of this tool in your life, you had to have was a credit card and an internet connection. But what would it take to see if the reality of strengths and the transformational power of strengths would work in international development and these conflict-affected areas, and so, I've been working in Nigeria, Central America, Afghanistan the last several years.
JP: Tell us about the unique diversity of your work -- Fortune 500 companies, NFL football teams, your own personal mission and passion to go to other areas of the world (you're in Dubai right now). Talk about the uniqueness of the portfolio of the work you do, who your clients are, there's a common need of human beings who want to understand their people and themselves. You say on your website, "When the world melts down and they need someone to get their back," your strengths come into play. Talk about the work that you're doing, you have a unique niche that you fill.
MD: It's taken me years to figure out, and endless hours of conversation. It started about 2 ½ years ago -- I had this "coach of coaches" who asked me to describe what I do in a paragraph or less. He didn't accept what I said … and asked, "What is 'the bloody neck' -- the client's problem that you have to solve or else they're going to die? He asked, "Why should these CEOs pay you money? What can you do for them?" I said, "People pay me to be able to call me up at night to hear me say, 'I see you, you're not alone and I'm not scared.'"
Coaches need to know what their "thing" is -- are you going to help someone grow and develop, or are you going to problem solve, create something innovative? I decided that I want to help people solve their greatest problems, to navigate their most serious challenges. On my website we call it "mission critical support."
In 2010, I got an invitation to go to Afghanistan, and I thought, "What a great opportunity!" And they told me, "You're the first one to say that." And I thought, "This is the pinch-point of the world. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?" And I went and did some mediocre leadership training. Then I started going over there on my own dime a couple of times a year. And ultimately I started asking myself if strengths could make a difference there. And I realized I had to focus on the idea of strengths, not StrengthsFinder -- the point of StrengthsFinder is helping people operate in their strengths, and not just knowing what Activator means or feeling really good about their themes -- it was about doing something with them.
JP: Talk to us about how you used strengths as a language in Afghanistan, especially with the language barriers.
MD: I was working with a small consulting firm and said I would do strengths with all of them. Even the doorman, who was functionally illiterate; he couldn't read or write his own language. The office got together and translated the assessment so this guy could take the assessment; one person would read the question and he learned to point to which bubble on the screen would be his answer. When it was done, and we validated the results through a translator, we realized he had probably the sharpest eye on security and challenges.
I love that strengths is the ability to go beyond resume and academic report. Strengths is able to give value to someone who had neither of these. He had Woo, Individualization and Analytical, an interesting combination of talents that I had never seen -- he knew everyone on the streets but questioned every one. I encouraged them to start listening to him for security.
JP: Don Clifton said that everybody has talents, everybody has strengths; the assessment was just a means to an end to help accelerate the conversation.
MD: An old quote that I love says, "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name." We put emphasis on behavior and not on thoughts and feelings in CliftonStrengths, but Strengths can put language to what I'm feeling as well as to what I'm thinking, which then allows you to navigate differently.
Jim Collison: Mike, you don't have the materials (such as theme insight cards) in Afghanistan. Is there an advantage to not having the cards? Not getting tied up in the definitions, but focusing on how the themes work for them?
MD: You can't bring up the cards at all, especially in the early days. It's a matter of getting the themes down to a one-word essence. For example, the one word for Futuristic would be potential; for Deliberative it's caution; for Responsibility it's ownership. You have to have a language that can directly tie into whatever environment you're in.
I'm finding that between problems and someone's great strategy are a whole bunch of people. Too often, we think that strategy by merely being disseminated creates transformation. But information doesn't create transformation; somebody has to actually coach through the human beings -- the data pass through their thoughts, feelings, and behavior in a certain way. So coaches have to get good at understanding the industries they're in. You have to know the themes so well that you can "plug and play" no matter what the challenge is. hearing
JP: Before the cards existed, as a coach you were listening for, "What do these people have in common; what is it that I can know about them?" People can use cards to do it, but they can do it in the way you've experienced. Talk to us about how you use your alternative (non-Gallup) language.
In the early days we didn't have the cards. I did endless amounts of one-on-ones. I would ask them to describe things to me (because I felt I didn't know the themes well enough). People would tell me they have, for example, Relator in their Top 5 and would say they don't know why they have it (because they don't fit what they think a Relator should be). I discovered a lot by listening to people, and so I think there's a point at which coaches need to stop talking and start listening. A coach's job is to remove the barriers between the people and the transformation. It's not to dazzle them with your knowledge about all of the themes; it's about knowing when to get out of the way and when to help. You have to know every theme and love every theme and know there are not "opposite" themes. The themes are tools in our hands.
JC: From the chat room: Do you use the simple approach you use with other language speakers with English speakers, too?
I think in English as well, clients need something they can hold on to quickly. So you have to put it in their hands, and they have to have an idea they can grab hold of. And that is key.
JP: How have you leveraged your own strengths to deal with being a foreigner in a different land/culture? How do we use them to adjust to a different culture?
I'll save the meat of this answer for the Summit (the breakout session on Beyond Borders). Communication is a theme that is ultimately about narrative; we see the world in the narrative format. So I ask who I'm talking to and what is their situation? I find that stories really matter in Middle Eastern and Central Asian cultures, so having to tell stories has worked out well.
In these cultures, the thought of being an individual is nearly offensive; the group's value is greater than the individual's value. To bridge this gap, I gave an example of rugs to make the point that every element and every individual matters (the rug being the group, the strands being the individual). There's a power in having communication themes and influencing themes (for example, Individualization, Connectedness) and those themes help you naturally do well internationally, and I've had to lean heavily into those.
But some of the military people I work with are highly analytical, and so I have to show up with the details of strengths. So I think about who I am talking to and how they are listening.
We communicate through our talents/themes, but we listen through our talents as well. So people listen differently; communication isn't information said; it's information received. I have to think about how my audience is listening -- so communication for me has involved listening, and not as much talking.
JP: Global cultures may not be for you, but for those of us passionate about that or invited into that or trying to figure it out, knowing your audience and then who you are and who you are not are important, and makes it more likely that you invited in (to those global contexts).
MD: Be prepared to have all of your assumptions fly out the window. And who am I to tell you that you have to care about what I care about? People are looking for someone to walk with them, and you can't do it from a safe place. I travel 20+ days a month because I love what I do but also I have to be with people and not deal with their issues at arm's length. A lot of clients require you to step in and say to you, "Can you be here, and feel my fear, and still tell me that my talent is the best place to start?"
JP: I have talent, what do I do with it? The subtitle of your new book Extraordinary is, "The world sold you a map; what you need is a compass." You can pull nuggets out of this for us as coaches, as consultants, as leaders. We have talents, but what do we do with them? I have a map, but I don't know in which direction I'm supposed to head?
MD: The title is Extraordinary, which means outside the course of normal events. We need to somehow find ways to not just follow the path, the normal course. We get too focused on the destination rather than the direction. If where I'm going has no GPS coordinates, isn't on a map, what are four values that I can hold on to that can keep me moving in the direction of me? Identity, Permission, Courage and Generosity end up being these pieces.
If you can discover with intentionality a world that is bigger than yourself, it will change the direction of your life. The question is: Am I moving closer toward being the best version of me?
JP: Empower people, Disrupt the workplace, Change the world -- this year's Summit theme -- is what you're hitting on. How do we help people be the best version of themselves touches on all four of these things -- identity, permission, courage, generosity?
MD: The last chapter of the book is called, "Follow the relationship." Every client and opportunity has for me has come out of someone I've met in my life. I can track every client in Afghanistan back to a relationship. Coaches ask me, how do you build your business? You need to know what works for you and do your own thing. I did whatever it took. For me, identity kicked in, and then generosity, and then that changed my permission. And the more I did this, the stronger I felt about what I could do. I could take more risks. We can't stop with what we know about CliftonStrengths. Figure out what someone needs to hear, and help people sing their own song.
MD: Courage is about fear meeting truth which then meets action. Not every action you take in the face of fear requires courage, but it does require sacrifice. Sacrifice is giving up something you want for something greater. Sacrifice can be found in all kinds of different things, so courage comes in surprising day-to-day moments; it's sacrificial acts that involve putting people first. It also involves choices you make to reach your goals, starting today.
JC: There's a great quote from the movie "Edge of Tomorrow" with Tom Cruise; the sergeant says, "There's no courage without fear." Those with the greatest reward also have the greatest amount of risk. You have a story, and it's easy for someone to say, "Of course that happened. Because you did it." But there were no guarantees when you started out.
MD: We got a warning a few nights ago about some credible threats against the airport in Kabul and the ministry I work at. And I was just there. And you have this moment of saying, "Is this really worth it?" And there's this conversation, "How badly do you believe?" It's easy to believe when it doesn't cost you anything, but you've got to find a way that the belief becomes extraordinary -- it is above the course of normal experience. If you don't have that belief, do whatever it takes to cultivate a belief in yourself and a calling -- not merely CliftonStrengths, but this focus on strengths can truly change the world.
Michael Dauphinee's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Communication, Command, Activator, Positivity and Woo.
Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach Cheryl S. Pace contributed to this post.
Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed: