- Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
- Season 6, Episode 2
- Learn about the journey of a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach to finding her purpose as a coach and how she helps those she coaches do the same.
On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Kelly Merbler.
Kelly Merbler is the Principal of the Kelly Merbler Company specializing in strengths-based coaching, workshops, and leadership development coaching. Twenty-one years as a regional executive with a global staffing organization -- hiring, developing, and building successful sales and operations teams throughout the South East.
"The secret of success is hiring good talent which begins with identifying what people do best, aligning them in the right role for maximum impact internally and externally."
Kelly works in the Southeast and Caribbean with companies using strengths-based workshops to actively build strengths-based cultures. She also works with a non-profit Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida graduates which provides support for students through life transitions and careers.
Tell us how you came across the strengths certification.
Serving Leader Institute participant who utilized CliftonStrengths assessment. Fascinated by the results and its reflection on who she is as a person. Met the Gallup Team in a Strengths Briefing session and wanted to become certified immediately.
How did you integrate that into your work, family, and community?
#1 Futuristic, #2 Maximizer, #3 Belief, #4 Arranger, #5 Activator. With Activator and Futuristic, I left the certification workshop in November 2016 and immediately requested a conversation with her supervisor. She sent him a code conducted a coaching session with her supervisor which led him to wanting to do this for the entire team.
Kelly requested to pilot CliftonStrengths within the organization and the teams in Florida and Puerto Rico. Starting January 2017, she went on a "road show" for all teams in Florida and in March visited teams in Puerto Rico. This resulted in Kelly presenting to the corporate office in L.A. requesting to implement this within more levels in the organization.
7 strategies to build a strengths-based environment starts with leadership alignment. When you introduced this to your team, did you push back? What was the process for you?
80%-90% of the teams reached out after Kelly introduced the concept at an annual meeting and requested she come to their office first. It's OK to have some teams and individuals not buy into this immediately because they probably need more time analyze and determine if this is the right step for their team. "You have to be able to see through their lens."
Self-Awareness and self-regulation is important for coaches especially when trying to encourage buy-in.
How did you expand your efforts to draw in other people outside of work to partner on strengths-based development?
Futuristic allows her to see the possibilities and Activator gives her the confidence to test the market. She found it easy to connect the dots and identify other people who would benefit from CliftonStrengths. By calling her contacts and utilizing social media … Belief influences her ability to communicate her commitment her strengths-based development which comes across in her writing. Nights, weekends, mornings -- she would offer free profiles to friends, families and contacts to spread the word and practice.
When you decided to build the Kelly Merbler Company, what strategies did you use?
That's a tough one -- when you spend 21 years in one organization, it is not an easy nor an overnight decision. It organically developed as she kept coaching people informally and formally, it resulted in more invitations to coach others and teams. Natural progression. "I had a point in my life when I couldn't make excuses anymore. Stop saying it's not the right time. If there is ever a right time, I've got the network to be my net for a little bit and I'm willing to risk it all."
What obstacles are your facing and how do you navigate around them in your own company?
It's sometimes about timing -- when you speak with clients and their budgets, planning, and timelines that don't fit your schedule (i.e., she wants to get started right now with them and they need time), it's important to keep your pipeline full at all times. This helps when your pipeline of possible coaching opportunities is full. It's like popcorn -- at some point, it's going to start popping.
How have you introduced strengths into a community or a partnership you have? How did you build that?
Often she has done a lot of work for free which is the way to learn and make contacts. Key relationships from those experiences -- one relationship resulted in a speaking engagement which led to a learning development team requesting her help to implement CliftonStrengths into their organization.
Another example is a program called The Florida Endowment Foundation and Dream Jobbing. It centers around the student space -- she used strengths coaching with high school seniors who are in schools that are in the bottom 20% of high schools. The program focuses on helping students graduate. Aligning and using Strengths more as part of the organization and other schools.
Can you give some examples of the activities and tools that you use in regards to communication?
She is a "LinkedIn Junkie". What it's like to be in the moment using strengths -- capturing the moments when she is using her own or others are using their strengths. This shows authenticity. She signed up to be a LinkedIn host to share strengths knowledge. It's the human connection and opportunity to tell people about it.
"I think there is nothing better than having conversations and telling people what you love doing because then they say 'I want to love doing something like that' or 'How do I get to love something as much as you do.' That is so powerful."
Using your strengths, how do you lean into your strengths to create a strategic vision?
Leading with Futuristic -- that vision is so clear and so close. In certification class, she immediately pulled the picture of a girl on stage speaking to thousands of people thinking "that's going to be me." She visualizes what her future self will be doing. "If you think about what you'll be doing, it will lead there to the right places. The Activator ignites me."
The Arranger allows her to juggle so many priorities -- without which she is bored. Belief drives her to do meaningful work -- to help people become the best version of themselves. "I lean into those and just go do it."
In regard to Basements & Balconies with strengths, do you ever feel as if your strengths get in the way?
"I trip over myself all the time." Her least is Adaptability and her coaching colleague from the certification course has Adaptability as #1. "I don't know how you handle this here and now stuff. Bring me back to the here and now because I'm thinking 10 years from now. I trip over that all the time." Maximizer is "controlling -- it's like a leech on me. Everything has to be perfect. There is no average."
Examining her past position, Activator caught her a lot -- ready to bring energy and get started when other team members wanted more time and for her to "tone it down." "When I realized how they needed to be led, [my approach] shifted."
As you are building and growing, what are some strategic partnerships that will help you grow your business?
She knows what she's not good at, so she has leaned into a core group of fellow certification coaches from her course. In developing her menu of courses and services, she relies upon other coaches who help her have more patience to dissect her offerings and reword her services.
Tell me about the most powerful or transforming coaching partnership you have had and why.
Worked with a manager in Puerto Rico with a strengths-based course in the company. The manager wasn't connecting. 10 participants were completing the picture card activity and this manager picked the picture card that has the mother hugging the newborn baby. She immediately started to cry -- and her team had not seen that side of her. I didn't know how to handle the emotion at first.
Her team listened to her at that moment and the manager shared that she realized she had seeing them through her own eyes rather than seeing them as they see themselves. The defenses from the team went down immediately and the communication tone completely changed. The team hadn't seen her emotion outside of the drive to get the work done. Those success stories of shifting the way they add value to the team due to the changes that manager made.
The best part of this job is when someone says they have found their purpose and its partially due to strengths coaching. "You can change people's lives when you help them."
One of your quotes is "In order to find your purpose, you have to lose it first." Tell me about why that sticks with you, how it drives you, and what it means to you.
18 years into her career, looking at her desk planning her next year goals, she looks at her awards in her office and thought they didn't look as shiny as they once did. She didn't feel that spark inside when she thought about her goals because it was focused on what she wanted. Loss of her mother made her realize that "life is not about chasing trophies because you can't take them with you … No one sees a U-Haul behind a hearse. What am I living here for? There is something bigger here for me that I'm supposed to do. How do I find it? I went out a quest to figure that out." She had to lose her purpose and what she was known for doing to (getting the trophy) find that she was meant to do. "Let go of the familiar to transform into who you are supposed to be."
What does your vision look like when you're building upon your mission? In 5-10 years, what does success look like to you?
"That word, success, I almost don't like it anymore. It used to be about chasing success. My future and vision is not chasing success -- I'm chasing significance. I want to create significant impact." She sees herself on a stage or working with companies to help people find their strengths. It might be the millennial population or the student population. "I want to do it all being the Arranger."
By 2020, millennials will be 70% of the workforce. With experience in education and staffing, do you have an idea of how coaching might be different for millennials than other generations? Is there any difference in your approach?
They are not afraid to try new things, want to be cared for, and to make a difference. But Jim reminds us that generations do want similar things and not to lose focus on the other generations (and that the differences between the generations' desires/goals/wants are not as different as we sometimes think). Kelly hears similar things from her baby boomer clients as her millennial clients -- they all want to feel heard.
Jim: As we look at our Q12 data on engagement. Those disengaging measures may not change that drastically across the different generations. There are people in all generations that desire flexibility, autonomy, open-culture, etc. There are some opportunities for managers to learn from this current generation (especially due to sheer numbers) and we have to manage expectations no matter their generation.
Kelly: "People don't want to be managed -- they want to be led. People don't want travel agent -- they want a tour guide." Lead them through the experiences -- coach them. "If it has a thought -- lead it. If it doesn't think -- manage it." You manage processes but lead people.
What are some questions that your asking or managing expectations early on in the coaching relationship process?
Listening -- ask questions. Coaching is about asking questions. What do you want to gain out of this experience? What is your biggest problem at this moment? What are your current strengths/weaknesses of your current department? When you ask, people will start telling you what you need to learn about their perspective -- then share based on your relevant experiences of how you have worked through that with other people. It gives them examples to connect with others' situations and not feel alone.
When thinking of the ROI and using strengths, it's more than just self-awareness but it is tied to metrics. In your previous organization, how did you measure ROI on strengths?
ROI is in the return on the individual. What am I getting from that individual that shifts how they do their job? Were they making progress on their goals or their development plans? Retention was a great metric -- did they stay? But sometimes people realized they were in the wrong place/position which allowed her to help them find opportunities for better fits (internal and externally). Nurturing those relationships and opportunities were essential.
How invested are you as the leader in making this successful? In the 11 teams she worked with in her former organization, the ones with the most amount of momentum were those teams in which the leaders bought into it and practiced what they learned.
Jim: We see coaches use the Q12 as a pre- and post- evaluation. We also look at financial indicators and productivity rate improvements. Ask the company/leaders what financial metrics and goals matter the most to you and your organization -- let's measure that over time. When you work with organizations, what do you do to keep the ongoing "aiming" process active in the teams? How do you keep teams incorporating strengths throughout the months?
Have your staff keep their strengths visually in front of them, place in the email signature, create daily language/strengths exchanges, watch a video once a week. "As a coach, maybe I'm off their payroll, but I'm still invested in their success. That is what you do as a coach. You stay connected." Compare it to the 401(k) contributions you make as an individual -- depositing into your strengths account by investing into it on a regular basis.
Jim: As people become more engaged within their organization, they begin to trust the organization more. Easy metric -- what is the average 401(k) contribution? They may become more productive, stay longer, and contribute to 401(k).
Kelly Merbler's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Futuristic, Maximizer, Belief, Arranger and Activator
Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach Rachel S. Carpenter contributed to this post.
Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed: