Dana Baugh has been an executive coach for over two decades. She thinks there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to successful leadership.
"There's still a perception in a lot of organizations that there's this thing called a 'great leader,'" says Baugh. "As if we can bottle it and say, 'This is it.'"
A lot of aspiring leaders believe that to be a great leader, they have to be good at everything.
"One of the realizations you have [when you receive executive coaching] is understanding that you do not have to cover all the bases yourself," says Baugh. "Great leadership is discovering what everybody does best and contributing to that."
She recently coached a technology executive in the financial industry who was tasked with leading a new innovation initiative in his organization. They were looking for a visionary. This guy knew he was quite different -- more careful and prudent, and not a risk-taker.
"They wanted him to be Futuristic Strategic," said Baugh. "Deliberative Strategic is a whole different animal."
Strengths-based coaching helped him lead confidently using his unique talents, in spite of the pressure to behave how he thought people wanted him to.
"Once he could own who he was -- being very thoughtful, even cautious -- he really had to have a different strategy for how he best used his talents while still fulfilling his role to be more risk-taking."
He partnered with people he identified as risk-takers while engaging those who were more traditional and regulation-focused.
"Instead of beating himself up about not being futuristic, he could see that he needed partners on both sides," says Baugh. "He saw his unique perspective could help balance the two."
As the project progressed, it became clear that he was the perfect person for the job.
"He had this wonderful balance of honoring future-oriented people in an industry with regulatory demands you can't mess around with," said Baugh.
Baugh says that leaders who receive strengths training see challenges from a fresh perspective.
"Once you embrace your strengths, you'll see yourself working with your nature instead of against it," says Baugh. "They notice their life feels a lot different."
Measuring the Impact of Strengths Coaching
But how long does that "different feeling" last? And what role do coaches play in helping individuals internalize what they've discovered?
Gallup looked into these questions to measure the impact of personal strengths coaching. We recently conducted a pair of surveys among those who took CliftonStrengths. The first survey was administered prior to taking CliftonStrengths, and the second survey was administered three months later. We compared the results of those who received personal coaching versus those who didn't, and the results are extra validation for personal and executive coaches who use a strengths-based approach.
Of the 870 people who completed both surveys, 36% reported that they had received some coaching on their strengths since taking CliftonStrengths. Those who received coaching improved more on several measures than did those who received no coaching. The differences in improvement were significant:
- Life satisfaction improved by 3.9% more (than those who received no coaching)
- Expected life satisfaction (in five years) improved by 2.9% more
- Career well-being improved by 4.4% more
- Strengths self-efficacy improved by 4.7% more
What's more -- coached respondents were twice as likely to have hope, as measured by the well-validated Hope index, compared with those who had taken CliftonStrengths but had not received coaching.
The Role That Coaches Play
Clearly, personal coaching improves outcomes when it comes to internalizing and activating strengths. What might be some of the reasons we see this kind of notable improvement?
"There is good research showing that those who capitalize best on their strengths have sustained social support and learn how to continue building on successful experiences," says Jim Asplund, Gallup's chief scientist of strengths-based development. "A coach can provide some of this social support and, more importantly, remind clients that they can rely on friends and family in their development."
Another potential benefit of coaching may simply be having someone validate our own experiences. According to the Gallup surveys, those who received coaching were a little surer of their results -- 89% said the explanations of their talents either "accurately" or "perfectly" described them. Among the uncoached, that figure drops to 82%.
"The decision to get a coach may also be an indicator of a greater desire to work on developing one's strengths, in general. So, some of the gains that we didn't see in the uncoached population might simply reflect less effort or attention," said Asplund. "It's harder to keep at it on your own."
According to Asplund, coaches should be encouraged by the results of the survey.
"I was struck by how many participants had already sought some coaching (36%) and that the overwhelming majority [of all respondents] (84%) strongly agreed with their CS results," said Asplund. "That is a strong foundation upon which a coach can help their clients build."