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A 4-Step Family Strengths Session

A 4-Step Family Strengths Session

by Austin Suellentrop

I married into a family that is big into birthday presents. There is a bit of a tradition for everyone (adults and children alike) to share a birthday list of potential gifts to celebrate the occasion. This past year, my mother-in-law called me to ask for some clarification around the one item on the list that I gave to her:

A Family Strengths Session

As an experienced strengths coach, I have helped hundreds of individuals and dozens of teams discover how their unique talents show in their everyday behavior and affect how they achieve their goals. What I really wanted was the opportunity to do the same thing for my most important team -- my family.

At this point, my wife, her parents, her brother and sister, and their spouses had all taken the CliftonStrengths Assessment, and I had had some fun conversations with each of them about what the report meant to them and how they connected with it, but we had not gathered as a group to share these insights with each other. With my birthday coming up, now was the time -- and my mother-in-law agreed.

As we worked through the logistics of how to get a babysitter to watch our collection of 11 grandchildren for an evening strengths discussion, I began to get excited -- it was really going to happen!

I put together an agenda with the same type of approach that I had used with many teams before. The first two steps helped people open up and relate to each other:

  1. Explore strengths insights. Family members read their Strengths Insight Guide, highlighting the parts that most resonated with them.
  2. Affirm each other. People took turns sharing insights and experiences and affirming others' comments and stories when they could.

The storytelling made the unique family setting so much fun. You see, the stories made us feel like we were walking down memory lane with everyone -- and we were building each other up in the process. My wife's Includer was affirmed by her brother who told a story of her at 6 years old. And my brother-in-law's Analytical/Maximizer combo came to life through a comical tale of assembling Christmas presents at 2 a.m. because the decals had to be "perfect."

Much like recalling a past success can energize an individual client, having my family in this setting allowed us to experience creative and enthusiastic conversation. Only one thing stood in our way of maximizing this experience in our lives moving forward: We needed a goal -- and it didn't take us long to come up with one.

Our family had a big event on all of our minds. My nephew, the oldest of the 11 grandchildren, was on the verge of graduating high school and going to college, so I posed this question to our family:

When Jacob goes to college this fall and his new friends ask him about his family, what do we want him to tell them?

My family dove into this discussion, armed with my trusty flipchart and markers. It didn't take long to populate a full page of words and phrases that we hoped he would say. In this moment, we truly started to come together in a new way, more than we had before.

Capitalizing on this momentum, I pushed the agenda to a new level with steps 3 and 4.

  1. Claim strengths through the eyes of another person. Each family member read their spouse's Strengths Insight Guide. Upon discussion, each person shared three ways they saw their spouse currently creating the kind of family we desired. This activity built upon the importance of awareness, or claiming strengths, but through the eyes of a spouse.

For the next 45 minutes, I watched my family share nothing but positive, loving and encouraging examples of how we are building the family we want every day. The room, previously filled with creative excitement, was now also bursting with compassion and pride.

  1. Determine action items. As we concluded the session, each of us committed to one action to ensure we would continue building the kind of family we wanted to be known as.

The conversation you have with your family may not go exactly how mine did. Surely, the dynamics of your family are different than those of mine. But what can be the same is using the lessons from successful coaching experiences to apply a structure to your family dialogue. After all, just because you may be sitting around a kitchen table rather than a boardroom doesn't mean the participants won't benefit from the same strengths coaching approach.

So, reach out to those closest to you to explore having a strengths session. This group may be your safest for experimentation -- and your greatest opportunity to truly change your world.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:


Austin Suellentrop's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Communication, Activator, Futuristic, Belief and Positivity.

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