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Called to Coach
Using Strengths to Build a More Human Way to Work at Thinka
Called to Coach

Using Strengths to Build a More Human Way to Work at Thinka

Webcast Details

  • In what ways is L&D organization Thinka seeking to make the workplace more human?
  • How is CliftonStrengths playing a key role in these efforts?
  • How can employees, teams and leaders "up their game" to move toward a more human-centric way of learning and working?

Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series -- Season 10, Episode 19.

Below are audio and video plus a transcript of the conversation, including time stamps.

"We all want to come to work feeling more human and having ... an environment that allows us to truly be ourselves." Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach Carolyne French brings a lot of thought and research to this important topic. Carolyne is Head of Leadership Excellence at Thinka, an Australia-based L&D organization that is in the business of developing learning that makes work more human. What does it mean to be truly human in the workplace? And what can a strengths-based organization do to build a workplace where people feel they belong and contribute, and can collaborate in powerful partnerships? Join us to find answers to these questions and more.

We're all human ... we're all going to drop to the basement at times. And it's OK to visit there, but you just can't live there. And sometimes you need help to make sure you're jumping back up into that productive space again.

Carolyne French, 11:22

We can ... talk about diversity and inclusion and the importance of ethnicity and nationality ... But at the crux of it all is ... each individual belonging and feeling like they belong, and that's where strengths plays a really big part.

Carolyne French, 48:23

I've got my Activator on; you've got your Analytical on. ... We create this incredible synergy, this incredible tension where I might be pushing forward, you might be pulling back. But when we come together, look what we can achieve.

Carolyne French, 45:51

Jim Collison 0:01
I am Jim Collison, and this is Gallup's Called to Coach, recorded on April 20, 2022.

Jim Collison 0:19
Called to Coach is a resource for those who want to help others discover and use their strengths. We have Gallup experts and independent strengths coaches share tactics, insights and strategies to help coaches maximize the talent of individuals, teams and organizations around the world. If you're listening live on our live page,, there's a link right above us there to the YouTube page that has the chat room. We'd invite you to join us there in chat and ask your questions live. If you're listening after the fact, either via the podcast or on YouTube, you can always send us your questions: Don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast app or right there on YouTube, so you never miss an episode. Bruno Zadeh is our host today. He works as a Coaching Community Leader in APAC with me here at Gallup. And Bruno, always great to have you on Called to Coach. Welcome back!

Bruno Zadeh 1:05
Thank you, Jim. Nice to see you too.

Jim Collison 1:08
We have a fabulous guest with us today. I've enjoyed the last 30 minutes. One of the privileges I get is I get to meet the guests in advance. Bruno, take a second and introduce our guest.

Meet Our Guest on This Episode

Bruno Zadeh 1:18
Absolutely. Hi, Carolyne! So today I'm delighted to host on Called to Coach Carolyne French. Carolyne is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach. Her Top 5 are Significance, Activator, Command, Achiever and Competition. As you can see, there are a lot of Influencing themes in her Top 5. Carolyne is Head of Leadership Excellence at Thinka, a Learning & Development organization. She's originally from U.K. Carolyne has lived in Australia for half of her life. She currently resides in Melbourne with her husband, three children and a dog. During her spare time, she loves having a good podcast, walking on the beach with a coffee and some Reformer Pilates. She is passionate about helping people understand and maximize their potential. Carolyne believes that there is brilliance inside every single person and is motivated by helping people recognize it in themselves.

Bruno Zadeh 2:23
And I really love this sentence and I would like to develop a little bit after. She loves watching people having a moment and break through and witnessing the growth that follows. Carolyne has 20 years' experience in the Learning & Development space, working with individuals, teams and executives. She believes in investing in talent, recognizing individual strengths and monitoring teams to deliver a result with lasting impact. She's also a great advocate of collaborative learning culture, where development is life and not just an event, and that resonates very well with the strengths-based approach. Her expertise are in building capability by teaching human leadership skills that can be practically applied on lots of topics of today, focusing on the root cause of underperformance, not just fixing the symptom -- and we feel here the Significance and the, really, Maximizer in action -- innovative and out-of-the-box thinking to inform a learning experience that has impact, which is also aligned to the skill in 2025 with innovation and stimulating growth through a coaching, mentoring and collaborative workshop. Carolyne, welcome to Called to Coach!

Carolyne French 3:47
Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Bruno Zadeh 3:50
Carolyne, let's take a little second to get to know you a little bit better. Give us a little bit about you, your Top 5 and, if I missed something in the introduction, to go deeper.

Carolyne French 4:02
Goodness, that was, that was such an incredible introduction. I don't think I could add anything more to it. But I guess I'll just focus on that idea of finding the brilliance in every single person. I believe that's kind of almost my True North, and I feel like it's my purpose and something that I've really resonated with over my years in L&D -- that people often surprise you, and it takes time sometimes to really unpack what it is that someone has inside them. Often they don't see it themselves, and, and a great coach is able to help them to recognize what that looks like for them. And I enjoy that; I get a lot of energy from, from seeing people grow, from seeing people recognize, you know, the tools that they have to use that sometimes they just don't see themselves. And so the strengths tool for me has really helped me to help others, and I think that's, that's what I love about it.

Bruno Zadeh 4:57
I would like to understand a little bit more there -- one or two sentences in your introduction really resonate. It's about focusing on the root cause of underperformance, not just fixing the symptom. Can you share a little bit your experience in this area?

Carolyne French 5:13
Yeah, I think often we, we look at the, the, what's sitting on the level, that's sitting on the surface, rather than actually going a little bit deeper to work out, you know, what's really going wrong. So, if I think about something like, say, procrastination, often we look at procrastination, someone sort of, you say, Ah, you know, maybe they're a little bit lazy. Maybe they don't want to take risks. But when you dig a little bit deeper, it always comes from a place of potentially fear, potentially fear of trying something new, fear of taking a risk. And when we really dive deeper, we can actually come up with an intervention or help them work through that, to actually deal with, with the actual problem, the root cause, rather than what's sitting on the surface.

Bruno Zadeh 5:57
I love it. And also, you explained that you're an advocate of learning culture, where development is life and not just an event. Can you give me an example?

Carolyne French 6:08
I think often, I obviously come from an L&D background where, you know, I've run L&D departments. And so often you hear, "We've got a training issue." And often, it actually isn't the training that's the issue; it's other things. It's, it's in the flow of work, what is it that we need at the point of pain? And so often, it isn't about a workshop; it's more about conversation. It might be a tool that someone needs to be able to do their work more effectively. And so we focus a lot at Thinka around, you know, How do we make sure we create learning at the point of need or learning in the flow of work? We talk about that, because that's where it's actually going to change behavior, rather than making it about an event, a workshop, something that's formalized. Learning becomes this sort of informal, organic thing that we do every single day.

Jim Collison 7:05
Carolyne, if I can jump in really quick, let me ask you this question -- and we got this from the chat room. Do me a favor. Can you give us your Top 5 just in order for us, so folks in the, in the chat room will know what those are?

Carolyne French 7:16
OK. Significance, Activator, Command, Achiever and Competition.

Jim Collison 7:21
Perfect. All right, Bruno, keep going.

Bruno Zadeh 7:24
Yes. So could you please share with us how you discovered CliftonStrengths, and why you decided to become Gallup- accredited coach?

Carolyne French 7:33
So I was introduced to CliftonStrengths about 15 years ago by a client. So I was actually working with them, and I was running some DISC workshops at the time. So I've had a fair bit of experience with other diagnostics like DISC, Myers-Briggs, Insights, etc. And whilst they were all great profiles or tools to use to understand ways of working, what I loved about the Gallup approach, the strengths approach was, how granular it was -- how unique it was to understanding yourself and others. I really resonated with this idea of moving away from fixing weaknesses and focusing really on potential and the investment in natural talents. So I've never really been someone that likes to draw within the lines; I like to go outside a little bit. And what I loved about the tool was it really spoke to authenticity, and it spoke to individuality, understanding who you are, and, and knowing that I actually internally have these tools that actually can help me to reach my potential. So I was hooked really, really quickly.

Carolyne French 8:44
But I became a, I didn't become accredited coach until about 6 years ago, when I was heading up an L&D department. And the reason I became an accredited coach was because I wanted to share it with the wider business; I wanted it to become part of what we did every day, because it's such a powerful tool. But interestingly enough, when I first did find out my Top 5 talents, I wasn't actually so keen on the talents that I had, especially my Significance talent.

Bruno Zadeh 9:12
Yes, and talking about Significance, in our previous conversation, you explained that your Significance No. 1 was driving you crazy at the start. Can you please share how you have invested in your strengths and what kind of self-development have you done -- any examples?

Carolyne French 9:30
So actually, 60% of my Top 10 talents are all Influencing talents. So collectively, when they're not as productive or when they're from the basement, the way I would describe them is kind of chaos in action, to be honest. So when I first discovered my strengths profile, especially Significance, it was probably coming from a much less mature place, and often I would sort of see basement behaviors, less productive behaviors. So an example might be I was so focused on creating impact that I would miss opportunities to collaborate with others. I was focused on external validation. So, you know, I would sometimes obsess over one piece of critical feedback, which is not ideal when you're a facilitator and that's what you do to grow every day; you need to accept this, this feedback that you're getting. So I had to do a lot of work on myself -- a lot of work on acceptance, and I guess, dialing up some vulnerability, moving the ego out of the way and recognizing that I will always have an external pool for excellence. I will always want feedback. I will always want to make a difference. But I needed to flip the perspective so it was less about myself and more about serving others.

Carolyne French 10:46
And so what I've worked on over the years is building up that, that skill to see others' potential, to kind of shine the light on others' accomplishments. And most importantly for me, it's always been about having people around me that are comfortable to call out both my, the behaviors, when they're having a really positive impact, and really creating sort of momentum. Versus when I go to the basement, and the behaviors are not showing up as well for me, actually being able to call out those behaviors. I think one of the, I use this a lot in strengths workshops that I run -- we're all human, and we're all going to drop to the basement at times. And it's OK to visit there, but you just can't live there. And sometimes you need help to make sure you're jumping back up into that productive space again. And so surrounding myself with people that just don't, you know, call me out on it when they need to, has been really, I guess, a game changer for me.

About Thinka -- Making Learning More Human

Bruno Zadeh 11:44
Thank you. You currently work with an organization called Thinka. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Carolyne French 11:52
How do I describe Thinka? Probably the best way to start is to talk about our True North. We've got a very, we're a Learning & Development organization. But we've got a very defined purpose. We, we want to develop learning that makes work more human. And we do that in everything that we do -- whether it's dealing with our clients, working with our customers, internally with each other, we want to build skills that allow us to bring our whole selves to work. And we all want to come to work feeling more human and having a really, an environment that allows us to truly be ourselves. I mean, we all want that. We're not disruptors. We like to sort of talk about ourselves as, and we like to antagonize the edges of what's going on. So we're constantly looking at, you know, How can learning be done differently?

Carolyne French 12:41
You know, I don't want to really use that word "pivot," because it's been so overused in the last 2 years. But what we were able to do during this last 2 years, where everything became online, was we actually sort of, we pivoted, but we stopped, first of all, and we went, How can we make the in-person experience feel as human online? And so that's really been our, our focus for the last 2 years. Because what we found that, as people coming out of the pandemic now, perspectives have changed. People want to feel like they've got a greater purpose. They really want to feel like their work means something. So an investment in strengths and capability is absolutely crucial now to retaining talent. The more human a workplace is, the more connected people feel. And when people feel connected, when they feel like they, they're able to elevate these human skills, you're actually going to get a more engaged workforce.

Carolyne French 13:35
Now, when I talk about "human skills," that's really, you know, known in the past as "soft skills," so skills like providing feedback, coaching, managing conflict, navigating ambiguity. And the interesting thing is, they call it, "soft skills," but I don't know anyone that I've ever worked with that found these skills soft or easy to manage. They're often the hardest skills, but they're the ones that make us most human. So we work with organizations to really work with their people opportunities, because, I guess, no matter what sort of business you're in, whether it's construction, retail, government, we're actually all in the people business. So it really is all about people.

Leveraging Human Talents to Build Capabilities

Bruno Zadeh 14:14
You are quite a niche organization, because your focus, it's really about building human skills. And we were talking previously that you combine some online training with coaching and individualized development. How does that work exactly, if you have to work on, I don't know, get more empathy or whatever capability you want to develop? Do you have an example to try to understand better the in-depth of that?

Carolyne French 14:41
Yeah, let me just sort of, sort of open it up a little bit. So if we think about growing a skill or a capability, it actually requires you to tap into something that you've already got inside. So, you know, How do I bring or leverage my natural talents to help me build this capability? So when you attach strength to a capability build or a skill build, what you're doing is you're really personalizing it for that person. So building that capability, so whatever the capability is, whether it's, you know, driving accountability or building empathy, the capability itself doesn't change. But the way that you deliver it might change, depending on the uniqueness of your mix of talent themes. What it does is it actually pushes you to take accountability for your own development. So if you think about it through a strengths lens, what it's doing is, a strengths lens is really a growth mindset lens.

Carolyne French 15:38
So for example, you might be saying to yourself, "I'm not able to do this yet. But with practice, with intentional focus, if I really dial up my, my strengths, it's going to help me get there." So if you think about it, for example, a leader is working on building the capability of say, empathy. So I'm trying to build empathy. And -- sorry, start again. If I'm trying to, say we look at the capability as feedback, right, I'm trying to build feedback; that's the capability I'm looking at. And say, I've got Empathy in my Top 5. Now, if I use that from a productive or from a balcony space, I'm likely to be open-minded, I'm likely to listen really well, I'm likely to be nonjudgmental, and to really ask really powerful questions to determine what that other person might need in the feedback conversation. However, if I might use that same talent but use it from the basement, or less productively, I might find myself finding it really hard to be, you know, really clear in my feedback.

Carolyne French 16:41
So I might find myself making the, making it a little bit ambiguous, focusing more on the relationship, potentially, than on the outcome. And so I have a lot of control, then, over how I learn that skill. If I catch myself in the moment, I can say, "Well, OK, I'm in the basement right now. I'm focusing too much on the relationship over the outcome. How do I get myself back up to that space where I'm open-minded, I'm being really, really clear?" And there's a great saying from Brene Brown, where she talks about, "To be clear is actually to be kind." And we often talk about this in providing feedback, that actually you're doing someone a disservice when you're not being really clear and giving them the information that they really need. And so when we, when we link strengths to a capability, we're moving away from deficit thinking, we're moving away from talking about skill gaps or capability gaps. And what we're moving towards is opportunities, growing out of bad habits and growing into good ones.

Bruno Zadeh 17:42
How long time it's take to, I imagine, let's talk about feedback. So you have different lens, for example, someone who got high Maximizer and Command will deliver the feedback or receive the feedback differently than someone with high Empathy and Communication. We know that a transformation takes time. So how long time it takes to help organizations and human beings to acquire this human skill? Is it a workshop? Is it -- what's the length? Is it some ongoing coaching? From which stage you, you observe the transformation? And how do you, I would say, assess or survey or whatever point to make sure this capability is here, and now you have a real impact and transformation? Can you tell me more about that?

Carolyne French 18:37
Yeah, so there's a, there's a few, I guess, levers that we would look at. Generally, back in the day, back in the old days, we would have, you know, leadership programs or days of leadership, where we might cover three or four different topics. We'd have concept after concept. And the reality is now that what we're seeing in organizations is the want for microskilling. So come into a workshop or a coaching session, focus in on one skill and then apply. So it's all about how I go and apply and then repeat. And it's that sort of repetitive notion. But it doesn't come just from going to a workshop or going to a coaching session. What's really important are the integration tools, are the tools that we use around that sort of intervention, if you, if you want, for better use of a word. And it might look something like we develop things like meeting packs where, you know, a leader can go back and run a session with their team. It might be some, it might be a video that they use or an application tool that they use when they go back into the business. It might be a series of reflective questions that they can use.

Carolyne French 19:48
So it's constantly applying that skill in whatever way it looks. So it really does depend. You know, there's, back, we would have said originally that, you know, it took 20 days to change a habit. But what we've learned with recent research is it's not so much around how long it takes; it's the repetitiveness of actually applying that skill. So depending on how many times you practice will be dependent on how quickly you get to competency.

How Thinka Is Becoming Strengths-Based

Bruno Zadeh 20:18
So it's really individualized; it depends on each individual, how much effect they put in and have some self-awareness to change, basically. OK. And you have mentioned that Thinka, it's, it's itself becoming a strengths-based organization. Can you explain how you are using the tool to help build human skill, capability, both internally and externally with your clients? Yeah, I would like to know more about internally.

Carolyne French 20:45
Internally. So we're trying to mirror everything that we do externally with clients. And often we try things out, first of all, internally with our team, because, you know, it makes sense. But importantly, the, the minute that someone joins our business, so Day 1, the first thing that they will learn is about our purpose -- learning that what makes work human. They'll focus and go deep into our values. And then they'll focus on their strengths. So they will complete their profile; they'll have a debrief with, with one of the strengths coaches. And the reason we do this is because we need to help them to understand how they can put themselves into the center of the business. So what is their contribution potentially going to look like outside of their job role? So it's less about the job role and more about their contribution and the value that they add.

Carolyne French 21:32
Pretty much all of our facilitators now are either fully accredited or on their way to accreditation. And so, that part of it means that we've got the resources internally to ensure that, you know, we have regular coaching with our team. But most importantly, for us as a business, it's about building common language, where it's less about, you know, I have Significance, Activator, etc., but more about recognizing the behaviors and how they show up, both productively and less productively. Building a culture of trust, whereby we can celebrate when we see -- "Amazing, Carolyne, you were in that meeting. Your Activator was dialed up brilliantly. And you really managed to push us through when we were stuck, and we didn't know how to move forward." Versus "Hey, Carolyne, in that last meeting, your Activator was way too high. You said 'Yes' to 5 things that we now can't deliver on because we don't have the resources." So being able to bring that language into meetings, into one-on-ones means that we're creating this environment where we're actually putting our strengths to work. And I think that's, that's the crucial thing for us.

Carolyne French 22:39
We also weave it through everything we do from a professional development perspective. So twice a year, we, each of the team members will spend time with their leads, and they will build out their goals. And it will be one human skill that they'll work on over a 6-month period. So go really, really deep to really embed that, that skill and really practice. And on the back of that, each team member would have a coaching session with a, with a strengths coach to say, OK, well, this is what we want to achieve. How now can I leverage my strengths to actually get to that final goal? We have a lot of strengths assets that we use within the business. We've created our own strengths videos; we have a lot of reports -- we use Cascade, which a lot of you out there would probably know, which allows us to create lots of different reports in the moment when we need them.

Carolyne French 23:29
We even had a talent time, which was one session each week, where we would spend some time as a group going through one of the talent themes. And there may have been some dress-ups involved along the way, which was quite good fun. But, you know, it was like, How do, how do you, how do you represent this particular talent? So we had, we had some fun with that along the way, because I think, you know, we talk a lot about, we don't take ourselves too seriously, but we do take the work seriously. So we like to have a bit of fun with it. What else do we do? We also have sort of random powerful partnership coffee catch-ups, which we, we try and sort of drive -- get the team to drive themselves, so they're sort of self-managing. And ultimately, we keep it very informal. We don't formalize it too often. We did have a big event last week called, Play With Strengths. We finally were able to get together in person as a team. And we created about five different experiential activities, which all linked to how we work more effectively together by understanding each other's strengths. So we do a lot of that work internally.

Bruno Zadeh 24:36
OK, and what about performance? I took a note where we talked about performance in triangular approach during our last conversation. Can you explain a little bit?

Carolyne French 24:49
So our performance or our professional development is based around sort of three areas. We look at our values; we look at capability build; and we look at strengths. So strengths is almost the foundation. But then we've also got to think about doing it in the right way, which links back to our values, and then, obviously, the capabilities that we need to build. And performance sort of sits in the middle of that triangle. So all of our conversations are around those three areas, when it comes to performance within our business.

Bruno Zadeh 25:21
OK. In the context of investing in one skill for 6 months, do you have a live example of someone who has invested in building human skill internally? And I think we are talking about building system as an example.

Carolyne French 25:37
Yeah, I do. So one team member that comes to mind, their, their goal really was around building that skill of accountability. So, to give you a bit of sort of background, their tendency to procrastinate, not to deliver to a deadline, and sometimes not to the quality that was required for the task. So when we set up the initial goal that -- for them to work on over the 6 months, we, we started off by making it less outcome-focused, and more targeted towards them identifying with who they want to be known for. So they want to be known to be a person that the team can rely on -- someone who delivers on what they promise. And this actually comes from a lot of the research and work that we've been doing around Atomic Habits. So this has been a book that we've all been researching and reading -- James Clear. And what we loved about his methodology around achieving goals, we felt like it was very, it was very strengths-focused. So it really aligned to who we are as a business.

Carolyne French 26:40
One of his quotes that he uses is that, "We don't rise to the level of our goals; we actually fall to the level of our systems." And that every intentional action that we take is a vote towards the type of person we want to be. And so when we, when we think about that, it leads then to this idea of habit building. So how do we build habits through strengths? So if I use this particular person as an example, they have no Executing talents in their Top 10, right? So there is this sort of initial feeling of, But how do I do this thing? How do I change this behavior? So we started, which is, this person has a lot of Strategic Thinking and also Relationship Building themes. So we started off by leveraging the Futuristic talent and asking, you know, What would it feel like, what would it look like if this goal was achieved? And really sort of helped her sort of visualize what this, what this could look like. And then this helped to inform some of the habits or behaviors that needed to change, ultimately.

Carolyne French 27:45
We then also sort of tapped into Empathy: What would it feel like to be in another role, to have the ripple effect of being on the other side of a task not being delivered on time or a task not being delivered with quality? And the actions that resulted from, from this were exercises like the individual reaching out to other team members to understand their role, to understand their challenges. Asking more questions at the beginning of a project to gain more clarity and ownership of delegated tasks. And then finally, sort of doing things like blocking out the calendar for focused work; reaching out early if they weren't likely to, or there was an obstacle that was getting in the, in the way of them delivering. And what that sort of showed was that I don't need to have Executing talents in my Top 10 to execute; I just need to use the tools that I have to make this happen. And so it's really powerful because it moves you immediately into that growth mindset of, "I can do this. I've just got to do it in a different way."

Leveraging Complementary Partnerships

Bruno Zadeh 28:48
Do you use also internally, I imagine, because you're doing a lot of workshop, some complementary, complementary partnerships? Like the fact you're self-aware of the strengths of others, you might have some capabilities that others have and will complete yours? Is, internally, people working based on outcomes and based on their strengths, how they can help each other. Does that happen sometimes?

Carolyne French 29:14
Yeah, absolutely. We, we try and focus more -- less on job roles and more on contribution. I actually had this conversation yesterday, in that we're, we're working on creating more experiential activities for online workshops rather than learner-driven. And rather than sitting within the design team, looking at where we've got the creativity, and the want in other, in other team members that sit in different departments, so it might be in digital, it might be, might be a facilitator, etc. So rather than looking at job roles and the tasks sitting within those job roles, you know, where does it sit within the wider team? And I think, when you can get that right, when you can strategically think about, I need to bring this person in at this point of the project or someone else in at this point, you're really understanding the power of strengths in a team. I think that, for me, is incredibly powerful.

Carolyne French 30:13
Kind of brings me to that -- I don't know whether you've ever seen this video, Bruno. There's a, there's a great video out there of a Formula One pit-stop team. And it's 18 people or 18 team members working together to create a 2-minute pit stop where they change the tires -- not, sorry, 2 minutes; 2 seconds -- 2-second pit stop where they change the tires. Eighteen people around the car changing tires in 2 seconds. Now, if that isn't a strengths-based team, I don't know what is. And when you watch it, you see the reason why they're able to do that: because there's high levels of trust. They all know their roles. They all trust other people will do what they said they would do. There's that, that element of, I know when to step in and when to step out. It's like a choreography of the team is amazing. And I think, from my experience, when you can work out the right choreography through the lens of strengths, you actually end up with a team that thrives.

Bruno Zadeh 31:11
It's like an orchestra. Absolutely.

Carolyne French 31:13
Like an orchestra. Yeah.

Skills Leaders Need in a Hybrid Work Environment

Bruno Zadeh 31:15
Yes. I didn't see the video. But at this reflection -- at some point, I was watching Formula One, and I was fascinated by how they change, how fast and how many people. Yes, absolutely. Now I would like to talk about leadership and hybrid working environment. When it comes to leadership capability, what human skills do you believe leaders, we need to navigate the changes we are facing in the new hybrid working environment?

Carolyne French 31:45
It's a really good question. I think that we would all agree that organizations need a much bigger focus generally on becoming more human. But if we think about the last couple of years, the, the, with all the uncertainty, everything that we've had to go through globally, what we saw were leaders spending much more time asking questions like, How are you feeling? What do you need? What support do you need from me? So it's almost been a gift over the last 2 years in growing psychological safety in organizations. So I would say that probably the skill that we saw initially was promoting empathy. The leaders were really leading in, leaning into this, into this skill. And we found that we were running a lot of sessions around empathy -- self-empathy, empathy for others, you know, how do we turn empathy into action, which, obviously, is much more of that sort of idea of compassionate leadership.

Carolyne French 32:42
But what we're seeing now, as we emerge, as we reimagine organizations, we're seeing this sort of need for accountability rising to the surface, more so now. It's like we're sort of coming out, reimagining the world. That, that idea of, you know, setting expectations, of following through on what you've promised to do, holding yourself accountable, driving results. And obviously, accountability is an outcome behavior. But really, for that to work, there's a lot of other things that need to be working underneath. We need to have an absence of blame culture. We need psychological safety. We need departments collaborating with each other. We need strong communication. And I think this is where strengths comes into play so strongly.

Carolyne French 33:27
Because when you know your own strengths, you know the value that you contribute, and you know and understand the value and, and what everyone else contributes in the team, you can get your best out of -- I think back to that, that Formula One team -- that is high levels of trust. That's, I know that you'll do, that I'm not going to step in, I'm not going to jump in, because you're going to do what you said you would do, because we've all got to work together to make this happen. And so I think that that's probably what we're seeing a lot more now -- this sort of idea of accountability.

How People Develop Their Human Skills

Bruno Zadeh 34:01
I would like to talk about the bottom of the report, which is not weakness; it's just something we have less, we have less -- basically, we use less. And talking about Empathy, I know in my report, Empathy, it's 33, and my Command, it's 4. So I'm, I have a lot of strengths Command with you, Carolyne. And how do you develop, how do you help people to develop their empathy skills? Or another one, if you want to talk about another human skill they need, if it's on the bottom of their report?

Carolyne French 34:38
OK, yeah, so mine is also, mine's No. 32. So it's very low for me. And I often use that as an example when I'm talking to people about when they, Oh, no, you know, I've got really, really low Empathy. For me, Empathy isn't a natural strength. It's not part of my DNA. It's not how I'm naturally wired. It's not going to be the first lens I always go to. But I'm a facilitator, I'm a coach, I lead people. So it's not like I can't, I can't have it. And so, often we'll talk initially about the difference between having Empathy as a strength, a natural strength, but also being able to build empathy as a skill, which, which we can all do, and which I have done over the years, in order to be effective in the roles that I have.

Carolyne French 35:22
And so when we talk about empathy as a skill, we're actually focusing on Brene Brown's research around the attributes that sort of sit within empathy. And those attributes are mindfulness, the ability to be present and in the moment, emotional literacy -- so being able to catch an emotion and understand that you're feeling it. We often, you know, we label emotions, a lot of the time -- we label them as positive. So I'm feeling enthusiastic and energetic and, you know, loving life versus I'm overwhelmed, I'm jealous. But the reality is that emotions are neutral. And as long as we can catch it in the moment, not get swept away by it, be able to sort of step back. then we can learn to self-manage these emotions and make sure that we choose a path that takes us in a really positive direction.

Carolyne French 36:18
Empathy is also about being nonjudgmental, being able to go into a conversation and not already have an answer. And that's hard sometimes for people that have a lot of Influencing talents, like ourselves. You know, you, you kind of already have the answer in your head, and you've almost got to take it out before you go into having a tough conversation or providing feedback or, or even in a coaching scenario, it's something that I have to look out for. It's a bit of a red flag that I'm, you know, I'm already going in with a solution. Perspective taking is another area that we look at building, so how do I look at different perspectives? How do I push myself outside of my comfort zone and hang out with people who will challenge me?

Carolyne French 36:59
Personally, I've had to do that a lot in my life, because I know that that's what drives me forward, what allows me to manage some of those crazy Influencing talents I have sometimes. Actually seeing different perspectives, having someone next to me who is high in Relationship Building, who will say, "Hey, Carolyn, have you thought about how that might impact someone?" Having someone on the other side of me who is really high in Strategic Thinking, who will slow me down and say, "Hey, have you asked enough questions? Have you done the due diligence?"

Carolyne French 37:31
You know, when I've got those people near me who are challenging my way of thinking, it actually opens up my, my ability to be more effective in anything that I do. And then finally, it's, it's understanding how you're communicating, you know, understanding how your questions are landing, thinking about the nonverbals. I think often with Communication, we think it's all about the words, whereas actually, so much of Communication, I can't remember the exact stats, but I feel like it's only 20% of the words. And it's something like, you know, 75% is body language and the microexpressions that you make. So people hear your facial expressions, people hear your body language. So part of understanding empathy is understanding the whole person, and not just what's coming out of your mouth.

Bruno Zadeh 38:24
I have another question outside that we haven't prepared, and I'm going a little bit outside the box. As we are building human skills, we took the example of empathy. But here we talk about people who don't have Empathy. What about people who have very high Empathy, do you think it could be a bias? If you are Empathy, it's really about the feeling. And it's almost the opposite of fact. And does that make sense? How does that work to help people who, if we take the example of Empathy, who don't go in a trap of because they feel it's necessarily is a reality? We have all some bias sometimes; what can we do to help, to make sure we are the most objective possible?

Carolyne French 39:08
I think it comes back to perspective-taking, who you surround yourself with. If someone is an empath, or has high Empathy, and, you know, say it's a, it's in my Top 5, and I'm, it's coming from the basement for me, I find it really hard to separate emotion from fact. And so I need to, I need to surround myself, I need to sense-check sometimes. Before I have a conversation or I provide feedback, I need to sense-check with someone whether I'm allowing that sort of emotional bias to get in the way of me delivering the feedback in a really clear way. I've worked with people sometimes who have really high Empathy. In their mind, they, they feel like they have to soften the message because, you know, the bias gets in the way.

Carolyne French 39:59
So I look at someone, and, you know, my confirmation bias, or whatever it might be, is, they're really soft, they're really sensitive. So I'm going to soften my message a little bit for them. And actually, what I'm, all I'm doing is creating ambiguity, not giving them, I'm doing them a disservice rather than a service. And so I think this is, whether you've got it as a strength or whether you're building it as a skill, again, it's like anything: It's practice. It's practice, more practice, it's sense-checking with other people. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes, to, I guess, delineate between what is just something, a story I'm telling myself, versus relying on fact and data.

Building a Culture of Psychological Safety

Bruno Zadeh 40:41
We discussed the importance to develop a culture of psychological safety, versus a culture of blame to encourage trust and accountability. What is your opinion? And can you share some examples?

Carolyne French 40:56
As I mentioned earlier, you know, this, building this culture of psychological safety has actually, I honestly believe, has improved so much over the last 2 years, just that, that, that want to create environments where people feel safe. And I mean, when we talk about psychological safety, it's the ability to bring the whole self to work, to have a voice, to feel a real sense of belonging, to feel appreciated for my sort of unique value proposition, I guess, and, and the freedom to fail and feel supported. So, you know, creating that kind of environment allows people to be at their very best, and so, obviously then impacts their productivity, impacts their engagement levels and ultimately impacts results. So that's really where we want to be. And when there's an absence of this, what we often see is this sort of blame culture. And it's the opposite of accountability, in that often, often your, if there's a, like a culture of fear, which then leads to cover-ups, which then leads to no learning from mistakes, which then leads to a system, systemic issues that remain because we're not dealing with them, mistakes continue on, which then leads to blame, which you see, because it's the cycle that just continues. And it really does come from this absence of psychological safety.

Carolyne French 42:12
So as leaders, creating these environments where people do feel like they can fail and have that support, they can actually have a voice and speak up. And, and I think, if you think about strengths, and you think about the philosophy that sits behind strengths, it's really about not just talking about diversity, not just talking about difference, but really appreciating it. Really looking at someone and saying, rather than, God, that annoys me when they ask all those questions, it's, Wow, that's amazing. They're asking such powerful questions. It's not something I do. But thank goodness they do. Because you know, I'm really appreciating the fact that they've got a difference to me. But I know that difference actually creates, it creates a great team that has diversity of thought, which is what we're all focused on now -- especially when we think about things like, you know, innovation, and creativity is so important to organizations now. Strengths helps us drive that. And when we have this sort of absence of psychological safety, we lose it.

Bruno Zadeh 43:16
And also, we learn by mistake, I mean, it's the best way to improve a process to change your culture, it's to have this transparency. Don't have the fear to fail or to hide information, because fear what about others will think about. But I think when we fail, and we are transparent, we receive the, the help of your colleagues, of different departments, different people. And also, we process in certain ways that we learn why we failed and where we failed. And next time we arrive to similar scenario, we have this natural thought -- that doesn't work. I need to do better. So it's an opportunity to grow for everyone and to lead to performance. Yes, I agree.

Carolyne French 44:02
Sorry, Bruno, I had this conversation with someone the other day around, if we could just get rid of the word "fail" and turn it into "learn," how different the mindset might be. Because really, you know, each time you fail, you're learning something, whatever that might be. And I just think that it's a mindset piece sometimes in that space.

Bruno Zadeh 44:21
Yeah, that's something I was really challenged, based on my background -- I'm French, you can hear the accent. And I come from a culture where, when a teacher gives you your scorecard, they will look at what is red or what is low, and it's, they will pinpoint this area, instead of focusing on where you're good at. But in reality in life, if you were not good in an area repeatedly over the years, you will be surrounded by someone who complete, who complements this -- doesn't mean that you don't need certain basics to understand -- let's see, I'm not good with numbers, I still need a basic to understand numbers. But I will have an accountant; I will not do myself. And it's important to be self-aware about where we're go at, where we are not good at and who can help each other. And when we fail, who, what we learn and who we'll bring with us to, to become a strengths team, basically. We are human --

Carolyne French 45:25
And that's, that's the language, isn't it, of strengths -- that, you know, we embrace our vulnerabilities. We don't, we don't try and pretend we're, we're good at everything. We focus in on the things that we're really good at. But we're also aware of our vulnerabilities, and we find ways to navigate that. I think that brings teams together, you know, when I can actually grab someone else in the team and say, you know, you've almost, when we're together, we're kind of brilliant. So, you know, I've got my Activator on; you've got your Analytical on. We come together, we create this incredible synergy, this incredible tension where I might be pushing forward, you might be pulling back. But when we come together, look what we can achieve. And I think that's the thing I've always loved about strengths.

How CliftonStrengths Promotes Inclusiveness, Diversity

Bruno Zadeh 46:07
It's made me come to the next question about inclusiveness and diversity. Because we talk about the importance of increasing inclusiveness and diversity environment to support high-performance teams. But we all know that it's much more challenging to, to lead and to create this diversity than taking people on board who look like the same. Can you share the place of CliftonStrengths -- what's the role here?

Carolyne French 46:35
Well, we've, we've done a lot of work in this space at Thinka over the last couple of years. And if, there's probably another piece here, where we talk about diversity, inclusion and belonging. And I think the, the belonging piece is where strengths is, you know, really brings strengths in. So you know, we talk about diversity as having the seat at the table; inclusion as having the voice. But then belonging is actually having that voice heard. If we think about it from a strengths-based perspective, when you've got a team where people feel heard and valued, you're actually going to help them feel like they belong. And when they feel like they belong, they're going to be more engaged. They're going to actually want to get more involved. And so what I've seen is, when we, when we include strengths through any work that we do in the diversity-inclusion space, it allows people to feel like they are being heard, but most importantly, that they are give, being given the chance to actually not just try and be like someone else, but actually be truly themselves.

Carolyne French 47:38
So we talk a lot about, you know, it isn't about trying to be a leader like Sarah over here; it's actually you being a leader, using what you have, and have your style, but actually just build those skills around who you are. And it does lead to this idea of diversity of thought. We, we often see teams coming together, even our team, I would say, you know, we've got half of our team, if you described it from a sort of extrovert versus introvert, it would probably be half and half. But because we focus so much on our strengths, each person is an individual. There's no one that's like someone else; each person brings something slightly different, contributes something slightly different. And what comes out of that is a team that has more than respect, really has deep trust in the differences and appreciates them and encourages it. And I just think that, that is where we need to go. I mean, we can obviously talk about diversity and inclusion and the importance of, you know, ethnicity and nationality, all those things that we talk about all the time. But at the crux of it all is just each individual belonging and feeling like they belong, and that's where strengths plays a really big part.

Creating an Environment Where People Feel They Belong

Bruno Zadeh 48:48
When you talk about belonging, do you link that to the purpose and mission of the organization? Or you mean you belong in regard to all the people in a team? How do, how do you create this belonging? Because it's really part of the culture of the organization, but it starts when you arrive in the organization -- you have the onboarding; you know only what you know. So can you share a bit, a little bit in depth in space?

Carolyne French 49:15
So if you, if you think, I often use the iceberg model for this. So we, you know, we see the actions and behaviors that sit above the waterline, but there's so much that sits underneath, whether that's, you know, fear, motivation, experience, all sorts of things that you wouldn't know that come through in getting to know someone, understanding who they are. And what is a better way of getting to know someone than, than getting to know their strengths? Because strengths-based conversations just naturally inform you, naturally help you to understand what is it that this person needs to be successful? What is it that this person needs to feel like they belong? And the more you have these conversations as a team and, you know, individuals and pairs, the more that person starts to feel like, You know what? I'm accepted here. This, you know, this is who I am, and this is how I show up. But it's also that, that accountability to constantly strive to play in that balcony space or to play in that productive space -- holding each other accountable to that, but also having forgiveness for where we kind of dropped to the basement, because we all do. As I said earlier, it's, you know, we're human. So it's creating that, that human environment where, yeah, we all fall down sometimes. But we've got your back, you know.

Bruno Zadeh 50:36
I love it. I would like to talk about, can you share some examples about where you have utilized strengths in leadership program, and where it has potentially accelerated the speed to competency?

Carolyne French 50:50
Yeah, I can share a couple it was actually. One of the big programs that we've run is with an advertising agency. And so we've weaved strengths through all of their sort of human skills programs. So, you know, they might be running a workshop on coaching, but each of the activities that they run through would be around, OK, so thinking about this coaching conversation, where will your strengths help you to sort of manage this conversation? Where might they get in the way? What do you need to look out for? So it's that constant link back to, What do you already have that you can utilize to kind of get to that goal of becoming a better coach? So we would weave it all the way through the program.

Carolyne French 51:35
But I think with this particular company, what we saw that was really powerful was, with all the data that we were able to collect around each individuals' strengths and the team grid, etc., we were able to help them build out some, some squads. So they were, they moved away from hierarchy, and they moved more to project squads. And these were strengths-based project squad. So really thinking about, This is the project we need to deliver on. Who do we need to bring in at what point? And how are they going to utilize their strengths? So it was less about technical competency and more about how they leverage their strengths as a team to achieve their goals. So that was really powerful. And I guess it, it sort of helped us to start thinking about what teams and organizations would look like moving forward.

Carolyne French 52:25
Another one I can think of is a global health and wellness organization where we sort of introduced all of their programs, we weaved strengths through, whether it was an innovation program, a leadership collective, etc. But I think what we did well with them was we introduced tactical tools. So to bring strengths into different leadership conversations, different one-on-ones, how they could bring strengths into their debriefs at the end of project. So it was real tactical tools that was in the flow of work that they could almost self-manage. Because when we work with organizations, we're always about, you know, how do we enable -- so it's more about sort of teaching others to fish rather than fishing for them all the time. So if we can, we can start, that's the only real way to embed strengths, I think, into an organization.

Carolyne French 53:14
Another example I can give you is a global tech company that we work with. So their strengths workshops were all linked to their strategic goals. So building strategy through strengths, elevating talent through strengths. But what sat around those workshops were a series of executive coaching sessions, which were individual with, with the team. But then we also built out triad coaching. And for us, triad coaching is bringing together two or three people who work together, either manager or direct report, or three people within a project team, with a coach to work out how their talents can work together. So it might be where they enhance each other. It might be where they close a gap for each other. It could be where there's a bit of positive tension. So how do we work more effectively? And ultimately, you know, when I look at a problem that we have or a challenge that we have as a team, how can we strategically use our talent themes to achieve the goals?

Bruno Zadeh 54:16
That's a lot of, lot of good you're sharing with us today. I know we have 5 minutes left, and I have two questions. Do you have some questions, Jim, from the audience?

Jim Collison 54:25
No, keep, keep going, Bruno. You're doing such a great job. Just keep going.

Bruno Zadeh 54:29
OK, so what are some of the results you are seeing, thinking about this tool, both a cultural and a capability lens?

The Role of CliftonStrengths in Learning

Carolyne French 54:39
Honestly, the first thing I would say is massively increase motivation for learning. So, you know, what we see is when we include strengths in any type of learning that we do, there is this willingness to get involved. There's none of this, Oh, I've got a training session or, you know, Oh, I'm gonna go to coaching. I've just seen motivation lift. And I think, for me, that's, that's really, really powerful, having been around a few years and, and knowing sometimes getting that engagement, it can be really hard. I think on a personal level, what I see is that it helps people get each other. It builds relationships, which then forges that sort of, it's easier to forgive when you've got a great relationship in a team. So often, you know, things are forgiven a lot easier when people are really focusing in on their strengths and, and understanding that, you know, everyone has vulnerabilities, and we're all humans. So it does really sort of drive that, that human feeling. But importantly, the biggest thing that I see is that people start to see that they can achieve great things together, rather than on their own. And so we see higher levels of collaboration when strengths are involved.

Bruno Zadeh 55:54
Have you observed, in terms of cultural environment, when I joined Gallup long time ago, not that long, like Jim, but 6 years ago, I remember I, it's now one of my best partners. I'm Activator No. 4, and -- No. 5. And so sometimes, I action before thinking, especially when I'm under pressure. Next door, it's Deliberative No. 1. So now to stop to make mistake, I, before I send an email, when something really strategically critical, instead of to action, I go next door, and I say, "Can I have your lens?" And with Deliberative in action and this complementary together, it will give me a lens about a different perspective, but also risk-taker, and give me some, it's, it's, I would say, bring a strength to my strength. Absolutely.

Bruno Zadeh 56:58
And what I observe, it's, what was this kind of annoying me when I start as an Activator to avoid waste, wait after this Deliberative, Deliberative person, it's now -- we talk about acceptance, I understand where it's coming from. I understand that it's a strength. I understand that people are different. And it's give really the lens about being inclusive and accepting the diversity. It's where here we play with the role of working together, understanding each other, and seeing that we are one team together with different lens, but it's not necessarily negative. And that's what I wanted to share.

Maintaining Client Momentum

Bruno Zadeh 57:38
My last question, it's, as a strength is a movement rather than an event, how do you continue to help your clients maintain their momentum? And we talked about that a little bit previously, but do you equip them? And we know so that coaching, based on our research, Gallup, I've done a lot of surveys about millennials and coaching capability. People don't want a boss; they want a coach now, which also aligns with keeping this momentum. Can you share with us a little bit?

Carolyne French 58:09
Yeah, I think it's as simple as deformalizing it, and creating touchpoints all around the organization, whatever that looks like for them. Sometimes it's tools that they can use to self-manage, whether it's videos or whether it's, you know, coaching questions that they can use. And it's ensuring that they have these integration tools in the flow of work, at the point of need. How do they bring it into a conversation, you know? So they might be talking to a team member, and they'll say something like, you know, "How do we access your strengths to help with your _____? So I really think that integrating learning at the point of need, rather than actually it being an event, is probably the most important thing that we can do to really create that momentum for businesses.

Bruno Zadeh 58:54
Thank you.

Jim Collison 58:57
Bruno, you've used all our time. Let's, let's take a sec -- I'll, I'll be honest, in the preshow tonight, today for you guys, I said I enjoy the role of being a producer more than I do being a host. And tonight, it was great to just sit back and listen and watch the two of you interact in your strengths and, and just have this wonderful conversation. Carolyne, thank you for coming on. Bruno, let me give you a second. Would you thank Carolyne for coming?

Bruno Zadeh 59:26
Yes, absolutely. Carolyne, I really enjoyed this session. You gave me so much, and you gave so much to the community. And if people want to know more about how to build human skills, you can always reach to Thinka and it's on LinkedIn, or to Carolyne. And if you want her contact details, please reach out to me, because we have an expert here. And she brings so much to the strengths community. So thank you so much, Carolyne.

Carolyne French 59:49
Thank you for having me. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Jim Collison 59:53
And I'll say thanks again. Always great to do this, to hear the voices, to hear the experience, to just be a part of it, and we get some great feedback from the chat room as well. So, Carolyne, thank you for spending the time. The two of you hang tight for me one second; let me close this thing up. We'll remind everyone to take full advantage, at least on the CliftonStrengths side of things, we have tons of resources available for you now in Gallup Access. Head out to Log in; hit the Resource tab, and just search for whatever you want. We've got tons of stuff there. For coaching, master coaching or to become a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, you can contact us, for us, for, for us for that as well: is the email address to get that done. You can find us on Facebook; join us there: Lots of conversations -- we continue the conversation there is kind of what we do, and love to have you as part of those groups as well or on any of those other social sites that you -- we're everywhere. Just search "CliftonStrengths" and find us there. Want to thank you for joining us today. If you found this helpful, we'd really like you to share it. And thanks for coming out; if you listened live, thanks for coming out. If you listen as a podcast or on YouTube, thanks for doing that as well. Make sure you're subscribed, so you never miss an episode. Thanks for coming out. With that, we'll say, Goodbye, everybody.

Carolyne French's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Significance, Activator, Command, Achiever and Competition.

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

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