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Called to Coach
How to Lead With Your Strengths in Mind
Called to Coach

How to Lead With Your Strengths in Mind

Webcast Details

  • What are some benefits of using your strengths to lead?
  • Is there an ideal Top 5 for leaders, and is retaking CliftonStrengths ever a good idea?
  • What can you do when your top strengths aren't what is needed at a given moment?

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


Your Top 5 themes of talent, as you develop them into strengths, make you uniquely powerful. But what if your ambition is to be a leader? How can your dominant talents, as well as your past successes, inform your unique leadership style? What part can others play in areas of strength that you lack? Should you retake the CliftonStrengths assessment when you move into a leadership role? And what are some benefits of learning to lead with your strengths in mind? Jessica Dawson, Gallup Learning and Development Consultant, joins the webcast to help you appreciate your strengths and understand how to better leverage them as you lead.


With strengths, it's all about pathways to excellence. And it's more so about the "how" you'll get there, as opposed to what you will be doing. And leadership is no exception.

Jessica Dawson, 5:14

Study your past successes. ... Think about those times where you have led in your lifetime, because those are going to be the clues to what will make you a successful leader in the future.

Jessica Dawson, 26:31

Jim Collison 0:00
We're about to dive into a topic on strengths-based leadership. Have you heard about our brand new report -- CliftonStrengths for Leaders? This report is a tool you can use to tie your unique strengths to the daily tasks in your role. Click on the link in the description of this episode to learn more, or get yours today.

Jim Collison 0:16
I am Jim Collison, and welcome to The CliftonStrengths Podcast. On this podcast, we'll be covering topics such as wellbeing, teamwork, professional development and more. Now enjoy this episode. This episode was previously recorded on LinkedIn® Live.

Meet Our Guest on This Episode

Jim Collison 0:34
I'm here with Jessica Dawson. And we're spending some time really talking about leading with your strengths in mind. And, Jessica, let's get to know you a little bit one -- tell us.

Jessica Dawson 0:43
Jim, before we get to me, let me just share something with the audience. I wasn't going to share this, but now I feel compelled to share it, so maybe it's my Connectedness. But I just want to give kudos to Jim, in his leadership in times of disruption. In our role, nothing's ever wrong, right. But we did have a little bit of a technology snafu leading into this. And Jim has this ability to stay calm under pressure that I just really love. So I just want to thank you for your leadership in that moment, before we ... and then he took me through like a wellness exercise. He was like, "Do we need to do a little mindfulness before we go into the show?" And I just, I really appreciate that and you. So I just want to say that?

Jim Collison 1:25
Well, Jessica, I appreciate you saying that. It's one of the things, you know, again, a practice, when we think about putting your themes, putting your talents, putting your strengths in action, that doesn't necessarily mean they're perfect right out the gate, that experience, right. And I've done thousands of these, and so they've prepared me. Like there's nothing now as we, you know, as we were getting ready for this and the technology wasn't participating, the leadership in that for me was like, you know what? I've done 1,000 of these; it'll come together, or it won't, and we'll figure it out. Right? It's gonna be just fine. So that, maybe that's, that was, you know, maybe that was serendipitous today, as we were getting ready to talk about this, this topic, right, and just leading through that moment of crisis and just saying, you know, it'll be OK. And if it's not OK, we'll figure it out. And, and I think that's, I think that's one of those important lessons in that. OK, let's get to know you, because we're gonna be spending some time with you today. I appreciate that recognition, though. Tell us a little bit about your role here and give us your Top 5.

Jessica Dawson 2:31
Sure. So I'm a Learning and Development Consultant based out of downtown Chicago, but originally from New Jersey, so I still claim my East Coast roots. My Top 5: Futuristic, Relator, Activator, Developer and Individualization. And I have the great pleasure of turning Gallup's research and science into different learning interventions. So typically, I coach, I facilitate our course offerings, I do a lot of executive presentations and keynotes and, which keeps me busy. But I love it. Because I really love developing human beings. That is my passion. So I get to do that a lot in this role.

What Are Some Benefits of Using Your Strengths to Lead?

Jim Collison 3:09
You just practiced that Developer-Individualization combo on me just a minute ago, which was super nice. Great to be the recipient of that in, in your role here. What do you think? So as we were talking about this, the importance of leading with your strengths, I mean, for, for, let's talk first about the individual leader using their own strengths in that. Why is it important? What, what's that self-awareness benefit the leader who understands their strengths, and then is using them in the way they lead?

Jessica Dawson 3:41
For sure. I think that the benefits are endless, but the words that come to mind are ease, authenticity, being able to get into flow and also sustainability. There's a saying that's coming to mind right now of, "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken." And when we think about CliftonStrengths, I just think that it allows you to really lean into who you are. And here's the thing: We do give a lot of weight towards -- I talk about this in coaching all the time -- giving a lot of weight to that word "coach," but we also give a lot of weight to the word "leader," and what it means to be a leader. But in reality, all of us, or likely, everyone who's listening to this call, you have been a leader in your own right at some point in your life, but maybe you just didn't realize that that was what was happening. So the ability to really lean in and study that and have an understanding about how you're landing with your folks, I just think is, it's so important to do that so that you understand when there, there are those opportunities for you to step into that leadership capacity.

Is There an Ideal Top 5 for Leaders?

Jim Collison 4:48
I love that. As we think about the perfect role in a leader or the perfect set of strengths -- this is a question I get all the time: Is there a Top 5 that is ideal for leaders? And, and we'll define, we'll talk more about the kind of the definition of leadership here in a second. But is there a perfect Top 5 for that? And talk a little bit about that.

Jessica Dawson 5:11
No, there is not. Right. So we know with strengths, it's all about pathways to excellence. And it's more so about the "how" you'll get there, as opposed to what you will be doing. And leadership is no exception. Right. So if the outcome is being a leader, there are so many pathways to get there. And the beauty in all of this is that all of your strengths can play a role in how you show up. And they are playing a role, so you should pay attention to how they're doing that. Right. So there's not a perfect silver bullet to leadership. And you can do that and resonate in your own right with whoever it is that you're coming across. And, in fact, when I coach leaders, and they're able to really step in and own their talents, they get better results. And it's not as exhausting. Because we know with our, with our talents, it's what we do most naturally. When you try to be someone else, or try to be who you're not, it's just not sustainable. It's, it's not, it doesn't give you the ROI that you had hoped it would, because people can smell out and tell when you're being inauthentic. Right.

Jessica Dawson 6:23
Before the pandemic, we used to do so much travel in this role, or I used to do so much travel in this role. And I remember being on an airline. And there's two, two airlines that are coming to mind -- one where you get on the plane, and they're really silly in telling you the safety instructions. If you think hard enough, you know the airline that I'm talking about. And there's this other airline that's very much more corporate, more businesslike, and they tried to bring that in. Everybody was just kind of looking around, like, what is going on? And I think that people can tell when there is an inauthenticity to your personal brand and who you are, especially for the folks that are reporting into you, and maybe they have at some, for a long time, and you're trying to put on this mask of leadership. I think people see through that.

What to Do When What Is Needed Isn't Among Your Top Strengths

Jim Collison 7:07
Yeah. We want to interact with you on this. And so if you're listening live, you can throw your questions in chat. If you're listening to us on the CliftonStrengths podcast, of course, you can't do that. But of course, you can always send us your questions: James asks a really good question. I don't think he intended to, but I'm going to turn it into one. He says, I lead through my No. 1 Adaptability by trying to respond to what's right in front of me and needed right now. Right. (And we, we're going to refer to it, we referred to this just a second ago.) The challenge is that many times, what's needed right now requires a great deal of preparation and can be overwhelming at times. Jessica, as we think about that, I'm in leadership, and I have this certain set of themes that allows me to be powerful. But maybe in the moment, something else is needed. As we think about the consulting on that -- turn your Individualization on here for a second -- what, what kind of advice would we give around that? How do we help leaders who are feeling like they're maybe in that spot?

Jessica Dawson 8:11
Yeah, I love this, this question, because it's, it actually speaks to a big point about leadership about having that agility. And, and all of us, Adaptability or other strengths included, may have this tendency to want to be all things to all people or to want to get it right right now. But great, great leaders have this ability to be vulnerable and also transparent. So I think there's a power in being able to call out what can't be done right now, but also calling out what can be done right now. And in doing that, I think what you allow for is for people to have that relatability and, and also for people to kind of lean in to where you're taking them a little bit more, as opposed to putting on the facade that you have it all together. Right? Sometimes, and you can just call it out, you actually gain more followers because there's a relatability there. Right?

Jim Collison 9:15
Yeah, yeah. And I love the, I love that idea. And I think sometimes too, in our leadership roles, we think we have to, as the leaders, have to have all the answers. And that may be a great opportunity to be transparent with your team and say, "Team. I'm usually really, you know, I want to help here. But all my, everything I have is leaning towards Adaptability (to use this example). But what I, what I need is this. Who can help me with this? Right or who can, who can step up? Again, the pressure seems to be, No, I'm the leader. I've got to do it. I've got to make the decision. You know, there's a great opportunity to partner with the team or even -- and I think this is such an underused group of people is -- management teams, like a group of managers. I think sometimes maybe they feel like that's too competitive or, too, they're too embarrassed to say, like, as a leader, I don't have it all together. Well get -- guess what? None of us have it all together. Right. So an opportunity to, to use others and a management team. I don't know what, Jessica, what else would you add to that? What is that inspire in you?

Jessica Dawson 10:21
Absolutely. I mean, I absolutely love where you took this, in terms of, How do we get the team involved, and spread out the ownership of the leadership? If I don't know, can I ask for help? So I think that that demonstrates vulnerability. And it's also bringing me back to, actually, last month, I coached a team of executives. So they all had their teams. And one of the biggest things that we coached around was figuring out how to create synergy within the team. Because everybody did feel like they had to have it all together. Everybody did feel like they had to have all of the answers. And in the coaching, one of the things that they're walking away with was that ability to ask for help. And I do think that there's a, there's a power in doing that, because you get to stretch your thinking with understanding how other people think, different examples, maybe how they're leading their team. And manager to manager or executive to executive, oftentimes, those relationships are, are underutilized. So that might be something that we can kind of lean into whenever we can. Yeah.

Finding the Balance Between the Tried-and-True and Charting a New Path

Jim Collison 11:31
Yeah. Yeah, no, I love that. I think that self-discovery and those, that, the question, it creates this, we've been spending a lot of time in the last year, thinking about this idea of psychological safety, of being OK in a space. And I think it's, it, the framework allows us to be a little safer and say, You know what, I'm really designed to do this, and this isn't the situation. I'm going to need some help with it, right? Who can help me? Who can jump in and help me do that? Tiffany makes a good point. She says, because three of my Top 5 are driven crazy by doing things the way we've always done them, I lead by helping people see alternative paths to success and help them see themselves and their teams in ways they haven't seen before. And listen, alternative paths are not always the right way. Sometimes we need, in, in moments, we need to say, We've practiced this. We know this drill. I can lead people through that as well. Right. I mean, there is, there is, I think, sometimes we always think new is best. And yet, well-practiced drills, the discipline to come back to things that we know is important as well. I don't know, would you add, Jessica, what would you add to that?

Jessica Dawson 12:43
If it's not broken -- let's not add on more. I actually appreciate the sentiment of thinking about alternative pathways, because it does create this expansion of perspective. And I think it is finding the balance of not having to reinvent the wheel if we don't have to. But then maybe there is an opportunity to streamline or to create some thought leadership around optimization or maximization of the way that we work. Right. So I think it is kind of that finding that balance. And I'll go back to what you said, Jim, about being able to ask the question. And I think that asking the question in that, in this case could be really interesting. What do we need? Who can help? But then I think it's also your ability to listen to your team and also be still and be able to understand the situation very thoroughly as well. And that can help -- allow for you to land on the sweet spot of the art of the newness, what's worked in the past, right, and how we're going to proceed.

Should Leaders Retake the CliftonStrengths Assessment?

Jim Collison 13:51
Yeah, got, let me encourage you to continue, your comments are actually, just are awesome today. So keep doing them. We'll be bringing them in as we go along. Let me -- Kelly's asking this question; then, Joanna, I want to get to yours. So Kelly's asking this question, and maybe we can spin this a little bit with leaders, right. Do you, do you ever recommend retaking the assessment of what your Top 5 strengths are as you grow within your knowledge or career? And maybe you've gone, you're going from being an individual contributor into a leadership role. Is that a time to retake the assessment? I, Jessica, I've got some thoughts, but talk a little bit about that.

Jessica Dawson 14:31
Yeah, great question. And here's the thing about strengths: We know that they're muscles, right. And our talents get worked out in different capacities when we change roles. If you feel like I am seeing the world completely differently, because I've been in this new role. I've had to show up very differently. Maybe you take it again, you know, but I always go back to the "why" you want to take it again. If you want to take it again because you want to see different strengths that you attribute to leader -- leadership, then maybe not a good idea. But if you feel like you have changed at your core by taking on this new role, maybe it's not a bad idea to take it again, right, and see what, what synergies or repeat strengths you have from that, from that first report that you took. I don't think that you have to take it again all of the time. But there are certain points -- individual contributor to a manager, for example; that's one of the hardest jobs to make in corporate America. And in that, you will have to flex and show up very differently. Right. So maybe not a bad idea to take it again, but go, always go back to the Why am I really doing this?

Jim Collison 15:39
Yeah, no, the "why." And sometimes we, we get a little theme envy. And so if we've had, you know, if we've had any strengths coaching, especially in the CliftonStrengths space, after reading the questions, if you do it again, you can kind of read into them a little bit, and then you start trying to manipulate the questions to get what you -- like. And I think, so the advice I would add to that is, if you're going to do it again, you have to work hard to be as honest as possible. We don't know you. It's not magic. We're just, it's based on the questions you answer, right? If you answer them differently the second time, you're gonna get different results. That's just the way it is. And so I think the, the key to that is, if you're going to do it again, you have to work hard to be honest and not, and I'm not dishonest in a way for bad reasons. But just sometimes I want to be a, there's things I want to be seen as. Right? And what else? What else would you add to this?

Jessica Dawson 16:35
Sometimes we do that subconsciously. So it's not like I have the intention of answering in a way that I'm being aspirational. But subconsciously, we are answering a little bit to gain ... . You just want to be careful of the amount of times that you're taking it again, and the "why," right. That, always go back to the Why am I doing this? And how can I be really truthful and really work to answer how I am, as opposed to how I want to be?

Using Another Talent Theme to Get to "Strategic"

Jim Collison 17:00
Yeah, these questions are great. Joanne, she says she's connecting in Australia; it's close to 3 a.m. So Joanne, I'm wondering why you're up this late, but that's OK. You are. You're asking great questions. So she says this: Recently, I was bypassed for a promotion on the grounds it appeared to have limited strategy or strategic experience. I am interested to hear your thoughts about the strength of strategy and this notion of being "strategic." And I love this question, because it kind of goes back to our domains in some way. In other words, people have a preconceived notion about leadership, that it has to be all Strategic, or it has to -- if I'm, you know, if I'm, maybe I'm a project manager, all my themes have to be Executing or I can't do that. Can you talk a little bit about that, from, just start from a leadership perspective. Do I have to have Strategic to be a leader?

Jessica Dawson 17:54
Ooh, such a great question. The short answer is, No, you do not. And here's the thing, when you think about the outcome of being strategic, a great, a great way to kind of think through this is to define "strategic" and what it means to you. That word is so overused, especially in business, that there's so many different connotations to the word. And I might spend some time really thinking about, What does this word mean to me? And whatever you land on, that's really the outcome that you're going for. And then reverse engineer and think about how you do that with your strengths. So, for example, I think about a talent like Empathy. Empathy can be very strategic, even though it falls in the Relationship Building category, but it's a strength that absorbs the emotions of others and instinctively has the right words to say. In that, there's a strategy, right, your words that you're saying that are very relatable to that person, it's because you're being very perceptive and intuitive. But in that, you're able to have a strategy of the right words.

Jessica Dawson 18:59
Or a talent like, let's say, Responsibility, right? That can also be very strategic, especially when you master the art of, What is it that I want to say, "Yes" to, because I know, from a strategic standpoint, I'm going to find a way to get it done. I don't want to overinundate myself by saying "Yes" to too many things. So maybe there's also a strategy in the way that I say, "No," because saying "No" doesn't feel good. Right? So there's so many different ways that you can get to the outcome. And for, for you, this, this person, Joanne, it does sting to be passed up for a role that maybe you really saw yourself in. And within corporate America, there's always a game that is being played; you just have to figure out how to play the game. Is it the relationships? What's valued in the organization? Is it relationships? Is it demonstrating that you can work on certain projects? And I would go back and seek feedback and match up your story, so that when you're in your interview process, you can hit it the next time. Also think about who are the advocates for you? Who are the people that are cheering for you when you're not in the room, right, your board of directors? So there's a lot of different things that you want to think about when you're, when you're ready to make those jumps. So now I'm getting off on a tangent and started to coach Joanne.

Jim Collison 20:20
It's what you do, Jessica. It's what you do. Isn't that great? I mean, in the role you're in, and you begin to just start moving down that path naturally. Right. That's your, that's your leadership role. I'm, while you're doing that, I'm going through the chat figuring out the next three or four things that we're going to talk about, because that's what, that's what I do. So it's great --

Jessica Dawson 20:40
How strategic of you, Jim!

Jim Collison 20:43
Great to see that. Well, and for me, you know, I've learned -- well, and let me just say this story really quick. Back in, back when the earth was still cooling and I was a little bit younger, I took, I applied for a job to be a branch manager at the bank I was working at, in a different, in a different city. And when I didn't get that role, I was really -- in the time, I was really, really disappointed. And I think about where I'm at today, and what that would have meant to move strategically at that time, and how different my life would have been. And I'm kind of glad I didn't take that role. That would have locked me into, in what I know about my own management style, that would have locked me into a situation I probably wouldn't have done very well, just to be honest. And so it worked out. They made the right decision. Didn't feel like it in the day, right. But the leadership made the right decision.

Jessica Dawson 21:33
Yes. And it's kind of like rejection is protection. Like moving you to where you're supposed to be. And when it's right, it's right. And nobody can take it away from you.

The Power of Recognizing and Celebrating Your Own Growth

Jim Collison 21:45
Yeah, yeah. James, James comes back and says, Thanks, Jim and Jessica. Achiever No. 4, Maximizer No. 6. So yes -- and this is a great comment. He says, I'm trying to succeed at all times, they get better with each iteration, but I'm trying more and more to equate success -- success with what I'm learning about myself as much as the wins at work. I love the, we can't miss that, "I'm learning about myself." Like, I think oftentimes, we only think the success we're having at work are the projects that are getting done or those kinds of things. And yet our own development, right, is that key to success. I think sometimes we don't celebrate those enough. How do we, how can we do that? You've got this high Individualization. How can we do that in ways? How can we recognize our own growth, and then celebrate that in a way that, that's meaningful? Jessica, any thoughts or ideas on that?

Jessica Dawson 22:38
Ooh, such a great question. Well, growth is so interesting, because it's not linear; it happens in waves. So I actually like James' approach of being able to catch himself when that growth is happening and taking that pause to recognize when the growth is happening. So obviously, growth will be very individualized to who you are, what you're doing in the moment. But I do think that in catching yourself, and it's funny, because I teach people how to coach all the time. I've been doing that a lot with managers. And I'll ask them, you know, "What's your biggest takeaway?" And oftentimes, people will say, "I'm starting to catch myself listening more" or "I'm starting to catch myself not giving the answers like I would before, because I'm stepping more and more into that coaching seat."

Jessica Dawson 23:25
So I think anytime you can catch yourself red-handed in anything that you're trying to grow around, it's an opportunity to celebrate in your own way. So having Achiever, your celebration may look different than, than a person with high Positivity -- or maybe you have them both. But think about, What is it that I can do to honor this moment? For some of you, you may be thinking, I want to go on to the next, the next thing that I want to cross off my list. But can you just, in that moment, recognize that growth is happening? And in that moment, think about, How do I want to honor this moment? What is, what will that look like for me? Maybe think about your strengths. How can you feed your strengths? Or what strength is being fed in the moment of growth and development? How are my strengths changing? So I think it's just in the pausing of it. Right? Sometimes we're in so much of a hurry, if we can just slow down a bit, we'll have those opportunities to explore and continue to expand our perspective.

Jim Collison 24:27
Yeah. I love that. Keisha wants you to say this again. She says, Can you please repeat what you said about Empathy and a reference to strategy and just being a strong leader overall?

Jessica Dawson 24:39
Oh, yeah, of course. So, so when I think about Empathy, this is a strength that's highly perceptive and intuitive. And part of the beauty in it is being able to absorb the emotions of others, right. So sometimes you can get to a point where it's like, Are those my emotions that I've picked up? Or is this somebody else's or is this a group or, you know, walking through a crowd, sometimes you pick up emotions. But instinctively, because you've absorbed or pickup, picked up the emotions, you will have the right words. And there's a strategy in that, because there's a, there's a power in being able to have the right words, maybe when someone's feeling down and out, or maybe they're not performing. Or maybe they're not saying what's wrong, but you're sensing that something is wrong. And strategically, you can put yourself in their shoes and have the right words. And there's a power in doing that. Right? Because people always want to feel like they're understood. As human beings, we want to feel like we want to feel loved; we want to feel like we're understood. And people with high Empathy can do that with ease.

To Lead With Your Strengths, Study Your Past Successes

Jim Collison 25:47
Yeah, no, I love that. And not, you know, that's another one of those themes sometimes where people are like, Oh, I don't have Empathy, so I can't be a leader. And there are other ways of leading, as we think about our 4 Domains -- Influencing, Relationship Building, Executing and Strategic Thinking -- all of those have elements in leading, and not one person can be all things. We, this is why we need each other. Right? This is why we need to, to be able to harness this teamwork, both in leadership and in management and working together to make it happen. Jessica, this time always goes so fast, and we're at the end of it. If you had one piece of advice to give, thinking about leading with your strengths, what would you leave people with?

Jessica Dawson 26:31
Study your past successes. We talk about that all the time within CliftonStrengths. But I think when it comes to leadership, think about those times where you have led in your lifetime, because those are going to be the clues to what will make you a successful leader in the future. So maybe it was just, my sister was feeling down and out. And I comforted her -- I was able to comfort her. I was able to console her and inspire her about what the future could look like. Or maybe it was, When I was a child, there was a bully that was picking on a child, and I confronted that bully. And I stood up to him, and I was courageous and bold, right? Think about the stories where you were at your best. I went all the way back to childhood. You probably have a lot in between then, but I think that there's a power in doing that, and they will give you the keys to what your unique leadership will look like in the future.

Jim Collison 27:30
Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of The CliftonStrengths Podcast. Make sure you like and subscribe wherever you listen, so you never miss an episode. And if you're really enjoying this podcast, please leave a review. This helps us promote strengths globally.

Jessica Dawson's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Futuristic, Relator, Activator, Developer and Individualization.

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

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