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Called to Coach
How to Make a Midcareer Change Using Your Strengths
Called to Coach

How to Make a Midcareer Change Using Your Strengths

Webcast Details

  • How does knowing your CliftonStrengths help you pinpoint the way to arrive at success in a role?
  • Why should you take the CliftonStrengths assessment purposefully?
  • What are some benefits of unlocking all 34 of your talent themes?

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


"Every change is risk. And so ... understanding what I was good at or what things I could leverage that could probably optimize my performance, would have been a hand up in that situation." Are you facing a career change, or have you just moved into a new career? Social Scientist Les DeBusk Lane feels your pain, having recently completed a midcareer change himself. As Les discovered, knowing your CliftonStrengths can give you a "hand up" in your journey to gain a better understanding of yourself and navigate change. Join us and learn from someone who's been down this path before and has successfully overcome its challenges. 


If you take [the CliftonStrengths assessment] purposefully, it's relevant to you immediately.

Les DeBusk Lane, 18:46

Understanding the stepping stones to get to where you want to be can be accomplished. Understanding who you are along that path is awesome.

Les DeBusk Lane, 24:06

Jim Collison 0:00
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 0:18
I'm here with Les DeBusk-Lane, and Les, welcome to this program.

Les DeBusk-Lane 0:23
Thank you.

Jim Collison 0:24
Well, let's get to know you a little bit. Tell us your Top 5 and then maybe what you do for Gallup.

Les DeBusk-Lane 0:29
Sure. So Learner, Analytical, Achiever, Arranger and Individualization. I'm a Computational Social Scientist. That's a fancy term for I do quite a bit of statistics and world modeling and statistical modeling for Gallup.

Jim Collison 0:45
We, today we're talking about making a midcareer change. And I think it'll be applicable to any kind of career change. And you think of mid-, maybe it being in the 15- to 20-year mark, or 10, or whatever. I think what we're going to talk about today is pretty applicable across all career changes, even making out of, coming out of college and going into a career. But Les, for you, give us an idea, when you transit, because you recently transitioned to Gallup. Tell us a little bit about that transition and how that came to be.

Les DeBusk-Lane 1:16
Yeah, sure. So I spent 12 years in the United States Marine Corps flying KC-130J models. Beautiful opportunity; opens, you know, many doors and avenues to, to understanding the world, and I got to go to about 64 different countries, spent about 6,500 hours in the air. It's just a beautiful opportunity, very disjointed from what you probably envision a military experience being. But that really drove, you know, a look into how people learn, and especially under stress. So aviation inherently, especially as a daily flyer, there's a lot of learning, there's a lot of training, and there's a lot of stress all kind of intermixed together. And that kind of drove a passion to, to figure out, what about that is mechanistic? You know, what about that is, you know, part of human psychology? And how can we optimize it?

Les DeBusk-Lane 2:16
So, you know, you pair that with some, some family stuff. I have two young daughters that were growing up, and I didn't necessarily want to be gone all the time. I did 8 deployments, and, you know, even being back home, nondeployed, it was about a 300-day-a-year gone type job. So, you know, you pair those two things together, I ended up going to grad school and studying psychology. I have a Ph.D. in educational psychology and study, you know, how people learn, especially how people hold efficacious beliefs of their, their capacity to learn. And yeah, that, that really kind of morphed itself into the role that I work in today.

Jim Collison 3:04
When you were in the Marines, did you have any idea of, of CliftonStrengths? Had that been exposed to you yet? Did you have any availability to it?

Les DeBusk-Lane 3:12
No, no, not really. I mean, so the job field that I worked in is just super, I guess, super selective, just in the, in the sense that you have to meet all the wickets in the world, both physically, mentally, psychologically. So you're working with quite a few people that are quite similar in those regards to you, so, you know, all together, we were all big Learners. You know, I mean, understanding aviation and flying and all the other FAA-type, you know, stuff does take a certain intellect, if you will. And I think that really opened up, it was a great place to explore that strength. I didn't know it was a strength back then. I just knew it was something that I was OK at. And so it's, yeah, it's just, it's finding opportunities to develop things that you're innately good at, per se, as a strength.

Jim Collison 4:07
What kind of advice would you give, then -- there may be some individuals listening today that haven't taken CliftonStrengths, so I would encourage them to go out and take it. But as you think in retrospect, and you think about that time you had in the military, were there some, were there, what kind of advice would you give to those folks who don't know it, maybe, about success in that role or in a role?

Les DeBusk-Lane 4:31
That's good. I think the best advice I would get is, obviously, we can understand as psychol -- , you know, psychologists can understand that everybody is unique in certain ways. And I think you understand you yourself are unique in certain ways, but you can't necessarily put your finger on it oftentimes. You know you react certain ways in certain situations, or you're really good at math and you love figuring out problems, or you're really awesome at reading and summarizing things, or you have tendencies to, you know, just be really bubbly around, you know, 1,000 people, which is not me. But you can't put your finger on it. So I think quantitizing some of those things and actually having something that can tell you more about yourself than you can fully actualize is in, it's, it's beautiful in a way. Because understanding what your top strengths are and how you can leverage them to kind of optimize your own performance is awesome. I think it meshes a lot with, you know, many other ways that you see out there to optimize performance, like getting more sleep or exercising or all those other things. It falls right in line with, you know, tools that you can leverage.

Jim Collison 5:42
Do you think -- and this may be an obvious question -- but do you think if you had known your strengths in the military, that would have changed things for you, made things better? Would you have been able to take advantage of things more, having that framework during that time? And I always hate to ask these kinds of questions, because hindsight is always 20/20. Right? But thinking about that from a, just from a career or a military career standpoint, how helpful might that have been to you?

Les DeBusk-Lane 6:11
Yeah, I mean, it's pretty, it's pretty, that's a pretty hard one. Like, when you think back of like flailing around the development space of your, your, your career, without any, like, honing, honed direction of, like, who you are, and what you want to do and how good you could be at doing something, given what you know about yourself. I mean, that's how we make decisions in heuristics and all that other stuff is, you know, we have a certain idea of, like, how well we can do on something. If we don't have any, you know, powerful thoughts there, then we deviate somewhere else that is more optimal for ourselves. So I think it would have been, I think it would have been great to know. I think I kind of knew, in a way, but again, just like a kind of set of like, why it would be useful or what kind of, you know, recommendation I would give is, like, it would have been great to be able to put my finger on it and go, like, Yes, I see. I love learning. I'm awe-, I wouldn't say I'm awesome at it. But like, I really enjoyed doing it to the point that I do it a lot. Maybe I should kind of lean on that. I'm not sure it would have changed my trajectory much; I think it's quite durable, if that helps answer.

Lessons Learned From a Midcareer Change

Jim Collison 7:22
Yeah, I think so. And, you know, you don't know the situations and strengths in a person in form, in an isolated form, where they don't have a support structure around them or teams that are thinking about it or a coach that might be helping with it. It can be difficult. But I, you know, as we think about -- and by the way, if you're listening on LinkedIn, we'd love to have your questions. So if you want to throw those in chat room, if you got questions for Les (or comments), drop those in the chat, and we'll be highlighting those on the screen. So Les, thinking about what you know now, and then thinking about this career transition, because I think it intimidates me. Like I, that's one of my worst nightmares is having to change jobs. I don't want to move. I don't want to change jobs. Those are the two things I don't want to do. You just made that transition. If you were going to be thinking about, then, from a strengths-based perspective, things you learned through that transition, what kind of advice would you give individuals who may know their strengths or may know some of those things? How is that helpful to you in this transition?

Les DeBusk-Lane 8:24
Yeah, I think every change is risk. You know, there's a risk matrix or risk calculus that you kind of do, especially in terms of career changes. Having a young family was probably at the tip of that risk matrix. And so it, kind of understanding what I was good at or what things I could leverage that could probably optimize my performance, would have been a hand up in that situation a little bit, of like, OK, cool, I'm in the right place. It's validating to know I'm in grad school, or it's validating to know I'm, I'm heading in this trajectory that has potential to provide for my family in a different way than I have been, you know.

Les DeBusk-Lane 9:11
So that, that transition between being a full-time military service member to being a full-time corporate, you know, whatever or, you know, some other, you know, pivot in life, I think it's, it's, it's instrumental; it would have been instrumental, knowing what I know now, to be able to have a little bit more, I guess, validative strength in that situation of like, Yep, I'm right here. I'm doing good. I just gotta keep pressing. I know these are what I'm, you know, I'm strong at. I know what these, these are who I am. And I think that's, that's where a lot of people have struggles is like, I don't know if this is right for me. And I think this is maybe a connecting bridge; it's information to add to that pile, that toolbox that helps make some, some -- it can help make good, solid decisions to who you are aligning with what you're doing.

Jim Collison 10:06
So as I think about you as an aviator in the Marines, and now you're a data scientist for Gallup, seemingly two very different jobs, right, from that standpoint. How do you think -- and you mentioned Learner a little bit earlier, but I want to dive a little bit deeper on that -- How do you think those core values or those core themes, and things you did well in the Marines, translated to now what you're doing as a data scientist for Gallup, even though the roles are, I would say, are pretty different?

Les DeBusk-Lane 10:36
Yeah. Yeah. So I think, I think the biggest one of that is having the flexibility to expand upon what I already know. Because I think if you think about data science, it's pretty quick, and it's pretty obvious to understand that that, what it was yesterday is not what it is today. There is not probably a week that goes by that the team that I work on, we don't shift methodologies, because the state of the art has shifted. And so I think, like, that, that is quite similar to having to, you know, fly in a different direction because the president wanted something different one day versus the next. And I think the core of that is flexibility, but at the same time, like, no unforeseen mission doesn't require learning to understand, you know, the parameters that are around it and how to optimize performance there. And so that's kind of the, the crux of, of how they align. I think, you know, understanding how people learn, but also being a high Learner myself, is there's definitely transference there, meaning, you know, what I used to have to learn, there's no end to learning in aviation, at least I don't, I don't believe so. There's always something you can do better. It's a, it's an infinite space of learning, same as data science. You know, data science, I'm not even going to try. We tend to kick around the idea of trying to find data science in our team quite often. And it's not easy, nor is it, you know, something that we do really well. It's so broad; it's so developing. It's, it's, it is everything under the umbrella. But answering, you know, questions that are substantively important with data is, is, is essentially what we do. So it's very similar.

Jim Collison 12:20
You mentioned Learner a few times; let's remind everybody of your Top 5. Can you go through those again for us?

Les DeBusk-Lane 12:25
Yeah, sure. So Learner, Analytical, Achiever, Arranger and Individualization.

Jim Collison 12:31
So, as we think about being a, being a pilot, being an aviator, and then that Analytical bit seems to make sense in the new career. Did you, do you think you applied that as much as, in the aviation space as you did or as you are now? Or are those things flexing a little bit, kind of based on the role?

Les DeBusk-Lane 12:50
I mean, it's a different data source, right? I think the data source in aviation is the parameters that you're always facing. And, again, it's a risk calculation quite often, but, you know, whether situation, risk tolerance, the crew, all those things are variables in a mix that are kind of, they have to be analytically assessed, and you have to learn from them. You have to, you know, you have, there's things that you have to achieve. You have optimal goals and missions, and how you arrange that as a leader, I think, you know, the Marine Corps is a leadership development, you know, I don't know the right word for it. But basically, it breeds leaders from Day 1. So, you know, if you walk down learning a crew; being analytical about the situation and the risk calculus; achieving the mission; and then arranging, you know, the people around you, but also understanding who you are as an individual, that is literally my Top 5. So I think there's a lot of alignment there. Whereas, you know, data science is, is very clearly aligned along those things, because there's, there's always a goal; there's always things to learn. There's always pieces to put together and to compute. But --

Jim Collison 14:02
We got a couple questions coming in from the chat room; let's bring those in. So Teressa asked, really, she also really, or she wishes she had the level of learning that you do. How do you feel about exams? You know, we always think, high, high Learners, then you gotta eventually take the test. I don't have Learner high, but I'm a really good test taker. How do you feel about exams?

Les DeBusk-Lane 14:25
Yeah, I might not have -- being a trained educational psychologist as well, I may not have the most popular opinion of exams. I think cross-sectional assessments of someone's knowledge does not necessarily always fully represent their full knowledge capacity in that area, nor does a test. I mean, obviously, there's error in tests, right. We know that as Gallup, we know that you measure something, there's always error involved. Where the sources of error are is not always apparent. We can model it but at the same time, like, I think they can be stressful. I think they can be poorly done, especially in, in academics. You know, there's, there's probably only a handful of great tests out there. They're super hard to make really well done. So I don't have a positive opinion. I think there's better assessments. I think portfolios or practical example exams or practical evaluations are far more effective at, at judging -- if the, if the objective is to judge someone's knowledge or capacity in a certain area, I think there's way better things than a multiple-choice exam.

Do I Need to Retake the CliftonStrengths Assessment When I Change Careers?

Jim Collison 15:38
Yeah, yeah, no, it's a good, good answer to that. Sara asks this question. She says, with the topic of midcareer job change, when or how often do you suggest taking the, you know, the CliftonStrengths assessment? Would you -- you took it, I'm assuming at this point, I think you, I remember, you took it for us when you came in? Was that, or had you taken it before you joined us?

Les DeBusk-Lane 16:00
You know, it's funny you ask that. So my, my, my adviser in grad school had our entire team take the Strengths assessment a long time ago; boy, it was probably 7 years ago now. And I do remember my Top 5 being exactly the same. And I, especially when I was hired here a couple years ago, it was like, that makes sense. It's quite durable. It's quite, you know, the, the repeater, inter-, interrater reliability here is quite high. So yeah, I don't, I don't know if, I think the sooner you can take it, I think the better, if you've never taken it before. I don't know if that answers the question very well, but I don't know if you have a different view on that, Jim, or not?

Jim Collison 16:47
We can, I mean, we, we have a view at Gallup saying, really take it one time. And, and, but we've also outlined some situations when it maybe should be taken again, like when you didn't take it seriously the first time, right? Lots of students are in that situation, where they just, you know, they go through it. They, this, in this career change concept that we're kind of talking about today, this may be really, really applicable. You may have been in an employer where you took it and you didn't care. You know, you were just like, Ah, my employer is making me do this thing. I'm just gonna check the box.

A Purposeful Approach to Your CliftonStrengths Results

Jim Collison 17:21
I had asked you this question, Les, earlier about did the military, how much support did you take advantage of when you were leaving the military to make the career change? They do have some career change services. CliftonStrengths could be; it's not in all cases, but in some cases, it's part of that career change matrix that organizations have to help with that. Oftentimes, you're thinking about the next job, maybe not taking the assessment. Right. So if you didn't take it seriously, right, or, and we've had a lot of, we've had a lot of, I mean, coming out of military background, there may have been a traumatic experience in your life as part of that, right. And we've had lots of military members have that traumatic experience that they've gone through. Maybe a good time to retake it on the backside of that. Lots of things may have changed. Do you think -- you were in for 12 years. You know, young Les versus 12-years-later Les? Same person? Different? Did, you know, talk a little bit about that. Where'd you grow? In what areas did you grow in that?

Les DeBusk-Lane 18:31
Yeah, definitely different person. I think experience drives, you know, just development, of course. But like, I think, I think one thing that is important in this conversation is the relevance of taking it, if you take it purposefully, it's relevant to you immediately. If an employer makes you take it or, you know, you're, you're in a college course or something that has to take it for the, for the final exam, to speak of exams, again, like it's a 10-point bonus, or something crazy like that. Probably doesn't mean much to you, and you probably don't even look at the results. So I think purposefully taking it, even if you haven't taken it in 10 years or 2 years, like, if you're gonna actually think about taking it and be meaningful about it and, and try to under, actually understand what, you know, what things are in your, in your Bottom 10? And how does that influence you? And one things that are in your in your Top 10? And how are you leveraging things that are, aren't in your Top 5 but in your Top 10?

Les DeBusk-Lane 19:29
So, like, if you actually take a purposeful approach to it, it's often, often like, people want to learn what they want to learn; they want to do what they want to do. But that, that, that, I think, is also instrumental in taking it again. I do think that people change. However, it's inherently obvious to me that some characteristics are quite durable to who you are. I think psychology speaks well to that. But, and I think this picks up on that. But I do think, you know, could I really focus on, I don't know, Ideation because it's my, it's my No. 10 strength, and could it exhibit to be a bit higher or a bit lower? I think there's a little bit of variability there. But, like, things may shift around a little bit, but most things are gonna be quite durable.

Benefits of Knowing All 34 of Your Talent Themes

Jim Collison 20:15
I like it. Teressa's asking this question: Have you unlocked your 34? And, of course, as Gallup employees, we have access to All 34 themes here. But earlier, you might have taken it, maybe it was Top 5 only. As you think about now having access to All 34 in the report, and you've just mentioned, Ideation's 10, how helpful, how helpful in maybe even transitioning into this new career at Gallup, how helpful has that been to you to know All 34?

Les DeBusk-Lane 20:43
Oh, I think it's been great. So there's, I'm gonna paraphrase the quote, but like, you know, understanding your lower strengths, it's not super optimal to focus on them to make them better, right; that's not going to make you overall perform better. What it will do, though, is it'll allow you get them, to help you get them out of the way so that your top strengths can, can blossom. And I think that that's the, that's, that's the beauty of understanding all of them.

Les DeBusk-Lane 21:10
I'd leverage Ideation quite often. And it, it would be, it's always been surprising to me that I didn't use to have to ideate all that much. But I do enjoy it. And I do have to lean into it quite a bit. I think I have to lean into it purposefully, because it's not in my Top 5. It's just not naturally exhibited. So I would have never known that, had I not had all of them, per se, but there's also some validative effort there too. Like, Woo is not, like, super high. Like, I'm just, just not, it's not me; I'm pretty happy, you know, in my office by myself, you know, until forever. But, you know, so I think those things are validative in a way but also allow you just to, to recognize, like, maybe I shouldn't be the person in our team that has to take a candidate around and talk to them all day or something. I don't know. It's, it helps you leverage things and get things out of the way. 

Jim Collison 22:08
Yeah, and yet, there are times, you know, you're bringing your expertise to us today. And you're doing a great job of, of outlining that and talking through it. And so I think it's knowing when, you know, when to be there. And maybe you wouldn't want to do this every day. I mean, this is the second one of these I've done this week, and we'll be, I think I'm three into seven for the entire week, right, that we're doing. I love doing it; that, probably, you're shaking your head. So for you, you're like, oh, one is enough, right?

Les DeBusk-Lane 22:41
Yeah, I'm gonna go outside and walk for about 2 hours after this -- by myself.

Tips for Those Starting in a New Role

Jim Collison 22:44
That's great. It's great awareness. You know, I have Individualization, Relator and Developer in a triplet in, in 6 through 10; that's 7, 8 and 9. And I never really understood before I got those, I didn't, I never really understood how those played into -- I'm seen as the front, the front man, the front person, oftentimes. But I do really, really, really enjoy spending time with people -- developing them from an individual standpoint. That seems a little opposite, but from a career standpoint, that's helped me -- understanding that, I think, has helped me out a lot. It's kind of why I'm in the role and what I do from a community perspective. I, yes, we have 13,000 Certified Coaches around the world. Yes, I treat them all one at a time. I also do a lot of mass mailings to them. So we go, you know, it, we do both methods with them. Les, practical tips, as we're thinking of, just in the final few minutes here. If someone's thinking about, you know, and there's a lot of people that's already made a career transition. So maybe let's talk to that first. What have you learned through this transition? Or what kind of tips -- quick tips would you give to somebody about starting in a new role?

Les DeBusk-Lane 23:57
Keep in mind, this is coming from someone that's an Analytically minded Achiever. I think, I think understanding the stepping stones to get to where you want to be can be accomplished. Understanding who you are along that path is, is awesome. Career change is hard, stressful, it's a risk. However, it's, it's most always because you want and know and believe that the grass is greener somewhere. So I think, like, you know, I often reference the toolbox approach of like, you know, you have a toolbox of information or skills; How can you leverage those tools or skills to get where you want to be? And so I think, like, that's, that's probably the quickest way I could probably say that, but it's, I think, you know, having those strengths, having those, those tools to understand that the grass may be greener is instrumental in helping you get there. So I think taking that step, knowing those things, makes that step towards a change like that a little bit easier.

Jim Collison 25:11
Not that this pertains to making a, you know, a midcareer change, but what's the coolest part about your new job? As you think about this transition, you're in this role, and you think, man, I get to do this every day? What is that thing that you really look forward to?

Les DeBusk-Lane 25:29
Still supporting an overall mission. So at Gallup, I work on, primarily within the public sector of our business model, but primarily with DoD employees, and DoD entities. And I think the, the mission there, you know, spanning from a small career in the military, is it's still meaningful to be doing meaningful work. I also, you know, consult on all kinds of other Gallup, you know, clients that almost everything that they're trying to do, they're trying to figure something out. That's what Gallup is really good at is figuring things out; asking good questions that mean something to someone, because that's why we're asking them.

Les DeBusk-Lane 26:11
And so I think, like, having that inherent meaning behind what we're doing is awesome. So, I mean, a lot of companies out there, they, they do work, that may not necessarily have a ton of, like, obvious meaning to it. It may be, you know, bringing in a paycheck, but it doesn't mean, you know, you don't go home and tell your, your, your loved ones, like, "I did this today because it means this to this person or this, this entity or it answered this type of question." So I think that that's, that's really, you know, those aligned things really mean a lot to me.

Jim Collison 26:46
I like it. Les, thanks for, well, one, thank you for your service. I haven't said that yet, and I should. So thank you for your service, as well as thanks for spending time with us today. This is, I think, one of these unique situations that we find ourselves in. Everyone is making these changes. We know from our numbers, there's just, there are a ton more making changes in their careers today than there's ever been. And I see it in our Certified Coaches' email addresses as they change -- just that stat that I track on a fairly regular basis, because I have to find our Certified Coaches once they've moved. So we have a lot of folks in transition, and I think this is just a good topic to have. We've spent a couple times talking about starting your career. And so when we got this opportunity to think and spend some time thinking about a midcareer change, I jumped at it as well. So Les, thanks for coming on and being a part of the program today.

Jim Collison 27:40
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.

Les DeBusk-Lane's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Learner, Analytical, Achiever, Arranger and Individualization.

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

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