skip to main content
Called to Coach
How to Coach Leaders to Be More Effective
Called to Coach

How to Coach Leaders to Be More Effective

Webcast Details

  • What are some key differences between coaching leaders and coaching managers?
  • How can you hone your listening skills as a coach of leaders?
  • What are five common qualities of great leaders, and how can strengths and the CliftonStrengths for Leaders Report help the leaders you coach develop these qualities?

Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series -- Season 11, Episode 6.

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


Leaders want to know whether they have what it takes to be great. And you, as their coach, want to propel them toward greatness. What kinds of qualities should they have and develop? How do strengths and the CliftonStrengths for Leaders Report give them (and you) a map to help them get there? What should you be listening for, and how can you develop your listening skills as you coach leaders? Join longtime Gallup leader coach Jacque Merritt as she shares her thoughts on and successes in coaching leaders.


Let [leaders] know that this report is not about telling them if they're great or not; it's about how they become great.

Jacque Merritt, 18:07

When [leaders] show a little bit of vulnerability, we actually feel closer to them. ... And strengths is such a beautiful way to allow people to share vulnerability in kind of a safe space.

Jacque Merritt, 31:57

Get on their train. Be in their corner. Understand their world. You don't have to be an expert in any of their world, but just be an expert in how they can be the best version of themselves, using their strengths as a leader.

Jacque Merritt, 57:55

Jim Collison 0:00
I am Jim Collison, and this is Gallup's Called to Coach recorded on December 5, 2022.

Meet Our Guest on This Episode

Jim Collison 0:18
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 and you don't see the chat room, there's a link to it right above me there. I'll take you to YouTube, where you can sign in there. And we'd love to have your questions in chat. If you have questions after the fact, you can always send us an email: Don't forget to subscribe to Called to Coach on your favorite podcast app or right over there on YouTube as well, so you never miss an episode. Jacque Merritt is my guest today. Jacque is a Subject Matter Expert and Senior Consultant here at Gallup. And Jacque, always great to be with you. Welcome back to Called to Coach!

Jacque Merritt 1:02
Hey, Jim, thanks. It's fun to be here.

Jim Collison 1:05
Great to have you. In the coaching community, you're kind of famous, so every -- but maybe not everybody knows who you are. So give us your give us your Top 5, And then, what do you do for Gallup? What do we pay you to do?

Jacque Merritt 1:17
Yep, so my Top 5 are Woo, Maximizer, Input, Focus and Connectedness. And what do I get paid to do? So I have, I'll tell you a little bit about myself. I'm in Omaha, Nebraska. I'm in my home office today. If I was on the Riverfront, I'd be, like, with about 200 other Gallup associates. And I have actually been at Gallup for 34 years. So Jim and I were just having a good conversation around our associates in Asia. And I was thinking back -- I worked in Singapore for a couple of years, I worked out of our Irvine office for a couple years. I worked out of our Lincoln, Nebraska, office for, for many, many years, and finally ended up back here in Omaha. And out of all those years, I've kind of been doing the same thing. Hopefully better as I've gotten more mature. But basically, my first coaching client was back in 1989. And that's when I first really kind of started having conversations with people around their strengths, around how to be more effective in their roles and leadership -- we used to run a leadership program at Gallup. It was a 6-day program. And so that's kind of where I started. And I've really just been in the same job. You know, at Gallup, most of you know that we hire people because of a certain fit, and it fit me like a glove. And so here I am, you know, almost 60 years old, doing the same thing.

Jim Collison 2:51
I was gonna say 29. I mean, I was trying to figure out how that all worked together.

Jacque Merritt 2:56
I'm trying to cash in on my maturity.

Jim Collison 2:59
I like it. Of the 40 hours a week, how many do you think you spend coaching leaders now? How big of that as part of your role?

Jacque Merritt 3:09
It's probably, let me say 75% of my role would be coaching leaders, and it's coaching them over time. So some of the leaders I have coached for 15 years. Some of the leaders I coach, you know, 6 sessions over 3 months. So it really does vary. But probably every day, I'm coaching about four different leaders in four different organizations. I also do team-building sessions, usually for the clients that I coach. So it might be part of the coaching package where we come in and work with their executive team or their leadership team and help them to know their strengths. And it really does help me, I think, in my coaching, if I know more people at the client than just the person that I'm coaching.

Coaching Leaders vs. Coaching Managers: The Leaders Report

Jim Collison 4:01
No, that's great. You spend a lot of time talking to and coaching leaders -- we're talking about how to coach leaders more effectively today. As we think about this, and this is the end of a 5-part series we've been doing as we've launched the CliftonStrengths for Leaders Report. And in each one of these, we've kind of started off with this question, and it's been interesting to hear people's different take on it. But as we think about leader, leadership and management, can you talk a little bit about how you see the difference maybe between leaders and managers, in your role in what you do in coaching?

Jacque Merritt 4:38
Yeah, and maybe I'll start with leaders. Because I think, I mean, what I love about that is that there is no right answer. You can't really look it up in a book. And there's no definitive body that says, "This is what leadership is and this is what management is." So even when I'm coaching my clients, and they come into the, you know, opportunity, saying, "I want to be a more effective leader," the first question I might have for them is, "How do you define leadership?" Because I really want to see from their, you know, lens, how they think about it. But if I would take leadership, I think the shortest way that I could define it is it's helping people to enable a more positive future. So "helping people to enable a more positive future" is words that I learned from one of my colleagues. And I think she read it somewhere. And I don't know, it was so short and sweet that it kind of stuck with me.

Jacque Merritt 5:39
And I, you know, just to expand on that, I think it's really about helping people believe in themselves; helping them believe in each other; helping them to believe in the organization and, ultimately, believe in the vision, and use that to move people into action. So I think it's got kind of a broad, a broad lens on it. It's got a broader scope than management. And I want to, I want to go back to that CliftonStrengths for Leaders Report. Because I have watched some of the previous podcasts. And I know we talk about the fact that we didn't put a leadership framework in there. We didn't say like, this is what you should be going for. But we do drop some clues in there of what -- how we would define leadership and how leaders should think about leadership, as they start to look at their reports. And so I pulled that page, and I've got it here in front of me. And because a lot of you listening might not have your own reports yet or may have not seen the sample yet, I just wanted to share with you the way that we kind of positioned it. Because I think it's helpful as you help people navigate through the report. So oh, you've got it there. You're one step ahead --

Jim Collison 6:53
Modern technology, right? This is my report -- just full disclosure: This is my report.

Jacque Merritt 6:59
Oh, beautiful. OK, too bad it's so small, I can't see it, or I'd probably start coaching you, Jim.

Jim Collison 7:05
Oh, yeah, well, maybe I'll just leave it small, then.

Jacque Merritt 7:09
So what I love about this is it starts by saying, "Leadership is a way of, a way of working, a way that you show up for others. It's a, it's service-oriented and requires you to be at your best." So when you think about service-oriented, we orient toward like a servant-leader model. That's what we were thinking about when we wrote this report. It's about doing things for the benefit of individuals, benefit of the organization. And then it says, "It's your responsibility to communicate the vision, build a positive culture and show up as the strongest leader you can be." So "culture" -- that's dropped in there, I think, on this page, about three different times. So you get the feeling like that's the, that's the perspective or that's the scope of leadership is to think about organizational culture. And then it says, "Before you lead others, you must know how to lead yourself." So it's also about knowing self is part of leadership. Being able to show up for others is showing up for yourself first in the ways that you want to show up.

Jacque Merritt 8:18
And then if you zoom down to the bottom of the page, it says "Use Them," right, and it's talking about using your strengths. And it says, "Your leadership style comes through in everything you do; you are the main contributor to your culture. With your role comes great responsibility, which means you'll need to use your strengths to both focus on the details of your organization while also being able to see everything holistically." So there you're getting that clue that leadership is about being able to zoom in and zoom out, kind of being able to pop up and see kind of how things are interrelated, but also get down on the, on the dance floor and be able to swing people around a bit. And then it says, "Regardless of your specific strengths, you can and should use them to accomplish every goal, guide every interaction and build your organization's culture to succeed like never before."

Jacque Merritt 9:13
So you get this sense of responsibility, responsibility for what's happening at an organizational level. And that's really, I think, the differentiator with management is management's more focused on, Who am I with my team? How am I engaging my team, influencing my team, leading my team? So it has more of a, a little bit more of that relational component to it. And leadership is relational. You know, you don't have leaders without followers. So it is a relationship at least between two people. But I think that's where it kind of divides, maybe, is we used to use an old framework. And this one, it sticks with me in everything I do. And it looks like a bullseye. And in the middle was Leading Self. The next layer out was Leading Your Team. And then the next layer out was Leading Your Organization. And we even had another layer, which was Leading Your Community or Leading the Marketplace. And then for leaders who are about to retire, we would talk about Leaving Your Legacy, right? So if you think about those circles, and you think about, like, what circles you're responsible for, the leader really has all those circles. And the manager primarily has the Leading Self and Leading Teams circle. Does that kind of make sense, in terms of what other people have said?

Jim Collison 10:42
Yeah, it's a great answer. Well, and everybody approaches it a little bit differently. We spoke with Jeremy about this, Robert Gabsa we spent some time, Austin and Therese, who wrote the report, we all talked about this. And I just find it interesting, and I think what you read off the report means that coaches need to, I think, understand their own leadership style first, right, going into this -- being able to define it for themselves, being able to work through it in a way that makes sense to them. I've said throughout this: You can't take someone a place you've never been before. And so I would encourage our coaches and those, those coaching strengths to get, get, you know, we created the series for you, to kind of dig in and be able to, to understand your own first. How important do you think it is, you know, the Leader Report has Top 10, as well as the Sales Report and the Manager Report -- we went Top 10. First ever, I got asked that, I got asked to create those kinds of reports forever. Like, hey, when can we get Top 10? Well, it's available now. And when you're coaching managers, I know you prefer to have 34. But is there a difference between only having -- or having 10 and only having 5 when you're coaching them? How does that work for you, if it's between 5 and 10 -- better, better to have 10 for you?

Jacque Merritt 12:03
Better to have 10, for sure. It completes the picture. Like even when you asked me, "What's your Top 5?" Like, I felt like I was leaving half of myself off, like half of me was off the table. Like I didn't get to say the other half. And I don't need to say it, but I'm just thinking, like, when you see -- and I do this in team sessions. I actually will do a slide when I'm doing a team session, and I will say, "Meet -- " and there's like a little figure, an icon of a person, and then I'll put up their Top 5. And the Top 5 is actually the Top 5 of the team, but they don't know that. And I'll say, "What would you see -- if this person walked in the room, what, who would you see? Like what would you expect? What's predictable? What assumptions can you make?" And they'll start describing this person if they walked in the room, right?

Jacque Merritt 12:56
And then the next slide, I'll add 6 through 10. And I'll say, "How does it change? What's your perception? What's your prediction change?" And they always have a lot more of the story to tell about that person if they have 6 through 10. And then I'll, you know, do the big reveal, like, Who do you think this is? And some of them might guess it, you know, but they're always like, Oh, that's us! You know. But when they can describe those patterns around 10 themes, it just gives a lot more complexity, a lot more richness. There's a lot more to talk about. And for, I think, I think it's very situational how our themes show up. Like we all know, if we go through it multiple times, it's going to be roughly similar. Like things jump around a little bit within that Top 10, maybe even drop down a little bit. So, you know, I think, to not get hung up on that list in a linear way. But to use more of that strengths wheel -- which I think is a game changer on that last page of the report -- really gives a lot more options for people to think about. Like how do I intentionally use my themes and put some of them ahead of others when I need them? Like I don't always want to be, just because my Woo is No. 1, I don't want that to be my leading theme all the time. I want to, I want to dig down to my Responsibility and Individualization too.

Jim Collison 14:25
I want it to be my No. 1 all the time. I'm just gonna put that out and -- Woo, for me. Since you said it, the chat room is asking for it. So they'd love to hear your 6 through 10. And maybe how any -- you mentioned a little bit in that, but can you get your, can we get your 6 through 10?

Jacque Merritt 14:42
Yeah, so I have Ideation. I have Strategic. I have Positivity. I have Responsibility and Individualization. So for me, it completes the picture because it kind of brings in a little bit more of that like creative thinking side, I think. When people see the word "Focus," sometimes they think, you know, like, I'm just like on a one-lane highway. And I think it just kind of opens it up a little bit more -- at least for me, that's the way I think about it. Like I can either narrow or I can go broad.

Jim Collison 15:15
Love that. I love that. I, 6 through 10, I have Relator, Developer and Individualization, which, so I make this big deal about Woo and Positivity and Communication being out front. And yet for me, 6 through 10, there's these developing, Relationship Building, developing people strengths, which is what I do for the community behind the scenes, right. So this is the forward-facing bit, the behind-the-scenes stuff -- a great way, I think, with 6 through 10, to be able to explain those. You just did that a minute ago; I'm doing that right now of, and I just think that's the power of getting 10. 34 opens it up even more. And so let me encourage folks, if you can, get them, those you coach or you yourself, the All 34 Report that opens up even more, you know, even more possibilities.

Jacque Merritt 16:04
Yeah, I even saw, like, when you just explained your, the next themes, I saw your mission. I saw like your purpose of doing this. The, you talked about it as kind of what you do behind the scenes, but I saw why you do it. And I think when I look at the Leadership Report, you get clues to that about a person. So if you get this for a leader that you're coaching, you're seeing kind of how they see themselves; you're seeing their identity. And you're also seeing how others might perceive that identity, right? Like how they show up in maybe positive and negative ways, how that contributes, how that impacts others, how that can impact the organization. So, like, there's so much richness, I think, in that Leadership Report that gives you a lot to coach on and gives that person a lot to think about.

Jacque Merritt 17:02
Like, if you, if you read your own report, kind of as a starting point, you're going to see kind of that almost like that framework behind the scenes there. You're going to see things about leading self; you're going to see things about leading the team; you're going to see things about leading the organization. And you're also going to see what's going to get in their way. And then you're going to see like suggested actions that they can take. And that's the, that's the thing. People come into this always saying, What do I do with this? And I think the report does a great job of saying, Here's what you do. Here's, here's where you're at your best.

Common Qualities in Great Leaders: Connecting With People

Jim Collison 17:36
We're often talking about or thinking about behaviors, qualities of leaders. We've, I think you've alluded to a few. But as we think about those, what are common qualities we see in, in great leaders?

Jacque Merritt 17:49
Yeah, that's such a great question. And it's a question that people will ask in coaching. Like they want to know how they compare. One of the first things you guys all know, when they're looking at their report, is they want to know, Am I a great leader? Like do I have the stuff that great leaders have? And that's kind of the first place you need to go is to let them know that this report is not about telling them if they're great or not; it's about how they become great. So when I think about, like, the qualities, I would say, there's kind of 5 that really have stuck with me over the years. There's so many different qualities we could talk about. But the first one I think is really connecting with people. It's the human side.

Jacque Merritt 18:36
Like there's this really good podcast by, I think he was the CEO of Campbell's Soup. He was a client of ours at one time, Doug Conant, C-O-N-A-N-T. And he talks about, like, he'll talk about leadership as people and performance. And he'll talk about, like, if you don't care about your people, they're not going to care about performance. And it's always like that mix of people and performance, and you have to have both. And if you don't care about people, they're gonna vote you off the island. And if you don't care about performance, the board's gonna vote you off the island, right. But I think that being able to connect with people, however you do that, even if you have no Relationship Building themes, a lot of leaders will use other themes. They'll use Responsibility. They'll use Context. They'll use Input. They'll use Woo. They'll use Communication. Whatever that is, I think that's the primary attribute that I see that leaders are trying to master trying to get better at.

Jacque Merritt 19:35
And I've said this before in some other podcasts, but it stuck with me, so I'll say it again. I was listening to some work that was coming out of the World Economic Forum. And they were talking about how things, leadership has changed, you know, historically. And they said, like, in the past, in the Industrial Age, it was how much you produced, you know, that made, that gave you a seat at the table. And then they said during the Knowledge Age, it was how much you know, like how smart you are, that gave you a seat at the table. And then now, they say we're entering the Human Age. So it's how you show up with people, how you make them feel, how you engage them, you know, whether that's individually or when you're in front of 1,000 people or, or 20,000 people, 30,000 people, it's how you're able to connect with them and show up as a leader. So that's kind of the No. 1 thing -- a lot of people will just call it "emotional intelligence." But that's probably the first thing.

Common Qualities in Great Leaders: Courage

Jacque Merritt 20:39
I mean, another thing is courage. We hear that word a lot. And I think that on a leadership level, it's the courage to make tough decisions. Because at that level, there's sometimes not a great decision, you know, there's, it's choosing between two decisions that are gonna have kind of bad consequences. Or it's the courage to give somebody tough feedback. It's the courage to, you know, speak out and vocalize your opinion, when others might be against you. So I think, you know, that's another quality that's super important.

Jim Collison 21:11
There's, as you, as you talk about courage, this is something I, as I'd started leading people, I severely underestimated the amount of courage that would be needed to be out there. And, you know, I always came at it as I had to make hard decisions from an area of fear. And I would be afraid to make these. And there isn't great courage without great fear in some. And I think oftentimes as leaders -- and, and I think I'm still learning this myself is how to embrace the fear in order to, to have courage, right, to do this, to embrace it, to -- let's talk about this really quick. How can I, as I'm trying to make difficult, cause leaders have to often make difficult decisions. In your experience thinking through helping someone with their strengths work through that to make, to help them make better decisions, How can we do that, to be more effective with them, to lean into that fear a little bit to help them make better decisions?

Jacque Merritt 22:14
Couple of things come to mind when you say that. One of them is helping them know why that decision is important. Like what's the, what are they going for with that decision? What's kind of the "why" behind it, the purpose behind it. Getting really crystal clear on that, either from a values standpoint or from a financial standpoint, I think they need to be crystal clear on kind of the principles or what they're, what they're aiming at with that decision, the out -- potential outcome of that decision.

Jacque Merritt 22:51
Another thing, I think, is when people are in fear, they usually make poor decisions. So we know like our brains shrink when we're in fear. We kind of go in survival mode. We're either in like, you know, fight, flight, freeze or appease is the other one -- we get all nicey nice, start laughing and make, make nice, right. But I think as a coach, what I try to do is create that space for the leader to think clearly. And so, you know, this might be just an hour out of their day for them to kind of feel more centered, more calm, and then their frontal lobe can start to engage a little bit more. They can do more kind of objective, rational thinking. And so I want to help them be able to do that in their everyday life, so that when they're making tough, hard, fearful decisions, they can do it from a place of intentions and centeredness, and not just as a reaction to something that's happening to them.

Jacque Merritt 23:57
And so we really try to build, like, a pause into their decision making, so they kind of like step back. I always call this the "slingshot move," you know, it's like, just like, lean back, pause, make sure you're aiming at the right thing and that you have a steady hand, then let it fly, right. So just getting in that place where they can make those decisions. I never want to make those for them. But I want them to be able to, you know, be aware of the consequences of the decision and the options too.

Honing Your Listening Skills as a Coach: Levels of Listening

Jim Collison 24:35
Sometimes in our coaching, we're anxious for them, like we feel that fear for them and then want to offer advice. And yet, probably in a lot of cases, we just need to listen. Can you talk a little more about that listening skill, and bringing it in, you know, as we think in the leadership context of bringing it in in the coaching conversation, to maybe give that time to think through this. Can you talk about listening?

Jacque Merritt 25:02
Yeah, yeah. I mean, most of you, most of you listening are probably sometimes having a hard time listening, right? So, when you do a little research on listening, the reason it's hard is because our brains work faster than our mouths, right? So we, they say we, our brains think at about 900 words per minute. And we talk at about 150 words per minute. So our talking feels slow to our brains, right? So if you're listening to me, your brain has all these like little trails that it's going on. And it's following all these trails. So that's why it's really hard to listen. Right? So it takes like, a lot of energy, I'll say. That's maybe why they call it "active listening." And it's a muscle that you can build; we can all be better listeners.

Jacque Merritt 25:55
And, you know, in coaching, they talk about the three levels of listening. I have learned a fourth over the past couple of years, which I think is really important when you're talking to leaders. First level is just, you know, straight out, like I'm waiting for my turn to talk, what I'm going to say next. And that's fun, right, when you have those back-and-forth conversations, that's not a bad thing. But in coaching, it's not about you getting in the game, right? It's about you giving them that extra time to get those 900 words in their brain out. You know, so if you pause a little bit, it's almost like they can squeeze more out of their thinking. Level 2 is where you're like focusing on what they're saying, trying to understand the information they're sharing.

Jacque Merritt 26:41
Level 3 is you're listening for emotions. And that gets kind of interesting, when you start to look at body language, and you start to look at where they kind of light up or where they shrink back a little bit. And those are things that you can notice and point out for them. Like, you know, "You just sped up when you talked about that opportunity. Like what was that?" You know, maybe I'm perceiving it as excitement; maybe it's fear. Sometimes they surprise me when, like, I'm reading it one way, and they tell me it's a different way.

Jacque Merritt 27:12
And then Level 4, it's called "generative listening," or listening for the future to emerge. So when you hear, especially when you hear somebody talking about their strengths, you hear glimpses of who they want to be and how they want to be in the future. You'll hear, like, they'll drop things about kind of their best possible self, or they'll drop things in there about their values, or what they think is important for the future. And I always try to jot those down and come back to those and just find out more, because you're already getting them to lay the path. And they may not see it in themselves. Like when we talk, we don't, you know, we're not aware of what we're saying. Many times, we have to have that coach who's reflecting it back to us. So part of good listening is reflecting back.

Other Ways to Develop Your Listening Skills

Jim Collison 28:05
I think for me, interviewing, like this style, or when I was interviewing for folks, you know, I was in the recruiting space, and I had to interview people, it made me a better listener. Because I was, we had these "listen fors," right, these things that, OK, I'm asking this question for a reason. And I'm listening for these kinds of answers that I would qualify in some ways. Here, I have to listen, because if I don't -- early on, when I was doing this, these webcasts, I would repeat something the guests had already said, you know, because I wasn't listening; I was waiting for the next question. And so active listening, in this case, it's made me better to, OK, I better make sure I'm listening to every single word they're saying. Still have to queue up the next question. I think that's a really good skill for coaches to learn, like, you laid out those 4 levels. We're not, not all of us are anywhere close to being able to go all the way up to 4 all the time. But I think that listening for intent, or listening for content, is super important to actually hear what they're saying, right? I mean, how embarrassing would it be to be in a coaching conversation and repeat something or repeat a question someone's already answered? Right. And, and then they say, "Yeah, you know what? I already said that." You know, like, ooh, clue that you're not listening, right? How -- would you add anything to that?

Jacque Merritt 29:29
I was thinking of, like, when you're coaching leaders, if you're coaching leaders who maybe have material out on the internet, like you can Google them and watch a video or, you know, listen to an earnings call or something like that. I always do that with the leaders that I'm coaching, so that I can listen for how they're talking, you know, at a broad scale about strategy. There's a leader I'm coaching. He's a new CEO. And I listened to his earnings call. So he used to be the CFO; now he's the CEO, right? And he has a new CFO. And in the earnings call, the CFO would say something, it was kind of like her turn to talk. And she would say her piece, and then he always jumped in to add more to it, almost as if he was still sitting in the CFO chair. So I was able to share that back with him. And he wasn't aware of it, right. And one of his goals was to give her, to empower her as the CFO, and not to kind of, like, feel like he needed to always contribute, because that's, that was his sweet spot. So he's having to kind of step out of that. And, you know, he's not quite there. And so he's relying on me to let him know, you know, if I'm seeing any clues to him, you know, arriving where he wants to be, you know, or not, then I try to give that back to them. So, you know, I'll watch maybe conferences that are on YouTube and kind of share, like, Wow, you really hit the strategy! And that's, you know, that's a game changer, but I didn't hear your mission. You know, so I try to observe them any way I can.

Jim Collison 31:15
Yeah, no, it's good. A little, a little bit of homework. Right. Couple questions coming in from chat that I think fit nicely in here. Theresa says, How do you, how do you feel vulnerable, vulnerability, sorry, fits in with leadership in the human age model you describe?

Jacque Merritt 31:30
Wow, I think it's imperative. I think it's imperative. So I don't think it was like that in the past, you know, but what I've seen over the years, and we've even tracked this a little bit in our Gallup polls, on like, our most favorite leaders. Like when we like them the best is when they're the most vulnerable. We've seen that pattern with world leaders. You know, when they show a little bit of vulnerability, we actually feel closer to them. So I think one of the things that I work on with leaders is kind of that mix of confidence and humility -- confidence in knowing what you know and being able to speak your truth and, you know, share where you feel like you've done your homework, and you feel pretty certain about it and stick to your guns. But then be really open-minded at the same time and say, you know, "I don't know everything," and to ask questions, like, "What am I missing? What have I not thought about?" And strengths is such a beautiful way to allow people to share vulnerability in kind of a safe space.

Jacque Merritt 32:44
And those of you who do team sessions, that's really the best venue, I think, for letting leaders make themselves vulnerable. And in that safe place, I run every team session like it's a coaching circle. You know, so it's confidential, it's safe. And we create opportunities for them to share stories. I might ask them something like, share a 2-minute story about the strength that you feel has most shaped your leadership or your life. And so they'll open up, and oftentimes, it's a vulnerable story. And then I have the others in listening mode. And I say, you know, I teach them kind of how to listen at the, I usually do just the 3 levels, but then I have them listen for other strengths they hear in that leader's story and feed back those strengths. So everybody gets a turn. And then, you know, they can say, "Gosh, I also saw your Relator there" or "I saw your, your Input," or they might reflect back a value that they saw that that leader shared. So I think that's a great venue for creating safe vulnerability.

Confidentiality and Psychological Safety

Jim Collison 33:58
In those group sessions, let me just come back to what you said about that, do you actually talk about a confidentiality statement? I mean, what do you say to the group to, to get that?

Jacque Merritt 34:11
Yep. I set that as kind of the team charter or the rules of engagement from the very beginning. That's one of my first slides I'll talk about. I actually talk about the study that Google did back in, I think it was 2012. They called it "Project Aristotle." I don't know if any of you are familiar with this -- you're probably more familiar than I am with it. So you might correct me, but I believe they spent millions of dollars to try to figure out like what makes the best team, right? Like what kind of people, when you put them together, create the strongest team? Is it people who have diverse strengths? Is it diverse experience? Is it, you know, what's the magic sauce to putting a great team together, you know? And they observed people. They, like, took all their data. They knew who people had lunch with. They looked at people's backgrounds, where they went to school, all of that. They kind of put it through all their data mining. And what they found was, it didn't matter who was on the team; it mattered how they created the conditions for people to feel psychological safety on the team. It was how they allowed space for emotions, how they shared vulnerable things with each other. It's how they kept things confidential.

Jacque Merritt 35:39
So I talk a little bit about that. And I say, we're going to kind of follow that same path here, and create those conditions for people to feel safe. And I talk about too like that idea of, if you think about a bullseye, again, there's a home zone in the middle, where we're all super comfortable; that's like where we want to be. And then there's the Learning Zone, which is kind of the next layer out. And that's where we learn. It's a little bit uncomfortable; it's a little bit vulnerable; we disrupt ourselves a little bit there. We're stretching to maybe share some things that feel like we're on a little bit of shaky ground. But then the, the zone outside of that is the Panic Zone. And I say everybody has a Panic Zone, and you have to manage that for yourself and for one another. And if you feel like something's going to, you know, put you in that zone, that's not where we want you, because you're not learning there. You know, so manage, manage what you share, and respect other people's boundaries.

Jim Collison 36:41
Love that. I think there's some things to learn in there about setting those expectations early, especially in a group session. I think sometimes we go right to the Team Grid, throw Team Grids on the table, let's have this, you know, let's hash this thing out. And I think there's maybe a little bit of, what I hear you saying is there's a little prework that kind of helps in in creating that safe space. Carmela says, Do you see gender role, or gender playing a role in the leader's comfort level with vulnerability? In your experience, of course,

Jacque Merritt 37:09
I, I have not seen that. I've probably coached more men than women over the years, because my largest client is in Saudi Arabia, and they're all men. I think it, it's more related to like their history with vulnerability in some ways. Like, it's kind of traumatic if you, you know, to share vulnerability, if you've not had a good experience of it in the past, and you feel like it's compromised you.

Jim Collison 37:40
Yeah, if you've been significantly burned in the past, it's hard to trust again, right, to build those back. So that, that, that may play into it. Erin asks a good question when she says -- and this, I think, when we're talking about these things, listening, vulnerability, right, it creates a, says, With the amount of energy it takes to listen for all those things, how much coaching, or how many coaching sessions do you think you can do in one day? Or what do you think's the right number, knowing that everything varies, and it sometimes depends. But any thoughts on that, Jacque?

Jacque Merritt 38:12
Yeah, so that's so interesting, because early in my career, and this is probably when we had like more of an aggressive pay-for-performance system at Gallup, you know, so you kind of like did the numbers, and I would try to squeeze in like seven coaching sessions in a day. And when sometimes we'd go on site with our clients, we would have them back to back to back to back, one after another, you know, without much of a break. I have learned, the more mature I think I've gotten as a coach, the more I've set boundaries for myself. So now I would say, my perfect day would be no more than four. And that's because I'm spending more time preparing. I'm spending more time like making sure I'm centered going into that, and that I've done my homework for them, and that I have my intention set for what I want to do in that call. And then it gives me wiggle room afterwards to do some follow-up.

Jacque Merritt 39:14
Sometimes, you know, they're asking me for maybe articles, Ted Talks, any resources, frameworks, things like that. So I want to make sure that I have time in between to send them those things or to read anything that they've sent me. Like, I have a CEO that I'm coaching this afternoon. He sent me two big documents this morning in preparation for our call, and I've got to have time to read those through. It's his Strategic Plan for 2023 and some feedback that he got from the board of directors. And so, you know, if I didn't have time to do that, and I went into the coaching session, I would feel like he's doing a lot of explaining rather than exploring.

Coaching Leaders vs. Coaching Managers: Additional Thoughts

Jim Collison 39:56
Well, and he's given you feedback: This is what I'm trying to achieve, right in these coaching sessions. And so it gets, it kind of centers you. Now I kind of feel bad that I'm taking an hour and some change out of your, out of your day here. But we appreciate the insight that you're giving us with that. With that in mind, thinking about the number, is it harder to coach leaders than it is managers -- to kind of come back full circle to where we started with this? Is it harder? Could you do more, could you coach more managers in a day than leaders? Talk a little bit about that.

Jacque Merritt 40:29
Yeah, I think it's, I probably could, right? Leaders expect more. Like they, they expect consulting as well as coaching. And I give them that. So I mean, you have a choice as the coach, I think, to stay in that coaching zone. And we all know the reasons why we should do that, right? We, like we all have a, I think it's based on the idea that we all have like an inner wise self. And we all have that inner wisdom. And coaching allows us to reveal that inner wisdom. And also when we get leaders to talk about themselves and what they think and kind of work through problems on their own, it's almost like they're teaching us, and so it's more memorable. Their brain is engaging in a different way when they're having to do the problem solving, rather than us doing the problem solving for them. So there's a lot of good reasons to stay in that coaching zone.

Jacque Merritt 41:31
But a lot of the leaders that I work with, they'll start out by saying, "I don't know what I don't know, and I need you to help me --" you know, I may, you know, be struggling with strategy, or I may be struggling with executive presence or influence or something like that. And they want me to teach them a few steps or a framework or a way to think about it so that they can get started quickly. So if I were just to ask them questions, I think they wouldn't feel that they're getting the value that they know I can deliver. Because they know I've coached a lot of leaders, and they want to know what are those, what are those leaders doing? Like one question I get a lot is, like, Where do people spend their time when they're leaders? Like what does their day look like? Are they walking around? Are they in their office with their door shut doing strategy? What does it look like when they do strategy? Right? So they want me to teach them a bit.

Three Other Common Qualities in Great Leaders

Jim Collison 42:32
Yeah. Yeah. Well, that's the value for them. I think that's the importance of asking, What are we trying to achieve here? Right, early in the conversation, What are you wanting from me on this? We have some really good listeners, by the way, in the chat room. Two have said, Hey, Jim, Jacque gave two characteristics -- I got you off the path on this; this is my fault, by the way. Jacque gave two characteristics of a leader, and then you went on to the levels of listening. Are there other, are there more characteristics that you're going to share? And also Jane asks that, I heard "connecting with people" and "courage" for the qualities of great leaders. Can we get the last three? I'm not sure we had five. But are there others, when we think about those qualities that you, that we can bring in, since the chat room is listening well, to what you're saying?

Jacque Merritt 43:14
You are listening well! A third one, I would say, is influencing. Right. So that's why people get really upset when they have no themes in the Influencing Domain. Because basically, they feel like the report's telling them they don't do a great job of influencing, when influencing is a quality of great leadership. So I always say early on, when they're looking at their report, that there are many ways to influence. People influence through their credibility; they influence through their relationships; they influence through what they do. And so it's really helping them to figure out, What's your way of influencing? I always say something like, the Influencing themes are more extroverted themes. And so if you are not showing up that way, that's why those themes maybe didn't come to the top. But you have other themes that can get you to that endpoint.

Jacque Merritt 44:14
So I think influencing, which is like moving people in a particular direction. Big-picture thinking, I think, is a fourth quality. We talked a little bit about being able to zoom out and zoom in. And I think, I use the metaphor of Google Earth a lot. Like you have your street view; you know, you have your, like, town view; you have your state view; you have your country view; you have, like, the world view, right? As a leader, you've got to figure out what's your sweet spot there? What's your normal? And then, How can you expand your range up and down? And being able to zoom up and see things more holistically, I think, is a quality of great leadership in those moments when you need to zoom out.

Jacque Merritt 45:04
And, you know, we used to talk about it as kind of the 10,000, or the 30,000-foot view. Like 10,000 is where a helicopter would fly; you're still able to, you know, see the landscape on the ground. And then a 30,000-foot view would be like standing on Everest, and you're actually looking at clouds. And that's more like that creative kind of blue-sky thinking. So you want to help leaders be able to navigate that because they're going to have to, the higher up they get. And then I think a fifth one, we talked a little bit about decision-making. So courage maybe is a quality, but making quality decisions, I think, is what leadership is oftentimes about. And, and to make those quality decisions, you have to make them from a place of responding versus reacting; a place of usually some evidence-based thinking or some rational, objective thinking. And also understand how much you can trust your gut.

Jacque Merritt 46:05
So it's like art and science, being able to make good decisions. It's knowing who else to tap into, in your organization or outside of your organization. When an important decision needs to be made, who's on your speed dial? It's understanding the consequences of those decisions. It's working through options. So a lot of times we talk about, like strategic thinking is about options thinking, you know, where you can say, we have these three different possibilities. We're going to pick this one, but we have to be able to pivot to that one if, you know, things change in the marketplace. I just had a conversation about that this morning with a CFO, you know, who's putting his 2023 plan together. And he's very mindful of all the different potential scenarios. 2023 -- nobody knows what it's going to be like, from a supply chain standpoint. You know, he's saying -- he's in the auto industry -- like, if we don't get chips, you know, then we're gonna have to lay people off. So what button do we push when that happens? Like, who do we lay off? How many do we lay off? Like, you've got to really have those decisions thought out in advance, so when situations happen, you can pivot quickly.

Exploring Leaders' Blind Spots: The Leaders Report

Jim Collison 47:23
Thanks, thanks for that reminder coming back. Those three were worth the time to get in there. And I think, as we think about coaching leaders to be more effective, I think those are important things to keep in mind as we're thinking through the coaching cycle, and helping them, helping them get there. There's been a couple of questions about blind spots I want to come back to as well. Kristal had asked early on, Do you ever struggle with not having their 34, because they can't explore blind spots as easy? I think sometimes, even without the full 34 report, they know their blind spots. John says, What have you found most helpful when exploring blind spots with leaders, especially with those that have high Self-Assurance? Some thoughts around blind spots with leaders, Jacque?

Jacque Merritt 48:08
Just a "Hello" to John too, because I used to coach him. OK, so yeah, blind spots is the place people want to go to, and they want to, like, that's where they want to start a lot of times, because that's where they see themselves kind of getting tripped up. People come in to coaching because they want to be more effective, they want to get better, right. And so blind spots is a really important conversation for them. You know how we talk about, like, when we label the blind spots in the report, we only label them for the Top 10, right. We're not actually labeling blind spots for all 34. So I find in my conversations, people really reserve the blind spot discussion to the Top 10. And it's about that self-regulation, you know, where they, they have maybe that self-awareness, but they want to be able to be more masterful about how they turn those volume buttons on the blind spots.

Jacque Merritt 49:09
I think if you just have that Top 10 Leadership Report, you're going to see blind spots in there, right? Because it's telling you, Here's what you need to watch out for. So the blind spots are baked into that Top 10. So there's plenty of territory there -- when you think about three for each of the 10 themes, there's 30 conversations there that you can have about blind spots with that, with that report. And then coaching people, I think John's question about coaching people who have high Self-Assurance, I have always said -- and I apologize to all of you who have high Self-Assurance -- I have always said that it's hardest for me to coach people who have high Self-Assurance, because they really have so many of the answers inside of themselves. And it's not that they don't make themselves vulnerable; it's just that they somehow come to those conclusions themselves, and I just don't feel as valuable in that conversation.

Jim Collison 50:12
Which is another, I mean, that's maybe even a blind spot for you in coaching, right, is to realize, OK, here's an answer that I have here with this, and going into it, they do, they are looking for -- even though they have the answer, they're looking for validation, or they're looking for alternatives, or they're looking for -- it doesn't mean they're not looking, you know, you can't provide value, right?

Jacque Merritt 50:35
Yeah, yeah. I fight with my Input, cause it's always made me, like, want to be the smart one or, like, have stuff, like researcher things to say. And sometimes people with Self-Assurance, they don't resonate with that. And I have to, you know, know that that's my issue, that I need to just back off on that.

Coaching Where You Can Add the Most Value

Jim Collison 50:56
Do you think, along these lines, do you think there, if we think about the coaching community at large, do you think there are certain -- I don't want to say, I don't want you to rattle off some themes, because that's gonna rattle people's lives. But do you think some of us are better at coaching leaders, and there's some of us, you may be better at coaching everybody else in that sense, just because of the way we're built, the way, the strengths we've been given? I don't know, can, because I think there's some people maybe questioning that in their mind right now, thinking, Oh, maybe I'm just not a good coach of leaders. Any thoughts on that?

Jacque Merritt 51:31
I think it's what people actually, where they feel they can add the most value. I don't think there's any limiting factors that say, like, you wouldn't be good at coaching leaders, or you wouldn't be coach, good at coaching men, or you wouldn't be good at coaching managers. Like, I don't think that's the case. But I think we all have preferences. And we all have places where we feel like we're better suited. And you learn that through experience. And even at the leadership level, like, there's people I'm really good with and people I'm not really good with. And that's why we do chemistry calls.

Jacque Merritt 52:12
So usually at the leadership level, we will give them maybe two or three people to pick from. Sometimes they're looking through the bio first, but then we give them about 30 minutes to have a conversation with the coach, so that they can pick the person who they resonate with the most. And it is chemistry. Sometimes it's age. Like, as we age, maybe we gravitate toward different people. Sometimes it's genders. Sometimes it's ethnicity or background or religion, or I don't know why people pick certain coaches over others, or, you know, I can probably see a little bit of my pattern who I resonate with the most. But I think that's for all of us to discover for ourselves. And then we have every right to not coach somebody if we feel like they're not a good match for us. I think a lot of us never think about that. It's like, "Pick me!" you know. But I've learned over time, like people, you know, they feel more ownership in the coaching process if they get to pick their coach. And if we feel like we get to pick them too.

Jim Collison 53:20
As a leader, I have been coached by many, working, you know, through this, and some formal. You've coached me formally at times; we've spent some time together. I think of Dean Jones, who I spend a ton of time with. He's an informal coach. He, he's coaching -- he doesn't know it, but he's coaching me in a lot of ways. And as the recipient of that, I have often tried to think through what's the value of, that that coach brings from a talent perspective? It's maybe spinning it a little bit to think, OK, what's that coach's specialty? And how can I take advantage of that specialty in a way for things I need to change on? So that might be reversing the roles a little bit, where I'm thinking through, OK, what kind of coach do I need now? Do I need one who's going to really push me? Or do I need one who's going to listen? And maybe that's the same person, but I don't know. Any thoughts, Jacque, any thoughts on that, thinking through what I'm looking for?

Jacque Merritt 54:12
Yeah, no, I think that's exactly right. Just like we have different friends who kind of satisfy different needs in us, you know, we'd like to do thing, different activities with different friends. I think, as a coach, you want to find your sweet spot, and you want to expand your range, right? Because you want to be more, you want to be your best possible self. So you don't want to just, like, narrow too much. You want to be able to be this broad, but maybe you aren't this, you know, and maybe you need this, right. And it changes at different times of your life. So I think that's exactly right. I have coached people before where they had more than one coach, and they kind of used me for kind of one type of coaching and the other coach for another type of coaching. And they've had us in the same room sometimes, you know, and it was interesting to see the difference. And the, and this is maybe 10 years ago, I'm thinking of an example, but the other coach was more organizationally focused. And I was more individually focused at the time. And that worked.

Jim Collison 55:22
Yeah, yeah, I think it's good to know. It's good to know you, what the value, what are you looking for out of this person, what's been their experience? And those all comes up in these conversations that you're having, right. But I think in sports, we do this naturally. Like you might have, you know, in American baseball, you might have a pitching coach, you might have a batting coach, you might have your own individual player coach or position coach, if you're playing a specific position. I think sometimes in leadership, there could be certain demands that require us having those specialties. Listen, I would never be a good budgeting coach. Right. I've just, that's just not my sweet spot.

Jacque Merritt 55:59
But you know what we're all good at here is we're all good strengths coaches. Like that is a differentiator, I think, for us at Gallup, and it's for all of our listeners here. Like that's a, that's an area where you can really, you know, hang out your shingle and claim that, because that does separate you, from a philosophical standpoint, maybe from other coaching approaches, and just from an expertise standpoint. So I think we can all dial into that.

Jim Collison 56:30
Yeah, no, it's, I think it's a great reminder. Jacque, we've got just a few minutes left. We've covered a ton of material. And I'll encourage everyone to go back and listen to the recording again. If, especially if you're joining us live, or even if you're listening to the podcast, I think this is worth going back and taking some notes on. Maybe you were in the car or whatever. Final thoughts you would leave, if you were going to encourage our coaching community as they're coaching leaders, you're wrapping up the series for us on this. Some final words, some final thoughts to our coaches about leaders?

Jacque Merritt 57:04
One of the best pieces of advice that I got was the person said, "Get on their train. Get on the leadership train." And by that, they meant, like, understand the world of the leader. Read about leadership. Watch videos of leaders. How do they talk differently? How do they, you know, when people say the word "executive presence," what does that mean? Like those things that they come into coaching with, where they want to improve, have a point of view about those. Have a framework or some way of thinking about it that you can offer to them, because I think at this level, they want that. And don't be afraid to offer that up to them in the way that you coach them. But I think just, Get on their train. Be in their corner. Understand their world. You don't have to be an expert in any of their world, but just be an expert in how they can be the best version of themselves, using their strengths as a leader.

Jim Collison 58:08
I think, I think that is great advice. And I love that we've got this, this, this Leaders Report and a Manager Report to work together. Jaclynn and I are spending all of Season 2 on The CliftonStrengths Podcast, doing what we're calling "report dynamics," which is taking the Manager Report and the Leadership Report, putting them together and saying, What, what, how could these fit together? Because most managers have leadership roles, and most leaders have managers' roles, right? That, they don't, there's not like a clean break in between them. And so both reports can be, can be very helpful thinking about, OK, what's the task I need to achieve? And then do I need to invoke some manager talent? Do I need to invoke some leadership talent? Maybe a little bit of both. But it's the conversation right? It's conversation that matters in this, and so, some great opportunities, I think, for coaches to help our leaders be more effective in what they're doing. Jacque, thanks for taking the time. It's always great to spend time with you, and it's always great to have you on. I think our coaching community, this one was by far -- don't tell the other hosts this, but -- this was the best-attended one so far. So I think you, I think you drew a crowd. I know that's important for your Woo. And I think you drew the crowd. So thank you, Jacque, for being on the program.

Jacque Merritt 59:28
Thank you, Jim. Bye, everybody.

Jim Collison 59:30
Hang tight with me for -- no, hang tight for with me for one sec. Don't go just yet. We'll remind everyone to take full advantage of all the resources we do have available in Gallup Access. Head out to and sign in. We have tons of resources available for you. These webcasts are in there, a bunch of, a bunch of helpful resources available for you. Go to the upper left menu, choose Resources, and you are in business. If you're looking to become a coach, certified, you're looking for some master coaching, you can contact us. Send us an email: We'd love to help you get through with that. Stay up to date on all the webcasts: gallup.eventbrite -- B-R-I-T-E -- Don't forget, I know it's the end of the year for us as we're recording this. This is one of the last, I'm going to do one more CliftonStrengths, but one of the last webcasts we're doing in 2022. But before you know it, the 2023 Gallup at Work Summit will be here. And Jacque, we're in person this year! How great is that going to be, right? So --

Jacque Merritt 1:00:27
Excellent. Yep.

Jim Collison 1:00:28
Yeah, we are excited to have everybody here on campus. If you can't make it, we have a virtual option as well. Check out all the details: Find us on, find us in any social network just by searching "CliftonStrengths." We have a great team now monitoring and watching those. Want to thank you, if you joined us live, thanks for coming out. If you are listening to the podcast, thanks for subscribing. And thank everybody for coming out today. With that, we'll say, Goodbye, everybody.

Jacque Merritt's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Woo, Maximizer, Input, Focus and Connectedness.

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

Gallup®, CliftonStrengths® and each of the 34 CliftonStrengths theme names are trademarks of Gallup. Copyright © 2000 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030