Coaching 40 CEOs in 2 Days – What They Asked and How We Responded

Can you imagine laser-coaching 40 successful CEOS in 2 days? This spring we had the opportunity to provide 30-minute, highly focused coaching sessions for thought leaders and CEOs attending the Small Giants Community Summit in Detroit, MI. This extraordinary conference attracts both seasoned and emerging business leaders who are making a big impact on their industries while keeping their eyes focused on their own people – valuing authenticity and courage over revenues and profits.


With coaching expertise in the CliftonStrengths® and Builder Profile 10® assessments, our focus in these quick conversations was to provide fast talent explanations with a tangible takeaway. What we didn’t expect was such consistency amongst our CEO clients.


Nearly every CEO we coached asked the same 3 questions in their coaching sessions.


They Asked: What weakness do I need to fix?

We Answered: None. You need to build on your strengths.


As a society, we tend to lean towards “weakness-fixing” rather than capitalizing on what we do best. In that regard, these CEOs were no different than their employees. Instead of asking about what they do well, our conference clients immediately focused on what they could improve upon; specifically, what weaknesses did they have within their strengths that would cause obstacles for their companies.


Even focusing on the strengths of these CEOs was a challenge. “But what’s wrong with my strengths? They are holding me back in some way, right?” In truth, they could be, yes. Identifying that basement level of our talents is important so that we might recognize when we are holding ourselves back. But don’t stay in that space. Be intentional about finding opportunities to use your talents more regularly and purposefully. This keeps you from setting up camp in a disengaged place, and instead allows you to build more successfully.


They Asked: How do I develop Strengths that I don’t possess?

We Answered: You can’t. Instead, hire people gifted in those areas.


When reviewing results from assessments such as CliftonStrengths® or Builder Profile 10®, it’s difficult to keep your eyes focused on the top – where you naturally excel. We look to the bottom of our lists and think, “Surely I can develop these as areas of strength?”


It’s time to stop putting energy into talents that you don’t have but instead, direct that effort into furthering the impact of your strengths. It’s natural for CEOs to feel responsible for the output of multiple, if not all, areas of their purview. But if visualizing the future is a lesser talent for you, don’t spend countless hours trying to force it. That’s like trying to teach a rabbit to swim. You’ll work twice as long and achieve mediocrity at best. Hire someone with visionary talent – a partner or employee who can fill that gap for you, naturally seeing what could be possible for the organization. Then, take your talents and build off their futuristic strength. Focusing on your weaknesses will only ever allow you to reach a level of skill, not strength.


They Asked: How can I become a better leader by knowing my natural talents?

We Answered: Get a coach.


Action items – pen to paper takeaways – seem to always be that missing piece in personal and professional development. Our CEO clients didn’t want to stay in that theoretical space. They wanted to move; they wanted to know how to immediately implement what they learned about themselves. After all, what’s the point of revolutionary realizations without implementation?


Everyone needs a coach. Everyone! Serena Williams has a coach. LeBron James has a coach. They both possess natural talent in their fields, but continue to reach for near perfection. They know a coach can provide an objective point of view to zero-in on those finite areas of additional development, improving performance. Our mental strengths work in the same way – you need a coach to get you there.


In summary, CEOs want to improve performance – their own and their organization’s. And the best of them want to do so in an effort to continue moving forward to what’s next. There’s a restlessness amongst this group that is inspirational and encouraging, and we could all benefit from a similar focus – learn about what you do best, and then put it to work. Immediately.

Measuring Up - Embracing the Mahogany and Marble

I recently found myself waiting in the lobby of a beautiful office building. Mahogany furniture, marble flooring, and gaze-worthy chandeliers combined to make up one of the most beautiful and paralysis-inducing environments I had found myself in since beginning my business. That relentless thumping…was that the air conditioner? Surely not in a beautiful building such as this. Oh wait, no. That’s my chest.

I was about to present a coaching proposal to one of my biggest clients to date, both in size and prestige. And as I waited for a representative to call me in, I could begin to feel the slow approach of that debilitating old acquaintance – the impostor. What was I thinking? I’m just a tiny one-person business; do I really think I have what it takes to compete with large consultant companies?

When we begin comparing ourselves to others (whether “others” are colleagues or competitors), what is the standard for measurement? Measuring up requires us to have an equitable level of knowledge and materials, but I’m not sure that’s usually the source of our self-doubt. In this case, I had my perfectly planned proposal and was confident in my knowledge of Strengths coaching and employee engagement. The root of my self-doubt wasn’t the what; it was the how.

As I waited to be called, I began building an image in my head of how I thought my presentation should be conducted – marble flooring and mahogany furniture meant minimized personality and maximized professionalism.  While that approach might be successful for some, it’s not for me. I’ve had my fair share of imitation attempts – trying to perform at work in the style of a colleague and expecting the same results. But the outcome was always the same. If imitated, my performance never measured up to others because I wasn’t in my strengths zone.

You will not be successful trying to emulate someone else’s strengths.


The reason that colleague or competitor appears successful is because she is more than likely working within her strengths set. It’s an empowering, motivating place that sets the stage for great confidence.  We have all been given an incredibly unique set of strengths, and when we begin tapping into our talents, we start achieving a level of success that cannot be attained trying to be someone else.

There are several steps that you can take to begin channeling YOUR strengths zone:

Identifying Your Strengths   It is no secret that I’m a big believer in Gallup’s CliftonStrengths assessment. I believe in the research – the likelihood of someone having your same Top 5 Strengths in order is 1 in 33 million, which means there’s only one you. Knowing your strengths is a very important step, as it allows you to easily identify why you’ve been successful in certain situations in the past.  While there are a wide variety of personality based assessments, Gallup, Inc. has mastered the individuality and uniqueness of us all. {And the good news is…you don’t need a coach to take the assessment!}

Adopt Your Strengths   Once you have identified your strengths, look back at your most successful moments in the past. How did your strengths play into those moments? If you’re a Relator®, maybe you presented a new idea to a small, more intimate group, and that allowed you to connect with those individuals more authentically? If you’re an Analytical®, maybe your presentation was rooted in concrete data, and those proven facts gave you greater confidence in how and what you communicated to others? Whatever the situation, if you felt more confident and comfortable, you were right in the middle of your strengths zone, even if you didn’t know it at that moment.

Apply Your Strengths   Now, let’s look forward. You know your strengths and have identified how they helped you feel confident in the past. It’s time to apply your strengths to current moments of inadequacy. In my personal example above, I could have tapped my Learner® and Input® strengths. Perhaps I could have asked the lobby receptionist about the history of the building – is the mahogany original, did they install all of this marble at once? The more I learn about my surroundings, the more comfortable I become. And then that ugly impostor feeling begins to diminish, allowing me to work within that empowering strengths zone.

Embrace that mahogany and marble. You already have the talents; it’s time to identify, adopt, and apply them.

4 Actions Towards Next Level Management

Think back, for a moment, to your best and worst supervisors from the past. Generally, it’s not difficult to reminisce about those polar extremes because of the lasting impression they made on us personally and professionally. I have also challenged myself to attempt to remember my past run-of-the-mill supervisors as well, the men and women who truly didn’t have an effect on me either way. They didn’t make my experience miserable, but they didn’t make it enjoyable either. I believe that lack of impact is far worse, in the long run, than a horrible supervisor. [You’re kidding, right?] Those awful supervisors didn’t leave you with nothing – they helped you discover what NOT to do with your future employees…and I would imagine your currently people would thank you for that. How we supervise is absolutely formed by the examples we’ve been led by in the past, both the good and the bad.  But what about the in-between?

When I ask my current clients in management roles how they would rank themselves professionally, most of their responses are exactly the same: “I’m not the worst supervisor in the world, but I’m not the best either. I’m just somewhere in between.”  Well, “somewhere in between” isn’t going to cut it.  Managers are the most influential piece to an employee’s success. The motivation, the support, the training, the accountability – that all comes from you. So how do you transition from “somewhere in between” to one of the all-time greats?

Start here.

Make them call their shot.  The infamous baseball player Babe Ruth is perhaps most well-known for a gesture he made in the 1932 World Series. With two strikes against him, Ruth pointed his bat towards Center Field, calling his next shot – a staggering 400 ft. home run. He called it. He made his goal known to everyone in the ballpark.  As a manager, encourage your employees to call their shots – What’s their next big professional goal? And then, what’s their big goal following that? We don’t know what we’re aiming for if we don’t call the shot. When your employee has honed in on his/her goal, keep record of it. Discuss the goal(s) during your one-on-one meetings so you can motivate them towards achieving their future success.  Help them see how bits and pieces of their current role can help better prepare them for the next step.

Manage your space.  Have you ever entered the home of a friend or relative and immediately felt uncomfortable? Was there a mountain of clutter, no clear space to sit, and a lack of…fresh air? The atmosphere around us plays a very large role in our ability to effectively communicate. If you are working towards creating an environment of free flowing communication between yourself and your employees, you must provide them with a space to successfully do that. Forcing them to sit through one-on-one meetings in an office that makes them physically uncomfortable will never encourage them to seek your assistance unless absolutely needed. Not to mention, a clean office will do wonders for your psyche as well. Reserve an hour (or two?) on your calendar and get to work.  If you have an employee with an exceptionally clean office space, maybe ask for their assistance or suggestions!

Create opportunities for growth.  I often hear from Managers that their hands are tied when it comes to providing new opportunities for their employees. They have no ability to create new positions which makes them completely unable to encourage avenues of growth for those they supervise…false. Creating new opportunities isn’t limited to new roles. Perhaps there’s a side project that’s been on the backburner, or a team development initiative that needs leadership? Cross-train your people.  Allow them to gain insight into one another’s positions for a stronger, and potentially more respectful, atmosphere amongst your team. And remember – this isn’t about just throwing tasks towards your employees because you don’t think they have enough to do. Be purposeful. Look at their strengths. How could someone with an analytical mind be helpful in reviewing assessments?  How could the social butterfly help with onboarding?

Challenge your vulnerability.  How much do your employees know about your professional goals? Not where you want to see the team in 5 years, but where YOU want to be in 5 years. In the same position? In a higher level of management? On the beach with a coconut flavored beverage? Be honest with them. Humanize yourself. Break down any “I’ve made it and you haven’t” wall that might be present and show them that you, too, are working towards something great. We need to be able to relate to others, to feel as though those before us are cheering for us to continue moving forward. And who knows…one of your employees just might know someone who knows someone who owns a little hut on that beach. But you won’t know unless you open up.

Only greatness can come from a working environment led by a purposeful manager. Only greatness. Take the time to invest in your people: learn about them, be involved in their goals, and allow them to see you as someone who is also continuing to strive for the next big thing. And then, when they’re asked to speak about their most positively influential supervisor during their next interview, your legacy of great management will continue.

Your Village People

If the title of this post had you thinking we would be discussing singing, dancing, and interesting takes on construction worker attire, you'd be mistaken. Not to worry, though. You still made a wise choice. Keep reading.

“It takes a village.” This is one of my most favorite phrases. If you have raised, are currently raising, or are consistently around children, you know that it truly does take the effort of not only the parents or guardians, but of extended family and friends to successfully rear those kiddos in our society today. To help assure our children achieve the best success, we call on friends and family to help cheer on our kids at their basketball games, to buy their Girl Scout cookies, to pick them up from daycare when we…forget.  We build a village of cheerleaders for our little ones.   But are children the only ones in need of a village? When it comes to your success, your ability to flourish and feel encouraged to use your natural strengths, who supports you?

Who’s in YOUR village?

When I’m working with clients who have a hard time claiming or seeing their own strengths, I always suggest that they share their StrengthsFinder results with those closest to them – their village.  Without fail, those friends and family members always laugh after reading the results, saying “That’s SO you,” or “How do you not see this in you?!” They know you so well that it’s easy for them to identify your strengths, because it’s what they value in you most.  And undoubtedly, you consider them to be your village BECAUSE they value those strengths and encourage you to use them. Think about that for a minute. Why is your village…your village?

Those in your village – let’s call them your village people (Ha!) – have most likely secured their residency by fulfilling three key initiatives to help you grow and develop as an individual.

Strong Village People…

Acknowledge your strengths. When your strengths are engaged, they see it.  If you are particularly gifted in arranging pieces to a puzzle, let’s say, they will be the first ones to say “You are so great at organizing! You did that so easily and it’s perfect!” Strong village people notice what makes you different, what makes you unique.

Place you in positions to use your strengths. If you are naturally gifted in action, they might give you opportunities to begin new projects because they know you’ll enjoy the task and will be more successful than others at jump-starting a stagnant idea.  They want you to develop your strengths into a powerhouse utility belt, and they want to help you as best they can.

Call you out on over-caffeinated strengths.  Have you ever been over-caffeinated? You’re a bit jittery, you have trouble concentrating, and you might even make impulsive, harebrained decisions. Your strengths can become over-caffeinated as well. For example, maybe you’re an incredibly inclusive person. Your village loves that strength of yours – everyone always feels welcomed and included when you’re around. But have any of your friends ever said, “I know you really want everyone to feel invited, but the guest list is up to 40 now, and you need to reign it in.” That’s an example of an over-caffeinated strength. When we allow them to become unfocused and impulsive, they lose their productivity and skill. Your village people recognize that and care enough to call you out on it when those moments pop up.

If some time has passed since you acknowledged your village, I challenge you to do so in the near future. Identify who in your circle fits the criteria above, and let them know that you value their dedication to making you great.  Chances are, they will reciprocate the same sentiment towards you. 


5 Mondays A Week

Mondays can be rough – your super fun weekend has come to a close, it’s probably raining, your coffee is suspiciously less caffeinated.  And then there’s work. We don’t all have the optimistic cheer that the 7 Dwarfs displayed as they whistled to work each morning…especially on Mondays.  For many of us, that Case of the Mondays eventually fades away though, and we begin to enjoy our work week because we actually enjoy what we do. But what if that’s not you? What if you're beginning to notice you're working 5 Mondays A Week?

It is incredibly common to find yourself experiencing the “Love My Job, Hate My Job” cycle every now and then. Busier times of the year, “interesting” colleagues, new management – all of these factors can drastically influence your day to day professional grind. But, if you find yourself in a perpetual state of restlessness and discontent in your work, it might be time to begin evaluating how your position plays to your Strengths.

1. What, exactly, do you do?

Make a list of all of your job responsibilities to date. Seriously, list them out. Then, divide that list into 3 categories: Low Energy, Moderate Energy, or High Energy.

Low Energy – These are the tasks that you have no natural energy to accomplish. They cause you stress, possibly anxiety, and you just flat-out don’t enjoy them.

Moderate Energy – The tasks in this category would be the “I don’t love them, but I don’t mind them” responsibilities. They don’t cause you stress; they’re just fillers in your day that keep the paycheck coming.

High Energy – These, obviously, are the tasks that you LOVE about your job (i.e. probably the reason you applied for the position in the first place). They are the items on your to-do list that you usually address first…because you love them.

2.  Who, exactly, are you?

What Strengths make you, you? If you have taken the Gallup StrengthsFinder Assessment, your Top 5 results are your starting point! (If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I reference your Top 5, let’s chat.) Really focus on your Strengths for a minute.  Are you relationship focused – do you absolutely need to be working around people all day? Are you, maybe, process oriented – do you love mental challenges and analytics? These are just two types of reflection questions to get you started. Together, what do your Strengths say about how you spend your time processing the world around you? (BTW, this is where having a Coach could be VERY useful.)

3.  How, exactly, do your Strengths intertwine with what you do?

Place your divided task list and your Strengths list side by side.

High Energy – When looking at your High Energy list, it should be pretty obvious how those tasks compliment your Strengths…that’s why you love those responsibilities so much! 

Moderate Energy – Now review your Moderate Energy list. The fact that you don’t mind these tasks means that they aren’t in complete opposition to how you think and interact with others. That’s GREAT news. With some small fine-tuning, you can begin to move these action items over to your High Energy list. For example, if you’re a competitive person, can you make some tasks on this list a competition with others? If you love being around people, can you schedule short meetings instead of long email chains?

Low Energy – And finally, the Low Energy list.  This is the game changer (and where having a short-term coach can be very helpful). Like the items on the Moderate Energy list, take time to see if these tasks can be altered to fit your Strengths. And, weight the tasks in this section as well – are these items ones that are vitally important in your position, or are they small responsibilities that you just can’t stand?  If the responsibilities in your Low Energy column consumer the vast majority of your job, it might be time to find a coach or trusted friend to evaluate this career crossroads.

This exercise should function as a piece of your investigative puzzle, not the end-all solution.  It’s a great starting point in evaluating your current professional experience, whether you’re experiencing 5 Mondays a week or 5 Fridays. And as always, flourishing starts with you.


A Coach for the End of Your Nose

Think about the end of your nose for a moment. Do you do that often, think about the end of your nose? Most likely not. We think about our hands, our arms, our legs - partly because we use them continuously, but also because we see them a great deal. But we don't see the end of our nose very often unless looking in a mirror. It's so close to us, that we can't see it... And now I will make the very odd, but very correct, correlation between the end of your nose, and your Strengths. Keep reading. This will begin to make sense.

When I first begin working with a client, I have them take the Gallup StrengthsFinder Assessment. We use their Top 5 Strengths results in EVERYTHING: self-discovery, goal planning, action items, relationship building, professional advancement, etc. More often than not, people agree with at least two of their Strengths, but are confused or unsure of the remaining results. I also suggest to my clients that they share their Top 5 results with their closest family members and friends and ask for feedback.  The reactions are ALWAYS the same: "My family laughed and said that this was me to a T!" "My friends didn't understand how I don't see these in myself." That's guessed it...our Strengths are often too close for us to see them!  {Strengths=End of Nose} {Connection made.}

Working with a Coach for even a short period of time can have truly remarkable long term results. I, clearly, recommend a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach because I've seen such positive and foundation-building effects come from using the StrengthsFinder assessment. But the most influential role of your Coach is to help you see, understand, and purposefully use your unique Strengths for greater success personally and professionally. Before you begin searching for a Coach, start thinking about the personal/professional development you want to receive:

  • What are my Strengths?
  • How have I seen my Strengths play a role in the past regarding my career, relationship building, and decision making?
  • How do I learn to engage my unique talents to become more proactive and purposeful in my present and future decision making?

Remember, your Strengths - the way you process the world around you - are so close to you that you might not even realize they are unique. Find a great coach to help you see them, and ignite them. 

Heidi (End-of-Nose-Coach-Extraordinaire)