Leverage Strengths-Based Coaching to Help Your Employees Excel

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Throughout our lives, we're often told by others to overcome our weaknesses — whether it's by our parents, by our teachers or by our bosses. But important research has taught us that instead of exhorting others to "minimize your strengths" we should be telling them to "maximize your strengths."

Recently, Tracy Hutton, VP of coaching at the Marcus Buckingham Company, participated in an interview where she spoke about coaching styles as part of ADP's Reimagine Series. Hutton discussed how the best managers and leaders — those that most effectively lead others toward success — have a focus on maximizing employees' unique strengths instead of trying to overcome perceived, or real, weaknesses.

Focus on Strengths

For CHROs, helping to instill a culture of "maximize your strengths" within their organizations can help to leverage the important findings of the Marcus Buckingham Company.

This work was initiated by Martin Seligman, former head of the American Psychological Association, who is considered to be the founder of "positive psychology." It's an approach that works well with peoples' natural inclination to seek a sense of progress, fulfillment and engagement in their work — they want to know that what they do is making an impact, says Hutton.

Good coaches get results if those they are coaching learn something. And learning is fueled by strengths, not weaknesses.

Four Principles of Effective Coaching

Hutton offers four principles that CHROs can adopt to help employees maximize their strengths.

1) Don't coach from a position of "I have all the answers"; coach from a position of helping employees find the answers. That is how a-ha moments are born, says Hutton, and those a-ha moments release dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that results in positive feelings.

2) Identify employees' strengths so those strengths can be leveraged to boost success. Weaknesses, of course, shouldn't be ignored. They're like holes in the hull of a boat, says Hutton. But, she explains, we must also be focused on the sails. "If your sails are up, and you're maximizing the amount of wind that's hitting them, your weaknesses become less of a liability." In fact, she says, your employees may stop noticing their weaknesses when they're more focused on their strengths.

3) Coaching should be used to address a current, real-world situation an employee is facing. Employees can better apply what they learn to situations they are currently dealing with or their immediate needs. Coaching that is focused on knowledge that will be needed at some point in the future is far less likely to be retained.

4) Ensure that coaching is personalized — not based on general aphorisms like "it's important to get along with others," but on the specific details related to each employee's area of strength. Assessments like Marcus Buckingham's StandOut assessment, says Hutton, can be used to identify these potential areas of focus.

Importantly, Hutton tells us, a strength is not simply something that an employee is good at — it's something that makes them feel strong. Shifting to a focus on strengths, though, is tough for most people to do. This is because we have an inherent "negativity bias," says Hutton. Consequently, she stresses, there is a way that CHRO's can help others get beyond that negativity bias.

Raising the Sails

What are you doing, or what could you be doing, to ensure that your employees, your supervisors, your managers and even your organizational leaders are lifting their heads and looking at their sails? If their sails are up and they're maximizing the amount of wind that's hitting them, their boats will start moving faster and, even if there are holes, the water will leave them, says Hutton.

"When your strengths are being deployed at that level, when they're being leveraged to that extent, your weaknesses become less of a liability." With more inquiry and less instruction, CHROs have an opportunity to nurture a more positive culture and climate. CHROs and other leaders don't have all of the answers — they don't need to.

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