To listen to this podcast, click HERE.
Welcome to the Team Coaching Zone podcast. Join your host Dr. Krister Lowe and today’s leading organizational coaches as we explore the art and Science of team coaching. Get ready for 45 minutes of pure inspiration, and to take your team coaching practice to the next level. Now, let’s enter the zone with your host, Dr. Krister Lowe.
Dr. Krister L.: Welcome back everyone to this week’s episode of the Team Coaching Zone podcast. I’m really excited to welcome special guests on the podcast. Today we have Paul Allen, a global strengths evangelist with the Gallup organization on the podcast, and also joining me as my colleagues George Johnson. Paul and George, welcome to the Team Coaching Zone.
Paul Allen: Great to be here today.
George Johnson: Thank you so much.
Paul Allen: Yes, it’s great to be joining both of you.
Dr. Krister L.: Right on. So Paul, where do we find you today? Are you based in … Are you at the DC today or where do we find you?
Paul Allen: I’m in Utah today flying to Omaha tomorrow, but I’m in DC usually four out of five days each week. So our global headquarters for Gallup is in Washington DC. That’s where I’m based most of the time.
Dr. Krister L.: Okay. But home is Utah for you?
Paul Allen: Yes, on the weekends.
Dr. Krister L.: Okay, got you. All right. So we’re going to go ahead and just provide the listeners a brief introduction to you, Paul, and I’m going to invite George to do that because George has sort of a longer background than me around the Strengths Finder and had the relationship with you. So George, I’m going to pass it over to you to introduce Paul to the listeners today.
George Johnson: Thanks so much Krister. First I have to tell everyone that I am unbelievably great fan of Strengths Finder and the Strength Finder movement. Paul, I found Soar With Your Strengths that had a 1996 date on it, and that was a book that kind of started it all with me. I’ve been giving the assessments, I’m sure to well over 500 people in well over 75 teams. It is an amazing instrument. It is what is right about the world.
George Johnson: It is about people. There’s many levels of understanding of the Strength Finder. You can get training, there’s manuals, and if you just pick it up and do it enough with people, you’ll learn a tremendous amount. We’re also going to focus a little bit today on how you use Strengths Finder with teams and I had done this with many, many organizations and never been disappointed.
George Johnson: I met Paul just over a year ago before the first annual Strengths Finder conference and we had a great chance to talk and really hit it off and we’ve been staying in touch since then. But Paul has an amazing background. Almost all related to causes, and I think all of the things that he’s done in the past to kind of led him to what he’s doing now with Gallup. But he was a founder and board member at Family Link.
George Johnson: He was a board member at Funding Universe. He was a managing partner at Provo labs and kind of, if you go back quite a way, you’ll see he was also the founder of Ancestry.com. So he is the quintessential serial entrepreneur, and the fact that he’s been with Gallup over four years, I think, says how passionate he is about what he sees is the possibility for Strengths Finders and also the possibilities in the world.
George Johnson: So Paul, is there anything else you want to add to that before we get into the interview today?
Paul Allen: That’s a very generous introduction, George. It was wonderful meeting you and realizing how much you’ve done over the past many years with coaching and team coaching in particular. So I’m very honored to join both of you today on this podcast.
George Johnson: Good stuff. Well, I can say that I’m a pretty new entrance to the world of Strengths Finder through George. You know, about six months ago, I was introduced. Heard about it for a while and then I finally took the assessment, found it really useful, got my 34 strengths and now I’ve been using it in my one on one coaching and I’ve also been using it with some teams. So can corroborate with just a few data points that’s a really valuable tool.
George Johnson: And Paul, what we’d like to do here at the outset before we dive into the content is to learn a little bit more about you and your journey. And I think George set that up a bit there. You know, I think you mentioned you have sort of this background, very mission driven, purpose driven. I think there’s a lot in your background, it’s about technology, but why don’t you give us a little bit of the elevator story about your journey and how you found your way to Gallup.
Paul Allen: Yes. So it’s an interesting thing for me. 22 years as an entrepreneur doing startups. I did seven different startups. The most prominent company I started was Ancestry.com, but so I was a disruptive entrepreneur. I love technology and when new technology platforms come out, I’m one of the first to jump on it, embrace it, experiment and try to figure out, “Okay, this is going to change the world. This platform, this new technology is going to change the world. What role can I play in it?”
So in the 80s I used dial up modems to connect to CompuServe and other … even BDS before that. I started programming on an Apple 2 computer when I was 12 years old. My Dad bought it for me so I would stop playing dungeons, dragons and instead I wrote a 2800 line dungeons and dragons program in basic. So CD ROMs, the late 80s, and I saw the potential to put really all the world’s greatest knowledge and books on CD ROMs.
So my best friend and I started a company in 1990 and for several years we were trying to identify the most important books in every field. Digitize them and create CD ROM libraries for students and for homes where you could basically gain great knowledge very quickly. Well, the Internet emerges a few years later and we realize CD ROM was going to go away and meanwhile, while we were searching the world combing library shelves for the best books, we found out copyright law, even though we were young and naïve.
Copyright law prevents us from basically selling all the greatest books that had been written in the past 50 or 75 years. So it led us to the old bookshelf sections of all the libraries that we frequented. And it turns out that almost all historical and genealogy works are in the public domain. So anyway, long story short, that led us to launch ancestry.com and realized that we could digitize pretty much all the genealogical records on the planet and put them on the Internet instead of on CD-ROM.
And so 96 we launched ancestry.com website. And then started raising a lot of capital. Moved the company headquarters to San Francisco, tried to go public in 2000, almost made it, didn’t quite make it. So anyway, several years there, had a great experience. But the reason I bring up the disruptive thing is that while I was a young entrepreneur, loving technology and trying to harness it to really help the whole world, either gain knowledge from the greatest books or connect with their family records and connect with all their living relatives on the Internet.
We had a website called myfamily.com. That was the top photo sharing site on the web in 2000. And it had millions and millions of people connecting with their living relatives sharing photos, chatting, even voiceover IP back in 2005. Five or six years before Skype and Facebook. And so while we were doing that, what’s interesting for me is that I was trying to disrupt industries and build great technology that was scalable, but I was very unaware of the people in my companies that … I was not people oriented.
I was disruption and technology oriented and internet marketing savvy. But as I look back, meetings were almost always a burden for me. And one on ones. Like if I was a CEO, I didn’t want to have a staff and one on one. I actually had a bad habit of every meeting I was in because I didn’t like meetings. I would look around the room, I knew the salaries of everybody in the room. I would calculate the cost per hour for every meeting we were holding.
So when I discovered Strengths Finder five years ago, a friend of mine worked at Gallup. He introduced me to it. And I was so blown away by how accurately it described me. All my top six strengths are in the strategic thinking arena. I heard you talking about your strengths and you have four of the same top six and that’s pretty cool – strategic, futuristic, etc. So those are strategic thinking themes, but then one of you said you had relater, number six. My first relationship theme is my 17th.
And so I read this stuff when I look at my 434 report and I’m like, holy cow, this explains everything I do well and why I do things the way I do them. It also probably explains why I wasn’t super team oriented or people oriented, and I have deep regret. So I feel like the culture that we could have built in ancestry.com, it could have been a very mindful culture, being inclusive and aware of all the amazing talents that human beings possess.
So what I was doing instead was looking for a very narrow range of talent, technologists and disruptive marketers, viral marketers. And so I was kind of blind to the tremendous talents that the range of talents that people have. And as I got deeper and deeper into consulting for Gallup and then accepting a full time job with them, I’ve kind of felt like this is cathartic for me to try to help all the future business leaders and entrepreneurs to not make the same mistakes that I made, of neglecting to see and celebrate the immense range of talents that human beings have.
Not to just look for a narrow range and value that and say, “Hey, we’re going to disrupt the world by doing this,” but rather build a culture that helps every employee to reach their full potential. That acknowledges that they all bring different talents and that by investing in the uniqueness of each person and helping them find a role where they can play to their strengths every day, where they can contribute, where they can experience flow, where they can experience incredible growth and development.
I’m thinking, “Oh my goodness, you can do both.” You can be disruptive and fast growing and develop human beings at the same time. And I just fell in love with Strengths Finder and, I’ve had several people try to fund my next startup and say, “Hey Paul, go do another startup. We’ll put in this much money.” And I’m like, “I can’t imagine any mission, that I could love and believe in as much as the Gallup mission of helping every human being reach their full potential through strength and through coaching.”
And I just want to emphasize one thing, and this is kind of the end of my journey as you know … when I joined Gallup I was like, “Oh my gosh, Strength Finder is the coolest and most under marketed product I have ever seen in my life. You know, we’re now up to 15.5 million people that have taken it. Guess what? We don’t advertise and market this product. It’s all word of mouth. I mean, for 15 years people have been discovering it George like you providing it to individuals and teams.
It is so interesting and accurate and so helpful in increasing engagement and productivity that it’s just spreading every single year for 15 years. More people have taken Strengths Finder than the year before.
Dr. Krister L.: You need to get your LinkedIn bio updated because you got 13.3 million on this.
Paul Allen: I know I have to like create a bot that updates it, like monthly because it’s now hundreds of thousands of people a month. And last year Accenture provided Strengths Finders to several hundred thousand employees. So it’s been spreading because it works. It’s been spreading because it helps individuals perform better, and it’s been spreading because it helps teams perform better.
But the biggest awakening for me and the thing that Jim Clifton our CEO and chairman taught me four years ago as I was in my gung ho way, I’m like, “Hey, we’re going to take Strengths Finder to a billion people. We can build apps, we can make it go viral. Let’s make it free. Let’s have the whole world experience this incredible thing that I had just discovered. And I wanted everyone else to discover.
And then Jim Clifton sat me down and said, “Paul, it’s not about going viral. This isn’t about the total numbers of people taking the assessment. In fact, the assessment alone does little for anybody. What is magical? What is powerful, what is transformative for individuals and teams is when a coach helps you understand how serious this stuff is. How it is accurately describing your natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that can be productively applied.”
And when you start to realize, “Okay, these are the things I do well without even trying. In fact, I can’t even turn these things off. This is how I’m wired.” But it takes a coach to help you understand that and I’ve seen individuals just come to life in their work because they now understand these are my natural talents. I’m going to develop and amuse them, and then I’ve seen teams that are just transformed because now everybody is not only aware of their own strengths, but they’re aware of the strengths of each other.
And it’s like, “Wow, we can actually all do what we love doing. We don’t have to do the stuff we aren’t good at or hate.” And so it’s like, “Hey, together, how can we improve our productivity and outcomes.” So I’m actually very grateful to be a part of this big mission to reach a billion people and have a million coaches who are fluent in the language of Strengths. Who are masters at administrating this tool to individuals and teams.
And the end goal is could we improve not only GDP and productivity numbers around the world, but can help each human being reach their full potential. That’s a pretty exciting vision, but it doesn’t happen without coaches.
Dr. Krister L.: What could be more important mission than that. And I appreciate you making this connection around taking an assessment, whether Strengths Finder or other assessments without coaching doesn’t really lead to learning and change, right? That awareness and just that feedback isn’t enough. It’s you have to engage with that and actually engage in a learning process, which is what really coaching is designed to do.
But I love the bold numbers you’re putting out there. I mean, a billion people training a million coaches. That’s really great stuff. And I imagine your tech background as part of the secret to try to reach those numbers.
Paul Allen: Well it’s true. I was lucky to be in a couple of companies that reached over a 100 million end users and that was years ago when it was harder to do. Now there are at least 14 … I think I saw recently 17 software products or websites or mobile apps that have more than a billion users. So it’s not like a impossible dream, that this is happening. And the more smartphones by 2020, 5 billion people who have a smart phone. So yes, the engineering virality into the product experience is going to be part of the key to reaching a billion.
But, it’s really the million coaches that we have to connect to those billion people if we want to actually move the needle on human development. So it’s really both, it’s not either or I think it really will take all of our best talents and greatest strategies to really introduce Strength Finder to the whole world and really we’re calling it Clifton strengths because there are probably 100 strengths related assessments out there.
And what we want to do is we want to reinforce that Don Clifton, the American psychological association gave him a presidential candidate in 2002, just the year before he died. That he was the father of strength psychology and the grandfather of positive psychology. So back from 1952 when he started his graduate studies in psychology, and decided that while most books in the field of psychology were studying what’s wrong with people, diagnosing, assessing and trying to fix the problems that we all have, he decided that he would spend his life, which ended up being 50 years of research and teaching about what’s right with people.
And over the course of those 50 years after interviewing literally hundreds of thousands of people who were successful in different walks of life. That’s where he came up with the 34 strengths themes. It wasn’t a theory that, “Hey, you’re either introverted or extroverted,” it was, “I’m going to study a 34 pathway that these hundreds of thousands of people used to become successful and experience excellence in their work life.”
So it was by observatIon, it was by careful observing that he came up with these 34 themes and then thankfully with the help of a Harvard professor was able to build an online assessment and it takes about 30 minutes that is very scalable. Whereas in the early years, in the many decades that he was doing talent spotting and encoding, it was a 90 minute structured interview with a trained psychologists that was required before he could tell you what your top strengths were.
And so obviously that’s not as scalable as a 30 minute online assessment. So we’re trying to recognize Don Clifton as the father of strength psychology. And so Clifton strength is the brand that we want to introduce the whole world to.
George Johnson: So Paul, if I can interject for just a second, you used the word observing and I think that’s such an important part of the whole strengths based movement and how coaches can really help. I mean one thing is many people have these wonderful strengths and they just think everyone else does. Like what I do is not special at all, so it’s observing them and pointing out to them how their strengths are unique and how they’re not something that everybody has.
And then the same observing happens when you’re doing team coaching after you’ve done the strength finder and put all the strings on the team Strength Finder grid of observing how the team interacts and helping them see the way they’re interacting relates to their strengths. Either the ones they have or the ones they don’t have.
Paul Allen: That’s a very, very profound comment, George, and I know because you’ve been using these instruments for so long that you realized that observing is such a key part of it. We often think that, like you said, everyone can do this. This isn’t special. Most people just have this fallacy that everyone’s wired just like you.
What was fascinating for me, George, is not only starting to see when I’m at my best, it’s when I’m doing these things that are observable, my learning, my input, my ideation, and so having a culture with a coach, a manager, and a team who are all paying attention, careful attention to the talents that are being manifested by the rest of their team. It’s phenomenal to go from a cold workplace where people don’t really talk a lot, and we know there’s a lot of disengaged employees, and a lot of people that don’t like their manager, 50% of Americans have quit a job because of their manager.
So workplaces aren’t known for being all about human development, but you take this instrument, and you take a good coach and this team grid that you said, and you start to show people, “Hey, here’s 34 words that represent different natural talents. And guess what? People on your team have this wide variety of talent. Now we want you to start spotting those strengths in action.” And then as Don Clifton taught, right and no recognition or say something in front of the group, “Hey, I saw Juliette using this talent last week.”
And because that language starts to spread, and because you get that repetition, then you start to internalize, each team member starts to realize that, “Wow, my input is kind of a superpower,” or my relater or my empathy or whatever strength the person has when they’re peers start recognizing that they are valued because they’re using it. They’re going to use it more and more. They’re going to use it more intentionally and they’re going to use it to serve the team and to serve the goals of the team.
Not just themselves. So what we see as the transformation of cultures. One team at a time, one manager at a time. When a great coach comes in and provides the framework, the map, the team grid, provides the language and the tools for spotting and for recognizing the talents whenever they’re used. And Don Clifton said, the fastest way to improve performance is to notice it and recognize good performance whenever it happens.
And so that strength spotting in that public recognition is a powerful way to help teams perform even better.
Dr. Krister L.: You’ve been intuiting almost all my questions Paul so this is really self coaching yourself interview here. But you’ve mentioned a number of things like the grid, the 34 strengths. I think it might be helpful for the listeners out there to get a sense of the kind of four main categories of strengths. Just to brought a little primer of that.
And I also going to ask you a followup question after that just around the research because one of the things I’ve really appreciated about the Gallup organization is you guys have done a lot of research on strengths and the value of focusing on a strengths based approach. But could you just provide a little bit of just sort of a primer on these 34 strengths, and the four categories that they tend to cluster around?
Paul Allen: Absolutely. Great question. By the way, the 34 strengths themes were observed for years prior to the four domains being observed. The 34 themes are the talent themes, the strength themes that human beings all have to some degree or another, and it was through those themes that Don observed … those were the pathways to success, but later, as we studied strengths-based leadership, and we started to look at organizations, we could cluster these 34 themes into four general domains.
But you’re not limited within that domain. I’ll explain that in just a second. But basically all of us in order to be successful have to think and plan. So there are strategic thinking themes. There are eight or nine of those. Then once you have a vision, a plan, you’ve got a strategy, you also have to execute on that. So there are, I believe nine executing themes, nine different strengths that are primarily about getting stuff done, like achiever.
People that have the theme of achiever tend to work hard, set the pace are never satisfied. They always want to get more done. So that achiever theme, which is a fairly common theme, it’s nice to have people on your team that have achiever, they’re going to get all their tasks done before they go home and they just love to finish their list of things to do each day and to do more and more. So achiever is a great theme for people that are executors.
Dr. Krister L.: That’s my number four by the way.
Paul Allen: Oh it is?
Dr. Krister L.: Yes. So you’re speaking my language there.
Paul Allen: The funny thing is I speak all over and I’ll have an audience, you know, I’ll say, “Stand up if you do this or stand up if you do this.” Well, one of my favorites is, stand up if you keep a list of things to do everyday and you check things off as you accomplish them. Then usually about a third of the room will stand up and then I’ll say, “Stay standing if you do that on weekends. Stay standing if you do it on holidays,” and there’s always like 10 or 20% of the audience that are still standing.
Because they’re driven every morning to wake up and say, “Here’s what I’m going to do today.” And then they do that and then they go to bed having accomplished that. And the next day they’re not celebrating, they’re doing that all over again. So that’s a great example of execution themes that are very powerful in a workplace setting.
The third category is relationship themes and this is things like relater, where you are very comfortable with close friendships and you value one on one interaction and you’re very comfortable with loyalty and you’re very people oriented. But often one on one, you have a small number of very close friends, and in the workplace setting, it turns out that your people who have a best friend at work are far more engaged in their job and are far more likely to stay for the long haul.
So it turns out relationships matter a great deal in the workplace. So people with relater can provide glue that kind of keeps the whole team together. And as I said before in my introduction, I kind of overlooked a lot of talents when we were building ancestry and other companies and I really wish I would have understood these relationship themes and how important they are for everyone to come to work and feel connected and a part of and valued by other team members. It’s such an important component.
The fourth category are the influencing themes. And these are slightly more uncommon than the other three categories. So influencing themes are not quite as common as those other three types of themes and influencing themes are for persuasion, for communicating and getting your team going and leading and persuading a everyone to do something. And it could be for selling, it could be a political causes, but your primary impact is through other people.
And so those influencing themes are really powerful. All of the themes were powerful and actually we’ve tell everyone they’re all neutral. Just take what you got and apply it. It’s not like one theme is good or one theme is bad. These are the themes that all people use to become successful. So take what you naturally have and build on it. Don’t try to have envy of people like, “Oh, you’ve got relater I’m going to send the next year or two trying to develop relater.”
Dr. Krister L.: Yes, exactly.
Paul Allen: That just doesn’t work. What works is accept who you are, love what you have and live it every day. And what you’ll find is that by being your natural self and being the very best version of your natural self with the help of coach, manager and peers, you’ll end up having incredible success, and experiencing excellence and slow and timelessness and loving your job and being fully engaged because you’re doing what you were born and designed to do. And that feels really good. It doesn’t matter what themes you have, just use them.
Dr. Krister L.: My sense is we all have innate talents and capabilities and if we can add on top of that skill building and discipline, then it’s like light upon light, right? And you can really get some lift. And is that sort of like the fundamental thesis of strengths that, you could focus on your weaknesses or your gaps, but just creating change there it’s just really hard or deep work and by building on your strengths, you just get momentum. What’s the fundamental concept here?
Paul Allen: That is the fundamental thesis. That from the time you’re an infant to the time you’re a 25 year old adult, where all those synaptic connections, all those neurological pathways that you developed when you were zero to three years old, half of those pathways are now gone, and what you end up with is these naturally recurring patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving and you just can’t turn them off.
So yes, I liken it to swimming. How far do you want to swim? Well, wouldn’t it be nice if you could swim with the current? If you’re in a river and you’re swimming downstream, you can actually go really, really far.
George Johnson: That’s a great analogy.
Paul Allen: But if you’re swimming upstream. If you’re obsessed with what you don’t do well and you spend years and years of effort, you’re expanding all this energy to try to become good at something that naturally you’re not good at. That’s like swimming upstream. You can actually make a difference. You can actually get somewhere. Don Clifton said, “Hey, do it as long as you want, but strategically you’ll go much further if you take what nature and nurture has given you and what your experience has given you and swim as far and as fast as you can know.”
What we tell you is “Look, the talents that you naturally have, have to be multiplied to hard work and investment.” Like you said, in developing skills this developing knowledge, in gaining experiences. This is not about coasting. This is about as my colleague Jamie Lee Bro says, this is about working harder than you’ve ever worked before in your life, but in the areas of strength where it kind of lights you up, where it doesn’t feel like work.
Paul Allen: It’s actually like it’s amazing. You can still work hard. You have to work hard, but it’s swimming with the current and you can go so much further that way.
George Johnson: So do you mind if I take it back to the Strength Finder grid and get an example that I think will kind of emphasize what you were just talking about Paul?
Paul Allen: Absolutely.
George Johnson: So I just finished last month while they’re still a client, but I just finished doing Strength Finder with a whole team at a company of 30 people. We started off with the management team there, they were six. And there was a tier four categories you mentioned there was a really interesting thing that happened. It turns out the two owners of this company are the only ones that have influencing skills and they’ve got competition and command.
So they are drivers and yet they have no skills in the relationship area. But strangely enough, the other four managers on the team all had high skills in relationship. So what it showed and just doing that diagram and showing people was how important it was for the owners of the company to rely on their team to tell them really what’s going on and how people are feeling. And it was something they had never thought of before.
George Johnson: And then we took it to the rest of the teams on the company and in each one of those teams, Paul, when people saw the strengths and the strengths of their workers, you could absolutely just see the light bulbs going on. I’ll just give you one example. One person had a strength called deliberative, and what the team couldn’t understand is why when they came to that person he wouldn’t give them an answer.
And what they realized after understanding the strength is, a deliberative person needs to think about stuff before giving an answer and they just went, “Oh, no wonder.”
Paul Allen: George that’s a great example. My son has deliberative and when my wife and found out about that it actually explained so much and it made such a difference in our parenting to understand that he needed time to think. He wasn’t going to just jump in with an answer like some of the other kids. He wanted to make sure he was making the right choice and what he said. In his opinion, he is actually the funnest person to shop with.
Paul Allen: He helped me for three weeks research what car should we buy next? And he was so deliberatively looking at every option. So to know that you have someone on your team that’s going to be very cautious, very risk averse and make sure that they’re going to make the right decision, it’s going to take some time, but they’re going to get it right, versus jump in someone with activator who’s just going to jump in and maybe learn a hard lesson.
Those that are deliberatives add a great deal of value to the team. Now, one thing that I wanted to mention in that individual instance where somebody has a theme that the other team members haven’t understood, but now they come to understand it and then value it. Well imagine multiplying that by every team member. And imagine taking this concept, I call it the spinach and kryptonite a concept around strengths.
So if you think about it, let’s say all human beings have superpowers and strength is really not that different from a superpower. Like, you can do this. I can’t do this. Okay, I consider that a superpower for you. But imagine that those superpowers cannot be used unless your needs are met. So we’ve had a brilliant researcher and strengths guru for many, many years who carefully studied all of these strengths and said, “Okay, what does a deliberative person need in order to be at their best? What does a learner need in order to exercise that superpower?”
So for all 34 themes, we have this awesome deck of cards. And most of the coaches that I know that do teamwork will hand out this deck of cards. So everybody looks at their strength cards and they say, “Okay, here’s what I am. Here’s what I do. Here’s what I bring to a team. And here’s my favorite thing. Here’s what I need to be at my best. So for example, I have a friend who was a software trainer. He joined the company.
He had a strength called learner and learner’s need, exposure to new information and experiences. So as he joined this company, he started doing his job and he was very engaged for the first year, first year and a half. He had learned so much about that new technology, how to sell it, how to train on it, and then he had a plateau, he wasn’t learning anymore. And then his job became incredibly tedious and burdensome. He hated his job.
He got so bored because guess what learners need? Learners need exposure to new information and experiences. If he’s doing the same thing 18 months in, and he’s expected to do that for the next year or two, he’s going to be bored out of his mind. So he was so unhappy in that job and when he discovered he had learner he’s like, “Oh, okay, that makes sense.” So go talk to your manager and say, “Hey, I need new experiences. Exposure. I need to keep learning. I’m a learner for heaven’s sake.”
So, when you take all 34 themes and everyone on the team, let’s say a team of 10 or 12, and you start each of them down this path of discovering what is my spinach for Popeye was spinach that unlocked his greatest strength. For a learner your spinach is exposure to new information and experiences. For an analytical, you need time to think. You are fact-based, data driven. You look at the facts and logic of things and you need time to think and process that.
If you have communication as your strength, you need a sounding board and an audience. You can’t be at your best if you’re not communicating to somebody on an ongoing basis. So every one of the themes has the need. And also every scene has something it loves, that really brings out the best in it. And something that it hates, like what makes a toxic environment for someone who has that theme.
So for example, strategic is one of my top five. And strategic hate doing things the way we’ve always done them. When your superpower, when you have a team member whose superpower is strategic and they love looking at all the possibilities.
Dr. Krister L.: That’s my number one.
Paul Allen: All the possibilities on an ongoing basis, and then finding the best way forward. So you’re constantly evaluating like a chess player, what move could we make today? Well, what if you were told that we’re going to do the same things that we’ve always done for the next five years? We’re not going to change anything. I mean, how would you feel?
Dr. Krister L.: Death by a thousand cuts here.
Paul Allen: Exactly. And so every one of us might be in a work environment where just by virtue of how the team is organized or what the goals are, that environment might be toxic to us. And so by creating the awareness, by looking at the spinach and the kryptonite, that would be kryptonite to you. It’d be like, “Well, this is terrible. I can’t innovate. I can’t change anything. I can’t create a better path forward. We’re stuck. I’m going to be disengaged.”
I mean that’s how you would react. Or just like my learner friend he got stuck and he was not going to be at his best unless he learned new things. So multiply that by all the people on your team. A great coach can help every manager understand and appreciate what each person’s strengths are and how to fully maximize it.
Dr. Krister L.: So I’m sure the listeners out there are asking the question about what do you do with … what’s at the bottom of your list, right? Are those weaknesses. And you know, like when I look at mine, my number three is activator, but my third from the bottom is deliberative, right? They are the inverse of each other. And so I guess the question is, what do you do with … you know, for somebody like me who’s not deliberative, maybe sometimes that may trip me up. What do you say about working with a bottom five or the bottom of the barrel here?
Paul Allen: So it’s a great question. Don Clifton dealt with this a lot, even in soar with your strengths George, he actually had multiple strategies for dealing with your weaknesses. First he said, claim them. Don’t pretend that they don’t … that those aren’t their own. Actually, he said when you own them and say, “Well, that’s okay. That’s not who I am. I don’t need to be that way.” He said, make your strengths so powerful that it renders your weaknesses or your limitations irrelevant.
Paul Allen: That’s one thing. But the good coaches will also have multiple strategies to partner you with someone who has a strength, so that you can actually tap into their deliberative. To partner you or to give you a tool or a system, a support system. Some of us actually use technology to compensate for the fact that we don’t naturally … we aren’t naturally wired a certain way. And so there’s multiple strategies forward that the coaches have learned and experimented with for different types of individuals and teams.
But the bottom line is focus on your what makes you your best and don’t worry too much about the things you don’t have. Just like, if you’re a great basketball player and you’re a great re-bounder, you can dunk the ball, but you’re not great at dribbling. You know, you might be 6, 10. Why would you spend all of your time in practice trying to dribble when that’s really not required of you anyway.
So find a way to accomplish your goals using your strengths. Be in that strength zone, that flow as often as you can. Be the very best employee and team member you can be. And don’t worry so much about the bottom five or the bottom 10 that aren’t always there for you.
George Johnson: Some solid advice. See, Paul, I wonder as do you have a story that you could tell us about a team and their team strength Finder or how a team use the strengths to improve their company or the people in their company?
Paul Allen: Yes. I was in Asia couple years ago and there was a phenomenal coach in our Singapore meet up where they told a story about an Indonesia banking company. And it was fascinating. They told me that there were 12 members of this executive team and in this bank and Indonesia and they looked at their team grid and they were mostly execution and strategic thinking. In fact, they didn’t have any influence in the whole team.
And now what was interesting about this branch of this multinational bank was that it was a very high performing division, but the headquarters located a few countries away was causing them all kinds of headaches and problems. They’re all these requirements. And even though the bank, the branch was outperforming everyone else, we’re outperforming the average, they had all these issues with headquarters.
And so the coach was like, “Well, okay, influence.” The executives are saying, “Well, we don’t need to hire people with influence so that we can influence our headquarters and kind of get them off our back?” And the coach says, “Use the strengths you have to get the outcome you need.” You guys can think strategically. So think about what could you do influence headquarters to comply with all their requests, et cetera.
And then use your execution themes to actually do that. And so instead of thinking, we have to hire people with the talents that we don’t have, the coach taught them, use the strengths you’ve got to get the outcome you want. And in fact, after two or three months, they actually resolved all of their issues because they came up with the plan and they executed it. So those four domains shouldn’t put you in a box. Like with my relationship theme number 17, when I kind of found that out, my natural reaction was, “Oh great, I’m kind of a loner. I can’t really have any relationships with people.”
Which I knew wasn’t true, but my coach said to me, “Paul, I’ve watched you the last couple of days. You form relationships around ideas.” Ideation is my number three thing. I love brainstorming. If anyone at work wants to brainstorm with me, I’m there, it’s like oxygen to me, to be creative and brainstorming. I have lots of good relationships with close friends because we love to ideate together, and so don’t let those four labels get you in a box.
In fact, Strengths Finder doesn’t put you in a box at all. George, you’ve known this for a long time, but to have the same top five strengths as another human being in the same order, is a one in 33.4 million chance. One in 33.4 million. If you add six, seven and eight, you’re like one in a billion. You’re just a very unique human being. And Strengths Finder really reinforces that.
And so its not like putting a label on you and I think that’s important for all of us to feel like we have unique value. We can do things that others can’t do and therefore we should do those things and contribute as much as we can to our group that we’re part of It.
Dr. Krister L.: It’s funny, Paul, I was talking to your assistant a week or so ago in the lead up to this interview and we were just talking about stories of the Strengths Finder. I don’t know how we got on that topic, but she mentioned that one of the stories about you is your ideation and that when people find it hard to get meetings with you because you’re really busy guy, if they approach you with a brainstorming, with an idea, you respond like immediately through email. So it’s funny to see.
Paul Allen: That is exactly right. Jamie Lee Bro discovered that after six months of working with me. I’m not very responsive to email. So she studied my strength and she’s like ideation, right? So yes, she emailed me, “Paul, I have an idea.” I called her within two minutes and she kept repeating that and so yes, that is actually true. But I actually felt validated. I’m like, “Jamie, I’m so proud of you for knowing what drives me.”
That’s actually a really good key to getting me to be at my best is, you know, let me be around ideas. There are so many stories. We have thousands and thousands of certified strengths coaches around the world now. We have 15.5 million people that have taken Strengths Finder. We have coaches that focus exclusively on teams. We have a wonderful former high tech executive who did strengths work with over a hundred high performing teams, I think in six different countries for a very large high tech company.
And then she’s retired and become a full time a strengths coach. Well she coached a hockey team in Michigan to a state championship. Well, she coached a hockey team in Michigan to a state championship. A lot of athletic programs, I would say hundreds of that athletic programs across the United States had started using strengths finder with teams in sports, women’s softball and volleyball, soccer, football, basketball, hockey.
It’s very exciting when a team has a chance to have their coach being poached around strengths and then each member of the team, people are looking for that kind of secret sauce that they bring. It’s very empowering for every member of the team. So, I think we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible with teams and groups all around the world and ideally in schools and in workplaces, every human being will have a chance to be a valued part of a high performing team because that then shapes you and shifts your mindset about what’s possible.
Once you’ve been on a high-performing team, you’re going to crave that in the next team that you’re a part of. And so, I think there’s a huge opportunity for team strengths coaching all over the world and what Gallup is trying to do with our new Gallup exchange which is email@example.com is, we’re trying to help coaches around the world find clients who want individual or team coaching and as 8,000 people a day take the strength finder, the Clifton strengths finder instrument.
We’re trying to help those 8,000 people find the right coach, in the right industry, in the right geography, with the right price to come in and help that individual or that team or reach their full potential and become high-performing. So, we’re doing our part to connect the need with the supply of great coaching out there.
George Johnson: It sounds like a connection between Airbnb and Uber.
Paul Allen: Well, you know we study both of those. There’s some great technology marketplaces out there. I became an Uber driver over a year ago so that I could see how they treat their drivers.
Dr. Krister L.: Interesting.
Paul Allen: And how drivers are alerted when there’s a passenger nearby. My wife is an Airbnb super host. I think she has 31 five-star rating because she responds within an hour of anyone trying to book this house down in southern Utah and she’s so responsive and so good.
And so yes, we’ve been studying these great companies, these great marketplaces, because if you think about it, every human being really does need coaching at some point in their life, especially in their transition points when they’re making decisions and in trying to figure out this path versus this path or when they’re stuck. They need a coach to invest in them and to care about their outcome and teams.
If you think about all the dysfunctional teams out there, wouldn’t it be great if qualified coaches to come in and help more and more teams get along, better together, improve their relationships, improve their respect, and most importantly improve their results and their performance and outcomes. Because everyone wants to be on a winning team. It feels great to win.
If you’ve never experienced that, you really need a coach that can help design a team that will win. So I think that there’s some tremendous possibilities out there and yeah, Gallup exchange over the next few years I think will help literally hundreds of thousands of people find the right coach for themselves or their team.
Dr. Krister L.: Paul I have a question I know you guys do some great research on strengths and a lot of the studies that you guys have published on strengths or you know, Click bait all over LinkedIn and lots of these platforms. But I’m curious, do you have anything in your research around trends, around teams and are your coaches reporting anything around they’re seeing a lot of uptake in their work with teams. I’m curious about that.
Paul Allen: Well, team coaching is actually a big chunk of what our certified coaches report that they do. Team sessions are usually a few thousand dollars for a half day or even more than that for a full day. A lot of coaches will do a team retreat. Gallup has published a lot of data about the impact of strengths on individual performance and team performance.
So if you google a strength meta-analysis, if you google Gallup’s 2015 strength meta-analysis, you’ll find a study of more than a hundred studies that had been done in workplaces and organizations. That shows the impact of a strengths-based approach, team productivity, turnover, safety, accidents, attendance, and then profitability as well. So, we’ve been doing studies for a long time.
Coaches often use the Gallup, the famous Gallup Q12 assessment, which is our most famous employee engagement assessment. It’s just 12 questions. It’s been asked by more than 30 million employees in the world for the last couple of decades. And so, what a lot of coaches do is they want to measure the engagement of an organization or a team prior to strengths intervention.
Paul Allen: And then they might do a three to six to 12 months strengths intervention and then they do another Q12 analysis at the end. And I’ve had coaches tell me that they’ve seen a doubling of engagement after the strengths intervention. We’ve had clients that Gallup that are in the 75 to 85% of their employees are fully engaged.
Which is amazing considering that in the United States, only about 33% or 34% of employees are fully engaged, so to have a workplace that’s more than twice as engaged in the world, it’s even sadder to 13% of employees worldwide are fully engaged based on the Q12 assessment and if you think about how limiting that is to human potential and productivity, if only one out of eight or one out of seven people coming to work are actually fully engaged in the us.
Gallup found that that’s about a $550 billion hit on GDP. That disengagement problems, so strikes plus coaching can create more engagement and of course a result in much better outcomes for everybody.
Dr. Krister L.: That’s great stuff.
George Johnson: Paul, I want to pick up on one of the things you talked about last July and you really talked about why this is needed now in the world. Can you share a little bit about your thoughts on why this work is so important now?
Paul Allen: Well, I’ve had a lot of thoughts since last July, George.
George Johnson: I bet you did.
Paul Allen: I’m even more certain that this is needed now more than ever. Even more than last July. So, do you want to remind me of the direction or do you want me to just answer that?
George Johnson: You could just go ahead and share it with whatever comes to your mind.
Paul Allen: Well, I have children, I have eight children age 12 to 28. I have two grandsons, age nine, 10 months, and then age three. And I’m kind of worried about the screen-based world that kids and grandkids are growing up in. I’m very worried about the educational environments that the kids are growing up in. You know that each child is born with incredible potential and some amazing talents that start manifesting themselves at a very early age.
Paul Allen: My three-year-old grandson knows more about heavy machinery and construction equipment than I do. He’s watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos. He knows what all the big pieces of equipment are called and what they do and he loves playing trucks in the dirt, he can go for hours. He’s just obsessed. He likes big planes and helicopters too.
But this kid, his father is an engineer. And this kid has incredible interest in mechanics and in the physical world and I never did. So what is the education system going to do for him when he’s five years old or six that will have him sit in a chair indoors, away from the dirt and away from the equipment, the machinery and the toys and, you know, try to put stuff in his head and you know, 60 minutes of this subject and 60 minutes of this subject in more and more teachers are teaching to the test because we have requirements that we’re going to pass standardized tests.
So, Roy Spence, who’s an amazing, brilliant man from Texas, who’s a Gallup senior scientist and in the advertising hall of fame, he talks about how important it is for everyone to find their purpose. And the purpose of life includes finding your strengths and playing to your strengths. While our education systems aren’t designed that way. They’re kind of designed the opposite way. And furthermore, workplaces are kind of a cold, cruel, harsh place for a lot of people.
The annual performance review is dreaded by both the manager and the employee and what you’re normally told in the workplaces, what you’re not doing well here are eight things, George, that you need to do better in the next quarter. Focus on those and then come back to me when you’re doing. We’ll review your performance again soon. Well, that induces fear. It certainly doesn’t inspire you to be proud of yourself and to work even harder. It’s actually … so I think we face a lot of headwinds in terms of each individual’s journey through life.
I read a parable that Don Clifton used for many, many years, terrible of rabbits. It’s called Let the Rabbits run. And it’s a beautiful illustration that our children growing up often get humiliated in the school situations that they find themselves in because nobody’s good at everything. So with that in mind, wouldn’t it be incredible if schools and workplaces could be designed around helping people do what they do best every single day?
And what we’re trying to do is actually change the culture of every education institution in the world and change the culture of every workplace in the world so that humans aren’t the afterthought or the cog in the wheel or the dispensable, we’re just going to treat humans as our greatest asset is now. CEOs everywhere have been trying to say, “Our people are our greatest asset.” And in most cases I think it’s a bald-faced lie.
They, they are saying that because it’s popular to say, but they actually will lay off 5,000 people at stroke of 10. And what we’re saying is, look, human beings have more potential than they’re being allowed to experience because management practices and philosophies are actually upside down. And Facebook, for example, is one of the great examples of a strengths-based workplace. If you look at Sheryl Sandberg, who read the book Now discover your strengths, reported that it was one of the most impactful books she’s ever read.
She said at we try to be a strengths-based workplace where management spends their time figuring out how to use the strengths of our employees, how to unlock them rather than how to fit them into a certain job that we’ve predefined. So that’s a paraphrase, but you can find that in the New York times interview when she was on her lean in book tour.
So, I do believe there are many leaders emerging in the world who really do value humans as the greatest assets in the rise of the robots in an automated artificial intelligence, drones, self-driving cars where many, many jobs are going to be eliminated. It’s more important than ever for leaders to bring in a culture which includes coaching that is going to help maximize the potential productivity and human development of every person, who’s lives they touch.
So, I think the time is now. I think there’s a hunger for it. I think our coaches are finding themselves busier than ever trying to meet this need and make this change in school and workplace cultures. But it’s a very exciting time and I think Don Clifton deserves so much credit for envisioning many, many years ago what a great world this would be if everybody could play to their strengths.
Dr. Krister L.: Well said, Paul, and I know we’re starting to come towards the end of this episode and I think it’s been really inspiring. Listening to the vision of strengths and what you guys are up to a Gallup and it’s really exciting and we love the connection here to coaching that, it’s through coaching, individual coaching, team coaching that you can really take strengths and light up individuals, teams, whole organizations.
Dr. Krister L.: And so if the listeners out there want to go further, you guys have some really great resources. Where would you direct folks?
Paul Allen: Well, the first thing is to take the Strengths Finder assessment. You can go to amazon.com and buy Strengths Finder 2.0, you could buy strengths based leadership and other best selling books, or now discover your strengths or you can go to our website, Gallupstrengthcenter.com, and you could just buy access codes without having to buy a book.
You can get the free ebook if you buy the code that way. So to learn about yourself and learn about your strengths, I suggest you do that, but I also suggest you go to gallupexchange.com and find a coach who can help you go through your own strengths finder journey. That’s the first thing. So kind of start your own strengths journey.
I started mine five years ago. My wife became a Gallup coach last month. She’s probably done 30 hours of coaching in the past two weeks. It’s fascinating to watch her coach her sisters, my family, my children, my parents and now neighbors and friends are, are asking her for coaching help. So she’s going to do a lot with married couples on retreats. And so that’s kind of a new direction.
But then I would say probably the next most important thing for coaches out there, many of whom have many years of coaching experience, sometimes decades. You have a lot of credentials. If you want to add Clifton strengths to your tool kit, courses.gallup.com is where we offer listing of all the trainings that we do for coaches in dozens of cities around the world.
So courses.gallup.com. If you want to attend a briefing and learn about becoming a strengths coach. We’re doing a 170 briefings this year in dozens of cities around the world and you can go to events.gallup.com and find a breakfast briefing in a large city near you sometime this year and generally we’ll have 50 or a 100 people come to our briefings and we’ll have coaches there who have already done this journey.
Who you can ask any question you want, they’ll tell you what the experience was like being trained, how many days it takes and what’s required to become a certified coach, and then they can actually start talking to you about their business as well and the impact of having Clifton strengths in their arsenal as they go out and try to win clients.
So all of those things, courses.gallup.com, events.gallu.com, Gallup strengths center to get started in your own strength journey. And those are all part of what we offer to coaching and partners.
Dr. Krister L.: Yes. I mean I think in terms of calls to action, I can’t think of any other guest I’ve had on the show that’s provided more in that area, but I have just say, I’ve been using the Strengths Finder a bit, your resource center online for coaches is really great. You’ve got this team strengths grid. I’ve downloaded that and use it with teams and it’s been really revealing.
You know, putting in all the individual data into this team reports. So there’s really a lot of great resources. You have great support I think for coaches in terms of handouts and downloads and videos and all that, so really rich stuff. And if people want to learn more about you, Paul is LinkedIn or where would you send them to learn more about you and your background?
Paul Allen: LinkedIn is fine. I also have Paulallen.net. I used to blog at Paulallen.net multiple times a week. I did that for like 10 years. I’ve gotten so busy. I blog like twice a year. If I got a lot of visitors I would actually start being inspired to blog more. But you can actually contact me. There’s a contact me form through that.
You can also contact me through LinkedIn. So I’m actually happy to engage with anybody who’s interested in books and strengths or in coaching. Once you become a certified coach, we’ve really kicked up our support. We have a worldwide coaching community with thousands certified coaches who are supporting each other now. Every coach has their own unique approach.
The different types of activities and experiences that they share with individuals and teams. And so we have this amazing support community in addition to Gallup support. And I think that’s one of the neatest things for coaches is that once you join this movement, you’re connected to people like you, who are really trying to help teams around the world and you can ask any question and get multiple suggestions very quickly.
Dr. Krister L.: That’s awesome. It’s a really great offering out there for coaches to check out really some rich stuff here. And so Paul it’s been really great having you on the podcast, we really applaud the vision you guys have a Gallup and what you’re doing to leverage strengths and make the world a better place. And as we start to wind down this podcast I’ll pass it over to George to make a final comment.
And then we’ll leave it to you, Paul, for a final word, anything you want to sort of share in closing to the listeners and then we can say goodbye. But I really enjoyed this interview, we’re going to put all the links and references and resources you mentioned into the show notes page. That’ll all be out there for the listeners. And again, I’m a budding fan of Strengths Finder.
I’m starting to get some great value out of it in my one on one coaching and my team coaching engagement. So I think it’s a body of knowledge that all coaches and team coaches should be checking out. So George, closing comment from you and then we’ll pass it over to Paul.
George Johnson: Well, first of all, the team coaching zone and as we grow it and do the wonderful things we’ve gotten our vision is going to be a strength-based organization. It’s definitely something we believe. So we want everyone out there to know that we’re not just talking this. And I think the second thing is that for all of you coaches out there, try using strengths and the strength based approach with the team.
I have never been disappointed. It has always been one of the best parts to the coaching that I’ve done either with individuals or with teams and there’s many places you can take it. But as Paul said, just dip a toe and start and you’ll be amazed.
Dr. Krister L.: Good stuff. Thanks George, Paul. So let’s give you the final word here. Any sort of closing thought here for the listeners out there, and again, thank you so much for joining us today on the show.
Paul Allen: You know, it’s a pleasure to be on this show Krister. Thank you for your amazing work in producing so many wonderful interviews. And George, thank you for your pioneering in coaching and team coaching. And I couldn’t agree more with George that this is … I’ve never been disappointed. I used to mentor a lot of young entrepreneurs and like a lot of well intentioned mentors, I would always just tell them what worked for me.
Paul Allen: There’s a 140,000 books on leadership written by successful leaders who probably all say the same thing in their books. Well, if you just do these five things or these 10 things, you’ll be successful like I was. And as a mentor for dozens of entrepreneurs over the last 15 years. I kind of just said, “We’ll do this and this and this and this.” Well, turns out all my advice was related to my strengths and what had worked for me.
And I realized after a few years of Strengths Finder that I can’t give advice to people that are not like me to just do the things that I did. It won’t work. If we’re two different computer systems, if my brain is wired this way and their brain is wired this way, why would I give them advice about how my computer works or my brain works when in reality they’re waking up every morning with a different set of thought patterns, feeling patterns, behavior patterns.
So now what I always do is I first seek to understand them and their greatest strengths. And I make sure that any advice that I recommend to them or suggestions or resources I give them actually will be something that will come natural to them. And, so I really think that, many well intentioned leaders and managers and thought leaders out there are giving advice without realizing that the people receiving that advice are not going to be able to do it.
It’s just not them. So I just think it’d be a wonderful world when we all acknowledge our differences and we celebrate that and we actually make sure that what we suggest and encourage our managers and our team members to do plays to their natural strength, just like great coaches in NBA or NFL or any sport, they actually study their players and they know their strengths.
They know when to put a person in, and what role. And imagine if every workplace were doing that same thing. If every manager was so deeply versed in the language and visualization of what strength look like, and then they put the person in the role that they will excel at, and they do that over and over again. They create little teams and project groups where all the strengths, all the talents are there for success.
Don Clifton used to teach that we destroy a lot of people through expectations of them that don’t align with their natural talents. And in fact, in a recent book, vital friends, Gallup’s research show that almost every relationship that is ruined over time, is ruined because someone expects the person, their partner or their friend to be something that they’re not.
And so anyway, that concept Gallup is going to continue to do research, continue to publish our scientists last summer unveiled some really powerful findings. It says that the best predictor of a high performing team is not to have strength in all four domains. It’s a well-balanced or well-rounded team. Instead, the top predictor of a high performing team is awareness of each other’s strengths.
So I think coaches can play a key role there. I think all teams can perform better if everyone is aware of everybody else’s strengths. So that’s my final thought is that the coaches out there, have that beautiful opportunity to help individuals and teams perform better and reach their full potential and what a better … I can’t think of a better job than that.
Dr. Krister L.: Yes. Final point to end on Paul. And again, thank you for taking your time out today. Really excited to get this episode out to the listeners and we hope to stay in touch with you and wish you a great year and some great progress in getting to a billion folks out there. And a million coaches trained up on Strengths Finder.
Paul Allen: I need to live healthily and so I can live for a very long time until we reach that billion. Thank you Krister and thank you George.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Team Coaching Zone podcast. Check out http://www.teamcoachingzone.com for show notes for more awesome information and resources. See you next time and stay in the zone.