** If self-help books and self-awareness tools make you cringe this post might not be right for you. That said, if you read on, you might decide you want to learn why you feel that way and how to use it to your advantage.
Being deliberate about my thoughts and actions is something I aspire to do on a daily basis. Sometimes, however, my best intentions fall flat, or even more often, I am unsure which path would better serve my ultimate goal. Since meeting Strengths Coach Julie Anderson, I have found myself making better, intentional decisions, that put me much closer to where I want to be. What is a Strengths coach? Julie uses the results of Gallup’s Clifton’s Strengths Assessment quiz that her clients take, to help understand what their core strengths are, where their weaknesses lie, and how to harness that knowledge and understanding of what makes you tick, to make successful decisions both in your private and business life. The test results for me were a little surprising but uncannily spot on. My five top themes are: Achiever (I work hard and possess a great deal of stamina—what entrepreneur doesn’t?), Learner (I love the process of learning more than the outcome—hence my curiosity), Input (I like to collect and archive all kinds of information—um? my job? and my strange desire to collect random detritus like pine cones), Intellection (introspection and intellectual activity—I need to be alone with a book often), and Activator (I like to turn thoughts into action). Julie read through my themes and we discussed them in an eye-opening hour consultation. Since then, I found myself using the knowledge to my benefit. My best/worst trait might be Activator, once I say I am going to do something, I am usually one-foot out the door getting it done. The downside of that? My lack of patience, which leads me to jump into things that could use more time to get right. I’m learning to say “no, not yet” and sometimes just plain “no”, to ultimately achieve what I really want.
As much as you think you know yourself, having someone spell it out for you and give you actionable ways to use your strengths is empowering. And Julie could not to be a more encouraging, engaged and thoughtful person to help you along. I have a couple of BIG ideas I am working on and am going to talk them through with Julie to create a strong strategic path forward. Want to strengthen your marriage, learn how to deal with your frustrating 15-year-old better, or seriously re-evaluate what’s next for you? Read on to learn how Julie can help.
You’re a Strengths Coach. How is it different than a life coach? What was your path to taking on this job? I’ve known about this assessment for about 23 years when Gallup first created it. I had a friend who worked at the Gallup Corporation in Omaha. I took the assessment, and I remember that day like it was yesterday. I cried when I got my results. I have always been someone who’s been into quizzes in magazines and that kind of self help thing, but this was different. I was shocked. I felt for the first time like I was known. I have the strength, as you do, of intellection and I really need to make sense of my day, my life, my world. There it was. It was describing me in really positive terms. It just changed everything.
As soon as I realized that Gallup was certifying external coaches, about four years ago, I was in the second class. I was so thrilled. I have a psychology background; I’ve worked in public schools while my kids were in school. I loved it so much I actually got certified twice, because I was so thirsty for more.
I absolutely love sharing this with people. It’s wonderful. As far as how it differs and maybe is similar to the idea of a life coach, there are similarities in that it is not therapy. But what it is, is a way to move forward positively and proactively. I use the StrengthsFinder assessment so we have a foundation to go forward in a way that will help and uniquely resonate with every single person I work with. It’s more focused on what’s positive, and this tool helps people learn and get something actionable out of the time we spend together. The best way to advocate for yourself is to understand how you show up. Have a language for it. That’s what I’m passionate about, helping people understand how they come at the world. I would say that really is the big difference.
Why did you choose the Gallup Strengths as opposed to something else? I think what makes it so different is that fact that it’s applicable personally and professionally. There are over 17 million people now that have taken this assessment worldwide. Heads of state use this, giant corporations use this. I’m involved with the American Academy of Neurology and all the neurologists are taking this that are members of this group. It’s life changing for most of them. There are your constellation of strengths, your top five strengths in that order are so rare, you are one in 33 million. For instance, I have intellection, you have intellection. But it’s going show up in me a little bit different than you based on the other 33 themes that you have and based on your life experience.
Taking your assessment and reading through your results is so crazy powerful. But the thing that I really want to get across to people is it’s that time spent with a coach unpacking and helping things get mirrored back to you that really can change how the results impact and influence your life going forward. That’s what I love about this. It’s affirming to everybody. Mostly I work with women, but every once in a while I’m lucky enough to work with some 19 or 20-year-old who’s just trying to figure it out. Having this language for what’s right with them is life altering.
When somebody works with you what does it typically entail? I work with five or six clients at a time because when I work with clients, I go deep. The first step would be taking the assessment and getting the results. There are 34 themes. When you take the assessment, you’re offered your top five for the $20 fee that Gallup charges, and if you’re interested at some point, you can pay an extra $75 and Gallup reveals all 34. You don’t need to do that, but when we work together we start with five.
After you learn your strengths, we schedule a 60 to 90 minute phone call in which I explain what this philosophy is, help you understand the perspective, how it really is a game changer to focus on what’s right with you. Yes, we all have to manage around weaknesses, that’s part of it. But, by advocating for yourself and being intentional about what’s right, what works, it’s amazing how those things that we used to call weaknesses are really just things to be navigated around, and they don’t drain us as much. So we spend that 90 minutes just unpacking your strengths. I ask a lot of questions, I want to get to know you, I want to get to know how your themes show up in you.
When we had our session I thought you asked them very unusual questions I did not expect. I’ve learned over the years different ways to get at what really lights people up. I’m really curious. I want to know more. Your strengths have probably always been with you. When you were a kid, as we talked about, you had certain patterns, certain ways of being that are probably sustaining even today. Having people connect with that really lights up parts of your brain to help you understand looking back, “Whoa, that explains a lot.”
For example with me when I was young I was in my room all the time. I was with a book, I didn’t want to be with a lot of kids and I always felt something was wrong with me. Guess what? There’s nothing wrong. I’m not antisocial, I just love to be alone. I love to read. Had someone been able to tell me, “You know, there’s nothing wrong with that, go for it,” because that’s how I fill up. My husband fills up by being around a lot of people. It’s like a plant that needs water. My water is time alone. But it’s different for all of us. There isn’t a right or a wrong way.
Not only does this help you understand yourself, but it helps you be a little less judgy about other people. We all just make assumptions. Anyway, getting back to your question about how people work with me. We schedule this 90-minute call and then I write an insight email, which isn’t necessarily a play-by-play of what we talked about, but a recap of resources or suggestions, thoughts, insights, perspectives, things that might be helpful for you to think about going forward.
I work with some people weekly, some monthly, some people just give me a call and we pick up right where we left off. We go deeper after that first phone call if people should choose to work with me longer.
Who do you think should do this and why? Who benefits the most? I believe everyone can benefit from this, but the people I work most effectively with are people, typically women, that are wanting to know their why. They’re a little … lost is too heavy a word, but they want a greater sense of themselves—a more concrete, actionable language for who they are, how they’ve been and how to move forward. That’s who I would say is my best client, someone that’s curious about more … sometimes introspective, thoughtful.
When you continue with clients do you talk about what’s going on in their career and life and how to deal with it? Absolutely. It completely can be goal oriented. “I’ve got this really dramatic thing coming at work, I don’t know how I’m going to do it, please help.” We’ll come up with some kind of strategies based on how they’re wired to accomplish these goals, or it can be more self exploration like, “Hey, I’ve got this big birthday coming up, and I want things to be different going forward. I need some insights on why I never seem to get any traction.” Either one of those. It can be focused toward a professional goal, toward relational goals, toward both.
It’s amazing how having this insight around how you are can impact everything around you. You become more observational of not only yourself but others. There is a Marianne Williamson quote I keep in my office that speaks to this. It says, “You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” That’s so true. You’ve gotta learn to think instead of maybe, “God, I’m not organized, I just can’t accomplish that,” or, “I make decisions too fast. What’s wrong.” Having words for how you are allows you to think about yourself differently, thus master things differently. Maybe you need to pull someone in. Maybe you need to really slow it down. Maybe you are simply not a morning person. Maybe you like to be with a group of people and collaborate. Maybe you are a solo person, and you keep trying to fit yourself into these teams and it’s not working. Why? We can talk about that. There’s so many different things going on with different people, and again, there is no wrong way. There just isn’t.
What have been some unexpected consequences or benefits—something unusual that you found that’s happened doing this? What happens time and time again, with some people faster than others, is I’m talking to them and they go sort of silent on the phone. I imagine these little light bulbs going off in their heads, “Oh my God, that’s why. That’s why.”
Highly, highly relational people are often lost in this world. They don’t really understand their value. But where would we be without them? What I see more than anything is people feeling validated. I think on some level most of us, but not all, walk around feeling like we don’t quite measure up, like “If only I could ‘fill in the blank,’, I could just be that successful person.”
On the other hand there are people that are highly not relational and just boom, boom, boom, really loud, aggressive non relational people that I sometimes jokingly refer to cats without whiskers. They just don’t feel what’s going on around them. This is an extraordinary tool for them. I work with one woman who is like that. She is powerful, at the top of her game professionally, and so lonely. By every other external measure, this gal has got it going on. Yet, she doesn’t have close friends. She doesn’t know how to do it. We work with just really simple little ideas about questions. For instance, I asked her to walk around with a piece of paper metaphorically in her pocket that says, “And how do you feel about that?” It sounds so small, but it’s changed things for her because she’s never even thought to ask it.
Now, we put all her strengths on this grid, and we talk about what this looks like and realize that she has so few relationship building themes. And that’s fine. You don’t need them, but you need to be aware of them if one of your goals is to have better relationships with people. Now that she’s aware, she can see it in a way that resonates with her on this grid on paper. Okay, now how can we set about accomplishing this goal of getting closer to people? We give her some things to say, things to do, and it’s amazing how much more receptive people are when they feel understood, heard, talked to.
What’s the biggest challenge you face doing this? Wanting to fix everything, to just make it better. Telling people, “Oh, okay I got it. If you do this, 1-2-3-4, call me next Tuesday, it’ll be all better.” Of course, we’re all on our own path. We all have to discover these things and come to these insights on our own. Despite my energy and enthusiasm and cheerleading, it’s your own path. I will be there. I support, encourage and am empathic, but it’s everybody’s own journey. My big struggle is to back off and just let it unfold and be there and compassionately guide as needed.
Speaking to that, what do you wish your clients would do more of? Where do people take this information and it falls down? That’s a really good question. So many of these assessments, they’re wonderful. You can learn something from all of them. But the problem with so many of them, and StrengthsFinder included, is that you read it, it’s cool, and then we get busy. Life takes over. But this needs time. You need to start observing. You need to start paying attention. You need to maybe have someone else in your world take this assessment so you can talk about it.
I always encourage people to put a post-it note on their fridge or their monitor or their desk somewhere with their strengths listed. I send people action items if they like–different suggestions for how to move this forward. I encourage people to schedule a couple coaching calls so we can really go back to, again and again, the patterns that are emerging and calling them out for what they are.
I think the biggest fall down is that people don’t spend a little bit of time with it, a, and b, invest in some coaching. Coaching make the words come alive on the page for people. I wrote a post one time that says, “You can’t read the label from inside the bottle,” and we’re all inside our own bottles really. What a coach or mentor does and what I try to do is look at you and look at the label and mirror back what I’m seeing. And it’s all so positive.
There are no strengths that are better than others. The head of Ford Motor could have five relationship building themes. The head of IBM might have a different constellation of themes. Or you could be an architect, hairdresser, janitor or a painter. Any set of strengths will approach a passion, an advocation, a job in any different way, so it’s not right to say that because you have these strengths, you’d be a knockout accountant or a phenomenal writer.
Three words that describe you: I am empathic, I am a confidante, and I’m a thinker. When I work with someone, I really think deeply about their development and their growth, and I try to establish trust so that we can really go a little bit deeper, and I can see and reflect even more.
Three words that describe your work: Compassionate listening, encouragement and support. I just love getting involved with clients where I can really make a difference for people. Sometimes it’s just a one-and-done coaching session, and that’s great. The sessions that go longer, sometimes three months, six months or more, they really do develop into these supportive mentoring relationships.
You get to know people on a very personal level. Even if you were friends with somebody, you would probably need to know them a long time to know what makes them tick and who they are. Exactly. And I can get to it pretty quick. That’s the thing about this. This is not a language for something you’ve never known about yourself. It’s a language to help describe something that you probably already have known for your whole life. It maybe helps you make sense of patterns or ways of seeing things that maybe you’d never considered before. This is really a quick way to get to know somebody. Husbands and wives, partners do this a lot together. It’s lot of fun. It was a game changer in my marriage.
Really? Oh my gosh, yes. As I’d mentioned earlier, my husband has this theme called Woo, which is he needs people, he’s out, he’s big, he’s confident, he’s fast, and an activator like you. He moves and makes decisions, so many decisions so fast, and I have this theme of intellection and relater. We could not be more different. When we first get married it was like, “Oh isn’t this great. He’s everything I’m not. He completes me,” yada, whatever. Then a few years in, I was like, “Oh my God, this is draining. I don’t get this.”
We have been married for 30 years, and I credit it to this assessment, because now I understand when he makes these fast decisions, like “Hey, by the way, grab your bag, we’re gonna leave in an hour,” he’s not really trying to mess with me personally. He just needs to act. When I am more, “Whoa, uh-uh, I need a day. I’ve got to plan who’s gonna water the plants, take care of the dog and lock up. I need to think about this.” He doesn’t always get a pass to make fast decisions that don’t count in how I feel, and I don’t always get a pass to sit on things. Sometimes we have to compromise, but at least I don’t take it personally when he starts rattling off, “Hey, by the way I want to paint the house red, and I already scheduled the painter at 2,” that kind of thing. Seriously, that’s not that far from the truth sometimes.
We really have learned that okay, he may be acting quickly, but it’s not just to be a jerk. That’s how he is wired. I come to him sometimes and say “Whoa, I get that you really wanna move on that, but here’s why I really need to think on it, and let’s compromise. Maybe let’s have the painter come tomorrow while we talk about this.” We really have a pretty healthy respect for how each other comes at things. That’s not to say we don’t lock horns sometimes. We do, of course. But it rarely gets really personal. so I think it is a huge marriage tool, and most people that I work with end up having a spouse or somebody very close to them take it.
What motivates you? This. Just talking to people about this, seeing people feel good about themselves. It’s really one of my greatest goals and mission in life to help people really feel good and understand that what they have to offer is what the world needs. Few things light me up more than spending time with someone and just watching them by the end of the conversation maybe sit up a little taller, feel a little bit better about themselves.
It’s all so fascinating. You think you know yourself, and you do know yourself, but sometimes it’s hard to be truthful with yourself. It is. But also how can you really know? We’re all inside here. We all see the world through our own lens, and the idea really that there is another lens is shocking sometimes. Imagine this in families. You’ve got two girls. I’ll bet they’re really different kids. Neither one is wrong. They’re doing their best. They’re seeing the world their way. I’ve got three boys, two are twins, and they could not be more different. One is real happy go lucky, in the moment, dancing, laughing, funny and the other is arms crossed, head down, and he’s deliberative and thoughtful. You cannot push that kid at all. It was so hard. I wish I would have known this when they were little. I get it now. That kid needs time. I can’t rush him like his brother. What if I had had known to say to this kid, “Do you need some time? Do you want to just go in your room for a little bit? You can come out when you’re ready.” That’s in a perfect world. Sometimes you simply have to go, of course. But maybe he needs an hour to get ready for school, so I get him up early alone and we spend a little bit of time, then we take off, versus his brother who needs two minutes, grabs a Power Bar on the way out the door and he’s fine.
As adults, we’re all different. Some people need more time. Some people less. Some people wanna go, go, go. Some people, “Whoa, don’t bother me. I need time to think.” It is fascinating. I think it can change the world.
If you want to contact Julie you can reach her through her site, or call directly 651.308.8745. (She’s MidWestern, which means direct + friendly—can you tell?)