Trainer, Coach, Speaker and Author Gloria Miele
1. As a professional coach, how do you help clients better understand and leverage their strengths?
First, I let people know my perspective and my bias. I help people focus on their strengths, which I define as the intersection between what you do best and what you love to do most. That’s the sweet spot where you can really thrive and excel.
I’m always taken aback when people say things like, “Do you have a test for weaknesses,” or a recent favorite, “I can’t wait to sit down with you and have you shred me apart.” Huh? How’s that going to help?
Dwelling on what’s not working is something people tend to do anyway, part of those negative messages that mess with our confidence. I want to lend a fresh perspective of strengths to help energize, excite and engage my clients. I love seeing the light go on when someone really starts thinking about what they love and how they can do more of it.
As a psychologist, I also value what you can learn about a person from a standard assessment. I typically recommend the Strengthsfinder 2.0 from the Gallup organization and the Values In Action test from for people to get an objective sense of their strengths and values. On my website, I offer a free workbook designed to help you create a goal-setting strategy completely informed by your strengths and successes. It’s a different, more positive way to work on your goals.
2. Your LinkedIn profile references your interest in appreciative inquiry. How can appreciative inquiry fit with strengths in leadership?
AI is an exciting process that focuses on what empowers and energizes an organization. It is a powerful organizational change and development system with a strengths-based approach.
AI has 4 steps: Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny. The Discovery phase entails exploring “the best of what is,” a time when you or your organization was at its best. Understanding how your strengths and values fit into those successes is essential to the process. From there, the following steps are Dream by imagining what could be; Design by determining what should be; and Destiny, creating what shall be.
By examining the successes and strengths of an organization, a leader can move forward new initiatives that have already proven to work. A strengths-based leader keeps this type of inquiry going, checking in or debriefing in a more positive direction. Another benefit of AI is that it encourages input from all stakeholders. Whether you work in a cubicle or the C suite, all voices are valued. In this way, more viewpoints are represented and can make a difference.
You can learn more about AI here.
3. As an educator and trainer, how do you teach people about strengths in leadership? How do you make this meaningful to them?
One thing I learned from being a clinician is to start where the person is and that self-awareness is key to behavior change. So, letting people explore and understand their own strengths is the place to start. Ask yourself, “What am I best at?” “What do I love to do?”
Then you look outside yourself to see the perspectives of others. What are the strengths of the others on your team and the goals to be met? Maximizing each person’s strengths can create a skilled, energetic and engaged team. For a few years I taught a business planning class for entrepreneurs through an excellent non-profit, Women’s Economic Ventures in Southern California. These primarily (but not exclusively) women sign up for a 14-week class to turn their skill, talent, and strengths into a business: massage therapists, business consultants, retail, specialty food makers, and more. They want to make a living doing what they love to do and being their own boss.
But business success requires managing a lot more than your passion: marketing, financials, technology, systems that may not be your areas of strength. In fact, you may know nothing about balance sheets or marketing strategy. A great leader knows their own strengths but also what’s needed in the big picture. It’s so important to get the help you need when you’re a business owner by tapping into the strengths of others, looking beyond your own skills to see what type of support you need to round out your best qualities and create a more balanced, productive team.
4. When you think of one of the most significant moments in your career (a highlight or low point), what role did strengths play in it?
I pursued coach training because I was looking for something new, a different way to help people. I was a research scientist working virtually on a number of national research projects, my days spent on conference calls and in front of my computer working on research papers. While I’m a good researcher and understand well issues related to research design and methodology, I became a psychologist because I wanted to help people. Yes research helps, but it’s less direct than therapy or coaching. I’m a people person and a great trainer, at my best when helping others learn and integrate new material, whether that’s a research protocol or a workshop on becoming a stronger leader.
During a walk on the beach with my coach training classmates, I realized I needed to do more of what I loved and was best at. I realized I had spent the first 20 years of my career almost entirely focused on what was wrong with people – their symptoms, disorders and pathologies – and wanted to spend more time focusing on what was going well with people – their strengths, talents and aspirations. I started focusing more on strengths and made a concerted effort to secure more projects that entailed training and coaching and fewer that entailed writing research papers. It was a huge turning point.
5. What are your Top 5 strengths and how do you put them into play as a leader?
My strengths are Empathy – Strategic – Developer – Communication – Woo.
As you can see, my strengths tend to be interpersonal, and are mostly in the leadership domains of relationship building and influence. As a leader, I quickly build strong relationships with people through perspective-taking and active listening (Empathy) in the service of helping them achieve more, learn more and develop their potential (Developer). I’m also good at delivering a message (Communication) and can be persuasive with a group (Woo). I also tend to see connections between ideas, people, and events and how to navigate the best route for future possibilities (Strategic). I’ve come to appreciate and understand these qualities in a variety of contexts and have applied them to be a stronger leader.
On the VIA, my top character strength is humor and playfulness, which I see as the glue that holds everything together. I naturally tend to value and create a fun, joyful environment that makes people comfortable and relaxed. It’s a great combo with my other strengths, especially Communication and Woo.
6. If you had to recommend one or two essential books for strengths-based leaders, what would they be and why?
There are so many great books out there that speak to leaders’ strengths, but I’d first recommend Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. It’s a great place to start, since it also includes a code to take the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment. You also receive an in depth report on how to put your strengths into practice as a leader, how to focus on others’ strengths and how to create teams that represent the four domains of leadership strengths: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building and Strategic Thinking.
And I’d also recommend readings in positive psychology, a field brought to life by Martin Seligman, Founder and Director of Positive Psychology Center at University of Pennsylvania. The VIA is available there, as well as dozens of other interesting assessments on happiness, quality of life, character strengths and more. Positive Leadership by Kim Cameron is an excellent book that looks at the science and practice of creating positive organizations through strengths and other research-based concepts related to positivity.
Finally, I’m working on a book called Stronger Leader, an approach that weaves a strengths-based perspective through other essential leadership practices, skills and qualities, like effective change management, emotional intelligence, communication, self-care and more. It will be a how-to guide to develop conscious, strengths-based leaders who want to create a positive organizational culture, stronger teams and workplaces. It’s a synthesis of the work I’ve been doing with my own clients that’s proven again and again to help them achieve their leadership goals and build stronger organizations. I hope it becomes another essential text to the field.
Thanks Gloria for sharing your wisdom!
More about Gloria Miele, Ph.D.
Gloria M. Miele, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, trainer and executive coach who uses a strengths-based approach to help individuals, groups and organizations achieve their goals and realize their greatest success. She also offers training and coaching programs to develop tech-savvy leaders in health care. Visit www.OptimalDevelopmentCoaching.com to receive a free strengths-based goal setting workbook and information about her upcoming book, Stronger Leader. Connect on Facebook and Twitter for even more motivating and inspiring resources to become a stronger, more confident leader.