The Power of StandOut Strengths Coaching

One of the greatest privileges that came my way at Cisco was to learn and practice StandOut Strengths Coaching. Cisco partnered with TMBC (now acquired by ADP) to re-imagine how leaders and teams can grow, exponentially using this framework.

I met nearly 150 Cisco business leaders, HR partners, and engineers to help debrief StandOut Assessments and engage in 1:1 Strengths Coaching. I met a few hundred groups to facilitate training to help develop expertise. It enabled us to create a larger pool of coaches. Today, I’ll share 3, key discoveries I made through the power of StandOut Strengths Coaching.

What is StandOut 2.0? 

In this YouTube video, Marcus Buckingham talks about StandOut 2.0 as the ‘front door for an entire performance system’ for team members and team leaders. This is an approach that allows leaders to get the best out of themselves and their teams. In yet another video, Marcus refers to StandOut Roles as the ‘co-ordinates’ of your top, 2 strengths. The StandOut Assessment is a situational, judgment test that measures what you would do, in a given situation.

Key discovery 1: 

StandOut didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t know already. I have spent the last 20 years of my career in Talent and Leadership Development and for the most part, I’m aware of how the world sees me. What StandOut did do was create greater awareness through real-time practice. Discovering that my top 2 StandOut roles are Pioneer-Teacher validated many questions for me. For e.g. I always knew I loved brainstorming. I was the idea person in the room. Whether it was creating music, writing articles, or facilitating leadership meetings, I always looked for newer and more innovative ways to do things. I didn’t know why. I just knew that I did. With StandOut, I have greater awareness as to why I’m known for my gifts today.

What are Strengths?

The Standout Strengths Framework redefined the concept of ‘Strengths’. It is no longer limited to something that you are good at. It is actually an activity that strengthens you. Marcus shares his views by looking at strengths as an antecedent to performance. In the same vein, the framework redefines weakness as an activity that weakens you. Writing, for example, is an activity that strengthens me. I enjoy doing it and sometimes, 5 hours can seem like 5 minutes. (Except on days when I’m struggling with a writer’s block!) Maintaining MS-Excel spreadsheets, on the other hand make me dizzy. Not with excitement but with boredom and a sense of being mentally and emotionally drained.

Key discovery 2: 

Twice a year, I review everything going on in my life and explore two questions:

  1. What is serving me well?
  2. What isn’t, anymore?

One of the greatest discoveries for me was to consciously engage in activities that strengthened and empowered me namely: Coaching, consulting, facilitating, and writing. Projects that allowed me the gift of 1:1 sessions with successful leaders so I could help them soar with their strengths. It gave me the opportunity to ask myself at every step: Is this something that strengthens me? Does this give me energy? Can I do more of this and still feel energized?  Or does this actually weaken and drain me? (even though I’m good at doing this)?

Strength is no longer just a term for me. It is the lens that provides clarity on how I manage my energy. And I was grateful to work with leaders who asked me where my energy was and helped me craft my work around that.

Built on the premise of Positive Psychology

The StandOut Strengths Coaching framework is built on the premise of positive psychology. This approach looks at: “what’s working well for you?” vs. “what’s going wrong in your world?” 

13 years ago, Martin Seligman shared his views on Positive Psychology in this TED talk. In the years gone by, the impetus to focus more on getting the best of every individual’s talent has definitely grown. Strengths-based coaching builds deeper engagement from a place of what’s going well and what makes you feel strong. It doesn’t ignore weaknesses. Instead, it suggests that when you engage in something you love, you invest all your energy in growing from a place of strength, not weakness.

Key discovery 3: 

Early in my career, I was a recipient of conventional management philosophy. This recommended that I focussed on 2 strengths and an area of opportunity in my Individual Development Plan. While there was nothing wrong with that, there was always the underlying pressure of having to get better at what I was bad at.

Through the StandOut Strengths Framework, I had a way of looking at mastering gifts that I was already known for. I could direct my energy and attention, mindfully, at what I was already great at doing. I could find ways of building deeper engagement in these activities. And why was this not a surprise? Here are 3, data points:

  1. Research speaks – Strengths-based coaching, as a practice, is in its infancy (early 21st century) compared to other forms of coaching. But even then, here’s the research that drives the data:
  2. Most successful public figures – athletes, artists, business leaders, entrepreneurs etc. have all pursued their passion with diligence. They chose to play to their strengths. Can you imagine Michael Phelps not being a swimmer and a tennis star, instead?
  3. Your chosen career path – whether you’re a business leader, entrepreneur, actor, musician, writer, author etc. you chose your line of work. You may be in HR, Technology, Marketing, Coaching, Consulting or in leadership roles. If the only goal was earning a pay check, pursuing your passion with diligence would find no place today.

Finding what you love and loving what you do

The point of work is to find that which you love – Marcus Buckingham

This is one of my favorite quotes on work. A word that seems so mundane and lacklustre was transformed by this quote because truly, the point of work is to find that which you love. So we’re able to derive more joy, gain more mastery, and find deeper fulfilment in this ‘thing’ we do. Everyday.

What are you doing to play to your strengths? How do you find deep fulfilment in work and life? What is the first step you can take today to accelerate that?

Anitha Aswath | Coach, Consultant, BloggerAnitha Aswath is a Senior Leadership Coach, Team Consultant, and Global Facilitator. She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and is trained by The Marcus Buckingham Company in StandOut and Strengths Coaching for Business Leaders. She is currently pursuing Brain-Based Coaching Certification from the NeuroLeadership Institute. An avid photographer, blogger, aviation enthusiast, Anitha is also a student of Indian Classical Music of the Hindustani style.

In an illustrious career spanning 20 years, she has served organizations like General Electric, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Target, and Cisco in regional and global capacities. As a Leadership Coach, she works with clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of leaders and their teams.


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