The Clifton Strengths Institute at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln held its first face-to-face summer conference with the theme “Stretch Your Strengths Where Strengths Started” at the College of Business in July. More than 125 educators from Nebraska and surrounding states gathered to foster growth in CliftonStrengths-based education and learn from speakers including legendary Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, former Miss Nebraska Morgan Holen, ’20, CEO of Teammates Mentoring DeMoine Adams and Gallup’s chief scientist Jim Harter.
“As a national model for strengths-based education, our hopes for this conference were to be generous with our story and programming, helping others learn from our experiences. We also wanted to bring together educators and others interested in strengths development for students and staff,” said Timothy Hodges, executive director of the Clifton Strengths Institute and assistant professor of practice in management.
With keynote presentations, breakout sessions and small group discussions set throughout the day, the conference encouraged reflection and interaction among participants. Alyson Lenz, assistant director - Strengths Program, noted how the conference created an engaging and interactive environment.
“Attendees enjoyed great insights from our speakers, hearing testimonies on how strengths have impacted their lives as leaders. People also learned best practices for coaching and then got to take that into a practice coaching conversation with a new friend in the room. This helped attendees apply what they were learning right away while also broadening their network and learning from their partners,” she said.
For Mike Finnegan, assistant professor in the Staley School of Leadership at Kansas State University, the event served as an opportunity to network with others in higher education. He also gained information to help build K-State’s CliftonStrengths® program.
“We have admired the peer coaching work offered through the Clifton Strengths Institute ever since its conception. Our hope was to connect with other higher education faculty, staff, administrators and students who integrate strengths within their work to share best practices and learn new ways of helping people to reach their full potential and thrive,” he said.
Hodges shared how strengths-based learning applies to those in many different roles.
“Many of our participants were in student-facing roles where they’re focused on developing the potential of students as they progress through college and into a career. Other attendees were in staff leadership roles and eager to learn about how to onboard, coach and develop their teams. Don Clifton (whose research led to the CliftonStrengths assessment) said we are most open to development during times of transition, and that’s true whether the transition is from high school to college, from college to career or taking on a new role at work,” he said.
The institute’s staff and students led sessions and shared ideas for participants to take back to their institutions. A session about coaching introduced Finnegan to the three levels of listening, which he plans to implement on his own campus.
“We intend to utilize these three levels in our strengths peer coaching training sessions to help our peer coaches differentiate how they listen and to identify what it takes to create a high-value exchange when engaging in the peer coaching process,” he said. “Also, Tom Osborne reminded us that we can change culture one person at a time while DeMoine Adams shared how we either give our best effort or our best excuse. These teachable moments provided me and others with an opportunity to assess what is working on our college campuses and what can be improved through a strengths-based lens aimed at increasing engagement and well-being.”
For Kathy Lund, Pancratz Career Center director at the University of North Dakota, the former Miss Nebraska Morgan Holen, stood out as a keynote session, while the networking components were a highlight of the conference.
“Morgan talked about using her strengths as a secret weapon to answer the ‘tell me about yourself" question in an interview. I’ve been coaching students to use their strengths in interviews since I became a Gallup-certified strengths coach, and I loved that she called this a secret weapon as that is such an empowering way to frame it,” Lund said. “The discussions with other professionals were extremely beneficial. It was inspiring to hear about what others were doing to incorporate CliftonStrengths into their classes and on their campuses.”
At Doane University in Crete, Nebraska, Sara Weixelman, senior human resources generalist, explained how the institution is implementing strengths into their programming for faculty, staff and students, including as the focal point of their first-year liberal arts seminar.
“My focus is staff-facing, and I partner with several student-facing strength coaches across campus to share resources and ideas. We are integrating strengths into our new employee onboarding, leadership training, and team building,” she explained. “I've witnessed the growth of the Clifton Strengths Institute from inception and am inspired by the impact it has had.”
The day closed with Harter’s keynote address about insights on why strengths matter in today's workplaces more now than ever before. Lenz found the keynote to be a great way to close out the conference.
“Jim talked about the changing demands of the workforce and how career well-being is foundational for people who are thriving in life. His presentation put data behind everything we had been talking about throughout the day and was a great way to send everyone off thinking about their personal well-being and reflecting on the day,” Lenz said.
Finnegan shared his appreciation for the Clifton Strengths Institute and College of Business for mobilizing educators and community members around a shared purpose to help people thrive.
“The conference was a reminder that strengths can be a shortcut to meaningful conversations when we commit to being interested as opposed to interesting. We look forward to future opportunities to collaborate with strengths-based educators from across the country,” Finnegan said.
To learn more about the Clifton Strengths Institute, visit: https://business.unl.edu/strengths.