For the last couple of years now, the personal coaching sessions offered at the annual American Academy of Neurology meeting have filled up within hours of opening. This program has grown so much, they have added three times the number of coaches to this year’s slate.
We spoke with one of the coaches, Keri Bischoff, to find out why these sessions are so popular, and what they can do for neurologists. By focusing on individual strengths instead of weaknesses, she sees people physically change in these sessions – they sit up taller, they smile.
“We’ve had people come into our coaching sessions and they’re in tears because they’ve never had the opportunity to sit and understand why they feel the way they do,” says Bischoff. “It’s like a breath of fresh air for them.”
These kinds of reactions highlight the level of professional ambivalence and burnout now rife in the field of medicine, and among neurologists in particular. It was in reaction to this problem that the AAN first created this kind of leadership and wellness element for its annual meeting in 2016.
Bischoff, a certified strengths coach who has worked with AAN since then, bases her approach on Gallup’s CliftonStrengths. This testing and coaching platform has long been used in the business world to improve leadership and teamwork.
Anyone can take the Strengths test online and get a report on their top five strengths. The strengths listed, says Bischoff, should really be viewed as talents.
“The test helps us discover our natural talents: where we can be our best. And then we invest in them so they become strengths,” she adds. “It’s just like working out where we build up our muscles.”
The language used here is positive and contrary to the way many high achievers, like physicians, have been taught to think.
“In our education system, we need to be excellent in every subject, in every area,” says Bischoff. “But we can’t be great at everything. Understanding what you’re really good at gives you permission to let go of the things that you’re not so good at. This way we can draw on others who do have those strengths and form a better team; a set of partnerships where our performance is better, our productivity is better, and we’re happier people.”
These benefits extend to patients. Looking at them through “the strengths lens” can help physicians improve communication and compliance. Bischoff gives an example of a patient who you might identify as being deliberative, one of the 34 possible CliftonStrengths.
“They tend to be risk averse. They won’t move unless they have enough time and information to think,” she says. “If you ask them, ‘Do you need more information? Do you want to think about this and come back next week to make a decision?,’ they will just light up.”
Bischoff will be coaching again at this year’s AAN meeting, coming up at the end of April. She will also be leading two sessions, Women in Leadership and Strengths Foundations Workshop. If you can’t make the meeting — even if you don’t take the online CliftonStrengths test — you may still benefit from the paradigm shift this approach offers.
Focusing on what you do well – instead of what you don’t – is bound to do you some good.