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The Columbia Coaching Learning Association (CCLA) and association with the Columbia Coaching Program (CCP) partners with various assessment providers to host assessment certifications for our members @ a discount. I had the pleasure of hosting the Birkman Method Certification on the campus of Columbia University last Thursday and Friday - March 17-18, 2016! Birkman is one of the top 3 comprehensive personality assessments on the market.

While I personally completed Birkman Certification back in 2011, and since then have conducted nearly 100 client debriefs, it was great to be with an intimate group of Columbia Coaching Program Candidates and 1 Member of our Core Instructor Team to have the opportunity deepen my knowledge of the tool (and related updates) with Sharon Birkman Fink herself (the firm's CEO), along with her Training Director.

What Birkman Measures

The Birkman Method offers a comprehensive measure of personality that offers a wide range of report formats (and supporting tools), all results from 1 self-questionnaire. Specifically, the assessment measures the following elements:

  • 11 (soon to be 9) components of personality that is summarized in what they call a "Life Style Grid" providing a visual view of personality preferences along two continuum of: (1) direct to indirect communication and (2) task (objective) and people (subjective) focus;
  • Interests: a personality perspective focus on what individuals want to do, (i.e., the typical interests pattern reflective of the type of results one's seeks and the kinds of activities that generate the most satisfaction for a person) - in short, this measure can provide individuals with useful vocational and avocational preferences;
  • Usual Behavior - provides a summary of one's typical/external behavioral patterns for both tasks effectiveness and relational patterns;
  • Underlying Needs - this is view of one's internal perceptions and expectations for how tasks and relationships should be governed, while these factors are related to motivation, thus action, they are much more difficult to identify; and
  • Stress Behavior - while interests, usual behavior, and underlying needs all combine to provide a profile one's "best self," conversely, this element profiles ineffective behavioral styles when needs go unmet (or potential derailers).

Practical Applications

Kurt Lewin's, now famous equation: B = f (P) x (E), that is, behavior in organizations is a function of the person and the environment, provides evidence of the value and potential applications growing out of the Birkman assessment for coaches and other helping professionals; in short, assessment results trigger important insights and conversations about the activities and situations that provide high levels of satisfaction, as well as, situations that cause stress and dissatisfaction - both critical inputs to operating effectively in organizations. These insights can help individuals (and organizations) make decisions related to: (1) preferred occupational fit (based on 22 job families, 200+ job titles (linked to O*Net); (2) management style (i.e., approach to managing tasks and people); and (3) work environment (i.e., the work environment that brings the best support and fit).

Personality and Executive Coaching

The two-days spent in the most recent Birkman Method Training highlighted important connections between the role of understanding personality preferences of our client's and effective coaching. In terms of self-as-instrument, it is equally important of coaches to understand how their personality will have a direct influence on how they approach the work of executive and organizational coaching, regardless of core competencies promoted by various professional coach association. Specifically, during the workshop, I began to see connections between personality and select core coaching competencies (i.e., coaching presence and relating). It also occurs to me that personalty influences a coach's approach to core competencies of testing assumptions and reframing (both related to what ICF call's creating awareness). As a result of these insights, I plan to attend to personality more explicitly in the redesign of Columbia's Coaching Program (an initiative that will begin in April).     ]


Having provided a summary of my personal reflections from the Birkman Certification Workshop, I invite the others who attended this learning experience to share their reflections as part of this discussion blog - including connections each make their their own coaching practice, in terms of potential connections to personality with: (1) guiding principles (the mindset/stance of the coach); (2) core coaching competencies (implications of "self-as-instrument"); and (3) coaching process (i.e., implications for navigating the map of coaching engagements). 



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  • DPP_0958.jpg?width=96&height=96&crop=1%3A1check_96x96.png?xn_version=2942624881

    As someone new in the field of coaching I have tried to learn about different sort of assessments that can give me some tools to better understand and serve my clients. So far, the Birkman Method is the one that brings more possibilities to holistically assess our clients. Among others, the greatest value comes from the personality assessment that provides multiple sources of analyses with different perspectives (lens) and sub-analyses. 

    The Birkman Method has two key pillars - Relational and Occupational. The Relational outcomes provides an overview about key areas of interest as well as key components of personality in his/ her relationships in different situations. The combination of these areas of interests and components of personality provides a very simple and easy to use summary called Life Style Grid. The second pillar, the Occupational "inventory" provides some important insights about areas of interest and jobs that better fit the personality of the client. I see it as a value added from Birkman’s information that can be used in different ways (e.g.: career planning, career transitions, job searching, etc.).

    I was impressed with the level of information one can get from the report. The behavioral report gives many possibilities to assess the individual in different situations (Usual/ Needs/ Stress) helping also to identify blind spots that can be addressed during the coaching sessions.

    I was also very enthusiastic about the possibilities of combinations that can be customized to each person, helping not only the client to understand himself/ herself, but how others can get the best of this person.

    In summary, there is no doubt that the Birkman Method is a powerful tool not only for clients, but for coaches to leverage the performance of his/ her clients.

  • This reply was deleted.
    • And then there were three (Stanley, Sherrie, and Masa)...

      Mosa, I like your headline positioning the "Birkman" as the "Swiss Army Knife of Personality Assessments," that just about covers it. As you work more with the tool, I'd be interested in hearing more about the specific ways to leverage the tool to specific components of Columbia's 3-Phase Coaching Process that you've identified, specifically:

      • Developmental Frames (Phase I) - I agree that the tool, in my experience, has great utility here to help client's reveal their, often deeply held mental models about how the world works in general and making connections to the topic of coaching - thus coaching the topic and the person; 
      • Feedback (Phase II) - it goes without saying that the assessment is rich in feedback potential, both during an assessment report session and later to deepen exploration of a topic and the person, leveraging the 3 coaching task associated with this component of the process); 
      • Exploring Options (Phase II) - here is where I've found the tool to be very powerful in helping clients connect options to criteria for choosing among, or combining various options, in ways that are consistent with their core needs, values and beliefs - thus resulting in more motivational potential); and
      • Action Strategies (Phase III) - I have found the results from the Birkman to be very powerful as clients moving from goal setting/planning to action strategies to connection action experiments to usual ways of effectively operating in the world (revealed for them in their personalized Birkman report), while at the same time being mindful of potential derailers when their stress is activated as a result of important needs not being met).

      I would encourage you to add "Growth and Renewal" to your list of components to explore with the Birkman tool and your clients! Again, I look forward to hearing more.



      Good to hear you are exploring various assessments and the potential role they can play in your work as a professional coach! Your point about the Birkman Assessment being possibility focused and holistic aligns with my experience in using the tool in my work since 2011. I think you capture the two strengths of the tool very well in terms of its focus: 

      • Relational (as we learned during the workshop, the tool does an efficient job of helping clients deepen their awareness of the interplay between important needs - that are often hidden with the usual behaviors when their core needs are met, i.e., their flow state, and importantly stress behaviors when critical needs are unmet - as coaching at its core is a learning and change process grounded in the motives of the client, being able to support clients in making connections between met and unmet needs links to what ever their are bringing to coaching provides a platform for deeper coaching engagements); and
      • Occupational (i.e., this can be a very rich and expansive space for coaching - being able to link personality factors to job families and roles, has many implications for our work as executive coaches, not only in terms of the obvious work of career coaching, yet perhaps less explicit connections to helping clients assess their "fit" with current role and job requirements, explore strategies for adopting to organizational and other environmental factors, with changing jobs may not simply be a realistic option for clients - as such I have found this to a be very useful tool in helping clients become more agile in their work environments).

      I look forward to hearing more as you start to apply the tool.

      Best of luck to the three of you (Sherrie, Masa and Stanley).



  • "The Swiss Army knife of assessments." - Sharon Birkman Fink

    "It's about love." - Dr. Roger Birkman (see short interview)

    I found the workshop a tremendous value because we were a small group led by the CEO (and daughter of the creator) and for the enormous array of reports and visualizations that you gain access to as a certified Birkman facilitator. The possibilities for 1:1 coaching engagements and team workshops are endless!  Birkman naturally includes content on your personality preferences and interpersonal style, but the real differentiator for me was the occupational / work environment insights as well as the underlying needs and stressors - areas you investigate in the CCCP coaching process but may not be illuminated upon if the client is blocked. Birkman unblocks that with data.  Many of my clients are blocked as to where to focus next in their careers or are simply foggy as to their needs - Birkman provides an x-ray into those areas to really economize the coaching conversation and fuel richer forward / deepen conversations.  As an internal coach, what a tool for people managers as well to guide career conversations and challenges around fulfillment.

    Tying to CCCP, Birkman definitely enhanced my self knowledge about how I tick and what I need to stay balanced to maintain the highest coaching presence.  It also highlighted my potential blindspots - am I too empathetic versus action strategy oriented?  Am I too low challenged (Birkman-ese)? For clients, the assessment will certainly provide a ton of data to guide Development Frames / Feedback / Exploring Options / Action Strategies as specific areas in the CCCP process. 

    Net net - what I gained from the workshop is greater awareness, and I think an aware coach is a good coach.  Sign up!

  • Hi Terry-

    Being new to coaching, I can't pretend to understand all the levels of usefulness and connections to our program the Birkman method offers, but I can see it is a tool that I can grow with in my coaching efforts in several capacities. For me  I was so struck by how many levels and gradations there are to work with, but its incredibly practical and efficient which appeals most to me. It is one survey that can give almost endless amounts of data on both the personality side and occupational side to an individual and or a group.

    One of the Birkman quotes which is roughly  "our perceptions, right or wrong, impact everything else we do" is so simple, but Birkman has actually found a way to make that linkage in a very clear way. I was certainly impressed (and somewhat horrified) by the information I gathered on myself (Coaching presence) and the inevitable impact it will have on my coaching style and presence.. It will certainly give me deeper perspective on how to help a client connect their personal values with  the organizational values (earn the right to advance). Since Birkman specifically addresses the aspect of needs, it becomes much clearer how to align the clients values and where they are in the organization.  When a client is debriefed, it can significantly increase there involvement through a deeper understanding of their needs and options.
    Lastly, the alignment to our coaching process is tremendous. Its a jump start on determining hopes and concerns, as well as developmental frames and situational analysis because it directly identifies the stressors and the values that help a client "diagnose" their situation.
    While it is NOT a substitute for coaching, I think its a powerful tool to provide another level of data that would certainly enhance the process. I know I sound like a paid advertisement (sorry) but it truly was a wonderful experience and helped me connect further to the CCCP curriculum .  


    sherrie douglas


    • Hi Sherrie, 

      Thanks for your post... I like the point you make about the Birkman Personality Assessment being a tool you can grown with in your coaching (and beyond). I can attest to that having been certified in 2011, yet by attending the certification with the group last week made new connections between coaching and the role of personality that had not occurred to me before last week. 

      Your second point regarding the role of perception impacting much of what we do as humans is also spot on... therefore there is a component of personality exploration that is needed by coaches given we are the instruments of our work. This has many implications for the Redesign of the Coaching Program 2.0. 

      Lastly, I also agree with you final point about this, and other tools, helping to "jump start" the coaching process, a tool for going deeper with our coaching by making an explicit connection between the topic for coaching and the person being coached! 



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