Show Notes

Chris Lema, CEO of Motivations AI, product strategist, public speaker, coach, and six-time startup founder, has a tailored approach to coaching that helps people achieve breakthrough results. As a licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Peter Larson, VP of Assessment Science at Motivations AI, saw the importance and value in using assessment tools, and eventually shifted his career to focus on the research and development of assessment tools.

In the late 90s, Chris started coaching entrepreneurs and CEOs, leveraging his expertise in product creation and strategy. Now, 25+ years later, Chris has a tailored approach to coaching that helps people achieve breakthrough results.

As he grew his business, Chris discovered how assessment tools made him a better coach and helped his clients feel heard, seen, and supported. Assessments allowed him to understand his clients better and offer them recommendations based on their unique needs and traits.

Dr. Peter Larson is the Vice President of Assessment Science at Motivations AI, but his expertise as an assessment specialist grew out of his initial work as a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. While in clinical practice, Peter saw the importance and value in using assessment tools, and eventually shifted his career to focus on the research and development of assessment tools.

Peter discusses the pros and cons of various assessments and why popularity isn’t always the best determinant of helpful results.

Chris shares his experience with several different assessments, and which ones led him to the results that helped him and his clients the most. Personality traits and strengths were helpful, but Chris was looking for something deeper. The KOLBE Index A and SIMA — an assessment that combines storytelling and personal development — helped Chris discover the depth he was searching for in an assessment.

SIMA, the story-based assessment that Chris began to use to personalize his coaching, would later become the foundation for the Motivation Code assessment, or MCode, for short.

MCode is unique because it’s the only assessment that uses your own stories to identify your underlying motivations… and just how unique you really are. The science behind MCode is based on 60 years of scientific research. Chris describes how the 32 different motivations are grouped into 8 different archetypes that are ranked based on your unique responses and your stories.

Peter and Chris share advice on how to choose which assessments are right for your clients and how and when to incorporate assessments into your coaching practice.

Whether you’re already using assessments and just haven’t found the right one, or are new to the idea of using them in your coaching practice entirely, this episode is a great introduction to how they can elevate your coaching practice!


Chris Lema: You can’t walk up to a person, hear them, tell you their stories of what motivates them, hear them tell you their stories of achievements, and then you go, “You know what? You’re just like my friend Bill.” That’s rude. We would never do that, right? And yet so many assessments are like, “There’s 10% of the population that’s just like you,” and you’re like, “No, I don’t think that’s true.” So motivation really gets us the keys to what makes you unique.

Shawn Hesketh: That’s Chris Lema, CEO of Motivations AI. Chris is a product strategist, public speaker, a coach, and a six-time startup founder. I’ve known Chris for more than a decade, and working with him is like adding a booster rocket to your business. That’s largely because of how he takes the time to understand who he’s working with and how to motivate them uniquely.

Welcome to the Coach Factory Podcast. I’m your host, Shawn Hesketh. And in today’s episode, we’re exploring how assessments can drive your coaching business to the next level by allowing your clients to feel seen and more inspired to take action. We talk about how assessment tools make you a better coach, the pros and cons of popular assessments like Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram, and which assessments will help your clients feel heard, seen and supported.

Chris started coaching entrepreneurs and CEOs in the late-’90s, leveraging his experience in product creation and strategy. He also found a lot of success by making assessments a regular part of working with his clients. Now 25 years later, Chris has a tailored approach to coaching. Designed to meet people exactly where they are and get them to where they need to be.

Chris Lema: When I think about coaching, I think there’s two threads that run through it that are special or unique to the way I do it. Of course, just to be clear, lots of other people do lots of unique things too. So I’m not saying I’ve taken a corner on this. But what is the hallmark of the way I do coaching is number one, I don’t have a dedicated set framework to teach you. I don’t have one program. And there’s a lot of people out there that have one program and they run every single client through the same exact program. Which if every single client is the same, then the same program sounds right. I’ve never found that two clients are the same, so I don’t do that. The second part of it is I find that while frameworks, of which I have many are helpful, they don’t stick on their own. And so I use storytelling as a way to wrap a framework in a story so that people will, years later, come back and say, “Remember this story when this and this? And that thing that you taught me about this? That has profoundly changed how we do things at this company.” So not having a system or a systematic process and being committed to storytelling and frameworks are the two things that are the hallmark of how I do coaching.

Shawn Hesketh: Chris has developed a reputation for being a master storyteller and he combines those stories with different frameworks to create a personalized experience that’s difficult to find in the coaching world. In fact, his coaching goes against some of the most common advice for coaches to build a repeatable system that allows you to scale. Chris shares why that approach can actually be limiting. And he suggests a different perspective to consider when building your coaching business.

Chris Lema: Coaches are told, “Build a signature system. Build something that is yours that you can repeat.” And the reason they’re doing that is because they’re saying that way you don’t have to deal with curve balls. That way you can just keep doing what you’re doing highly efficiently and scalable and you can make more money. “If you can do it for five clients, you can do it for 50.”

The problem with that is not that they’re incorrect. The problem with that is that they’re shortsighted. If you look at someone who has a signature system, you end up realizing that they have a lot of people coming into the funnel that don’t make it past step one because those people didn’t fit with your signature system. So why would you follow this advice of building a signature system, if what you realize after the fact is a majority of the people are not going to be perfect fits? And the ones that are a perfect fit are going to graduate through and be done.

Nobody in their right mind would recommend that kind of solution for generating revenue. The only reason we hear it in coaching circles is because we’re not taking the big picture. We’re not looking at the whole thing. We’re looking at this one little bit of, you want to be more successful? Do this. I just look at that and I go, it’s not right.

The great philosopher king Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.” Reality does come at some point. And that’s when I think you discover being flexible and adjusting the coaching so that it’s unique to each person is harder work on the coach — but it’s more fulfilling for the coach, it’s more fulfilling for the person getting coached, and you will see better and longer term results. And who doesn’t want that?

Shawn Hesketh: For Chris, assessment tools were the secret to his personalized approach to coaching and the results that came with it. These assessments allowed him to understand his clients better and shape his recommendations and advice based on their unique traits. The payoff? His clients thrive.

Chris Lema: The first time that when I saw that it worked, shaping the assignments in a way that fits who the person is. Not having one cookie-cutter approach. I went, okay, can I do it again? And you realize in the early days, the people on the other side don’t know that you’re doing this. They literally think I’m just telling them whatever the lesson is. So they think, “Well, this is what he tells everybody.” This is where you start realizing, okay, I’m on the hook, but the only one putting me on the hook is me. They don’t know if I’m shaping it for them or not, but I know.

One of my next coaching clients was someone who I would call an Influencer. They were really good at the networking, they were good at telling their story, they were good at getting other people to buy into the way they were seeing things. And so we said, “Why don’t we try doing media outreach and PR?” And so we hired a PR person, a person that would literally just start calling Channel 7 and Channel 9 and saying, “We have Matt who is ready to get on and answer these questions and talk about these topics on your local TV.” And Matt was like, “I don’t have a fancy pedigree. I don’t know they’re going to want this”. I’m like, “It doesn’t matter. They’re all looking for local stories. You’re a local kid gone right.” And you know how you have some people that are quality gifted at that small talk connective thing that everyone’s like, “I love this guy. He’s my new best friend”? That was Matt.

And so we got Matt, a PR person, and that woman was named Pam. And Pam started dialing for dollars. She’s calling… and this is years ago… she’s just calling she channels and everything to see if they could get Matt on. And wouldn’t you know it, Matt’s on one, then he’s on another, then he’s on another. And of course, all the interest for his mobile product comes after that because they saw him on TV and they immediately assumed he was an expert. And Matt was not a technical expert, but he had the gift of gab and he was great interviewer and getting him into media outreach made perfect sense. And once he did a little, he was like, “I love this. I can do this all day.”

And that’s what you’re looking for, is finding efforts that other people would look at and go, “I am exhausted simply by thinking about that effort.” But finding it for the right person means they look at that and they go, “That’s not even work. I could do that all day.” And you go, “Now we found the connection, now we found the right route for you.”

And if you do that over and over and over again, then people start going, “What’s so hard about this?” And you’re like, “Well, it’s not hard because you’re doing the thing that you’re good at.” But they love doing the work.

And as a coach, there’s nothing more important than getting the person that you’re coaching to see progress. Coaching is all about moving them from A to B. And they reflect and they see that you did that, right? There’s nothing that makes that harder than giving them a task that they’re not fueled by. You give a coachee something they don’t want to do. Something that they hate doing, something that they have been told 100 times they should do and they don’t want to do. They’re going to not do it for you and they’re not going to see the progress and movement. But if you can find the efforts that align with how they’re wired, they’ll do that for free. They’ll do that easily without drama. And if they can then connect whatever progress the business is making to that effort, they will then turn around and say, “Yeah, my coach did that for me.”

Shawn Hesketh: Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? But to understand why assessment tools are so effective in coaching, you have to think about what they bring to a coaching relationship because it’s not just results on a piece of paper, it’s a trust builder, and it also gives you common ground and a shared language.

Peter Larson: My name is Peter Larson and I am the Vice President of Assessment Science at Motivations AI.

Shawn Hesketh: Peter’s expertise as an assessment specialist grew out of his initial work as a licensed clinical psychologist. While in clinical practice he found tremendous value in an assessment tool called PRAPARE.

Peter Larson: I didn’t set out to be an assessment specialist. I’m trained as a clinical psychologist, assessments are the territory of psychologists. Psychiatrists have medications and counselors do counseling. And psychologists while we do therapy, one of the things we really lean on is assessment tools. So in graduate school we get trained on what are the psychometrics of a good assessment tool and that type of thing.

But I went into regular practice. I was a clinical director and a therapist for about five years, and I was working in a practice that really specialized with couples. And one of the things that I found is that there was a huge difference between a premarital couple and a married couple coming in for therapy. Married couples were often in crisis and really unhappy and I mean, it’s hard work. It’s stressful because you’ve got two people in your office fighting for an hour.

Premarital couples were so fun, because just so in love, and they think everything’s perfect and wonderful. And so I started to use this premarital assessment tool called PRAPARE with these couples, and it was really fun. It just created a lot of great conversation, a lot of great talking points, and actually helped them get a little bit more in touch with reality. But that work was so fun. Then I met the creator of that tool, PRAPARE, and he asked me to come work for him. And so that started my journey out of being a therapist and more into research and training and developing assessment tools. And I spent my next 10 years, my early career working that PRAPARE organization.

Shawn Hesketh: Now in his role at Motivations AI, Peter has deep insight into how assessments can be used in both a therapy setting and a coaching setting. And he shares how using assessments can actually diffuse what might otherwise be a confrontational dynamic and in fact become a mirror for the client.

Peter Larson: Yeah, what’s interesting is a lot of times in coaching or in counseling, you want to help someone confront something. There might be a tough topic or something, let’s say growth area in their life. Call it a weakness, call it what you want. But when it’s coming directly from you as the therapist, it almost feels a little confrontational.

If I hold up an assessment page and say, “Hey, it says you’re pretty passive. The way you answered this tool, your assertiveness score was low and your avoidance score was high. That sounds like there’s some passivity in the way you show up in relationships. Tell me what you think about that.” Now it’s not me confronting them. It’s like there’s this third thing in the room and it’s their assessment report, and we’re just both being curious about that and having that conversation.

And that dynamic I’ve found can be really helpful and powerful, because it’s not me coming at them, it’s, “Hey, let’s talk about this. Let’s be curious about this together. What do you think?” They don’t have to get real defensive about it because any good assessment is literally holding up a mirror. It’s, hey, this is what you said. This is all based on your answers, your information, so I’m not making things up, I’m not shooting from the hip here. These are your results. Let’s talk about this.

Shawn Hesketh: Using an assessment early on in a coaching relationship can even be the difference between a client coming back every week for a session or dropping out. And as a coach, that keeping your clients returning in the early weeks is critical for helping them see results and create change that actually lasts.

Peter Larson: It increases that curiosity. I think it primes people for feedback. From the time they finish an assessment to the time they actually sit down and start to go through those results, there’s this curiosity. A lot of clients will drop out of coaching or after one or two sessions. Well, if you’ve given them some assessments and they know, hey, we’re going to start to go through those results and unpack some things over the upcoming weeks, you actually increase the likelihood because they’re curious. They’re going to come back. And it gives you more time to build that rapport, build that working relationship. So there’s something to be said about using a few assessment tools early on in the relationship even to help drive that ongoing connection.

Shawn Hesketh: All right, the general benefits of assessments are pretty easy to see, but how do you go about determining which one is right for you and your clients? Peter outlines how the majority of assessments are designed in two ways: structured and projective. He also describes how the reliability and the scientific accuracy of some of the most popular assessments may not be quite what you think. You’ve probably heard of or even taken some of these assessments yourself. But Peter says that popularity doesn’t mean that they’re accurate or even give helpful results.

Peter Larson: Most assessments are what we call a structured assessment. When I go take StrengthsFinder, I get the questions and I just answer those questions. Or if I take the Myers-Briggs, it’s like everybody gets just the questions and you read it and you say, does this describe me or not? And you answer. That’s a structured assessment approach. But then there’s another kind of assessment approach out there called projective and a projective assessment is when there’s not as much around it. Think about the inkblots, the Rorschach, for example. I hold up those inkblots and say, “Tell me what you see here.” And the person can say anything they want. It’s a projective test.

Some of the most popular ones that we see coming up again and again, one might be StrengthsFinder, right? And it’s great. It comes out of positive psychology so that all the strengths listed in StrengthsFinder are very positive things. You get your top five back and everything there, you can really celebrate and be like, wow, that’s cool that I have this futuristic worldview, or I’ve got this high score on collaborating with other people or whatever it is that your top five strengths are. But that’s a great tool because it’s just positive. It’s easy to do with teams, it’s easy to do with individuals.

As a total scientist, the one thing that gives me pause at times is they published a paper on the reliability of the tool. And reliability in the assessment world means if I take it next month, am I going to get the same score that I got this month? And with traits like strengths, you would expect that to be the case. Some of the reliability scores or StrengthsFinder are not at what we call the acceptable standards, which means is it really measuring consistently what we think it’s measuring?

Enneagram has gotten really popular these days. And people think it’s a personality tool. I actually think… because it’s interesting, I’ve had two friends who couldn’t be more different and they both were trying to tell me, “Well, no, I’m a 7.” And she’s like, “No, I’m a 7.” And I’m like, “You guys are so different. This can’t be personality.” But when you dive into Enneagram, it talks a lot about your fears and your needs, and I think it’s actually a little deeper than personality. It’s getting at something else and in this needs and fears level that really resonates with people. And that’s powerful, but that’s not personality.

The limitation with Enneagram is that, and I don’t know that everyone knows this, but it’s 2,000 years old. It’s developed by philosophers back in the days of Socrates and stuff, by today’s scientific standards, we would call that a theory-driven assessment.

No one was doing rigorous research from a scientific standpoint. What they were doing is observing and saying, “I think this is the way people are wired, and I’m going to give it some descriptors.” I had one expert tell me, “You’re better off reading the nine different types and just saying, ‘Yeah, this one best describes me.'”

A couple tools I really like. One is the Big Five, which is a personality tool that is not theory-driven. It’s what we call an empirical tool. Unlike the Myers-Briggs, for example, which started with theory and when they said, “This is how we think personality is organized, now let’s make an assessment that measures our theory or our model.” What they did with the Big Five is they said, “We don’t know, but we’re going to take every adjective in the English language, and have people start to rate and study different personality dimensions using every adjective and see where they load and how they group.” And then they’ve replicated that across cultures and across languages. And these Big Five clusters of personality descriptors keep surfacing. And so that was a really empirical way to develop a tool. So a lot of researchers, frankly, a lot of marketing and business people lean on this Big Five model of personality because it’s so empirical and it’s not theory driven. They’re like, “Hey, the data actually tells us this is how people think about personality.” So that one’s pretty cool.

Shawn Hesketh: Some of these assessments become popular because they’re low cost or even free, but there are other things to consider as well, like accessibility or how much time it takes, or having to jump through hoops to become certified just to be able to offer the test to your clients.

Peter Larson: Not all assessments are created equal, and there’s different uses and different reasons people will use assessments, but one of the common complaints is that a tool might be really complex. To use that tool, I have to go through all sorts of training or get certified. I mean, for some tools you can’t use it unless you’re a licensed psychologist. So some of them are not even accessible to people. But it is hard, I think, when a coach or practitioner is trying to use an assessment tool, and this thing is just so complex that you have to learn a whole new vocabulary to even begin to use the thing. Or maybe attend a weekend seminar to get certified in it or something like that. Not that that’s bad, it’s just I think that weeds out a lot of assessments for a lot of people pretty quickly when they don’t want to invest that much.

Another issue with assessments can be the length. I think of them as more old school because the old way of thinking was more data is always better. The MMPI is the most widely used assessment in the world over the last 50 years, and it’s like 500 questions long. I mean, think about it, it’s just brutal to sit down and take that thing. The Birkman is a widely used tool, it’s 300 questions long. To me, that’s too much. People want to be able to sit down and answer questions for 15, 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes at max, and then get something meaningful back from that. Maybe all of our attention spans are less than they used to be, but I think length is a real obstacle in some ways.

Another challenge with assessments can be really just the usefulness of the results. Sometimes people are like, “Oh, that’s interesting, that’s good, but I’m going to forget that in about five minutes.” Either they give you way too many results, and choose your top 10 things. Or they give you some language that you’ve never heard before and you’re going to forget it because it’s not relatable. There’s always people who become disciples of certain tools. You’ll hear the Enneagram folks talking about, “Oh, you’re a 7 with a 5.” And they just groove on that. And there’s people who are the Myers-Briggs folks talking about their ENFP. And that stuff, and it’s like a secret club almost. But those things can feel hard to remember and understand, and because of that, they’re hard to use sometimes.

So I prefer assessment tools that speak the language of the people and give them some insights that they maybe haven’t received before, but in a way they can understand it and put it into action. That’s the goal.

Shawn Hesketh: And of course, one of the most important factors in choosing an assessment tool to use with your clients is whether you’ll get accurate applicable results, but what kind of results are the most helpful? When Chris first started using assessment tools in his coaching practice, he got frustrated. Because while personality traits and strengths were helpful, there were too surface level. He wanted something that went deeper and was more practical.

Chris Lema: So we have all been at one of those networking events where you realize, I can do chitchat, I can do small talk, but even if I’m good at it, I’m drained by it. I don’t like it. And maybe that’s not your thing, maybe it’s something else. But we’ve all been in a situation where the thing that we may be strong at, the strengths have indicated you’re good at this. It doesn’t mean that I’m lit up by it. It doesn’t mean that I’m motivated by it. It doesn’t mean that I have any energy. And in fact, for me, if I get on stage and I speak to an audience of 5,000 people, I am perfectly in flow. I love it. I’m going to teach you something new. I’m going to give you a new paradigm to think about. It’s going to be awesome. When I get off that stage and there’s a bunch of people that want to come up and have a little chitchat and they want to get a signature or they want to talk about their specific problem, I lose energy really fast there, right? Doesn’t mean I can’t do it, doesn’t mean I can’t do networking. It just means this bores me or exhausts me or tires me.

And so motivation’s very different than strength. I can be strong in several places. I can show aptitude for several different skills. That doesn’t mean that’s what I want to spend my time doing.

There’s another assessment out there called the Kolbe A Index. That’s K-O-L-B-E, Kolbe. And their first assessment was what they called a cognitive assessment. And there’s a lot of stuff in it. I won’t bore you with all that, but there was one particular page on that 12- or 15-page report that was about energy utilization. And what they were showing you was an energy pyramid that said even people who have the same ultimate score from the Kolbe A Index, they don’t have their energy allotted in equal parts. You’ve heard of Myers-Briggs, so there’s an ENTJ and ENFP. Imagine one of those. When you hear it from Myers-Briggs, you hear ENTJ and the next person ENTJ, and you think, okay, they’re the same. But what the Kolbe A Index did was they took even people that had the same exact scoring, the same letters, the same scores, it went into how they were wired in terms of their energy utilization, and they would be two completely different people. So for the first, I don’t know, 200 people that worked for me in any business, I would pay for their Kolbe A Index and just get to that one sheet. That was how they use their energy.

Shawn Hesketh: As a leader. Chris saw how the Kolbe A Index helped him communicate better with each person and he could shape their assignments based on the unique way they use their energy, and that helped him build a team that was fueled by their work instead of drained by it. And that was the kind of practical real world application Chris was looking for. But the transformational moment came when a friend introduced Chris to an assessment that combined storytelling and personal development.

Chris Lema: It was called SIMA. And what this was an assessment of what moves you, what motivates you. It was a system of multiple different motivations, and it was ranked. And the way he did it was he just told stories of key moments in his life. He had to write down these stories, three pages per story, eight stories, and he handed them to a PhD who then read and connected the dots between all of his stories and presented him back with this notion of how he was wired and what kind of work he was wired for. And he told me about this, and I lost my mind. I’m like, “This is perfect. How do I get it?” And I went looking everywhere to buy a version of the SIMA assessment for me personally, and I could not, this was in the year 2000. It was being sold to Disney, NASA, Apple, Harvard, but it was not being sold to individuals.

And one of the things that I took away from that though was the original question that he was asked was about these achievement stories or what I think of as a true fulfillment story is when you notice that time is flying by when you’re noticing that you would do that even if they didn’t pay you, whatever you’re experiencing, when you’re so deeply in it that you’re in the flow where you realize, I’m at the pinnacle of my game. Everything is going right. And I noticed that he had to answer that to write his achievement stories, and I love that question.

So starting from the year 2000 for the last 22-23 years, I’ve started every coaching engagement with a form of that question, “Hey, I want you to look at five moments professionally in your career where you were at an all-time high, when time was flowing by, when you couldn’t believe you were getting paid for it, where you were getting props for who you are and what you bring to the table. I want you to think of five of those stories. I want you to write them down. They can be just a paragraph, and I want you to bring them back to our next session.” And without doing an assessment, I’m just asking a single question, giving them first week’s homework.

And what happens is that every time someone came back, I got wildly different answers every time. You would think that everyone’s like, “Hey, I had this proposal one time and I walked in the boardroom and I gave the proposal and they said yes, and it was awesome.” And I think I’ve only heard that twice. And then you’re like, then what else is there? And they’re like, “I had to recruit people to take photos of themselves using our product. I love the relationships that we built, and I’m still friends with them to this day.” And you’re like, “Okay, I wasn’t going to guess that was one of your most fulfilling stories.” But what you discover is that different people are wired differently.

Which goes back to my earlier statement, which is my coaching has never looked the same for two people. You get other stories from people and it is like, “Put whatever roadblocks you want in front of me, I’m going to demolish them.” And you listen to that and you go, okay, that’s intense. But what’s really happening is they’re saying, “Hey, I’m intense. I want to knock down every roadblock in front of me.” And so the coaching for that kind of person is going to look different than the coaching for someone who’s really built into building relationships.

Shawn Hesketh: This story-based assessment that Chris began to use to personalize his coaching would later become the foundation for the Motivation Code assessment or MCode for short. MCode is unique because it’s the only assessment that uses your own stories to identify your underlying motivations and just how unique you really are.

Chris Lema: If you’ve ever taken a StrengthsFinder or you take a Myers-Briggs, any of these, Enneagram, and one of the things they like to tell you at the end is you represent 16% of the population, you represent 9% of the population, you represent 12% of the population. I, of course, grisly at that notion because I’m like, “I’m unique. I’m a special snowflake. I’m a very special butterfly, and no one in the world is like me.”

When you take the MCode, the motivational assessment that came out of the SIMA research, when you take the MCode, your in scientific notation, 32 motivations taken in a stacked rank, you are unique to the point of 1 times 10 to the 32nd. That’s one with 32 zeros afterward. That’s more than the number of stars we predict exist. We do all the stars in a universe and all the universes out there, and that’s one to the 10 to the 24th, and this is the 32nd. It’s just a whole different ballgame of how unique you are. And that’s what I love about this assessment because this is what we know about people. You can’t walk up to a person, hear them tell you their stories of what motivates them, hear them tell you their stories of achievements, and then you go, “You know what? You’re just like my friend Bill.” That’s rude. We would never do that. And yet so many assessments are like, “There’s 10% of the population that’s just like you.” And you’re like, “No, I don’t think that’s true.” So motivation really gets us the keys to what makes you unique.

Shawn Hesketh: Not only does MCode help you understand how each of your clients are completely different, it’s also really powerful because it bridges the gap between the structured and projective assessments that Peter mentioned earlier.

Peter Larson: It’s in a class of one if you ask me. First of all, the technique that is used to even deliver the assessment, it bridges two different styles. And it’s one of the only assessments in the world that does this. We start by saying to people, “Hey, tell us about a time you did something really well and felt good about it.” So that’s the projective portion. They can pick any achievement story or story from their life that was compelling to them, really life-giving, was deeply satisfying, and they can tell that story. And then the structured part is we ask them against 32 motivations that have been researched and defined over the last 60 years, which of these things was most satisfying when you think about that story you just told? So they’re anchoring the structured part against their own projective part, which is the story they chose, and they do that four different times. And what we see is really deep patterns emerge around what are the things that are life giving, and we call those core motivations for people. And so I really like that tool because it immediately feels personalized because people are telling their own stories.

The results are really positive, all the motivations are really positive, and we’ve seen really good reliability and validity, which are more the scientific words that assessment experts like to see in a good assessment tool.

Shawn Hesketh: The science behind MCode is really compelling, and it’s based on 60 years of scientific research. Chris describes how the 32 different motivations are grouped into eight different archetypes that are ranked based on your unique responses and your stories.

Chris Lema: If we’re digging into MCode specifically, and we’re talking about how to use it, one of the things we did when we refactored a lot of the science behind it, we leveraged the science to refactor the report and the output is we added something new called a motivational Dimension.

Now, there are 32 different motivations, and we put those in a stack rank and we give you the score, and that’s what makes you completely unique from everyone else. But in order for you to have handles, and especially for a coach to have handles on this material, handles on how to adjust and change what you’re doing with someone else, we put those motivations into eight groupings, a family of sorts, and those are the Achiever, the Driver, the Influencer, the Learner, the Optimizer, Orchestrator, Relator and Visionary. Those are eight different Dimensions.

And what we did is we used the motivations that you are strong in and we then rank you in the report from left to right. We show you, “Oh, you’re more of an Achiever.” Or, “You’re more of a Driver.” We move those in order so that every single person has a number one Motivational Dimension and a number two, along with the rest.

And what I’ll tell you is if you’re a coach, just understanding that single piece of data, what’s their top motivational dimension, will change how you interact with them. So let me dig in just one step deeper.

To give you an example of that. If I’m talking to an Achiever, they have motivations like Excel and Mastery, they have Be Unique and Be Key, they have Maximize, and they have Evoke Recognition as their motivators. Those are the motivations that make up Achiever. So if they’re strong in those, they’re going to be an Achiever. And an Achiever is by definition… they’re ambitious, they’re goal oriented, they’re tenacious and diligent, they’re high-achievers for the most part, they’re goal-setters, they’re enterprising.

So when I want to talk to them, I’m going to say things like, “I need you to succeed, blah, blah, blah. I need you to outperform at blah, blah, blah. I need you to stand out at blah, blah, blah. I need you to represent us because you’re a top performer. I need you to exceed these expectations or exceed this default.”

When you stand up next to an Achiever, what you want to do is highlight… for just a second, let’s say you were a physical fitness coach at a high school and you look at a guy who’s running and he’s about to run the 100-yard dash. If he’s an Achiever, you would tell him, “This is what the track record is. I’m not saying you can beat it. I’m just letting you know that’s what it is.” And you know what an Achiever does? Achiever in his head goes, or her head says, “I’m going to beat that record today.” And they run like no one’s ever run before because they want to demonstrate excellence, mastery, they want to be unique, they want to be key. They want to be seen for that.

If you go to a Driver, a Driver’s completely different. That’s the folks who like to Finish things. They like to Meet the Challenge they like to Overcome. So those folks, you’re going to be like, “I know that you’re courageous. I know that you’re resourceful. I know you’re committed and dedicated. So if you’re talking to that person, I need you to tackle, I need you to conquer, I need you to overcome. I need you to triumph. I need this team.” You don’t even have to be you. You can be like, “I need this team to triumph.” And if I lay that in the hands of a Driver, the Driver’s going to be like, “I got you, man. I got this.”

There’s a story of Magic Johnson, and it’s with Kareem. And Kareem ends up getting injured and he can’t play, and Magic looks at him and says, “Don’t worry, man. I got this.” And you’re like, did anyone tell Magic he’s a rookie? This is his first year in the NBA. You don’t look at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and say, don’t worry, I got this. He got on the plane and Kareem wasn’t flying to the East Coast. Kareem wasn’t flying to get on that plane. So Magic gets on the plane and he sits in Kareem’s seat and he’s like, “Don’t worry, everybody Magic’s here.” And they’re all looking at this young kid like it’s crazy. He wins the game, he wins the NBA finals and he gets the MVP.

That’s who a Driver is. The Driver against all odds is like, “I got this. I’m going to push in.” So the trick is you take someone to, you give them the MCode assessment. It comes out and tells you whether they’re Achiever, a Driver, an Influencer or a Learner. They give you these and then you, as a coach, you start studying this to figure out, okay, obviously the words I use, the way in which I motivate, the challenges I put in front of them, these are going to be different because if I give them all the same approach, I’m only going to end up with one eighth of the audience being super-motivated.

And normally what happens is as I’m a person — so let’s say I’m an Achiever — I’m going to think everybody’s an Achiever. And then you discover there’s some people who don’t care about that at all. So you have to adjust the way in which you shape the assignment. The way in which you talk about the assignment, the way in which you give the assignment, all of that language changes based on one of these 8 Dimensions, and you will find incredible success when you start learning how to bounce a ball with your right hand and your left hand. You’re like, oh, I can give that assignment to a Driver and it looks one way. I can give that assignment to a Relator, it looks different. I can give that one to a Learner, completely different. And the better you get at that skill, the more you watch everybody rise up.

Shawn Hesketh: Getting to those underlying motivations that drive your coaching clients isn’t just helpful for you as the coach. It’s also deeply empowering for your clients and the people you’re working with, because feeling seen and recognized for who you truly are is invaluable. And it can be the missing key to helping a client conquer a longstanding challenge or a roadblock. For Chris, he feels like MCode is the equivalent of starting on second base. It digs deep right away so you can get to home base that much faster.

Chris Lema: The most important, salient takeaway that I can give you in this conversation around assessments and coaching is simply the closer you’re able to see who your coaching client is, the more you can see them, the more they feel seen, the more they will move.

Nobody buys coaching to get to a website and read articles. There’s not a single coaching client out there who’s just saying, all I want is information. Just give me the handbook. Give me the guidebook. I’ll read it and I’ll be done. I don’t need any more coaching. When people want to coach, they want your information, your expertise, your experience shaped in a way they can do something with it.

And we all know that. I have literally said nothing new to you just now yet. If we look at most of our practices, we’re not handing them a book and saying, “Just read this.” But out of our mouths on our calls, we are regurgitating the same stuff that could have gone into a book. We’re doing the same pitch, the same approach, the same strategy, the same framework over and over and over. And maybe it sticks in, maybe it doesn’t. And what you discover is that the people on the other side, they can feel it. They can feel like, “Okay, that doesn’t work for me.” Or, “Didn’t you hear me say that we’re in this special situation?” Or, “Didn’t you hear me say, I don’t ever want to do that?”

When we think about ourselves — and I know no good coach wants to do this — but when we think only about ourselves and how to make it more efficient, how to make it easier, we end up creating programs that really aren’t helpful. When we see the people in front of us — truly see and recognize them for who they are — I can tell you that almost every single coaching client I have at some point, I say, “Let me tell you what I know about you.”

And when I say it, they’re like, “Are you serious? Oh my gosh, I’ve never had it said that way to me, or I’ve never heard this before, or, oh my gosh, thank you so much, much. That’s what I’ve always wanted to be. I didn’t feel like I was there.” When you see someone authentically and for real, and you shape your material to match what you see in them, even if it’s harder than they think they can pull off, they will move. If you give generic advice that works for 90% of the time, you’ll watch people literally go, “Hey, thanks for this. I think I have enough to work on. I’ll circle back later.” And they’re out.

The single biggest thing you can do is individualize your content.

And the single best way you can do that is to use an assessment like the one, because it gives you insight, very unique, specific insight into who that person is. It’s like you’re starting off on second base. You don’t even have to hit, you don’t have to run to first. You don’t even get it. You just start. I don’t know if you’ve watched baseball in the extra innings when they’re tied, they put a person on second base, that’s how 10th innings starts, and you’re like, that seems like cheating, doesn’t it? Yet, if you take a coaching client through, you have them get their MCode, you get it. It is like you are cheating. It feels like it’s a massive unfair advantage. You’re starting on second base. And you’re like, “This is so much easier to score.”

Shawn Hesketh: If you want to start using assessments in your coaching practice, Chris has two pieces of advice. First, be willing to change your coaching approach. If you have an offer or a program that you think already works perfectly, you might be hesitant to try using assessments. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right? But being open to adjusting your recipe and adding an assessment might just help you take your coaching clients from good, solid results to great results. And second… start now.

Chris Lema: If you’re a coach just getting started, I would tell you the very first thing you want to do is grab an assessment. Any assessment. I particularly think that the MCode assessment at is the best and most accurate. But if you consider me biased and you want to try a StrengthsFinder or you want to try the Kolbe A Index, that’s fine. You can do what you like. Pick an assessment and run it through with one, two, three of your coaching clients and look for where they’re different and look for how it shapes your material as you realize, oh, this is why this content that I thought should have stuck, this is why it’s likely not sticking. What you want to do is figure out through an assessment, who is the person? How do they hear things? What kind of challenges fuel them? What are they particularly interested or gifted in? What do they have the energy for? Let the assessment tell me something about my client that the client doesn’t have to tell me.

Shawn Hesketh: So how do you choose between all of the assessment tools? How do you decide which test is right for your clients and their goals? And when should you introduce an assessment tool in your coaching relationship? Peter has some great advice.

Peter Larson: I think one of the questions I would ask myself is, what are the goals of my work with this client? Is this person here because they want insight into becoming a better leader? And there are leadership assessments. Are they looking to figure out how to better manage a specific relationship at work or employee team or something like this? I would be able to think about, okay, maybe I want to give that whole team motivation assessment so we can see how people are wired and better understand the dynamics of my team, who I should even put on certain projects and that type of thing. So asking yourself, what are the goals of the client? What are the needs in this situation will often drive you to the kind of assessment tool you want to use. Maybe this person is on the edge of burnout and they’re really drained, so then you want to get them in touch with their strengths or their core motivations that really, really drive them and bring them life. So again, I think the presenting issue will help you track towards the right assessments.

I think after a first session, once you hear what’s going on with people, is a great time to start to bring in some assessment tools. So in the first two to three sessions, introducing that and letting them know like, hey, this is going to help me understand you. This might even open up some possibilities that we wouldn’t have otherwise thought about because we’re going to be able to talk about what really is life giving for you and how you’re wired, and we’re going to be able to hold that up against these other things you’re bringing in here and talking about wanting to change or improve. And if we have that insight early on, it’s going to help drive that process and increase the likelihood I think of success.

Shawn Hesketh: Thank you so much to Chris Lema and Peter Larson for sharing their expertise and experience using assessment tools to create a tailored coaching program that helps clients achieve breakthrough results.

You can learn more about MCode at, including courses that’ll teach you how to put the MCode to work for your coaching clients.

I hope you found this helpful, and I look forward to hearing how you’re leveraging assessment tools like MCode in your coaching business.

This episode of The Coach Factory Podcast was produced with the support of Come Alive Creative. To hear more episodes, get the show notes, and learn how to start, run, and grow your coaching practice, visit

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