The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Clear Contracting  


Clear contracting plays a crucial role in both personal and professional relationships. People feel better when:

They make clear agreements with each other about what they are each going to do to reach an agreed goal.  

They all do what they agreed to do and reach the agreed goal. 

Keeping promises helps to build confidence. People are then more likely to trust each other and work together to achieve future success. The Red Arrows flying team say, for example:

“When flying together, it is not that we trust everybody will follow the agreed moves, we know they will follow them.”

There are many kinds of contracts. Some may be practical – such as legal or working contracts – but others might be psychological.

Professional contracts often involve people agreeing to follow a certain code of conduct on the way towards achieving certain goals. Personal contracts often involve people agreeing about how they will behave when living together.

Sometimes contracts involve signing a piece of paper. Sometimes there is a spoken agreement. Sometimes the agreement is assumed but unspoken. The latter can, of course, lead to misunderstandings.

Different people make contracts in different ways. They do, however, often focus on the following themes.


People agree on the goals to achieve. They then translate these into an agreed picture of success.


People agree on the principles to follow – the Dos and Don’ts – for working towards the goals. They also agree on who will do what by when on the road towards achieving the picture of success.

Concrete Results

People carry out their parts of the contract. They do whatever is required to achieve the agreed picture of success.

Clear contracting plays a key part in educational, coaching and other professional relationships. Sometimes this contract is made extremely explicit. This is the case when, for example, a therapist is working with a recovering alcoholic or addict.

The therapist will make it clear that they will only work with a client if they want to be healthy and act in a responsible way. Breaking the agreement will lead to the end of the therapeutic relationship.

Sometimes contracts are made in a more informal way, but the expectations are still clear. When running super team workshops for organisations, for example, I start by outlining the contract to the participants. This involves me saying something along the following lines.

Clear Contracting For Today 

The goals of today’s session are to
provide practical tools that you can use:

To continue to build a super team.

To clarify the team’s story, strategy and road to success.

To build on your strengths and make your best contributions towards achieving the picture of success. 

To find solutions to specific challenges. 

To do superb work, reach your goals and deliver ongoing success. 

My role during the workshop is:

To be a positive encourager. 

To provide practical tools that work. 

To do whatever is necessary to help you to achieve success.

Your role during the workshop is:

To encourage each other. 

To take the ideas you like and use these in your own ways. 

To do whatever is necessary to help the team to achieve success.

Before going further I ask if people are okay with the agreement or if they would like to add anything to it. Sometimes they want to add topics to the agenda.

We also underline the basic rules for working in the session. These include telephones being switched off – unless there are compelling reasons why not – because there will be plenty of breaks. We then embark on the session.

Looking at your own life, can you think of a situation when you made clear contracts with somebody or a group of people? What did you do to make the clear contracts? What did people then do to carry out what was agreed and fulfil the contracts? 

Describe a specific situation in the past when you made clear contracts with a person or a group of people and people fulfilled the agreed contracts.

Describe the specific things that people did to make the clear contracts. 

Describe the specific things that people did then to fulfil the agreed contracts.

There are many different kinds of contracts, but this article focuses on three themes. These are:

Making Clear Contracts In Professional Relationships 

Making Clear Contracts In Personal Relationships 

Making Clear Contracts With Yourself

People often follow similar steps in each of these cases. As mentioned earlier, they focus on the following themes.

Clarity: people agree on the specific goals to achieve.

Contracting: people agree on the actions required – and who will do what – to achieve the goals.

Concrete Results: people carry out the actions and achieve the goals.

Making contracts in
professional relationships

People often enter into a contract when taking up a professional role. Sometimes this is made explicit by them agreeing to follow a certain professional credo. This may require them to sign a formal agreement.

Sometimes it takes the form of people making a verbal agreement to follow certain principles. The guidelines that people are expected to follow will differ depending on the task.

They may be aiming to climb a mountain, build an elite sports team, run an Accident & Emergency Unit, find a breakthrough medical cure or whatever. People can be given chance to decide if they want to opt into following these guidelines to achieve the mission.

Here is an example of a Professional Credo that was put together by one organisation with whom I worked. Potential employees were given examples of how this worked in practise. They were then invited to decide if they wanted to join the organisation.

Good coaches often use the contracting approach when working with people. They do this when encouraging athletes, learners and in other professional situations.

They start by establishing a clear coaching contract. Whilst the following process sounds very structured, different people use it in different ways. Doing this properly can provide the basis for building a successful coaching relationship.

The coach begins by inviting the coachee to have an initial go at filling in the coaching contract. The coachee is asked to describe:

The specific goals they want to achieve.

The specific things they see as their responsibilities in working to achieve the goals.

The specific kinds of help they want from the coach and other people in working towards achieving the goals.

The specific things that will be happening that will show they have reached the goals.

The coachee and coach then meet to agree on the coaching contract. This forms the basis for their work together.

“What happens if the coachee breaks the contract?” somebody may ask.

Depending on the situation, the coach may immediately stop working with the person. On other occasions, they may ask them:

“Let’s go back to the goals you want to achieve? Do you still want to achieve these goals?

“If so, what do you see as your responsibilities in working to achieve the goals? Are you prepared to do those things?

“If so, then we may have the basis for working together. If not, then that is your choice. And, as we know, every choice has consequences.

“If you wish, take time to reflect. Then let me know your answer.”

Good encouragers are supportive, but they can also be tough. They give people clear messages and are prepared to follow through on the consequences.

Here is the framework for the coaching contract. This can be adapted and also further sections can be added if appropriate.

Making contracts in
personal relationships

Good relationships often involve clear contracting. Looking at your own life, you will know the people who will do exactly what they say they will do. There may be others about whom you are less certain. Breaking the agreements can lead to breaking the relationships.

People often enter into contracts in their personal lives. Some involve both verbal and written agreements. These may include getting married, drawing up a will or making financial agreements.

People also make verbal contracts when living together. They agree on who will take care of the various tasks involved in earning money, looking after the house, caring for the children and doing other activities

Individuals also make assumptions, rather clear contracts, with their friends and loved ones. They develop ways of relating to each other that, whilst seldom spoken about, form the basis for their interactions.

They may get upset if others start behaving in ways that veer from what they expect. If appropriate, they may then try to rectify matters by talking about the issue and making clear contracts for the future.

During the 1970s I worked with both healthy and healthy families. This highlighted how clear contracting played a part in building good relationships.

Healthy parents, for example, were often positive and predictable. They were supportive, created a safe environment and encouraged others to develop.

Such parents also gave clear messages, however, about how people were expected to behave towards each other. People in the family felt valued. But they also knew the consequences if they behaved in ways that hurt others.

Unhealthy parents were negative and unpredictable. They often gave conflicting messages that caused chaos and confusion. As a result, other people felt scared and unable to develop.

During family therapy we invited people to make clear contracts about how they wanted to treat each other. Every family already had contracts. Some contracts were unspoken, however, and some caused difficulties.

One father, for example, told their 17 year-old addict son that he must learn to take responsibility and get a job. At the end of the session, however, they gave the son money to go and spend with their friends. The unspoken agreement was:

“I am going to tell you to take responsibility, but then I am going to enable you to stay in your role as an addict.”

Both parents were asked if they were serious. Did they really want their son to take responsibility? If so, it was important to make clear contracts about him looking after himself.

The parents agreed and, despite a few difficulties, stuck to their parts of the bargain. The son left home and stayed with friends. He was a survivor and, without resorting to crime, began to put his life together.

There are many ways to make contracts with people in personal relationships. One approach is to use the following framework. This sounds very structured, so you may wish to adapt it in your own way.

Making contracts
with yourself

Sometimes the most important contract you make is with yourself. You may believe in following certain principles in life, for example, and aim to follow these, even when things get tough.

Faced by a challenging situation, you may buy time to think. You may then ask:

“What is actually happening in the situation? Bearing in mind the things I can control, what do I want to do? What are the real results I want to achieve?

“What are the principles I believe in following in life? How can I follow these principles in this situation? How can I do my best to achieve the picture of success?”

Peak performers, for example, make a clear contract with themselves about what they want to do in their personal or professional lives.

They start by clarifying their goals. They then do due diligence and clarify the pluses and minuses involved in working towards achieving the goals.

Such people then commit to pursuing their chosen path. They keep returning to this internal contract – which acts as a compass – when making decisions about their future actions.

Making an internal contract calls for translating ideas into action. A person may choose to get up at a certain time, eat certain foods, behave in certain ways or do certain activities. They develop a rhythm for doing these things and this becomes part of their daily life.

Some people make a contract with themselves to follow a certain mantra. A person may, for example, keep saying the following things to themselves (other people may follow other scripts).

Keep being positive. 

Keep doing your best. 

Keep encouraging other people.  

Such a mantra acts like a personal contract that they aim to follow in different situations. As one person said:

“My contract with myself is always to do my best.”

Let’s return to your own life and work. You may want to make a contract with a loved one, friend, colleagues at work, a customer or another person. Alternatively, you may want to make a contract with a group of people.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things. 

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to make clear contracts with a person or a group of people. 

Describe the specific things that you can do to make clear contracts. 

Describe the specific things that people can do then to fulfil the agreed contracts.


    F is for Focusing  


    There are many ways that people choose to focus. These can range from being fully present in the moment to relentlessly pursuing their sense of mission. Here are some ways that people express this theme.

    Focusing on the moment 

    This involves being still and being fully present. It may involve deep breathing, centering, meditating or using other techniques for being aware and in the moment.

    Focusing on your personal values

    This involves focusing on your inner compass. It can mean clarifying and following your personal values, spiritual faith or other guiding compass.

    Focusing on learning from your body

    This is a form of therapy called Focusing that was created by Eugene Gendlin. It has been defined as the process of helping your mind to listen to the wisdom of your body. You can discover more via the following link.

    Focusing on what is actually
    happening in a situation

    This involves reading reality. It means seeing what is actually happening in a situation and developing the ability to see patterns.

    Focusing on the task in hand 

    This involves concentrating fully on the task you are doing. It can mean becoming so engaged that time goes away and you experience a sense of flow.

    Focusing on working to achieve a specific goal 

    This involves pursuing the key strategies most likely to help you to achieve success. It means following your daily disciplines and doing whatever is necessary to achieve your chosen goal.

    Focusing on pursuing a mission

    This involves serving something greater than yourself. It can mean pursuing a sense of vocation, a mission or something else that gives meaning to your life and work.

    Daniel Goleman describes three kinds of focus in his book Focus: The Hidden Driver Of Excellence. Below is an excerpt from what he says.

    You can discover more on several videos that he made for the educational website Edutopia. Here is a link to those pieces.

    All that can be boiled down to a threesome: inner, other, and outer focus. A well-lived life demands we be nimble in each.

    For leaders to get results they all three kinds of focus.

    Inner focus attunes us to our intuition, guiding values, and better decisions. Other focus smooths our connections to the people in our lives. And outer focus lets us navigate in the larger world. 

    A leader tuned out of his internal world will be rudderless; one blind to the world of others will be clueless; those indifferent to the larger systems within which they operate will be blindsided. 

    The rest of this article explores one approach to focusing. This is when you concentrate on working to achieve a specific goal.

    Looking back, when have you followed this path in your own way? You may have been aiming to write a book, run in a marathon, lead a team to deliver by a deadline or whatever.

    What did you do then to clarify the goal? What were the strategies you pursued to give you the greatest chance of success? What did you do to follow the required daily disciplines? What happened as a result?

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe a specific situation in the past when you focused on doing a piece of work. 

    Describe the specific things you did then to focus on doing the piece of work. 

    Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

    Like many people, during the 1970s I was helped to focus by reading Alan Lakein’s classic book How To Get Control Of Your Time And Your Life. He invites the readers:

    To clarify their lifetime goals 

    To clarify their 3 year goals 

    To clarify their 6 month goals

    Looking at these goals, Alan invites readers to divide these into A, B and C priorities. The next step is to divide each of these into sub-priorities listed 1, 2, 3 and so on.

    Peak performers, for example, often focus on their A1 goal in life. They then plan how to do the activities that will help them to reach this goal.

    Such people also focus on their A2 and A3 goals. When appropriate, they will move on to tackling their B1, B2 and B3 goals and so on. You can download a summary of the book via the following link.


    Different people glean different things from Alan’s book. Here is a summary of some ideas he describes that can help people to work towards their goals.

    Keep focusing on your lifetime goals – put these in a place where you can see these each day.

    Clarify your A, B and C priorities – remember these may evolve over time.

    Focus on your top priorities – do something towards these each day and get some quick successes. 

    Do weekly and daily planning – schedule your time so that you have the chance to do things properly.

    Ask Alan Lakein’s question: “What is the best use of my time right now?” 

    Set yourself deadlines – these can act as a spur to get things done.

    Make ‘To Do’ lists and cross off items as you do them – this will give you the feeling of success.

    Slow down rather than speed up – take time to reflect, because this can help you reprioritise or make breakthroughs. 

    Focus on the benefits of doing things – these can provide positive motivation for doing tasks.

    Do your best and be happy with that – you can aim to be the best you can be. 

    What we focus on, we become

    People are strongly affected by the things they spend their time focusing on. If you study success, for example, you are more likely to be uplifted than if you studied failure.

    Bearing this in mind, it can be useful to devote time to the people and projects that give you positive energy. Taking this step can also increase your strength to deal with the challenging situations you encounter in life.

    Looking ahead, can you think of a stimulating piece of work you would like to tackle? You may want to encourage a person, renovate a house, design a piece of software, coach a sports team or whatever.

    How can you tackle this project? If appropriate, look back to the earlier example you gave regarding when you focused successfully. What were the principles you followed? How can you follow these principles to tackle this piece of work?

    Before embarking on the process, however, ask yourself the following questions:

    Am I really serious?

    What will be the pluses of reaching the goal? What will be the potential minuses involved in working to reach the goal?

    Bearing in mind the pluses and minuses, am I really prepared to do what is required to reach the goal? How can I build on the pluses and manage the minuses?  

    How can I get some quick successes? How can I encourage myself on the journey?

    On a scale 0-10, how motivated am I to do what is required to reach the goal?

    Imagine that your rating is 8+/10. How can you follow your best working rhythm? How can you build in time for rest and recovery? How can you do whatever is required to achieve your picture of success?

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to focus on doing a piece of work. 

    Describe the specific things you can do then to focus on doing the piece of work.

    Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.


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