The Art of Strengths Coaching

S is for Strengths, Savvy and Success  

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There are many models for doing superb work. One approach is to focus on the specific activity where you have the strengths and savvy required to deliver success.

Great workers build on their strengths. They focus on the specific activity where they can deliver As, rather than Bs or Cs. They may be good at encouraging people, playing a sport, solving a technical problem or working in a particular field.

Such workers also have savvy in their chosen activity. They know how to choose the right strategies, negotiate their way through challenges and deliver success.

Dictionaries define savvy in various ways. Here are some of the themes they highlight.

A person with savvy has the experience, practical knowledge and ability to make good judgements in a particular domain.

Every person has savvy in some areas. They may have it when dealing with people, animals, technical matters, finances, sales, health care or whatever. They may need to develop or add extra expertise, however, to reach their goal.

Looking at your own life, can you think of a specific activity in which you have the strengths and savvy required to deliver success? If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific activity where you may have the strengths and savvy required to deliver success. 

Describe some specific examples of when you have used these qualities to deliver success.  

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People who do good work build on their strengths and manage the consequences of their weaknesses. The topic of savvy, however, is often overlooked.

A person may have deep knowledge of a particular field, for example, but that may not be enough. They may need to learn how to apply it effectively to achieve success.

So how do people develop savvy? They often focus on an activity they find fascinating and gather information. Setting a specific goal, they clarify the strategies most likely to achieve success.

They then go into an interesting phase. They follow their chosen strategies and aim to perform good work, but they also do something else.

They are fully alert and keep reading reality. They keep checking on: a) What is working and going well; b) What can be done better and how. They then either keep pursuing their chosen strategies or find solutions to the challenges.

They build a bank of knowledge that helps them to make decisions. They see patterns, anticipate future challenges and find potential solutions. They apply this savvy to help them achieve success.

A person may then take time to reflect on the experience. Looking back, they ask:

What have I learned from the experience? What did I do well and how can I do more of these things in the future? What could I do better next time and how? What else have I learned from the experience? How can I apply these lessons to increase the chances of success in the future?

A person can have savvy in one area but not in another. They may be an expert at research, for example, but not know how to present their ideas. They may also be good at relating to certain types of people but not to others.

Al Siebert, author of The Survivor Personality, described how some people display savvy in certain situations. They had what he called personal radar. They seem to ‘know what will happen before it happens.’

He spent over 50 years studying people who show such qualities. A paratrooper in the 1950s, Al remembered meeting the few remaining survivors from the 11th Airborne Division, a unit that had served in WWII and Korea.

Something about them made him sit up and take notice. They weren’t the gung-ho types: they had unusual qualities. He wrote:

During our training I noticed that combat survivors have a type of personal radar always on ‘scan.’ Anything that happens, or any noise draws a quick, brief look.

They have a relaxed awareness. I began to realize it wasn’t just luck or fate that these were the few who came back alive.

Something about them as people had tipped the scales in their favour.

Al decided to study life’s survivors. He found that such people use various strategies to overcome crises successfully. These include the following.

They stay calm and quickly read the new reality.

They have experience and competence that helps them in such situations.

They clarify the real results to achieve and set specific goals.

They rehearse the potential strategies and settle on their chosen route.

They stay alert when implementing the strategies, adjust these accordingly and do everything possible to reach the goal.

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Al said such people are good at pattern recognition. Scanning the situation, they look for patterns by asking some of the following questions.

What is happening? What isn’t happening? Are events following their normal course or is something else happening?

What are the patterns I can observe? What will happen if these patterns continue? What will be the consequences?

How can I build on the successful patterns? How can I deal with the unsuccessful patterns?

What action do I need to take? Bearing in mind the patterns that are occurring – and the potential consequences – how can I do my best to achieve success?

Let’s return to the specific activity in which you have the strengths and savvy required to succeed. How can you keep building on your strengths? How can you keep developing your savvy? How can you keep doing superb work?

You may want to tackle a stimulating yet stretching project that enables you to use these talents. This could be in your personal or professional life.

How can you find or create such a project? How can you clarify the picture of success? How can you clarify the strategies you want to follow? How can you anticipate and solve challenges? How can you do superb work? How can you do what is required to achieve the picture of success?

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

Describe a specific project you can find or create where you can use your strengths and savvy to do your best to deliver success. 

Describe the specific things you can do to use your strengths and savvy to deliver the project successfully. 

Describe the specific benefits for all the various stakeholders of delivering the project successfully.

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    P is for Focusing On Your Purpose, Principles and Projects

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    People love to have a sense a purpose. They often gain strength by serving something greater than themselves. This may involve following a particular life philosophy, spiritual faith or vocation.

    They often pursue their purpose by following certain principles. They may aim to encourage other people, create beauty, pass on knowledge or follow other guidelines.

    People sometimes translate these principles into action by doing specific projects. They may aim to provide counselling sessions, run a workshop, write an article, give a concert, create a beautiful garden, invent a product, build a successful prototype or do other activities.

    You will have your own approach to pursuing a purpose and following certain principles. You may then express these by doing specific projects in your personal or professional life.

    Looking back on your life, can you think of a situation when you did such a project? What were the reasons you believed in the project? What were the principles you tried to follow? How did you translate these principles into action?

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

    Describe a specific project you have done in the past that may have been an expression of a purpose and principles you believed in.

    Describe the specific principles you believed in that you tried to translate into action when doing the project.

    Describe the specific things you did to translate these principles into action when doing the project.

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    Different people translate their purpose into different kinds of projects. Here are some examples. 

    Mary Gordon translated her compassion for people into creating the organisation called Roots of Empathy. Its mission is to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.

    The programme involves bringing a local baby into the classroom. The children then learn how to understand and care for the needs of another human being.


    The Roots of Empathy programme has spread to many countries. It has produced remarkable results in enabling children to become more caring and able to solve problems. This has also reduced aggression, bullying and other social problems. You can discover more on the organisation’s web site.

    Richard Barbe-Baker believed in showing people the value of planting trees. His epiphany came at a young age.

    Writing in his book My Life My Trees, he describes how in 1894, at the age of five, he had an unforgettable experience that charted his future path. After much coaxing, his nurse allowed him to explore the woods by himself. He continues:

    No explorer of space probing the secrets of other planets could have felt more exultation that I did at that moment. 

    Soon I was completely isolated in the luxuriant, tangled growth of ferns which were well above my head. In my infant mind I seemed to have entered a fairyland of my dreams.

    I wandered on as in a dream, all sense of time and space lost. I became intoxicated with the beauty all around me, immersed in the joyousness and exultation of feeling part of it all. 

    I had entered the temple of the wood. I sank to the ground in a state of ecstasy; everything was intensely vivid – the call of a distant cuckoo seemed just for me. 

    The overpowering beauty of it all entered my very being. At that moment my heart brimmed over with a sense of unspeakable thankfulness which has followed me through the years since that woodland re-birth. 

    I was in love with life: I was indeed born again, although I could not have explained what had happened to me then.


    Richard was a changed person. Returning from his walk in the woods, he found the commonplace things in life had a new beauty. The bread he ate tasted crustier and more delicious. The grumpy old gardener looked like a favourite uncle.

    His parents gave him even more affection than they had done the previous day. At least, that was how it seemed. Twenty-five years later he translated this passion into his life’s work.

    He visited Kenya in 1920. Enlisting the backing of chiefs and elders, he started a programme that led to planting over one million trees. He then co-founded The Men of Trees and was invited to speak around the world.

    After helping President Roosevelt to establish the Civil Conservation Corp, he instigated the Save The Redwoods campaign in California. After crossing America and seeing the trees for the first time in 1931, he wrote:

    It was here that I came upon superb trees representing the supreme achievement of tree growth in the world today. Here it seemed that my search for the beautiful had ended. 

    This, I decided must be known as the ‘Grove of Understanding’. It was here that I visualised international plays and youth gatherings.

    What better setting could there be in which to plan the better world of tomorrow?

    Richard then set three goals for the project.

    To save the trees for posterity.

    To provide a magnificent backdrop where young people could meet and marvel at the beauty of the Redwoods and the planet.

    To inspire young people to work together to hand over this legacy to future generations.

    Richard has inspired many people to plant trees and contribute towards building a positive planet. Here is a video in which he introduces the principles he tried to translate into action.

    Different people have different approaches to following a purpose in life. Some people seem to know their purpose at an early age, whilst for others it is a lifetime quest.

    Some aim to serve a cause that is greater than themselves. Some focus on the activities that give them positive energy. They then translate these into a clear purpose. Some use their strengths to do satisfying work that helps people or the planet.

    Some people find a way to follow a purpose, whilst others may find this to elusive. There are, of course, different kinds of people.

    Some people are purpose driven 

    Such people often get satisfaction from following a deep-seated purpose. They aim to express this by following certain principles in their daily lives and work.

    Some people are projects driven 

    Such people feel fulfilled by doing certain projects. They may or may not see these an expression of a deeper purpose. They do, however, get great satisfaction from doing these projects.

    Some people are purpose and projects driven

    Such people follow their chosen purpose and principles. They only get satisfaction, however, by translating these drives into doing specific projects that are expressions of their purpose and principles.

    Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking to the future, can you think of a project that may be an expression of a purpose and principles you believe in?

    What would be your reasons for believing in the project? What would be the principles you would try to follow? How could you translate these principles into action?

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

    Describe a specific project you may want to do in the future that may be an expression of a purpose and principles you believe in.

    Describe the specific principles you believe in that you can translate into action when doing the project.

    Describe the specific things can do to translate these principles into action when doing the project.

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