The Art of Strengths Coaching

I is for Inspiration


Different people are inspired in different ways. Some are inspired by appreciating positive experiences. They have a sense of gratitude and enjoy life each day.

Some are inspired by learning from positive people. These may be parents, teachers, thinkers or others who influence their lives.

Some are inspired by following a personal philosophy, a spiritual faith or a sense of vocation. Some are inspired by pursuing a compelling mission.

Some are inspired by seeing positive possibilities for the future. Some by making a personal breakthrough or seeing a way to solve a problem. Some people use painful experiences as a motivation for making the world a better place.

The origin of the word inspiration refers to divine guidance breathing into the human soul. Here is an excerpt from one website that explores the etymology of the word. You can discover more via the following link.

Middle English enspire, from Old French inspirer, from Latin inspirare breathe or blow into.

The word was originally used of a divine or supernatural being, in the sense ‘impart a truth or idea to someone’.

Inspire (v.) in Middle English also was used to mean “breath or put life or spirit into the human body; impart reason to a human soul.” 

Today there are other descriptions. The Oxford Dictionary defines inspiration in the following way.

The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

Scott Barry Kaufman provides an excellent background to the concept in an article he wrote for Psychology Today called Why Inspiration Matters. He also explains why it is important to provide inspiration in the educational system. You can discover more via the following link.

Looking back on your life, when have you experienced the feeling of inspiration? You may have felt it when being encouraged by a teacher, finding the solution to a problem, seeing what life could be like or whatever.

What happened to create the feeling of inspiration? Sometimes inspiration just seems to happen. On other occasions, however, you may work hard, explore a specific topic or do other things that enable you to be open to inspiration.

Did you do anything to help to create the conditions that led to the feeling of inspiration? If so, what did you to do help to make it happen?

What was the result of feeling inspired? You may have simply enjoyed the experience, gained some insight or perhaps been motivated to translate the feeling into action.

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 experienced a feeling of inspiration. 

Describe the specific things that happened to create a feeling of inspiration.

Describe the specific things that you did afterwards as a result of feeling inspired.




As mentioned earlier, there are various ways in which people can feel inspired. Let’s explore some of these.

Being inspired by having
positive experiences

Some people feel inspired by having positive experiences. Some focus on the simple pleasures they enjoy each day. These may include being with loved ones, gardening, cooking food, walking or doing creative activities.

Such people have a sense of gratitude and count their blessings rather than their burdens. There are now many books that focus on gratitude. These often mention the life and work of Brother David Steindl-Rast. Writing in Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer, he says:

What we really want is joy. We don’t want things.

Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness. 

Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy – because we will always want to have something else or something more.

You can discover more about the work of Brother David and his colleagues at the following site.


Barbara Fredrickson is another person who has described the importance of positive emotions in our lives. Twenty years of research culminated in her best selling book Positivity.

The book was based on solid research, but it also captured the imagination. Why? Interviewers and readers focused on a key theme that provided a signpost to the future. This was:

People who have positive emotions in a ratio of 3:1 in relation to negative emotions are more likely to flourish.

Some people disagree with the exact figures, but most agree that positivity can help people to grow. Barbara explains that this is more than simply being happy. And it certainly isn’t putting on a smiling face to grin and bear things.

Positivity embodies gratitude, love, playfulness, curiosity and adventure. These emotions trigger each other and create an upward spiral. They broaden and build, helping us to make breakthroughs and bring new things into being.

Such emotions provide the basis for creativity, problem solving and even evolution. They enable us to open our hearts and minds. Negativity, on the other hand, closes down our ability to think, create and grow. Barbara explains that:


Positivity consists of the whole range of positive emotions – from appreciation to love, from amusement to joy, from hope to gratitude, and then some.

The term is purposely broad. It includes the positive meanings and optimistic attitudes that trigger positive emotions as well as the open minds, tender hearts, relaxed limbs, and soft faces they usher in.

It even includes the long-term impact that positive emotions have on your character, relationships, communities and environments.

You can discover more about Barbara’s work via the following link. This also invites you to test your own positivity ratio.

Being inspired by learning
from positive people 

Some are inspired by positive people. They may feel encouraged by parents, teachers or others who have a profound influence on their lives.

They may also learn from people who act as positive models. They may want to emulate such people and follow similar principles in their own work or lives.

Alice Herz-Sommer inspired many people during her life. A survivor of concentration camps, she believed people could choose to be optimistic.

The video below is a trailer to a documentary about her called The Lady in Number 6. Here is the official introduction.

Music literally saved her life! “The Lady in Number 6” is one of the most inspirational, uplifting stories of the year. 

109 year old, Alice Herz-Sommer the world’s oldest pianist and oldest holocaust survivor in the world shares her views on how to live a long and happy life. She discusses the importance of music, laughter and having an optimistic outlook on life. 

Below is an introduction to Alice’s approach to life. Written by Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian, it was published in 2006. 

Alice Herz-Sommer is, I think, the most optimistic person I have ever met.

She sits in her armchair in her single-roomed north London flat beaming at the beauty of life and treasuring the moment. She is 103 and cannot quite believe her luck.

This is not wholly what you expect as you read the summary of her life. It is true that she is an immensely gifted pianist, who has found great sustenance from her art and who, even now, practises for three hours a day.

But she has also experienced more unhappiness than any optimist has a right to expect.

With her Jewish background, she endured the miseries of the Prague ghetto, spent two years in the Theresienstadt (Terezín) concentration camp, where nearly 35,000 prisoners perished. 

Her husband was moved to Auschwitz in 1944: she never saw him again. She lost many in her extended family and most of the friends she had grown up with.

All this she tells, with a near-perfect recall of dates, names and places. If she was ever bitter about the hardships she endured or the losses she suffered, it is all wiped clean. Instead, there is an almost evangelical zeal in communicating the necessity of optimism.

You can find the complete article at the following link.

Some people learn from individuals who act as positive models. Such models often inspire people and sometimes show it is possible to follow a certain path in life.

They may show, for example, how it is possible to be a certain kind of person or professional. Sometimes they also pass on practical advice that enables other people to follow this path in their own way.

Looking back, can you think of a person who acted as a positive model for you? This could have been somebody that you met or somebody you admired from afar.

They may have been teacher, coach or mentor. Alternatively, they may have been a certain kind of artist, writer, performer, thinker, business person or professional.

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

Describe the person who acted as a positive model for you.  

Describe the specific things you learned from this person.  

Describe the specific things you did to follow these principles in your own way.




Being inspired by following a
personal philosophy, a spiritual
faith or a sense of vocation

People are sometimes inspired by choosing to serve something greater than themselves. Different people choose to different things to serve. Here are some examples.

A person may follow their personal philosophy – such as their internal compass or a set of values … A spiritual follower may aim to serve their faith … A nurse may follow their calling of helping people to regain their health. 

An educator may serve their vocation of helping students to shape their futures … A mediator may serve the cause of finding positive solutions to conflicts … A trusted advisor may want to pass on knowledge that helps other people to succeed.

People often want to serve a cause even though they may be not around to see the fruits of their labours. Doing what they believe in helps them to feel alive and able to give to other people.


Being inspired by
pursuing a compelling mission

People often feel alive when they have a sense of purpose. They may aim to climb a mountain, find a cure for an illness, build a successful prototype or tackle a stimulating challenge. They feel their days have meaning when they are pursuing a compelling mission.

Robert Greenleaf explored some aspects of this approach in his work on Servant Leadership. He believed that such leaders chose to serve a specific mission and their people rather than their own self-interest.

Below is a short excerpt from The Greenleaf Center website. You can discover more via the following link.

While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:

The servant-leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.

That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.


Being inspired by seeing
positive possibilities

A person can be inspired when they see a vision of positive possibilities. This may come after a period of reflection, reading a book, listening to another person or gathering information. Suddenly they say:

“I can now see a way forward. I can now see what is possible and I can see the benefits. I want to follow this path in my own way.”

Looking back, can you recall a time when you suddenly saw such possibilities? You may have done this when building a relationship, doing creative work, taking the next step in your career or finding a new way to do your best in life.

What happened to enable you to see the positive possibilities? You may have absorbed yourself in a topic, explored ideas, worked hard or done another activity. If appropriate, what did other people to do help you to see the possibilities? They may have written a book, made a film, produced a model or whatever.

Looking back at my own life, I experienced such a breakthrough when first reading Abraham Maslow. At the time I was working in a therapeutic community. The work was rewarding, but I was searching for another way of helping people.

I can still remember going into a bookshop in Kingston upon Thames, reaching up to the top shelf and opening Maslow’s book Towards A Psychology Of Being. Looking at his pyramid of human needs, I suddenly saw a positive way of working with people that could enable them to grow.

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

Describe a specific time when you saw positive possibilities. This could have been in your personal or professional life.

Describe the specific things that happened that enabled you to see the positive possibilities.  

Describe the specific things you did follow up these possibilities in your own way.




Being inspired by having a
personal breakthrough and
seeing a way to solve a problem

Rick Snyder described how this works in his book The Psychology Of Hope. A key message in the book is:

People feel more able to shape their futures when they score highly on both will power and way power.

Imagine that a person is tackling a difficult challenge. They will have a strong sense of hope if, for example:

They score 8+/10 in terms of their will to solve the challenge.  

They score 8+/10 in terms of seeing a way to solve the challenge.

The person will then feel confident about how they can achieve their picture of success. This is because they score highly on both will power and way power.


This model also explains why a normally positive person can be confused if they feel depressed when facing a particular challenge. They have a strong will to solve the issue, but as yet they cannot see a way to find a solution.

Once the person sees a way through the problem, however, the cloud evaporates. Their hope returns and they feel reinvigorated to tackle the challenge.

We are often told that: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” But this phrase can be turned around to say: “Where there’s a way, there’s a will.”

If a person sees a way forward, they are more likely to develop the will to make it happen. You can read more about Rick’s work on hope via the following link.

Being inspired by having a
painful experience that motivates
you to build a better world

People can decide how they respond to adversity. Some choose to translate the difficulty into action. After a period of mourning, they mobilise their energy and do something to improve the world. Many progressive movements have been born out of painful experiences.

The Dalai Llama responded to being exiled from Tibet by travelling the world saying: “My religion is kindness.” Penny Brohn responded to being diagnosed with cancer by setting up the Bristol Cancer Help Centre. Viktor Frankl responded to his experiences in concentration camps by writing Man’s Search For Meaning.

Jo Berry responded to her father being killed by an IRA bomb by later working with Patrick Magee, who planted the bomb. They founded Building Bridges For Peace, which aims to promote peace and conflict resolution around the world.

You can discover more about their work via the following link. This is followed by a video from Positive TV.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation in which you may want inspiration? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may want to see possible ways forward when making a transition, managing a potential illness, finding a new sense of purpose, tackling a specific challenge or another situation.

Looking ahead, what can you do in the situation to gather information, explore ideas and seek inspiration? What can you then do with the ideas you get for dealing with the situation?

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 experience the feeling of inspiration. 

Describe the specific things that you can do then to help to create the feeling of inspiration.  

Describe the specific things that you can do afterwards as a result of experiencing the feeling of inspiration.





    F is for Leaders Building Cultures Based On Friendliness, Fairness And Fulfilment Not On Fear  


    Different leaders build cultures in different ways. Some build them based on friendliness, fairness and fulfilment. Some build them by relying on fear. Let’s explore these themes.


    Some leaders are warm, human and build an environment based on friendliness. This enables people to feel at ease and able to express themselves.

    Other leaders are stern, grumpy and create environments based on fear. This leads to people feeling afraid and unable to do their best.


    Some leaders create environments in which everybody is given encouragement and the chance to do their best. They also explain the guidelines people can follow to treat others fairly in the culture.

    Other leaders create environments that are repressive and unfair. This leads to people feeling resentful or going underground.


    Some leaders create cultures based on giving people the chance to make progress and work towards achieving their potential. This leads to people being willing to work hard and also encourage others to achieve success.

    Other leaders create environments in which a few people reap the rewards and others are treated as cogs in the wheel. This leads to unhappiness and the system being unsustainable.

    Can you think of a culture in which people aimed to follow the principles of friendliness, fairness and fulfilment? You may have experienced this in a family, school, team or organisation. Alternatively, you may have heard about such a culture.

    How did people demonstrate warmth and friendliness? How did they demonstrate fairness? How did they encourage people to work towards fulfilment?

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

    Describe a specific culture that you have known – or have heard about – that was based on friendliness, fairness and fulfilment.

    Describe the specific things that the leader and other people did to base the culture on these principles.

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





    Good leaders are positive and predictable rather than negative and unpredictable. They help to create an environment in which people feel welcome and able to do their best.

    You may have experienced this feeling when visiting a school, clinic, work place or organisation. People were hospitable, put you at ease and encouraged you to be yourself.

    Good leaders set the tone in such organisations. They are warm, friendly and show respect to other people. They often demonstrate the human touch.

    Mark Emberton, a world-renowned expert on prostate cancer, is somebody who shows these qualities. He works in several hospitals and clinics, including The Macmillan Cancer Centre in London.

    Surrounded by nurses, it would be easy for him to ask them to summon the patients. Mark goes out of his way, however, to walk into the waiting room, greet individuals and then escort them to his office. He is professional but human.

    After making the person feel welcome, Mark explains what is happening with the illness. When the person is ready, he then describes the possible ways forward. I was fortunate enough to be operated upon by Mark. Many people remember him as wise and trusted advisor.


    Henry Pluckrose was a remarkable educator who helped to create a wonderful atmosphere at Prior Weston Primary School in London. The school encouraged children to be creative and also master skills they could use to shape their future lives.

    I first heard about Prior Weston on the BBC radio programme The World At One. It was introduced as a school that ‘everybody liked’. Students and parents were so enthusiastic that the presenter pleaded: “Please tell me one thing that is wrong with the school.”

    The school attracted visitors from around the world. People were shown around by the children, who explained the school’s approach. Eventually the school became so popular that visitors had to be limited to 4,000 a year.

    Prior Weston was successful because the staff believed in the educational – rather than engineering – approach to running a school. Whilst it was important to deliver certain results, these could be achieved by treating students as individuals.

    For example, parents were asked to bring their child to school at least 12 times before the official starting date. Why? This was the child’s first introduction to an ‘institution’, so it was vital to get it right. The school believed in pursuing the following principles of learning.

    Learning should be relevant … Learning should recognise that students have different learning styles … Learning should encourage curiosity and creativity … Learning should encourage students to work towards achieving success … Learning should help students to learn skills they can apply in their lives.

    Visitors to Prior Weston were impressed by the warmth of the welcome and the work done by the students and teachers. Many went on to create similar environments in their own schools and work places. 

    Henry passed away on April 6, 2011, but his legacy continues to live on. Here is his obituary in the Guardian.


    Good leaders create an environment in which people feel safe and yet stimulated. At the same time, however, they also outline the principles that people are encouraged to follow to reach certain goals.

    These principles are based on respect, fairness and, when appropriate, delivering certain professional standards. Fairness is a crucial component in organisations and societies.

    People may grow resentful if they feel that, despite working hard, they are not given chance to progress. In societies they may become targets for demagogues who want to manipulate their emotions.

    Good organisations treat people with respect. At the same time, however, they outline that is important for people to follow certain principles to reach the goals.

    People need to see the reasons for these guidelines and, by and large, perceive them as fair. They also need to see how following them can contribute towards reaching the agreed picture of success.

    Good leaders often follow the global-local model to achieve these aims. They start by explaining the global purpose and principles. They then give people local autonomy – within parameters – regarding how they achieve the purpose.


    Different leaders communicate this approach in different ways. One method is for them to gather people together and say something along the following lines.

    Welcome To Today’s Session

    I am going to give an overview of our organisation’s purpose and the part you can play in making this happen.

    Later I will give some examples of how people have contributed to this purpose in the past and how they can contribute in the future.

    But first let me give an outline of our overall approach to working together.

    The Purpose

    The purpose of our organisation is:

    * To

    The picture of success – the specific things the
    organisation wants to achieve by a certain date –
    that will be an expression of the purpose are:

    * To 

    * To 

    * To 

    The positive benefits for all the various
    stakeholders of achieving these things will be:

    * To

    * To 

    * To 

    The Principles

    The key principles we aim to follow to achieve this purpose
    – together with the reasons for following these guidelines – are:

    * To 

    * To

    * To

    The Practice 

    The way you practice these principles will – within parameters – be up to you in your part of the organisation.

    But there is key point. You must show how what you practice supports the principles and contributes toward achieving the purpose.

    Great leaders manage by outcomes rather than by tasks. Each department – and each person – then makes clear contracts about their contributions towards achieving the organisation’s goals.

    People are given great autonomy. But, as mentioned earlier, they must keep showing how what they are delivering is contributing towards achieving the overall picture of success.

    Some leaders work for fairness on a wider scale. In the video below, Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, explains why it is important to promote fairness across the planet. This is vital if we are to build a sustainable system that achieves ongoing success. You can discover more via the following link.


    Good leaders create positive cultures in which motivated people can work towards achieving their potential. There are many models for making this happen.

    One model is to pursue the strengths approach. This aims to encourage people to build on their strengths, do satisfying work and help the organisation to achieve its picture of success.

    Leaders sometimes take the following steps towards making this happen.

    They communicate the picture of success. 

    They co-ordinate people’s strengths to achieve the picture of success. 

    They encourage and enable people to achieve ongoing success.

    Such leaders start by communicating the organisation’s picture of success. They then invite people to reflect and decide if they want to contribute towards achieving the goals.

    If so, they invite people to do the following exercise. Individuals then make clear contracts with their manager about their best contributions. Here is the exercise. This can, of course, be adapted to suit the needs of the organisation.


















    Good organisations often have co-ordinators who enable people to channel their strengths towards achieving the picture of success. They encourage people to do what they do best, but they also make sure any outstanding practical tasks get done.

    Co-ordination is crucial because otherwise individuals may simply do their own thing. Here are some of the questions it can be useful to ask when taking this step.


    Good organisations implement the right strategy with the right people in the right way. They make sure they have the right people – with the right strengths – in the right places. They also give them the support to do the job.

    People are then more likely to do stimulating work, find solutions to challenges and keep developing. This provides the foundation for equipping both individuals and the organisation to achieve ongoing success.

    There are many ways to build cultures. One approach is to base them on friendliness, fairness and fulfilment. This can be more beneficial than basing them on fear.

    Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation in which you may want to build a culture based on these elements?

    You may want to use the ideas in a family, school, sports team, work place, organisation or elsewhere. How can you follow these principles in your own way? What might be the benefits?

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

    Describe a specific situation in which you would like to build a culture based on friendliness, fairness and fulfilment.  

    Describe the specific things you can do to follow these principles in your own way.

    Describe the specific benefits of building the culture based on friendliness, fairness and fulfilment.





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