The Art of Strengths Coaching

V is for Following Your Values In A Volatile World


During the past 20 years many people have talked about living in a VUCA world. This is a world where situations can be volatile, uncertain, complex or ambiguous. Some events contain aspects of all four elements.

This world provides opportunities for people who stick to their values. It gives them the chance to translate these values into action in their daily lives and work.

At the same time, however, such a world can be frightening. This creates opportunities for demagogues who promise simplistic solutions or who create scapegoats. Some people yearn for a return to what they believed was a more predictable world.

In the video below Bob Johansen of the Institute of the Future, and David Small, Vice President of Global Talent Management at McDonald’s Corporation, explain this concept.

This video was recorded at the Center for Values-Driven Leadership’s Senior Executive Roundtable on June 16, 2011.

How can you live in such a world? How can you create a sense of stability? How can you deal with challenging events in the midst of what sometimes appears to be chaos?

As mentioned earlier, one way is to return to your deepest values. You can then translate these into a clear vision and deliver visible results. You can ask:

“What are the values that I believe are important in life? How can I follow these in my daily life and work?”

You can make these values the anchor for your life rather than be tossed around by events like a cork on the ocean. When in doubt, you can return to these values. These can provide stability in your life.

This approach also works in organisations. Over the years I have worked with many organisations that have asked: “How do we cope in such a world?”

The key has been to help them to return to their values. They have then focused on how follow them in their daily work. These values have provided a compass they can follow in a volatile world.

Many people took this step after the shocks provided by elections in Europe and the USA. After a period of mourning, they mobilised themselves by focusing on their deepest values. They then looked at how to translate these into action in their daily lives and work.

Some regained strength by spending time with their loved ones and appreciating the simple things in life. Some supported organisations that worked for decency and human rights. Some worked for movements that aimed to care for people and the planet.

Looking at your own life, what do you believe are the values that are important to follow? Different people give different answers to this question. Here are some that they give.

My Values: The values that I believe
are important to follow in life are:

To encourage people … To be kind … To care for my loved ones … To care for nature … To help people to fulfill their potential … To always do my best … To make beautiful things … To make a positive difference … To care for the planet … To build a better world for future generations.

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

Describe the specific values that you want to follow in your life. 

Describe the specific reasons why you want to follow these values.




People sometimes say that they believe in certain values, but they may behave in ways that seem to contradict these beliefs. Therefore one view is that: “A value is not a value until it is lived.”

Some people therefore prefer to talk about virtues rather than values. The Oxford Dictionary definition of virtues is: “Behaviour showing high moral standards.”

Bearing this in mind, are there common behaviours that are admired across the world? Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson explored this topic in their book Character Strengths and Virtues.

Working with a team of researchers, they studied the qualities of moral excellence that are admired across different philosophies, religions and cultures. These included looking at virtues in the following fields.

The Buddhist Tradition … The Taoist Tradition … The Hindu Tradition … The Christian Tradition … The Confucian Tradition … The Jewish Tradition … The Muslim Tradition … The Bahá’í Tradition … The Humanistic Tradition … The Altruistic Tradition.

The African Traditions … The Asian Traditions … The European Traditions … The North American Traditions … The South American Traditions … The Pacific Traditions … The Various Philosophical Traditions … The Traditions Embodied in Various Guilds, Professions and Social Movements.

The researchers interviewed over 15,000 people in different cultures. After extensive research, the team settled on six key virtues, though these are obviously interlinked. Martin Seligman writes. 

When we look we see that there are six virtues, which we find endorsed across cultures, and these break down into 24 strengths.

The six virtues that we find are non-arbitrary – first, a wisdom and knowledge cluster; second, a courage cluster; third, virtues like love and humanity; fourth, a justice cluster; fifth a temperance, moderation cluster; and sixth a spirituality, transcendence cluster.

We sent people up to northern Greenland, and down to the Masai, and are involved in a 70-nation study in which we look at the ubiquity of these. Indeed, we’re beginning to have the view that those six virtues are just as much a part of human nature as walking on two feet are.

Below is a summary of their findings. You can discover more via the following link.



Whether you prefer the term values or virtues, the key is to translate these into action. Imagine, for example, that you want to follow the Dalai Llama’s approach and try to be kind. How can you make this happen?

You may want to show kindness to your child, partner and colleagues at work. How can you encourage these people? How can you help them to feel the centre of your world? How can you help them to achieve their picture of success in life?

Some people express their values by translating these into a clear vision. They then pursue this aim and, if appropriate, sometimes get visible results.

Mary Gordon showed kindness by creating the organisation called Roots of Empathy. The organisation’s 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, peaceful and able to solve problems. This has also reduced aggression, bullying and other social problems.

Below is a video that provides an insight into the approach. You can also discover more on the organisation’s web site.

Chad Varah, an Anglican clergyman, showed kindness by founding the Samaritans in 1953. Suicide was illegal at the time and he felt something could be done to help people in distress.

Here is some more background about the Samaritans. This comes from the official website and you can discover more via the following link.

The first funeral Chad Varah took as a curate prompted his lifelong commitment to suicide prevention and education.

The funeral was for a 13-year-old girl who had taken her own life because she feared she was seriously ill; in fact she had started to menstruate.

Chad vowed at her graveside to devote himself to helping other people overcome the sort of ignorance and isolation that had ultimately caused the young girl’s death.

In the early 1950s, three suicides a day were officially recorded in Greater London; suicide was still an illegal act and sex education hardly existed.

Chad advertised in the press for people to help – not as trained counsellors, but as ordinary human beings offering a listening ear and emotional support. 

Inundated with offers of help, he opened the first drop-in centre where emotionally isolated and distressed people could go to find a sympathetic ear – and Samaritans was born.

Chad continued to run Samaritans until 1987, thereafter remaining an active member of the organisation and retaining a watchful eye over it even after his retirement.

Samaritans found that providing a listening ear could enable people to take more charge of their lives. Chad’s pioneering work created a caring framework that enabled many people to live more fulfilling lives.

Below is an interview with Duncan Irvine in which he describes his personal experience of being helped by the organisation. Duncan is now a volunteer with the Central London branch of the Samaritans.

Good organisations also often go back to their values during volatile times. Recently I worked with one organisation that took this step. Bearing in mind the changes in their market, they wanted to explore the following question.

“What are the specific things we can do to achieve ongoing success?”

The organisation began by revisiting the values they believed in. These were:

To act as trusted advisors.

To clarify the customer’s goals.

To use our expertise to help the customers to achieve success.

Being a business, they needed to do this in a way that benefited the customers and also helped them to develop as an organisation.

Bearing this in mind, I asked people to revisit their positive history. They were invited to explore the following themes. 

The specific times when we have followed our values and helped our customers to achieve success. 

The specific things we did then to follow our values and help our customers to achieve success.

The specific things we can do follow these values in the future and help our customers to achieve success.

Doing these exercises convinced people that they wanted to follow these values. These would provide something constant – a common compass – that they could keep referring to during volatile times. People then made concrete plans for pursuing these principles with customers.

There are many ways to react to events. One approach is to return to your deepest values and translate these into action.

Looking ahead, can you think of a value that you would like to follow? How can you translate this value into action? How can you start small, for example, and then expand how you live the value in your daily life and work?

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

Describe the specific value you would like to follow and translate into action.

Describe the specific things you can do to translate this value into action.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of translating this value into action.





    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.





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