The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for The Positive Team Approach

Imagine that you lead a team. You will obviously do this in your own way. Here are some ideas, however, that you can use to build a positive team in which people work well together and produce positive results.

Good leaders set the tone in such teams. They act as good models and create a positive environment in which motivated people can achieve peak performance.

Such leaders make sure that everybody understands the team’s approach. Bearing this in mind, they communicate the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

They believe that people work best when they understand the big picture and context. People can then see how they can contribute towards achieving the goals.

Good leaders give people the chance to reflect and decide if they want to contribute. If so, they encourage people to build on their strengths and clarify their best contributions.

Such teams are often made up of people who aim to be positive, professional and deliver peak performances. These people take responsibility, encourage others and do their best to help the team to succeed.

Good leaders make clear contracts with such people. They agree on the results they will deliver and give them the support they need to deliver the goods. They also ask people to proactively keep their stakeholders informed about their progress towards achieving the goals.

They then manage by outcomes rather than by tasks. They encourage people to co-ordinate their strengths and perform superb work. They also encourage them to be self-managing and, when appropriate, find solutions to challenges.

Good leaders keep people informed about the team’s progress and future plans. They also highlight success stories that show how people are doing great work. At the same time, they encourage people to develop the ethic of constant improvement.

Such leaders sometimes need to take tough decisions, of course, especially if things go off-track. When doing so, they return to the team’s compass. They make decisions by focusing on the team’s purpose and principles.

They make sure the team continues to implement the right strategy with the right people in the right way. Good leaders then encourage and enable their people to work well together and deliver the picture of success.

Building A Positive Team

Imagine that you are leading a team that is about take the next step in its development. You will have your own framework for making plans.

If you wish, however, you can use the following approach for enabling people to achieve peak performance. The following sections describe the specific things you can do:

To clarify and communicate the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

To make clear contracts with people about their best contributions towards achieving the picture of success.

To enable people to perform superb work and do their best to achieve the picture of success.

It may be, however, that you simply want to move on to gaining commitment to the team’s goals. If this is the case, then you can skip the first parts of the article that focus on the purpose and principles.

Clarifying the
team’s purpose

There are many ways for a person or team to begin clarifying their purpose. Here are some of the common approaches.

They focus on something they want to serve that is greater than themselves – such as a set of values, spiritual faith, vocation or mission.

They focus on the things they feel passionately about in which they can also achieve peak performance. 

They focus on how they can use their strengths to do satisfying work that helps other people to succeed.

They focus on the things they want to pass on to people and aim to leave a positive legacy.

Some people combine all of these approaches. They then translate their findings into a compelling purpose.

Looking at my work with teams, many of them take the strengths and satisfying work approach. This involves them taking the following steps.

They clarify their strengths – the deeply satisfying activities in which they deliver As rather than Bs or Cs.

They clarify the specific kinds of people – customers, clients and other stakeholders – with whom they work best and the challenges these people face. 

They clarify how they can use their strengths to do satisfying work and help these people to achieve success.

Building on what they have discovered, they then do an exercise that involves them beginning to clarify their purpose. Let’s explore how this works in practice.

Imagine that you and your colleagues have done some work on clarifying the team’s strengths. You can then invite them to define the specific thing that the team really wants to do.

Here is one approach you can take to begin the process. Invite each person to complete the following sentence. They can write their ideas on Post-its.

The purpose of our team – the specific
thing we really want to do – is: 

“We want to …”

Here are some examples of what people have written when defining their team’s purpose.

Tell people not to worry too much about the specific wording at the moment. The key thing is for them to simply describe what they believe the team can do and what they want it to do.

You can also invite people to give examples of what this might look like in practice. These may cover, for example:

The actual things that are happening that show that the team is achieving its purpose.

The actual words that customers and other stakeholders are saying about the work the team is doing. 

People can put their ideas on flip charts that are headed in the following ways. They can also explain what they have written on the Post-its.

Imagine that you have done this exercise with your colleagues in the leadership team. It can then be useful:

To build on the points people have in common.

To take time to reflect and then have a first go at wordsmithing the team’s purpose.

To use this as the basis for focusing on the principles and picture of success – but also being prepared to return to the one liner and recraft it if you wish.

There is one key point worth bearing in mind when doing this exercise. Some people may want to get into a discussion about the difference between a purpose, mission and vision.

Different people interpret these words in different ways. So try to avoid getting into a long discussion about semantics.

One view is that a team’s purpose describes the specific thing people feel really driven to do. They then translate this into specific goals that they want to achieve by a certain date. This then becomes the team’s vision or picture of success.

Some organisations prefer to use the word mission. A military mission, for example, must have achievable objectives. It must also be time based and, if appropriate, have a clear exit strategy. Military people then know what they must achieve by a certain date.

Susan Ward produced an excellent definition regarding a mission statement which is reproduced below. You can discover more about her views, together with some examples of missions, via the following link.

https://www.thebalance.com/mission-statement-2947996

A mission statement is a brief description of a company’s fundamental purpose. It answers the question, “Why does our business exist?” 

The mission statement articulates the company’s purpose both for those in the organization and for the public. For example:

“Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

Imagine, however, that you have chosen to focus on the team’s purpose. The theme you have come up with may still need some wordsmithing, which you can do later. It can be useful, however, to move on to the next step.

Clarifying the
team’s principles

Imagine that you have gone some way towards defining the team’s purpose. The next step is to define the principles – the guidelines – you would like people to follow to achieve the purpose.

One key point to remember is that the principles are driven by the team’s purpose rather than by the whim of the leader. They describe the behaviours people can demonstrate to enable the team to achieve success.

Different types of teams may therefore have different principles. These may differ if, for example, people are aiming to climb a mountain, build a pioneering business or act as trusted advisors.

There are many ways to define your team’s principles. One approach is to invite people to describe the overall Dos and Don’ts that everybody can follow to work towards achieving the goals.

Here is a list of the Dos, for example, that one organisation communicates to people when they join. They describe these as their Professional Guidelines and use real examples to bring these to life.

Principles

The principles we would like people to follow
to work toward achieving our goals are: 

Do be positive and encourage other people. 

Do be clear on the organisation’s goals and your part in contributing towards achieving these goals. 

Do make clear contracts with people and fulfil these contracts.

Do focus on outcomes – the real results to achieve in a situation – and do your best to achieve these outcomes. 

Do behave professionally, present solutions to challenges and help both colleagues and clients to succeed.

Your team will have its own set of principles. You can invite people to clarify these by writing what they believe are the Dos and Don’ts on Post-it Notes. They can then put these on Flip Charts.

Later on it will also be important to be able to give the reasons for each of the principles. When communicating these to your team members, you will then be able to say: 

The first principle we would like people to follow to
increase the team’s chances of achieving success is:

*

The reasons why it is important
to follow this principle are:

* 

This helps people to understand the team’s purpose and also why it is important to follow certain principles in order to reach the goals. So, if you wish, you can invite people in the leadership team to complete the following exercise.

Clarifying the team’s
picture of success 

Imagine that you and the leadership team are reasonably happy about the team’s purpose and principles. You can then translate these into specific goals to achieve by a certain date. These goals will then become the team’s picture of success.

There are many frameworks you can use to take this step. One approach is to clarify the What, Why, How, Who and When. (See below.)

You can keep communicating these to your people. They can then clarify their contributions towards achieving the picture of success.

Several points are worth bearing in mind when writing the team’s picture of success.

You can choose
your own time frame

Different teams choose different time frames. You may want to pick a date one year, two years or three years in the future.

Start by settling on your chosen date. You can then create a one line goal that describes – in headline terms – what the team wants to achieve by this date.

You can then go into more detail. Describe the specific things you want to achieve by that date under, for example, the headings of profits, products and people. This becomes your picture of success.

(You may, of course, choose a different template with different headings. More on this later.)

You can be clear on the mandatory things
the team must deliver to achieve success

The team will be expected to deliver its Scorecard – the specific targets it must deliver – over the Financial Year. You can add other things on top of this – such as stimulating projects and successes – that will enrich the team’s story.

You can clarify for whom you
are writing the presentation

You may initially write it for your employees. This will ensure everybody knows the team’s goal. Later you can adapt the presentation – whilst staying true to its spirit – so that it resonates with other key stakeholders.

You can create it by yourself or involve
other key people at various stages

If you are a leader, you will ultimately be responsible for delivering the picture of success. Bearing this in mind, it is vital that you believe in it.

At the same time, however, it can be useful to involve the rest of the leadership team and other key people. This will give people a sense of ownership and make it more likely they will work to achieve the goals.

You may also involve other employees and stakeholders to get their responses and additions. Later we will look at how to take this step in the section called Getting Responses To The Picture Of Success.

You can choose your own template

Different teams use different templates for framing their goals. Many leaders in companies focus on the 3 Ps when clarifying their aims. They focus on the Profits, Products – including Customer Satisfaction – and People. For example:

Profits – The profitability they want to deliver.

Products – The product quality, customer satisfaction and processes they want to deliver.

People – The culture they want to deliver.

Here is one approach you can use to craft the picture of success. You may, of course, have your own framework.

Clarifying the road map

The road map goes into greater detail about the When part of working towards achieving the picture of success.

The following sections provide a framework you can use for creating a road map. You may, however, have your own approach to planning.

The road map will become your ongoing working document. It may also evolve over time, however, as circumstances change. This means that it is important to keep updating the road map.

Here are several points that are worth remembering when making the road map.

Start from the destination
and work backwards
 

Start by picking a date in the future. Describe the specific things you want the team to have delivered by that date.

You can then work backwards. Describe what the team aims to deliver by, for example, the end of each quarter on the road towards achieving the end goals.

This starting from the destination approach is used on many successful projects. It encourages people to keep focusing on the end goal.

Dating the road map

Start at the top of the Dates column and put the end date. Then work backwards towards the present day. You may want to break up the road map into quarters or other suitable periods.

There is one key point to remember, however, if you are creating a road map that spans more than one year.

It is still important to start from the destination and work backwards. What you may find, however, is that people run out of ideas about what should be delivered around the middle period of the road map.

If that happens, then get people to begin working from the present date and work towards the middle. They may then find it easier to do the road map.

There may still be some parts that remain hazy when creating a road map that, for example, aims to cover 3 or more years. But these parts will become clearer as time goes by.

The key principle that remains, however, is for people to keep their eyes on the long-term goals. They can then make sure they are still working towards the picture of success.

Describe cumulative targets

The totals under each heading for each quarter should be cumulative. This is illustrated below with Profits, but do it with each heading. For example:

Q4. Profits £1 million
Q3. Profits £750k
Q2. Profits £500k
Q1. Profits £250k

This describes the headline under Profits, but this could be broken down into more detail. You might want to consider having three bullet points of deliverables under each of Profits, Products and People. This helps to flesh out the road map

Bring the road map
to life with quotations

Describe the actual words you would like to hear people saying at various stages of the journey. These can be quotes from leaders, customers, colleagues or whoever.

Here is the framework for the road map. This describes the specific things the team needs to have delivered by the end of each quarter over one year. You can use a longer or shorter time frame for the road map.

Communicating
the picture of success

Imagine you have completed the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success. You can then share this with the whole team.

If this is the first time you have described the purpose and principles to your people, then it will be important to spend some time on these. What you may find, however, is that people may simply see these as confirmation about the overall direction. They may be more concerned with their specific goals for the next year.

If you feel it is appropriate, however, you can give people further background about the purpose and principles. Again, it will be important to explain the reasoning and bring the ideas to life by giving concrete examples.

You can then share the picture of success. Talk people through each of the sections regarding the What, Why, How and Who. Again, it is important to give examples that resonate with people. 

You can also give people a brief overview of the team’s road map – the When. This can be explored in greater depth, however, after people know the team’s direction and picture of success.

Bearing these things in mind, you may want to gather people together and say something along the following lines. You can, of course, supplement this with attractive slides that bring the ideas to life.

The Team’s Purpose, Principles
And Picture Of Success

Welcome to the session. Today we would like to look at how the team can continue to achieve ongoing success.

The Purpose

As you may know, the team’s purpose is: 

*

The Principles

As you may also know, the principles we encourage people to follow to work towards achieving the team’s purpose are: 

*

*

* 

The Picture of Success

Looking ahead, there are certain goals we want to achieve in the next year. We have translated these into a provisional picture of success.

Before describing this, however, we would like to give you some context. We want to explain the possible strategies we have considered for going forwards. We will then describe the strategy we have chosen to follow and the reasons for pursuing this route. 

Bearing in mind the various challenges we face, there are many different routes the team can take towards achieving its goals. Here is an overview of some of the possible routes we could take in the future.

Option A would be to …

The pluses and minuses of this route would be …

Option B would be to …

The pluses and minuses of this route would be …

Option C would be to …

The pluses and minuses of this route would be …

Option D would be to …

The pluses and minuses of this route would be … 

Option E would be to …

The pluses and minuses of this route would be …

Bearing these options in mind, we have chosen to take the following route … 

The reasons we have chosen this route are because …

There are, of course, pluses and minuses involved in pursuing this route. The specific things we can do to build on the pluses and minimise the minuses are …

We have therefore put together the following picture of success.

Later we will describe the potential road map. We will then want your input regarding the action plan.  

You can then go through the slides that describe The Picture Of Success. 

You can also bring it to life by giving examples that resonate with people.

Getting responses to
the picture of success

Imagine you have communicated the purpose, principles and picture of success. Again, if this is the first time you have communicated the team’s purpose and principles, it will be good to get people’s responses to these themes.

Imagine, however, that people are already generally aware of these. It can then be useful to explain that, whilst you are happy to answer questions about the purpose and the principles, you mainly want their views on the picture of success.

How to get good quality responses from people? Instead of simply asking for questions, you can take the following steps to stimulate and involve the team.

Invite people to form groups. There is to be a scribe in each group. Ask people to give their responses under the following headings.

Give people at least 30 minutes to do the exercise. People’s ideas are to be written on a flip chart as they go along.

If you are the leader – or if there is a leadership team that has introduced the strategy – you can give people twenty minutes to get started. You can then go around and look at the themes that are emerging.

This helps you to prepare to address the themes and answer any questions. (You will have told people beforehand that you will be going around to see the themes that emerging.)

The next step is to invite people to report back. It can be useful to cluster the themes and questions that emerge. You can then respond and answer more effectively.

When answering questions, it can be useful to explain the following guidelines to people.

You will aim be honest and answer as fully as possible. You will do this because you want people to understand the strategy, the rationale behind it and the steps going forwards.

You will focus on the overall strategic issues when answering the questions. You will not be able to say exactly what each person in each job will be doing in a few months time.

You will set aside time over the next week to meet individuals and answer, as far as possible, their questions. They can book a time to see you.

You may not be able to answer all the questions in the session. You will be able to get back with some answers. There may also be questions that, because of certain issues, you will choose not to answer.

You will also take away the ideas and see which of these can be added to the strategy.

Bearing these things in mind, you can embark on addressing the themes and questions that have emerged.

Good leaders often see these sessions as an opportunity to educate people about the strategy. People go away with a wider grasp of the issues. They are then more able to explain the strategy to new people who join the team.

Here are the exercises you can give to the team members to get their responses to the presentation.

Clarifying everybody’s contribution
towards achieving the picture of success

Good leaders build teams that are made up of people who aim to be positive, professional and peak performers. They then invite these people to make their best contributions towards achieving the picture of success. They take the following steps to make this happen.

They communicate the purpose, principles and picture of success.

They give people a chance to reflect and decide if they want to opt into achieving the goals.

They invite people – the smaller teams within the larger team and the individuals within those teams – to make clear contracts about their best contributions towards achieving the goals.

Good leaders manage by outcomes, rather than by tasks. So you may wish to take the following steps.

To, if appropriate, ask each smaller team within the team to produce its road map towards delivering its contribution towards achieving the overall picture of success.

To pick a date – perhaps three weeks in the future – when the whole team will gather and each smaller team will present its road map.

To then set a date by which each individual will have made clear contracts about the contribution to achieving the picture of success.

To make sure that these contracts are written in outcome terms – the specific things people are going to deliver under the headings of profits, products and people.

To tell people that, after the contracts are agreed, everybody will gather each month to report their progress on the road towards achieving the picture of success.

Imagine that you have clarified each small team’s contributions. People can then clarify the outcomes they will personally deliver towards achieving these goals.

There are many frameworks you can use to help people to clarify their individual contributions. This approach encourages people to take the following steps.

To clarify their strengths.

To clarify how they can use their strengths to make their best contributions towards achieving the team’s picture of success.

To meet with their manager and make clear contracts about their agreed goals.

The following pages provide a set of exercises that can be sent to the team member before they meet with their manager to agree on their contribution. 

As mentioned earlier, this framework follows the strengths approach. The person can follow the instructions and then make clear working contracts. 

Good organisations ensure that everybody knows the overall goals. Each team and each person then makes clear contracts about their contributions towards achieving the aims. So the overall picture may look something like the following.

Continuing to focus on
the picture of success

Good leaders encourage people to keep doing the right things in the right way every day. The road map may evolve, of course, but it is vital to keep people focusing on the goals.

Imagine that you have gone through the stages mentioned earlier. You can then encourage people by doing the following things.

You can encourage people to give regular updates on their progress towards achieving their goals.

You can share success stories.

You can encourage people to embody the ethic of constant improvement.

You can keep reminding people of the principles and report the progress that is being made towards achieving the picture of success.

Let’s explore these themes.

You can encourage people to give
regular updates on their progress

It can be useful for people to proactively keep you and other stakeholders informed about the progress they are making towards achieving their goals.

Bearing this in mind, it can be useful for then to schedule regular meetings with you – or their manager – to give updates.

Here is one framework that they can follow for reporting the progress they have made and their plans for the future.

They can then share this with you or their manager every month or another time frame.

You can share
success stories

Good leaders keep reminding people of the team’s principles. They also show how following these can contribute towards achieving the picture of success.

How to make this happen? One approach is to produce success stories that show what good looks like. These can highlight:

The specific times when people have performed brilliantly.

The specific things people did right then – the principles they followed – to perform brilliantly.

The specific things people can do to follow these principles – plus maybe add other skills – to perform brilliantly in the future. 

Imagine you want to produce stories that provide positive models for others in the team. Here are some steps you can take to make this happen.

Clarify who will be the mission holder

Appoint a mission holder who is accountable for ensuring the stories are collected, written and published. Do not leave it to a committee. They do not have to do the writing. They can hire an internal or external writer to collect and produce the stories.

Clarify how many stories you want
and the timetable for publication

One company I worked with translated this approach into action by quickly producing six success stories. The material was already there. It was just a question of collecting it and producing the stories.

Clarify the framework for producing the stories

Different people use different frameworks for sharing success stories. Here is one framework.

People start by choosing a title for the story. They then describe the specific situation they encountered – such as helping a client, solving a problem, making internal processes work better or whatever. They then describe:

The challenges they faced and the desired picture of success.

The principles they followed to tackle the challenge and achieve success.

The lessons they learned and how they can apply these to achieve success. 

Communicate the success stories

Different teams have different approaches to sharing the success stories. They may choose, for example:

To publish the stories on the internal and external websites.

To publish the stories in the Induction Pack for new joiners and use these to show what good looks like.

To continually produce new stories that encourage people and show how they can follow the team’s principles to deliver success.

Here is a framework that can be used for publishing success stories. You can, of course, adapt this in your own way.

You can encourage people to embody
the ethic of continuous improvement

Good leaders encourage people to build on their strengths and also tackle areas for improvement. There are many approaches to making this happen. One approach is to invite teams to focus on the following areas.

What We Are Doing Well 

The specific things we are doing well and how we can do more of things in the future.

What We Can Do Better

The specific things we can do better and how.

This sounds a simple exercise but doing it regularly encourages people to get into the habit of focusing on constant improvement.

 

You can encourage people to focus on the
things that are in the
green, amber and red zones

Good leaders encourage their people to be proactive and take action to deal with any challenges. There are many models for making this happen.

One approach is for people to focus on the activities that are currently in the green, amber and red zones. They also suggest what can be done to maintain or improve what is happening in these areas.

One team I worked with had a dedicated room where people constantly updated the progress towards achieving the goal. It had charts that covered the following areas.

The Picture of Success

People could keep referring to the team’s aims that were displayed on one wall. These were grouped in terms of what it wants to achieve under the 3 Ps: profits, products – including customer satisfaction – and people.

The other walls had the following charts that described the current state of play regarding various activities.

The Green Zone 

People listed the things that were going well. They also provided concrete suggestions regarding how to maintain or build on these activities.

Great workers capitalise on what is working. If things are going well with a particular customer, for example, they explore how to continue providing great service. This can lead to developing the relationship even further.

The Amber Zone

People described where there were warning signs. They also provided suggestions regarding how to improve these activities.

Great workers worry about things that are in the amber zone. They are concerned that, unless these issues are addressed, these may quickly slide into the red zone. So they focus on how to move these activities more towards the green zone.

The Red Zone

People listed the things that were going badly. They also gave suggestions regarding how to improve these activities. These could involve making radical improvements or even call for key decisions to be taken.

Great workers think ahead to ensure that, as far as possible, things do not slide into the red zone. Crises do occur, of course, so then it is vital to find positive solutions.

There may be some issues, however, that are continually falling into the red zone. If systems are breaking down, for example, these may well need replacing.

A more challenging issue could be if a particular customer continually makes life difficult. Certainly it is vital to do whatever possible to provide great service. In some instances, however, a customer may prove impossible to please.

They may also prove to be a massive drain on resources. In such cases it may mean deciding to move on from the customer. This can be a difficult but necessary decision.

The Blue Zone

The team also went further and added another area called the blue zone. This was the space for both practical and imaginative ideas.

People listed the specific ideas, suggestions and other things that it might be worth considering to help the team shape a successful future. This led to some of the ideas being implemented and delivering positive results.

The Positive Team – Keeping people
informed by giving progress reports 

Good leaders keep reminding people of the team’s purpose and principles. They also keep people informed about the progress towards achieving the picture of success. Here is one approach to making this happen.

Imagine you lead a team. You can gather people together every month and use the following framework. After reminding people of the team’s purpose and principles, it can then be useful to describe the following things.

The specific things the team has delivered in the past month to work towards achieving the picture of success.

The specific things the team aims to deliver in the next month to work towards achieving the picture of success.

The other topics it would be useful for people in the team to know about as they work towards achieving the picture of success.

You can use this framework for bringing people up to date on the team’s progress and plans. If appropriate, you can also have a question and answer session.

When doing this, it can be useful to give people chance to reflect and, either individually or in small groups, list any questions they would like to ask. They can then put these on flip charts.

This gives you the chance to see the questions and, where appropriate, group them in themes. You can then, as far as possible, answer the questions. If appropriate, you can follow up with individuals after the meeting.

You can keep sharing the big picture to help people to see the progress being made. One framework for making such presentations can be found at the end of this piece.

Good leaders sometimes need to take tough decisions, of course, especially if things go off-track. When doing so, they go back to the positive teams philosophy. They start by making sure the team is made up of people who choose to have a positive attitude.

They then make decisions by focusing on the team’s purpose and principles. Good leaders do whatever is required to encourage and enable their people to deliver the picture of success.

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    P is for The Positive Approach To Pursuing A Purpose  

    People love to have a sense of purpose. They love to do something they believe in and work towards achieving a stimulating goal.

    Sometimes this may involve pursuing a short term purpose, such as completing a satisfying task. Sometimes it may involve doing something each day towards achieving their life goals.

    There are many approaches to exploring this theme. If you type ‘How to find your purpose’ into a search engine you will find hundreds of references.

    Some build on the philosophical and practical approaches outlined by writers such as Viktor Frankl and Richard Leider. Some mention topics such as pursuing your passion. Some focus on how you can use your talents to serve other people.

    Different people develop a sense of purpose in different ways. Here are some of the most common routes they follow towards taking this step.

    This article explores a positive approach to clarifying a purpose. Imagine that you want to explore this route in your own way.

    You can start by focusing on your personal strengths and positive goals. You can then translate these into a clear purpose, follow your principles and work towards achieving your picture of success. Let’s explore some of the ways you can take these steps.

    Personal Strengths

    There are many way to find your strengths. When doing so it can be useful to focus on the deeply satisfying activities in which you feel alive or do fine work.

    Why take this route? Sometimes a person can be good at something but no longer find it satisfying. Such a person may find themselves pigeon-holed at work and always be given certain tasks to complete.

    The person may feel duty driven to do such tasks, but no longer find them rewarding. This can lead to them being a reliable employee, but they no longer feel stimulated. Bearing this in mind, here are some exercises that can help to find your strengths and do satisfying work.

    Clarifying what gives
    you positive energy 

    Energy is life. This exercise invites you to list the things that give you positive energy personally or professionally.

    These may include doing certain activities, being with certain people, following certain passions, doing certain professional projects or whatever. Here are some of the answers that people give when doing this exercise.

    The things that give
    me positive energy are:

    Encouraging people … Spending time with our children … Cooking for friends … Caring for animals … Showing kindness … Nurturing gardens … Building boats … Teaching wellbeing.  

    Helping people to find satisfying work … Fixing certain kinds of problems … Making things better … Working on new ways to treat cancer … Mediating disputes … Leading pioneering companies.

    The activities that give you positive energy – even when you simply think about them – can provide clues to your strengths. So, if you wish, trying completing the following exercise.

    Clarifying your
    successful style

    Everybody has a successful style of working. They often demonstrate this when translating their strengths into action and doing satisfying work.

    This is a long exercise, but it can be worthwhile because it highlights your preferred way of working. The exercise invites you to do the following things. 

    Describe two or three satisfying projects that you have done in your life. 

    The word project can be used in its widest sense. For example: writing an article, organising a fun run, launching a web site, solving a particular problem, leading a team or whatever.

    Describe each of these projects in turn and the things that made them satisfying.

    Try to be as specific as possible, especially about the things that made them satisfying. Looking at these projects, can you see any recurring patterns? These often provide clues to your preferred style.

    Describe your successful style of working – the principles you follow when doing satisfying work.

    Describe how you can follow these principles in the future.

    You may, for example, find it satisfying to do something you really care about, set a stimulating goal and work with motivated people. You may also prefer to work with a manager who gives you freedom within parameters, follow a certain rhythm in your daily work, build in quick successes, work to a deadline and present your work. 

    Alternatively, you may have a totally different successful style. You may also have two successful styles: one when you are working alone, one when working with other people. See what the exercise reveals.

    Different people uncover different patterns when doing this exercise. Alison is somebody who expresses a recurring theme in her life. She loves to:

    Create stimulating environments in which people can achieve peak performance.

    “That sounds a common theme,” somebody may say.

    Yes, it is. But Alison’s special contribution is the way she expresses this vocation through various vehicles to do valuable work.

    During her life she has, for example, run arts festivals, led great companies and mentored creative performers. Alison is a superb orchestrator who follows her successful style when pursuing her vocation. This often involves her taking the following steps.

    She finds something she feels passionately about … She sets a stimulating goal – it must score at least 8/10 on the stimulation scale … She clarifies the strategy and gets the resources required to do the job.

    She gathers talented people who want to embark on the adventure … She encourages them to use their strengths to make their best contributions … She ensures they stay on track and deliver the goods … She then encourages people do something extra to add that touch of class.

    Alison’s projects often have a sense of performance – something brilliant that must be delivered by a certain deadline. Whilst calm on the surface, she is adrenalin-driven.

    The difference between her and many other driven people is that she likes her team to take the credit. She is happy for others to plant the flag on top of the mountain.

    Alison follows this path when pursuing her vocation. As mentioned earlier, the red thread in her life is to:

    Create stimulating environments in which people can achieve peak performance.

    Whilst she sometimes loves doing creative work alone – such as photography – she gets an even greater kick from enabling people to produce something magical. She is now focusing on how she can follow these principles even more in the future.

    You will, of course, have your own successful style. Clarifying this style – plus the things that give you positive energy – can provide materials for the focusing on the next theme.

    Clarifying your strengths

    There are many ways to find your strengths. Here are some of the questions it can be useful to explore.

    What are the deeply satisfying activities in which you deliver As rather than Bs or Cs? When are you in your element – at ease and yet able to excel? When do you flow, focus, finish and then, as a by-product, find fulfilment? 

    When do see the destination quickly? When do you go ‘A, B … and then leap to … Z’? What are the activities in which you see patterns quickly? Where do you have good personal radar and seem to know what will happen before it happens?  

    Where do you have the equivalent of a photographic memory? What are the activities in which you have natural self-discipline? When do you score highly on drive, detail and delivery? What the activities in which you always do the basics and then add the brilliance? 

    When do you make complicated things look simple? What are the activities in which you are calm and solve problems by focusing on clarity, creativity and concrete results? What are the activities in which you reach the goal and then add that touch of class? 

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

    Describe the deeply satisfying activities in which you deliver As.

    These may be particular kinds of projects, tasks or other activities. Try to be as specific as possible and give concrete examples.

    Describe the activities in which you deliver Bs and Cs.

    The B activities are probably those that you can do reasonably well. They are not your As, however, or maybe they were once but now you get bored doing them. The C activities are those in which you have little aptitude or desire to learn.

    Describe how you can build on your strengths in the future.

    Positive Goals

    Imagine that you have clarified some of your strengths. The next step is to explore your personal and professional goals. Here are two exercises on this theme.

    Clarifying the top three positive goals
    you want to focus on in your life

    This exercise invites you to start by brainstorming the positive things you want to do in your life. Here are some answers that individuals give when exploring this theme.

    I want:

    To provide a happy childhood for our children … To encourage our children to build on their strengths … To help our children to learn from positive models … To help our teenage children to find and do work they love. 

    To maintain a sense of gratitude … To continue to have a healthy lifestyle … To keep following my passions and learn how to manage the painful things in life … To experience living in Asia, South America and the United States.

    To pass on knowledge that helps people to shape their future lives … To build a pioneering company … To keep stretching myself and achieve peak performance … To do work that helps to build a better world.

    Start by brainstorming ideas. Then try whittling these down to the top three positive goals that you want to focus on in your life.

    You can, of course, write these in headline terms and then add examples that bring these to life. So the final format may look something like the following.

    Clarifying your lifetime
    picture of success 

    This is a similar exercise. It has a slightly different approach to setting goals, however, by clarifying your overall lifetime picture of success.

    Everybody is different and everybody has different pictures of success. What is your picture?

    Imagine you are looking back on your life in later years. What are the things that you would like to have done by then that for you will mean you have had a successful life? What will help you to feel a sense of peace?

    The exercise invites you to start from your destination and define your overall life goals. People often cover three themes when doing this exercise.

    Positive Relationships

    They focus on how they want to be remembered as a parent, partner or friend.

    Positive Memories

    They focus on how they want to enjoy life, pursue experiences and have no regrets.

    Positive Contribution 

    They focus on how they want to follow their vocation, do good work or make a positive contribution to the world.

    You may prefer to clarify your life goals in another way. Whatever approach you take, however, clarifying these goals can act as a long-term compass.

    You can bear in mind these aims when making key decisions. When given the opportunity to take a new job, for example, you can ask yourself: “Will taking this step help me to achieve my longer-term picture of success?”

    Purpose

    People love to have a sense of purpose. They love to do meaningful things in their lives and work.

    Many people’s primary purpose, of course, is simply to get access to the basics of life. They spend their days focusing on how to get food and be healthy.

    Many other people have access to these basics. Some then simply want to accumulate money, but some want to go further. They want to give to others and pursue a satisfying purpose.

    Here are some of the ways that individuals describe their sense of purpose. They may, however, express these in different ways.

    I want to be kind in my daily life and work … I want to help people to build on their strengths and achieve their picture of success … I want to show people the power of slow thinking … I want to spread positive news across the planet.

    I want to enable people to shape their futures … I want to create enriching environments in which people can grow … I want to create beautiful things that bring people joy and give them positive memories for life. 

    I want to help people to see what they have in common and find peaceful solutions to conflicts … I want to ensure that as many people as possible have access to clean water … I want to develop pioneering technology that provides people with cheap renewable energy.

    Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning, spent much of his life helping people to find their meaning in life. Below is a video from 1972 in which he explores this theme. He said:

    Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment. 

    Some people may have a number of overlapping purposes. This is important to bear in mind if a person starts agonising about trying to find the one big thing they should focus on in their life.

    Seth Godin underlined another key point. He said that it could sometimes be more fruitful to focus on what we care about rather than being too concerned with our calling. Here is a short piece he wrote on this topic.

    Seth Godin

    In search of your calling

    I don’t think we have a calling. I do think it’s possible to have a caring.

    A calling implies that there’s just one thing for you, just one thing you’re supposed to do. 

    What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care.

    There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

    None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

    The desire to serve others is another common theme when developing a sense of purpose. Many people believe in the philosophy described by Rabindranath Tagore.

    There are many ways to clarify how you want to serve others. One approach is to explore the positive things you want to give to people during your time on the planet. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme.

    The Positive Things I
    Want To Give People

    The positive things I want to give to
    people during my time on the planet are:

    *

    *

    * 

    Clarifying
    your purpose

    As we have seen, there are many ways to begin developing your purpose. We will soon move on to the exercise that invites you to take this step.

    Before doing this, it can be useful to revisit several of the earlier exercises. These have invited you:

    To clarify the things that give you positive energy, your successful style and your strengths. 

    To clarify your positive goals and picture of success.

    To clarify the positive things that you want to give to people.  

    Looking at the answers that you have given, can you see any recurring theme or themes? Bearing these in mind, what may be one of the things you feel really compelled to do in your life? Can you summarise this in a one-liner?

    Different people give different answers to this question. The answer I give, for example, is:

    I want to be a positive encourager and help to build a positive planet.

    Some individuals answer by describing the philosophy they want to follow. Some describe a personal strength they want to use to serve others. Some describe a specific passion they want to pursue.

    As mentioned earlier, there are some things to bear in mind when describing your purpose. It is important: 

    To focus on something you feel really compelled to do.

    To begin clarifying your purpose by writing a one-liner that begins with the words ‘I want to …’

    To recognise that it may take a lifetime to get the wording right, but this one-liner can give a pointer to your purpose.

    Here is the exercise on defining a purpose. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe the specific thing you really want to do. 

    Describe the specific things you want to do to translate this purpose into action.

    We will revisit this second part – translating the theme into action – later in the article. For the moment, however, it can be useful to begin thinking about the specific things you can do to follow your purpose. Here is the exercise.

    Principles

    Imagine that you have developed a sense of purpose. What are the principles you want to follow to translate this into action? Let’s look at some people who take this approach in their own way.

    The Dalai Llama says, for example: “My religion is kindness.” He therefore tries to express kindness in his daily life. He does this when communicating with people, giving television interviews and doing other activities.

    Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, highlights one of her principles in the title of her book Everybody Matters. Whether the person is poor or a President, she aims to be warm and make the person feel the centre of her world.

    She aims to show the person they matter, to show respect and to listen to their story. When appropriate, she does what she can to help them to achieve their potential. Here is a video of her talking about her memoir Everybody Matters.

    Different people believe in following their own chosen principles. Looking at my own life, here are some that I try to follow.

    I want to be a positive encourager in my daily life and work.

    I want to encourage people to build on their strengths and achieve their picture of success. 

    I want to pass on practical tools that enable people, teams and organisations to achieve ongoing success. 

    The next step is for me to translate these principles into daily actions. It means focusing on the actual things I can do to encourage people, identify their strengths and, when appropriate, help them to achieve their goals.

    This involves making and rehearsing the action plans. It then involves doing my best when being with individuals, facilitating mentoring sessions or running workshops for teams.

    You will have your own set of principles. If you wish try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe your purpose – the specific thing you really want to do.

    Describe the specific principles you want to follow to pursue your purpose 

    Describe the specific things you can do to translate these principles into action.

    Picture Of Success

    Imagine you are clear on your purpose and the principles you want to follow. What are the goals you want to achieve by taking these steps? What is your picture of success? Let’s look at the path that one person took pursue his aims.

    Richard St. Barbe Baker chose to dedicate his life to showing people the value of planting trees. This epiphany came about 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-six 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. He also started the Green Front action group, returning to Africa to develop re-forestation work in the Sahara. During his life Richard is believed to have personally planted many millions of trees.

    He focused on a crystal clear vision. He wanted to save the Californian Redwoods. 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 that he worked towards during the rest of his life. These were the following.

    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.

    Here is the first part of an interview with Richard. This was filmed in 1981.

    Some people, like Richard, have a grand vision. Many people, however, set shorter-term goals. They then translate these into a clear picture of success.

    Imagine that you have begun to develop a sense of purpose and the principles you want to follow. It can be useful to look ahead and translate these into specific goals.

    You may want to keep building a loving family, help students to take charge of shaping their futures or enable people to find satisfying careers. You may want to write a book, make films, build a pioneering company or deliver a stimulating project.

    Looking ahead, what are the real results you want to achieve? What will people be saying, thinking and feeling that will show you have reached these goals?

    Bearing these things in mind, what is your picture of success? What wll be the benefits – both for yourself and other people?

    There are many ways to find and follow a purpose. This article has explored the positive approach. Here is the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe your purpose – the specific thing you really want to do.

    Describe the specific results you want to achieve by pursuing your purpose and following your chosen principles.

    Describe the specific benefits of achieving these results.

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