The Art of Strengths Coaching

B is for Choosing To Tackle Big Challenges Where You Can Be At Your Best

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Great workers choose to tackle big challenges where they can be at their best. They may take this step in their work as educators, athletes, mountain climbers or in some other role.

Such people actively seek out such opportunities. They put themselves in stimulating but challenging situations where they have a reasonable chance of success. They then aim to do their best and keep getting better.

Great athletes, for example, believe in the old saying that: ‘Iron sharpens Iron.’ They aim to improve by competing against top athletes at the highest possible level.

Looking back, can you recall putting yourself into a challenging situation where you aimed to do your best? You may have chosen to stand up to a bully to protect innocent people, manage a crisis, lead a pioneering team, communicate a difficult message to people or whatever.

What motivated you to tackle the challenge? How did you prepare ahead of time? What did you to perform at your best? What happened as a result of taking these steps?

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 chose to tackle a big challenge where you could be at your best.  

Describe the specific things you did to be at your best when tackling the big challenge.

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

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Some people actively seek out challenges, whilst some wait for challenges to come along. Some people are proactive and continually aim to improve, whilst others wait for a crisis before they click into action.

People who do superb work go beyond being good at an activity. They have an obsessive desire to do certain activities and translate their strengths into action.

Great workers continually choose:

To build on their strengths

To do satisfying work

To achieve their picture of success.

They do this whether encouraging people, playing the guitar, fixing technical problems, designing gardens, building prototypes, finding solutions or pursuing certain kinds of activities.

Such workers demonstrate both creative strengths and character strengths. They go beyond just having ability. They demonstrate the attitude and application required to deliver achievement.

Lea Waters described this approach in an article she wrote for the Guardian on the theme of Finding Kids’ Strengths. Here is an extract. You can find the original via the following link.

Finding Children’s Strengths

Psychology researchers have been scientifically studying strengths for the past three decades and have categorised hundreds of different strengths into two broad categories:

Talent-based strengths (eg sporting prowess or being a wiz with technology);

Character-based strengths (eg capacity for kindness or being uncommonly brave).

Many of us unwittingly focus on talent, because this is easier to see than character, but character strengths are vital component of a life well lived and are important for overcoming adversity.

Character expands the arena of strengths. You may not have a son or daughter who makes the cut for a gifted program at school, but you’re sure to find aspects of their character that are virtuous and strong.

One key thing that these researchers tell us that a strength is something we perform well, perform often and get energised by.

(Lea is referring to The Strengths Book, written by Alex Linley, Janet Willars and Robert Biswas-Diener. See below.) 

For purposes of strength-based parenting then, we need to look out for the three elements of a strength in our kids:  

Performance (being good at something);

Energy (feeling good doing it);

High use (choosing to do it).

When you see your child do something well, do it with energy, and do it a lot, you’ll know you’ve unearthed a strength and this is when you can feel confident to help them “play to their strengths”. 

The Strengths Book

Imagine that you want to take these steps in your own way. You can choose to tackle the challenge and also be at your best with tackling it. Let’s explore these steps.

You can choose to
tackle a big challenge 

Looking to the future, can you think of a big challenge you would like to tackle? Consider one where you can aim to be at your best. Here are some answers that people give when answering this question.

The big challenge I want to tackle
where I aim to be at my best is to:

Work with children who have learning difficulties … Participate in a round-the-world yacht race … Make a film about how polar bears are surviving in Canada … Help military veterans to find satisfying work … Continue my mediation work with people who are experiencing conflict.

What would be your motivation to tackle the challenge? You may be seeking pleasure or avoiding pain. You may be feeling angry or want to achieve something special. You may also want to do something that helps other people.

Sometimes the motivation is inherent in the challenge. This was encapsulated in George Mallory’s famous answer when asked about why he wanted to climb Everest.

Because it’s there.

Mallory also explained that, on one level, climbing mountains could be seen as bringing little benefit to humanity. On another level, however, it embodied the essence of being human. He wrote:

What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money.

We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.

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Imagine you want to tackle a big challenge. What would be the benefits to you or other people?

On a scale 0-10, how motivated are you to reach the goal? Make sure it is at least 8/10. If so, it may be time to move on to the next step.

You can choose to be at your best
when tackling the big challenge 

There are various models for doing your best when tackling a big challenge. Many start by inviting you to answer the following questions.

What is your picture of success? What are the real results you want to achieve? What will be happening that will show you have achieved the picture of success?

What are the key strategies you can follow to give yourself the greatest chance of success? How can you build on your strengths – and compensate for any weaknesses – when following these strategies?

How can you do superb work? How can anticipate and find solutions to challenges? How can you do whatever is required to achieve the picture of success?

Let’s assume that you have answered these questions. It is then time to move on to being at your best when tackling the challenge. There are several models for making this happen. Let’s explore one of these approaches.

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Great workers prepare properly. They clarify the strategies they will pursue to reach the goal. They then make sure all the practical things are in place for pursuing these strategies.

Such workers also prepare psychologically. They rehearse how to pursue their chosen strategies and how to deal with any potential problems. They make sure they are mentally prepared to tackle the challenge.

Great workers then click into action. They follow their successful style and develop a working rhythm. Pursuing their chosen strategies, they keep doing the basics. They do the right things in the right way every day.

Such workers take time to re-centre. They may do deep breathing, go for a walk or develop other ways of seeing things in perspective. They relax, rehearse the next step and then go back into the arena.

Great workers keep doing the basics and, when appropriate, add the brilliance. They rise to the occasion by adding that touch of class. They do what is required to achieve the picture of success.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a big challenge you would like to tackle? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may want to do something specific to encourage people, care for the planet, fight injustice, pass on knowledge, lead a team or pursue another activity. You may want to follow your vocation, serve a cause, test yourself or fulfil an ambition.

How can you be at your best when tackling this challenge? How can you prepare properly? How can you keep doing the basics? How can you, when appropriate, add the brilliance?

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

Describe the specific big challenge you may want to tackle where you can be at your best.

Describe the specific things you can do to be at your best when tackling the challenge.

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

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    F is for Creating The Foundation And Framework That Enables People To Do Fulfilling Work  

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    There are many models for encouraging people to do their best. One approach is to create the right foundation and framework that enables people to do fulfilling work.

    Good leaders implement the right strategy with the right people in the right way. This also calls for getting the basics right and enabling people to do fine work. Let’s explore these themes.

    Foundation

    Imagine that you lead a team. You can start by creating the right foundations. This calls for getting the physical, philosophical and psychological things right. Let’s start with a real life example.

    Dave had built a successful team of 50 people. The global company that he worked for then took over another business that had around 200 people. As part of the integration, Dave was invited to lead the new business.

    There were, however, many challenges. The business being taken over had falling revenues, more institutionalised employees and was located in an ugly tower block. It called for a massive culture shift.

    Dave took the expanded role, but on several conditions. The first step was to change the physical things to change the psychological things. It was to put all 250 employees under one roof in an attractive office.

    The second step was to give people the practical support they needed to do the job. Dave made sure that people were given the encouragement, practical tools and infrastructure required to deliver the goods.

    This is a vital step that is often overlooked in organisations. Whether people are running a hospital, leading a business or climbing a mountain, they need the tools to do the job. This provides the platform for achieving success.

    The third step was to build a positive culture. Dave started by making the professional deal clear to people. He outlined this in the following way.

    The Company’s Responsibilities Are:

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

    To create a positive environment and give people the support they need to make their best contributions towards achieving the picture of success.

    To do whatever it can to ensure the company achieves its picture of success.

    The Employee’s Responsibilities Are:

    To understand the company’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

    To decide if they want to follow the principles and, if so, to then make their best contributions towards achieving the picture of success.  

    To encourage other people and do whatever they can to help the company to achieve its picture of success.

    Dave then gave people the chance to reflect and decide if they wanted to contribute towards achieving the goals. He followed up by making clear contracts with people about the best contributions.

    Many people chose to opt into shaping the future culture. Some people from the previously failing business chose to move on. These roles were filled by people who wanted to follow the principles required to achieve the picture of success.

    Imagine that you lead a team. How can you create the right foundation that encourages people to do fulfilling work? What will be the benefits of taking these steps?

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

    Describe the specific things you can do to create the right foundation that encourages people in the team to do fulfilling work. 

    Describe the specific benefits of doing these things.

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    Framework

    There are many frameworks that teams can follow to enable their people to do fulfilling work. Whatever framework is used, it is important to ensure that people do the basics and then add the brilliance.

    One approach is to co-ordinate people’s strengths so that they do superb work and achieve the picture of success. Let’s explore how this works.

    The Strengths Approach

    Imagine that you lead a team. You can take the strengths route by taking the following steps.

    You can communicate the team’s picture of success. 

    You can make clear contracts with people about how they want to use their strengths to achieve the picture of success. 

    You can co-ordinate people’s strengths so that they do superb work and achieve the picture of success.

    Co-ordinating people’s strengths often calls for finding creative solutions. Here are some of the questions that people can ask when going through each of the following stages.

    Clarifying The Picture Of Success 

    What are the team’s goals? What are the real results we want to achieve? What is the picture of success? What are the specific things that will be happening that will tell us we have achieved the team’s goals?

    Clarifying The Strategies 

    What are the key strategies we can follow to give ourselves the greatest chance of success? How can we get the right people with the right spirit and skills required to deliver the goals? How can we put the right people in the right places in the team?

    Co-ordinating People’s Strengths

    What are people’s strengths? What are the specific activities in which each person delivers As, rather than Bs or Cs? How can we co-ordinate people’s strengths to achieve the team’s picture of success?

    How can we make sure any remaining tasks get done? How can we divide these up effectively or find other creative ways to get these completed?

    Contracting About People’s Contributions

    How can we make clear contracts with people about their best contributions towards achieving the team’s goals? How can we give them the required support? How can we ensure they proactively keep others informed about their progress?

    Who will take responsibility for continuing to co-ordinate people’s talents? How can we make sure they have the authority and autonomy to make this happen?  

    Co-ordinating The Work To Ensure
    People Achieve The Picture Of Success

    How can we build in regular team co-ordination meetings? How can we ensure that people keep reporting the following things?

    The specific things they have delivered in the past month, for example, towards achieving the goal.

    The specific things they will deliver in the next month.

    The specific challenges they face and their solutions for tackling these challenges.

    The specific kinds of support they would like to help them to deliver success. 

    Imagine that you plan to go this route. It will be important to make clear contracts with people about their individual contributions.  

    There are many frameworks you can use to clarify people’s contributions. Dave, who was mentioned earlier, encouraged all the people in the organisation to use the template described below.

    People spent time clarifying what they believed would be their best contributions. They then met with their managers to make clear contracts about what they would deliver towards achieving the picture of success.

    Below is the template that people completed. You can discover more about how to co-ordinate people’s strengths via the following link.

    Co-ordinating Strengths

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    Imagine you lead a team. You will have your own framework for enabling people to do fulfilling work.

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

    Describe the specific things you can do to create the right framework that enables people in the team to do fulfilling work. 

    Describe the specific benefits of doing these things.

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    Fulfilling Work

    There are many models for enabling people to do fulfilling work. Whatever approach is used, however, these often embody two themes. These are managing by outcomes and also the progress principle. Let’s explore these themes.

    Managing By Outcomes

    Good leaders manage by outcomes, rather than by tasks. They start by making clear contracts with each person about what they will deliver towards achieving the team’s goals. They then give them freedom, within parameters, to use their strengths to achieve the agreed goals.

    The person needs to follow the team’s principles, however, and keep others informed about their progress. They also need to deliver their contribution towards the team’s picture of success.

    Good leaders recognise that they cannot actually manage people. Such an approach would be patronising, because people manage themselves.

    They can provide people with an inspiring framework, however, and the support they need to do the job. Leaders can then manage people’s contributions towards achieving the team’s goals.

    Imagine that you are following this process with people in your team. It is vital to spend a lot of time with each person agreeing on ‘What’ must be delivered. Make crystal-clear contracts about the real results to achieve.

    Why? Because from then on virtually every performance conversation will start by concentrating on this ‘What’ – the agreed outcomes – rather than getting into ‘supervising’ the tasks.

    After agreeing on the outcomes, make sure people are given the necessary support required to do the job. Otherwise you are asking them to climb a mountain without the right equipment.

    Good leaders set up people to succeed. They then encourage, educate and enable them to do superb work. How to make this happen?

    One approach is to meet with each person every month. They are to prepare ahead of time and complete the following framework. You can then work through it together during the session.

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    You can create an encouraging environment in which a person can share their successes and challenges. During the conversation, however, keep returning to the agreed ‘What’. You can say:

    “Let’s go back to the real results to achieve. How can we do our best to deliver those results? What are the steps we need to take to make this happen?”

    Why take this approach? People can get into a pattern of talking about details, making excuses or whatever. They may also confuse activity with results.

    Certainly sometimes it is vital to revisit the aims to ensure these are still desirable and possible. But then it is good to go back to the ‘What’. Whatever the topic, the mantra is:

    “Let’s go back to agreed outcomes. How can we do our best to deliver those results?”

    Sounds tough? Perhaps, but it is also a good way of leading a team. People learn:

    To clarify specific goals that are written in outcome terms and that contribute towards achieving the team’s picture of success.

    To make clear contracts about the goals, including the required support.

    To take responsibility, be creative and do their best to deliver the agreed outcomes

    The Progress Principle

    People often develop by doing stimulating work and stretching themselves to reach achievable goals. This is a theme that is described by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in their book The Progress Principle. 

    This is a key principle that affects people’s wellbeing. They need to feel they are making progress – whatever that means to them. People are more likely to feel good about their work when they are doing the following things.

    They are working towards meaningful goals.

    They work in a supportive environment that is based on encouragement, practical support and respect. 

    They have a sense of autonomy and can use their talents to achieve daily wins on the way towards achieving the meaningful goals.

    The Progress Principle provides a detailed description of what people need to flourish in their work. Below are excerpts from the website that describes the book and also from an article written for the Harvard Business Review. You can discover more via the following links.

    http://progressprinciple.com/

    https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins

    The power of progress is fundamental to human nature, but few managers understand it or know how to leverage progress to boost motivation.  

    What really sets the best managers above the rest? It’s their power to build a cadre of employees who have great inner work lives -consistently positive emotions; strong motivation; and favorable perceptions of the organization, their work, and their colleagues. The worst managers undermine inner work life, often unwittingly.

    As Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer explain in The Progress Principle, seemingly mundane workday events can make or break employees’ inner work lives. But it’s forward momentum in meaningful work-progress that creates the best inner work lives.  

    Through rigorous analysis of nearly 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees in 7 companies, the authors explain how managers can foster progress and enhance inner work life every day.

    The book shows how to remove obstacles to progress, including meaningless tasks and toxic relationships. It also explains how to activate two forces that enable progress – catalysts and nourishers. 

    Catalysts

    Catalysts are actions that support work. They include setting clear goals, allowing autonomy, providing sufficient resources and time, helping with the work, openly learning from problems and successes, and allowing a free exchange of ideas.  

    Their opposites, inhibitors, include failing to provide support and actively interfering with the work.

    Nourishers

    Nourishers are acts of interpersonal support, such as respect and recognition, encouragement, emotional comfort, and opportunities for affiliation.

    Toxins, their opposites, include disrespect, discouragement, disregard for emotions, and interpersonal conflict. For good and for ill, nourishers and toxins affect inner work life directly and immediately.

    Catalysts and nourishers – and their opposites – can alter the meaningfulness of work by shifting people’s perceptions of their jobs and even themselves.  

    The more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.  

    Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress – even a small win – can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.

    A person’s inner work life on a given day fuels his or her performance for the day and can even affect performance the next day.

    Managers needn’t fret about trying to read the psyches of their workers, or manipulate complicated incentive schemes, to ensure that employees are motivated and happy. As long as they show basic respect and consideration, they can focus on supporting the work itself. 

    You won’t have to figure out how to x-ray the inner work lives of subordinates; if you facilitate their steady progress in meaningful work, make that progress salient to them, and treat them well, they will experience the emotions, motivations, and perceptions necessary for great performance.

    Their superior work will contribute to organizational success. And here’s the beauty of it: They will love their jobs.

    Imagine you lead a team. You will have your own way of enabling people to do their best and develop. One approach is to create the right foundation and framework that enables people to do fulfilling work.

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

    Describe the specific things you can do to encourage and enable people in the team to do fulfilling work.

    Describe the specific benefits of doing these things.

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      D is for Desire, Discipline And Delivery

      Looking back, when have you had the strong desire to do something and then followed daily disciplines to deliver the goods? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

      You may have Read more

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        E is for Enlightenment, Execution and Excellence

        There are many models for doing fine work. One approach is to go through the stages of enlightenment, execution and excellence.

        Enlightenment may mean, for example, making a creative breakthrough. Many people have such Read more

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          A is for Acting Like An Adult In The Room  

          “They behaved like the adult in the room.”

          This is a phrase sometimes used to describe a person who showed maturity and wisdom in a challenging situation. Such a person takes responsibility and reassures Read more

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            P is for People Seeing Positive Possibilities  

            Some people see possibilities while others see only problems. Being positive realists, however, they read reality quickly. They then aim to find practical solutions to challenges.

            During the 1960s and 70s I was fortunate Read more

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              N is for Numbing Yourself And Getting On With Life When Adjusting To The New Normal

              There are many ways to deal with dramatic changes. One approach is to numb yourself and get on with life when adjusting to what may become the new normal.

              Different people do this in Read more

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                C is for Character And Concrete Actions Shaping A Culture

                Abraham Lincoln said that: “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

                There are several definitions for character. Read more

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                  M is for Moving From Mourning To Mobilising To Making Your Best Contribution  

                  There are many models for overcoming setbacks. Some people go through the stages of shock, denial, anger, hurt and healing. They then get new strength, set goals, work hard, achieve success and gain self-confidence.

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                    C is for Being Committed To Continuous Improvement rather than Complacency    

                    Peak performers embody the Japanese concept of Kaizen – continuous improvement. They keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance. Different people do this in different ways.

                    During the 1980s I worked with Read more

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