The Art of Strengths Coaching

D is for Doing Your Best After A Disappointment

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Don Clifton, the author of Now, Discover Strengths, was once asked about a certain person’s potential. An extremely positive person, Don was also realistic. He answered along the following lines.

“The person has strengths and shows promise, but I do now know how good they can become. I will be able to answer better after I see how they deal with setbacks.”

Different people react in different ways to disappointments. Some choose to give up. Some choose to blame the world. Some choose to develop and do their best in the future.

Looking at your own life, can you recall a time when you went on to do good work after a disappointment? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have taken this step after being turned down for a job, losing a customer, ending a relationship, being rejected by a sports team or whatever.

How did you go through the healing process? What did you learn from the setback? How did you then aim to do your best in the future?

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 did your best after a disappointment.

Describe the specific things you did to do your best after the disappointment.  

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

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Different people respond to setbacks in different ways. Some react by going through the stages of shock, denial, paralysis, anger and hurt. They may then spend some time healing.

At a certain point they may feel ready to move forwards. They may gain strength, set new goals, work hard and get success. This can lead to regaining a sense of confidence.

Some individuals respond quickly to setbacks. They may experience a sense of surprise or shock, but they then move on to finding solutions to the challenge. They ask:

“What is actually happening? What do I want to happen? What are the real results I want to achieve? What is the picture of success?

“How can I do my best to achieve these results? What are the various options I can follow? What are the pluses and minuses of each option?

“What is the route I want to follow? How can I translate this into a clear action plan? What do I want to do and when? How can I get some quick successes?”

Swinging into action, they pursue their short, medium and long-term plans. At a certain point, however, they may reflect on the experience and see how they can apply the learning in the future.

Liz Murray is somebody who has recovered from setbacks. Her story reached many people in the film Homeless To Harvard.

She grew up in the Bronx with parents who were addicts, but she always had dreams. The video below provides a short extract from a speech she gave at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.

Here are some excerpts from an article about her speech. You can find the article at:

“It’s not about Harvard, it’s not about a prestigious school,” says Liz Murray of her incredible and uplifting life story, which she shared with an audience at DePauw University tonight.

“It’s not about that. It’s about learning, about educating yourself and gathering enough knowledge to find your way through any little crack or crevice you possibly can so you can move up and escape from that trap you were born into.”

Murray detailed how she was born to drug-addicted parents, and how as a child, living in squalor, her parents and everyone she knew was living month-to-month on government checks. 

Despite the tumultous environment in which she was raised, Murray says she has always loved her parents. Her life, already in disarray, unraveled quickly when her mother was diagnosed with HIV.  

Her mother moved out, her father went to a homeless shelter, and Murray, then a young teen, was sent to a group home.

Her unpleasant experiences there led her to run away and she lived on the streets of New York City, eating out of dumpsters and sleeping at friends’ houses or on subway trains, but in her own words, “going nowhere.” The year Murray turned 16, her mother died, and her view of life changed.

“I got the sense that my life was in my own hands,” she told her DePauw audience.  

Murray’s ultimate goal is to create a coaching and seminar company that will work with groups, perhaps specializing in inner-city schools. 

“Instead of just speaking about my life, I want that to be a footnote, and I want to offer strategies to people.”

Liz has moved on to focusing on how to provide opportunities for young people. Here is a longer video in which she talks about the power of possibilities.

Different people have different approaches to clarifying what they learned from a disappointment.

Some people spend a long time focusing on failure. They ask questions like:

“What went wrong? Why did it fail? Why did I behave that way?”

Some people take a different approach. They ask questions like:

“What did I do well? How can I do more of these things in the future? What could I do better next time and how? How can I apply these lessons to future challenges?”

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a potential disappointment that you may experience in the future? This could be in your personal or professional life

You may have a book rejected, lose a piece of business or fail to do your best in a sporting event. You may fail to follow your values, take time to get over a setback or experience some other kind of disappointment.

How can you recover from the setback? How can you build on what you did well? How can you improve in the other areas? How can you then aim to do your best in the future?

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 do your best after a potential disappointment.

Describe the specific things you can do to do your best after the disappointment.  

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

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    R is for Rehearsal, Rhythm and Results

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    There are many models for doing fine work. One approach is to start by clarifying the results to achieve. It is also making sure there are the resources to do the job.

    Great workers then often go through the stages of rehearsal, developing a rhythm and achieving results. They do this whether working as individuals or with others in teams. One person said:

    “Preparation is crucial. Going into the arena, I then need to hit the ground running and follow a certain rhythm.

    “My best performances have come from being able to get into my rhythm. I have then been able deliver the required results.

    “Sometimes I have been distracted but, after some effort, I have been able to recover. On other occasions, however, it has been difficult to get into my rhythm and the results have suffered.”

    Looking back, can you think of a situation when you took these steps? You may have been writing an article, playing a sport, singing in a choir, leading a team or whatever.

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

    Describe a specific situation when you clarified the results to achieve, got the resources and then focused on the themes of rehearsal, rhythm and results.

    Describe the specific things you did to take these steps.

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

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    Imagine that you want to do a piece of fine work. You may wish to write a book, run a marathon, facilitate a workshop, lead a team or whatever.

    You will start by clarifying the real results to achieve. Bearing in mind the things you can control, you will translate your aims into a clear picture of success. You will then gather the resources needed to do the job.

    An example of people taking this approach came in a workshop I led for a round-the-world yachting team competing in the BT Global Challenge. Each crew was made up of people from all walks of life, many with little experience of sailing.

    The team I worked with had their first meeting in North Wales. After some short introductions, the skipper asked people to brainstorm the team’s goals. People got excited, saying things like:

    “We are going to win.”

    Listening to the presentations, the skipper showed respect for each of the suggestions. After summarising the ideas, he then said:

    “Looking at these, I would suggest the following goals. The top one is my guiding principle as a skipper. Putting together my priority and adding some of your ideas, I would suggest the following aims:

    “To get everybody around the world and back home safely.

    “To enjoy the adventure of a lifetime and develop as people.

    “To do our best as a crew and keep improving.”

    The crew accepted the salutary lesson. After some discussion and refinement, they agreed on the real results to achieve.

    People then focused on how they could use their individual and collective strengths to achieve the aims. This led to exploring the practical resources required to get everybody around the world and back home safely.

    Different people use different methods to clarify the results to achieve and the resources. Imagine that you have taken this step in your own way. You may then want to explore the next stage of the journey.


    Great workers rehearse virtually everything they plan to do. They may aim to give a keynote speech, run an Olympic final, facilitate a workshop or whatever.

    Such workers often put themselves through intensive physical rehearsals. When appropriate, however, they also use mental rehearsal to prepare for events.

    The yacht crew spent months practicing their strategies and how to deal with crises that could occur when sailing around the world. Before each session the skipper would say something along on the following lines.

    “Today we are going to practice the following part of our strategy. The exercise will aim to replicate the conditions we will face during certain parts of the race.

    “The aims we want to achieve in the exercise are …

    “The strategies we will follow to achieve these aims are …

    “The responsibilities of each team in the crew when working to achieve these aims are …

    “The morning will be devoted to making sure we know how to execute the drills. The afternoon will be devoted to dealing with potential challenges we may face when executing these drills in high seas.

    “Bearing in mind what we want to accomplish, can you spend some time in your teams discussing the task. Meet back here in half an hour and we will answer any questions. It will then be time to practice the task.”

    Different people rehearse in different ways. Sometimes it is not possible to simulate the actual conditions, so this may lead to using mental rehearsal.

    There are many approaches to applying this technique. Here is the classic route taken by many who use mental rehearsal.

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    Imagine that you have done your rehearsal. You feel ready to click into action and hit the ground running. There are different ways to make this happen, but some people focus on the following step.


    Different people develop different rhythms for doing fine work. Sometimes it can take years, however, before people find and follow their best rhythm.

    If you are a creative artist, for example, you may have a certain ritual for clicking into action. You may work for a set time, take a break and work for two hours. It may then be time to go for a walk, before returning to the work and continuing until you feel empty.

    Several business leaders I work with have established a different kind of rhythm. One Vice President for the European arm of a global business said:

    “I prefer my lifestyle now, compared with when I headed the UK business. My working work has the following pattern.

    “On Monday I take the children to school and then take a lunchtime flight to one of the major capitals. Monday night is spent having dinner with colleagues or clients.

    “Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are devoted to clients visits. Sometimes this involves another flight on, for example, Wednesday night.

    “The work is intensive, but it is also rewarding. I am able to play to my strengths, which is working directly with clients.

    “Normally I fly back on Thursday evening and take the children to school on Friday. The rest of the day is spent working from home and finalising plans for the next week.

    “This sounds tough, but it was harder when I ran the UK business, which meant travelling into London every day. My diary was full from the moment I entered the building.

    “There were always crises to solve and meetings to attend. Sometimes I was lucky to get home before 8.00 pm at night.

    “The lifestyle I have now is excellent. Sometimes I need to spend a week in the USA, but that is fine.

    “I have also built a good leadership team who run the daily business. They release me to do what I do best, which is to work with customers and shape tomorrow’s business.”

    The yacht crew I worked with also developed rhythms for doing good work. The skipper told them:

    “This is our first workshop. The habits we set here will set the tone for how we work together.

    “Bearing this in mind, I would like people be here 10 minutes before each session. When doing an exercise, double check you understand the brief, the goals and the time frame.

    “Communicate clearly, combine your talents and do high quality work. Developing good habits here will help us when changing watch every four hours during storms.”

    Simon Walker was the skipper of another crew in the race. Several years later he wrote the following piece that highlighted the importance of people developing a certain rhythm. He wrote:

    Everybody’s commitment was crucial. Sailing in the depths of the Southern Ocean, for example, it was icy cold, windy, wet and exhausting.  

    The people who had finished their watch would go below to snatch some sleep. After 30 minutes spent getting out of soaking kit, they would slide into their mouldy, damp sleeping bag, and it took another 30 minutes to reverse the process.

    People therefore only had 3 hours of the 4-hour ‘off-watch’ available for sleep. The crew always slept on the high side of the yacht—which optimised the balance and made it sail faster.  

    When we needed to tack – change direction – the ‘off-watch’ crew would get up and take their sleeping bag to the other side. Such a change-over might happen 2 or 3 times during their 3 hours rest. Not a single person complained and the entire crew did this day-after-day across the Southern Ocean.  

    No leader on Earth could make 13 other exhausted people do this unless they had all bought in into the idea. Everyone was committed.  

    Imagine that you developed a rhythm that enables you to follow the key strategies. You may then focus on the next step.


    Different people have different views about how to achieve results. Some believe in following the key strategies and, as a by-product, delivering the goods.

    This is a view held by many successful leaders in sports, for example, which is a real results business. They focus on what they can control and do their best to deliver excellence.

    Bill Walsh, the former San Francisco 49ers coach, took this approach. He encouraged his players to keep delivering the required standards of performance. Providing they did this, he believed that: “The score takes care of itself.”

    There are many models for helping people to perform at their best. One is the CORE principle employed by Dave Brailsford, who worked with the British Olympic and Team Sky cycling teams. The coaching elements of this approach are described later in the article.

    The British Cycling Team, for example, started by setting clear goals. They aimed to go from 17th in the world to consistently standing on the podium. This involved taking the following steps. They aimed:

    To clarify what it would take to win – such as the specific race times that, if delivered, would provide the greatest chance of winning.

    To prioritise and decide what they wanted to win, because it was impossible win everything. 

    To identify the people who had both the ability and the intrinsic drive required to achieve these times.  

    To start from that destination, work backwards and clarify the plan for reaching the destination.

    To build a committed team, encourage the cyclists and execute the plan successfully.  

    Dave and the team then applied the CORE principle for enabling people to do their best. Here is an overview of the steps you can take when using this approach.

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    Dave and his colleagues helped the teams to achieve success. As he said, however, any glory achieved should reflect on the athletes, not the coaches. Dave maintained:

    “It was about putting the crown on the head of the athlete, not the coach.”

    Here is a video in with Dave explains more about the approach.

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

    Imagine you have a got the required resources. How can you then go through the stages of rehearsal, developing a rhythm and doing your best to deliver the results?

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

    Describe a specific situation when you may want to clarify the results to achieve, get the resources and then focus on the themes of rehearsal, rhythm and results. 

    Describe the specific things you can do to take these steps.

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

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