The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for Clarifying Your Principles And Following These In Personal And Professional Situations

There are many approaches to living life. One approach is to clarify the core principles you want to follow. These principles can become your centre. They can provide the inner compass that you can keep returning to in your daily life.

Starting from this centre, you can then express these principles in both personal and professional situations. You can ask:

“What are the principles I want to follow in my life? How can I express in these principles in different situations?

“How can I then return to my centre and refocus on what I believe in? How can I express these principles in the next personal or professional situation?”

A person who takes this approach is more likely to be centred. They keep returning to their inner compass. They then focus on how they can follow their chosen principles in the different situations they encounter in life.

The Dalai Llama says, for example: “My religion is kindness.” He therefore tries to express kindness in his daily life 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.

You can clarify your principles

Different people focus on different principles. Individuals may, for example, say they believe in the following things.

“I want to be kind, to help other people and to build a fairer world.”

“I want to appreciate life, to spread happiness and to create beautiful things.”

Looking at my own life, for example, there are several principles I aim to follow in situations. These are:

To be a positive encourager.

To help people to build on their positive spirit and achieve their picture of success. 

To help to build a positive planet.

I try to follow these principles when meeting people, mentoring, running super team workshops and writing. The aim is to provide practical tools that people can use to achieve their picture of success.

You will, of course, 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 the specific principles you want to follow in your life.

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

You may not find the right wording straight away, but have a go. Here is the exercise.

You can follow your principles
in personal situations

Imagine that you have clarified your core principles. Looking ahead, can you think of personal situation in which you may want to follow these? You may aim to do so when being with a friend, a loved one or another person.

Imagine that your principles are to be kind, to listen to people and to help them to achieve their goals. How can you translate these ideas into practise?

During one mentoring session, for example, a person I worked with said he wanted to spend more quality time encouraging his son. He went on to read Peter Benson’s book Sparks: How parents can help ignite the hidden strengths of teenagers.

Peter had a profound influence on the way many people encourage children, teenagers and adults. He wrote:

Children want to be known for their sparks. A spark is something that gives your life meaning and purpose. It’s an interest, a passion, or a gift.

When you see these sparks in them, then affirm them. You shall know them by their sparks.

Sparks are the hidden flames in kids that excite them and tap into their true passions.

Sparks come from the gut. They motivate and inspire. They’re authentic passions, talents, assets, skills, and dreams.

Sparks can be musical, athletic, intellectual, academic, or relational; from playing the violin to working with kids or senior citizens.

Sparks get kids going on a positive path, away from the conflicts and negative issues – violence, promiscuity, drugs, and alcohol – that give teens a bad name and attract so much negative energy.

Sparks can ignite a lifelong vocation or career, or balance other activities to create an emotionally satisfying, enriched life.

Great educators look for these signs in students. They then encourage, educate and enable people to keep these alive throughout their lives.

Peter died at the age of 65 in 2011, but his work lives on through colleagues at the Search Institute. You can discover more at the official web site.

The father I worked with decided to spend more time focusing on what his son was good at, rather than haranguing him about what he was bad at. This resulted in the boy eventually beginning to seek out his father, rather than retreat into his own world.

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

Describe a specific personal situation in which you would like to follow your principles. 

Describe the specific things you can do to follow your principles in this situation.

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

You can follow your principles
in professional situations

Looking ahead, can you think of professional situation in which you may want to follow your principles? You may aim to do this when helping a colleague, working with a customer, leading a team, building a prototype, tackling a challenge or whatever.

Imagine that one of your principles is to pass on knowledge that helps people to succeed. How can you do this in the specific professional situation?

Many of the people I work with want to take this step. They may act as partners, consultants or trusted advisors to customers. Bearing this in mind, we explore some of the themes outlined by David Maister, who co-authored The Trusted Advisor.

We start by inviting individuals to clarify their own experiences. Looking back, can they recall a time when they were helped by a trusted advisor who passed on knowledge? What did that person do right then to help them to succeed?

Different people highlight different things regarding how their trusted advisor behaved, but here are some of the common themes.

My Trusted Advisor
Did The Following Things

They made me feel the centre of their world.

They listened to my story, clarified my goals and played back what they believed were the aims.

They then asked if it was okay for them to share their ideas.

They began by outlining the things we could do – the specific things we could control – in the situation.

They shared the possible options for going forward, together with the pluses and minuses of each option.

They also, when appropriate, shared their knowledge and recommendations.

They underlined, however, that it was ultimately my decision and gave me time to reflect.

They then, once I had made my decision, again explained the implications.

They explained what I could expect to happen at each stage of the process going forwards.

They explained the various roles – their role, my role and the roles of other people – as we worked towards the aims.

They then acted to pursue the chosen way forward.

They used their skills, knowledge and wisdom to do what they could to help me to reach my goals.

Bearing in mind their own experiences, individuals look at how they can follow the principles they believe in. They then take practical steps to help other people to succeed.

Imagine that you have your own set of principles. You can aim to follow these in the professional situation. It will then be time to take the next step, which is to return to your centre.

Different people do this in different ways. You may choose to take time to reflect, do deep breathing, get a sense of perspective or whatever. After refocusing on what you believe in, it will then be time to go out and follow your beliefs in the next situation.

Some people follow this process throughout the day. They manage to retain a sense of stability, even during turbulent times. This is because they refocus on their inner compass.

Such people reacquaint themselves with their deepest beliefs. Looking ahead, they rehearse what they are going to do next. They then translate their beliefs into action and work to deliver the desired results.

Let’s return to the professional situation in which you may want to express your principles. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific professional situation in which you would like to follow your principles.

Describe the specific things you can do to follow your principles in this situation. 

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


    C is for Clear Contracting  


    Clear contracting plays a crucial role in both personal and professional relationships. People feel better when:

    They make clear agreements with each other about what they are each going to do to reach an agreed goal.  

    They all do what they agreed to do and reach the agreed goal. 

    Keeping promises helps to build confidence. People are then more likely to trust each other and work together to achieve future success. The Red Arrows flying team say, for example:

    “When flying together, it is not that we trust everybody will follow the agreed moves, we know they will follow them.”

    There are many kinds of contracts. Some may be practical – such as legal or working contracts – but others might be psychological.

    Professional contracts often involve people agreeing to follow a certain code of conduct on the way towards achieving certain goals. Personal contracts often involve people agreeing about how they will behave when living together.

    Sometimes contracts involve signing a piece of paper. Sometimes there is a spoken agreement. Sometimes the agreement is assumed but unspoken. The latter can, of course, lead to misunderstandings.

    Different people make contracts in different ways. They do, however, often focus on the following themes.


    People agree on the goals to achieve. They then translate these into an agreed picture of success.


    People agree on the principles to follow – the Dos and Don’ts – for working towards the goals. They also agree on who will do what by when on the road towards achieving the picture of success.

    Concrete Results

    People carry out their parts of the contract. They do whatever is required to achieve the agreed picture of success.

    Clear contracting plays a key part in educational, coaching and other professional relationships. Sometimes this contract is made extremely explicit. This is the case when, for example, a therapist is working with a recovering alcoholic or addict.

    The therapist will make it clear that they will only work with a client if they want to be healthy and act in a responsible way. Breaking the agreement will lead to the end of the therapeutic relationship.

    Sometimes contracts are made in a more informal way, but the expectations are still clear. When running super team workshops for organisations, for example, I start by outlining the contract to the participants. This involves me saying something along the following lines.

    Clear Contracting For Today 

    The goals of today’s session are to
    provide practical tools that you can use:

    To continue to build a super team.

    To clarify the team’s story, strategy and road to success.

    To build on your strengths and make your best contributions towards achieving the picture of success. 

    To find solutions to specific challenges. 

    To do superb work, reach your goals and deliver ongoing success. 

    My role during the workshop is:

    To be a positive encourager. 

    To provide practical tools that work. 

    To do whatever is necessary to help you to achieve success.

    Your role during the workshop is:

    To encourage each other. 

    To take the ideas you like and use these in your own ways. 

    To do whatever is necessary to help the team to achieve success.

    Before going further I ask if people are okay with the agreement or if they would like to add anything to it. Sometimes they want to add topics to the agenda.

    We also underline the basic rules for working in the session. These include telephones being switched off – unless there are compelling reasons why not – because there will be plenty of breaks. We then embark on the session.

    Looking at your own life, can you think of a situation when you made clear contracts with somebody or a group of people? What did you do to make the clear contracts? What did people then do to carry out what was agreed and fulfil the contracts? 

    Describe a specific situation in the past when you made clear contracts with a person or a group of people and people fulfilled the agreed contracts.

    Describe the specific things that people did to make the clear contracts. 

    Describe the specific things that people did then to fulfil the agreed contracts.

    There are many different kinds of contracts, but this article focuses on three themes. These are:

    Making Clear Contracts In Professional Relationships 

    Making Clear Contracts In Personal Relationships 

    Making Clear Contracts With Yourself

    People often follow similar steps in each of these cases. As mentioned earlier, they focus on the following themes.

    Clarity: people agree on the specific goals to achieve.

    Contracting: people agree on the actions required – and who will do what – to achieve the goals.

    Concrete Results: people carry out the actions and achieve the goals.

    Making contracts in
    professional relationships

    People often enter into a contract when taking up a professional role. Sometimes this is made explicit by them agreeing to follow a certain professional credo. This may require them to sign a formal agreement.

    Sometimes it takes the form of people making a verbal agreement to follow certain principles. The guidelines that people are expected to follow will differ depending on the task.

    They may be aiming to climb a mountain, build an elite sports team, run an Accident & Emergency Unit, find a breakthrough medical cure or whatever. People can be given chance to decide if they want to opt into following these guidelines to achieve the mission.

    Here is an example of a Professional Credo that was put together by one organisation with whom I worked. Potential employees were given examples of how this worked in practise. They were then invited to decide if they wanted to join the organisation.

    Good coaches often use the contracting approach when working with people. They do this when encouraging athletes, learners and in other professional situations.

    They start by establishing a clear coaching contract. Whilst the following process sounds very structured, different people use it in different ways. Doing this properly can provide the basis for building a successful coaching relationship.

    The coach begins by inviting the coachee to have an initial go at filling in the coaching contract. The coachee is asked to describe:

    The specific goals they want to achieve.

    The specific things they see as their responsibilities in working to achieve the goals.

    The specific kinds of help they want from the coach and other people in working towards achieving the goals.

    The specific things that will be happening that will show they have reached the goals.

    The coachee and coach then meet to agree on the coaching contract. This forms the basis for their work together.

    “What happens if the coachee breaks the contract?” somebody may ask.

    Depending on the situation, the coach may immediately stop working with the person. On other occasions, they may ask them:

    “Let’s go back to the goals you want to achieve? Do you still want to achieve these goals?

    “If so, what do you see as your responsibilities in working to achieve the goals? Are you prepared to do those things?

    “If so, then we may have the basis for working together. If not, then that is your choice. And, as we know, every choice has consequences.

    “If you wish, take time to reflect. Then let me know your answer.”

    Good encouragers are supportive, but they can also be tough. They give people clear messages and are prepared to follow through on the consequences.

    Here is the framework for the coaching contract. This can be adapted and also further sections can be added if appropriate.

    Making contracts in
    personal relationships

    Good relationships often involve clear contracting. Looking at your own life, you will know the people who will do exactly what they say they will do. There may be others about whom you are less certain. Breaking the agreements can lead to breaking the relationships.

    People often enter into contracts in their personal lives. Some involve both verbal and written agreements. These may include getting married, drawing up a will or making financial agreements.

    People also make verbal contracts when living together. They agree on who will take care of the various tasks involved in earning money, looking after the house, caring for the children and doing other activities

    Individuals also make assumptions, rather clear contracts, with their friends and loved ones. They develop ways of relating to each other that, whilst seldom spoken about, form the basis for their interactions.

    They may get upset if others start behaving in ways that veer from what they expect. If appropriate, they may then try to rectify matters by talking about the issue and making clear contracts for the future.

    During the 1970s I worked with both healthy and healthy families. This highlighted how clear contracting played a part in building good relationships.

    Healthy parents, for example, were often positive and predictable. They were supportive, created a safe environment and encouraged others to develop.

    Such parents also gave clear messages, however, about how people were expected to behave towards each other. People in the family felt valued. But they also knew the consequences if they behaved in ways that hurt others.

    Unhealthy parents were negative and unpredictable. They often gave conflicting messages that caused chaos and confusion. As a result, other people felt scared and unable to develop.

    During family therapy we invited people to make clear contracts about how they wanted to treat each other. Every family already had contracts. Some contracts were unspoken, however, and some caused difficulties.

    One father, for example, told their 17 year-old addict son that he must learn to take responsibility and get a job. At the end of the session, however, they gave the son money to go and spend with their friends. The unspoken agreement was:

    “I am going to tell you to take responsibility, but then I am going to enable you to stay in your role as an addict.”

    Both parents were asked if they were serious. Did they really want their son to take responsibility? If so, it was important to make clear contracts about him looking after himself.

    The parents agreed and, despite a few difficulties, stuck to their parts of the bargain. The son left home and stayed with friends. He was a survivor and, without resorting to crime, began to put his life together.

    There are many ways to make contracts with people in personal relationships. One approach is to use the following framework. This sounds very structured, so you may wish to adapt it in your own way.

    Making contracts
    with yourself

    Sometimes the most important contract you make is with yourself. You may believe in following certain principles in life, for example, and aim to follow these, even when things get tough.

    Faced by a challenging situation, you may buy time to think. You may then ask:

    “What is actually happening in the situation? Bearing in mind the things I can control, what do I want to do? What are the real results I want to achieve?

    “What are the principles I believe in following in life? How can I follow these principles in this situation? How can I do my best to achieve the picture of success?”

    Peak performers, for example, make a clear contract with themselves about what they want to do in their personal or professional lives.

    They start by clarifying their goals. They then do due diligence and clarify the pluses and minuses involved in working towards achieving the goals.

    Such people then commit to pursuing their chosen path. They keep returning to this internal contract – which acts as a compass – when making decisions about their future actions.

    Making an internal contract calls for translating ideas into action. A person may choose to get up at a certain time, eat certain foods, behave in certain ways or do certain activities. They develop a rhythm for doing these things and this becomes part of their daily life.

    Some people make a contract with themselves to follow a certain mantra. A person may, for example, keep saying the following things to themselves (other people may follow other scripts).

    Keep being positive. 

    Keep doing your best. 

    Keep encouraging other people.  

    Such a mantra acts like a personal contract that they aim to follow in different situations. As one person said:

    “My contract with myself is always to do my best.”

    Let’s return to your own life and work. You may want to make a contract with a loved one, friend, colleagues at work, a customer or another person. Alternatively, you may want to make a contract with a group of people.

    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 make clear contracts with a person or a group of people. 

    Describe the specific things that you can do to make clear contracts. 

    Describe the specific things that people can do then to fulfil the agreed contracts.


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