The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for Focusing On Your Purpose, Principles and Projects

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People love to have a sense a purpose. They often gain strength by serving something greater than themselves. This may involve following a particular life philosophy, spiritual faith or vocation.

They often pursue their purpose by following certain principles. They may aim to encourage other people, create beauty, pass on knowledge or follow other guidelines.

People sometimes translate these principles into action by doing specific projects. They may aim to provide counselling sessions, run a workshop, write an article, give a concert, create a beautiful garden, invent a product, build a successful prototype or do other activities.

You will have your own approach to pursuing a purpose and following certain principles. You may then express these by doing specific projects in your personal or professional life.

Looking back on your life, can you think of a situation when you did such a project? What were the reasons you believed in the project? What were the principles you tried to follow? How did you translate these principles into action?

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

Describe a specific project you have done in the past that may have been an expression of a purpose and principles you believed in.

Describe the specific principles you believed in that you tried to translate into action when doing the project.

Describe the specific things you did to translate these principles into action when doing the project.

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Different people translate their purpose into different kinds of projects. Here are some examples. 

Mary Gordon translated her compassion for people into creating the organisation called Roots of Empathy. Its mission is to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.

The programme involves bringing a local baby into the classroom. The children then learn how to understand and care for the needs of another human being.


The Roots of Empathy programme has spread to many countries. It has produced remarkable results in enabling children to become more caring and able to solve problems. This has also reduced aggression, bullying and other social problems. You can discover more on the organisation’s web site.

Richard Barbe-Baker believed in showing people the value of planting trees. His epiphany came 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-five 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. 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 for the project.

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.

Richard has inspired many people to plant trees and contribute towards building a positive planet. Here is a video in which he introduces the principles he tried to translate into action.

Different people have different approaches to following a purpose in life. Some people seem to know their purpose at an early age, whilst for others it is a lifetime quest.

Some aim to serve a cause that is greater than themselves. Some focus on the activities that give them positive energy. They then translate these into a clear purpose. Some use their strengths to do satisfying work that helps people or the planet.

Some people find a way to follow a purpose, whilst others may find this to elusive. There are, of course, different kinds of people.

Some people are purpose driven 

Such people often get satisfaction from following a deep-seated purpose. They aim to express this by following certain principles in their daily lives and work.

Some people are projects driven 

Such people feel fulfilled by doing certain projects. They may or may not see these an expression of a deeper purpose. They do, however, get great satisfaction from doing these projects.

Some people are purpose and projects driven

Such people follow their chosen purpose and principles. They only get satisfaction, however, by translating these drives into doing specific projects that are expressions of their purpose and principles.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking to the future, can you think of a project that may be an expression of a purpose and principles you believe in?

What would be your reasons for believing in the project? What would be the principles you would try to follow? How could you translate these principles into action?

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

Describe a specific project you may want to do in the future that may be an expression of a purpose and principles you believe in.

Describe the specific principles you believe in that you can translate into action when doing the project.

Describe the specific things can do to translate these principles into action when doing the project.

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    C is for Custodians Of The Culture

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    Great organisations have people who act as custodians of the culture. The leaders act as positive models. They also have many other key people, however, who embody the organisation’s core principles. These cultural custodians act as good models and protect the culture during times of difficulty.

    One soccer manager, for example, shifted a club’s culture by signing positive leaders. These players had credibility and demonstrated the professional standards required to achieve success. The other players could choose whether or not to up their game. Some did, but others moved on.

    Looking at your own work, imagine that you lead your present team or organisation. Who are the people who act as custodians of the core principles the team needs to follow? What do they do, in behavioural terms, to demonstrate these principles?

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

    Describe the specific people who act as cultural custodians in your team or organisation. Write their names.

    Describe the specific things they do to act as cultural custodians for the team or organisation.

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    Imagine that you have been invited to lead an organisation. You will have made clear contracts with your key stakeholders – such as your bosses – about the following things.

    The specific results to deliver – the organisation’s picture of success.

    The specific principles the organisation will follow to achieve the picture of success.

    The specific things you will do to proactively keep the stakeholders informed about the progress towards achieving the picture of success. 

    The specific support you will require to achieve the picture of success. 

    The specific early wins you will deliver on the way towards achieving the picture of success.

    Good leaders then create a positive culture in which motivated people can achieve peak performance. There are many ways to make this happen.

    One approach is to start by explaining the organisation’s strategy to people. It is then build on the people who want to contribute towards achieving the picture of success.

    Imagine that you are addressing everybody in an organisation. You might say something along the following lines to explain the way forward.

    Welcome To Today’s Session.

    I am going to give an overview of our organisation’s purpose and the part you can play in making this happen.

    The Purpose

    The purpose of our organisation is:

    * To

    The picture of success – the specific things that
    the organisation wants to achieve by a certain
    date – that will be an expression of the purpose are:

    * To

    * To

    * To

    The positive benefits for all the various
    stakeholders of achieving these things will be:

    * To

    * To

    * To

    The Principles

    The key principles we aim to follow to achieve this purpose
    – together with the reasons for following these guidelines – are:

    * To

    * To

    * To

    The Practice

    The way you practice these principles will – within parameters – be up to you in your part of the organisation.

    But there is key point. You must show how what you practice supports the principles and contributes toward achieving the purpose.

    You can then invite people to reflect and decide if they want to follow the core principles. If so, they can then make clear contracts about how they wish to contribute towards achieving the picture of success.

    How to maintain the momentum? There are many ways to encourage people to keep following the core principles. These may include some of the following.

    Create opportunities for people to
    update others about their progress

    One approach is to create opportunities for people to report on their progress. You can, for example, invite each team within the organisation to make monthly presentations on the following themes.

    Progress Report

    The specific things we have delivered in the past
    month towards achieving the goals have been:




    The specific things we aim to deliver in the
    next month towards
    achieving the goals are:




    The specific challenges we face and the
    support we would like to achieve the goals are:




    Publicise success stories

    You can publicise success stories that show how people have followed the principles and contributed towards achieving the picture of success.

    These stories show what good looks like and encourage others to deliver these professional standards. You can discover more about this approach via the following link.

    Support the potential
    custodians of the culture

    Good leaders act as positive models. They often need help, however, to build and maintain the desired culture. Bearing this in mind, they identify people who already embody the principles required to reach the goals.

    Willi Railo, the Norwegian sports psychologist, used another name for athletes who played this role in shaping a team’s culture. He called them cultural architects. Looking at sports teams around the world, he named David Beckham as such a person.

    Cultural architects have a strong influence on other athletes in teams, said Willi. They have self-confidence and transmit this confidence to others. Such architects are powerful. So it is important that they align their efforts to help the team achieve its goals.

    Imagine that you lead an organisation. You can identify the people who embody the principles that the organisation can follow to achieve success. It can then be useful:

    To encourage them to act as positive models for others in the organisation. 

    To involve them in helping to implement the desired culture in the organisation.

    To help them to build on their strengths and make their best contributions to the organisation. 

    This is an approach I took early in my career when running a therapeutic community for young people. There were two staff members and 20 residents. So it made sense to give positive roles to some of the young people. This involved encouraging them:

    To develop as people by taking on increasing levels of responsibility in running the community.

    To act as hosts to visiting social workers and explain the community’s approach to helping young people.

    To be guest speakers at conferences for social workers – plus speak on radio and TV – to explain the community’s approach.  

    Thirty years after leaving the community I got an email from one of the young people who played such a role. Sue came to us at the age of 14, having spent much of her life in institutions.

    She was now a Grandma. Looking back at her time in the community, she gave an insight into how the young people helped each other to tackle challenges. She wrote:

    The community made us feel safe and we never betrayed that trust. We saw it a last chance and we did not want to mess it up.

    Sometimes we acted to protect the community. For example, some newcomers tried to bring drugs into the house but we said:

    ‘Don’t bring that stuff here. If you want to take drugs, leave the community.’

    Sometimes we had fantastic talks. There would be 8 of us sitting in a bedroom till midnight, just sharing thoughts we had never discussed with anybody before.

    Every young person in the community had suffered problems. We encouraged each other to talk about the past, but didn’t allow each other to use it as an excuse for behaving badly.

    If I said, ‘My mother left me in the park when I was two,’ somebody else said: ‘I can top that. How can you use that bad experience to help others in the future?’

    Suddenly I realised that I didn’t have to go on the path I was hurtling along, which would probably have led to drugs or prison.  

    The people in the community believed in us and my feelings mattered. Someone listened when I was screaming. What could be more wonderful than that?

    Nowadays I try to help other people by volunteering to work at the local hospice. But the thing I am most proud of is being a good parent to my children.

    Imagine that you lead your team or organisation. How can you build on the custodians of the culture? How can you, if necessary, add to the group by bringing in other people who can play this role?

    How can you then support these people? You may want to encourage them to be positive models, involve them in shaping the culture or enable them to use their strengths to help the team or organisation to achieve success.

    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 encourage or, if appropriate, add to the people who act as cultural custodians in your team or organisation.  

    Describe the specific benefits of encouraging or adding to the people who act as cultural custodians.

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