The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for The Class Act Approach

There are many ways to do fine work. One model is to keep following the class act approach.

“They are a class act,” is a phrase used to describe somebody who consistently performs brilliantly. They also, when appropriate, add that touch of class.

The singer produces a memorable encore. The athlete produces a remarkable performance. The victor behaves generously, whilst the loser makes a gracious speech.

Nelson Mandela showed class when saying goodbye to his former jailers at Robben Island. He also had the ability to make each person feel special. Here is one example.

When departing from a London hotel at 6.00 in the morning, he found 20 staff lining up to form an aisle towards the door. He took the time to say goodbye to each of them. Giving each person his famous two-handed handshake, he looked them in the eyes and said:

Thank you for looking after me.

Imagine that you want to become a class act. This calls for continually demonstrating the required character and competence. It also calls for, when appropriate, adding that touch of class. Let’s explore how to take these steps.

Choose an activity in which
you can become a Class Act

One approach is to build on your strengths. You can then focus on a specific activity in which you may have the ability to do fine work.

There are many ways to clarify where you deliver As rather than Bs or Cs. One way is to explore the following themes.

You can clarify the specific activity in which you can do superb work. If you are providing a service, then it can be useful to identify the kinds of people with whom you work best. You can then use your strengths to help these people to achieve success.

You may choose to be a certain kind of counsellor, teacher, artist, craftsman, scientist, leader, crisis manager or whatever. You may choose to work as a sole contributor, team member, leader or another way to do superb work. 

One soccer coach, for example, chose to become the outstanding head of a youth academy rather than a highly paid club manager. He explained this in the following way.

My skills are in helping talented young players to develop. I am not suited to the roller coaster pressures of getting weekly results and talking with the press. I prefer to produce a succession of young players who go on to become internationals.

You will, of course, choose your own niche. It can then be useful to describe the reasons why you believe it may be possible for you to become a class act in this activity. This may involve considering the attitude and abilities that will be required to do such work.

Bearing this in mind, you may want to describe examples of when you have done superb work in this activity. Later we will explore how you can clarify what you did right then and how you can follow similar principles in the future.

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

Describe the specific activity in which you would like to become a class act. 

Describe the specific reasons why you believe it may be possible for you to become a class act in this activity.

Let’s imagine that you have chosen an activity in which you have the ability to do great work. Here are some steps you can consider on the road to doing your best.

Character

Character is the foundation of success. Looking at the activity in which aim to excel, do you have the character to keep delivering the goods? Do you have the required drive and discipline?

A sales person must have the drive to hit financial targets. An actor must have the resilience to overcome rejection. An athlete must have the discipline to train every day.

Imagine, for example, that you want to lead a team. Below is a list of the characteristics you may need to demonstrate. Some of these cross-over into the competence you will need. It may be important, however, to show the following characteristics.

To be self-motivated and want to be a leader … To know your strengths and weaknesses as a leader … To have belief in your approach … To also be honest and able to read reality … To be able to deal with feeling alone … To enjoy making decisions … To be calm when dealing with crises. 

To believe in the team’s mission … To know how to manage upwards and deal with challenging stakeholders … To make clear contracts with the stakeholders … To be willing to provide air cover for your people … To be able to continually motivate yourself.

To clarify the team’s picture of success … To establish credibility with your bosses, colleagues and customers … To demonstrate the professional characteristics needed to lead a superb team … To accept the leadership package – both the pluses and minuses of being a leader … To be hungry to keep improving.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind your chosen activity, this invites you to do the following things.

Describe the characteristics that you believe somebody must demonstrate to become a class act in this activity.   

Describe, on a scale 0 – 10, the extent to which you believe you demonstrate these characteristics.

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve the rating.

Competence

Character is a good starting point, but a person must also keep demonstrating the required competence. This calls for having the right combination of strengths, strategic thinking and skills.

Crisis managers must be able to stay calm, make good strategic decisions and deliver the goods. Chefs must have a feeling for food and be able to produce superb dishes when under pressure. Athletes must have the physical and psychological ability to deliver peak performances.

Great workers maintain high professional standards. Consistency is crucial, so they follow good habits. They keep doing the right things in the right way. They can always be relied upon to deliver the goods.

Competence sometimes calls for adding the appropriate creativity. It calls for finding solutions to challenges, making breakthroughs or doing something special. It means applying creativity in an appropriate way that helps to achieve the picture of success.

Great workers often have core strengths in their chosen field. They can then boost their competence by adding further strategies and skills.

Different workers take different steps to make this happen. One approach is to study what works. They can learn from the specific times when they or other people have done superb work. This also includes when they have overcome setbacks on the way towards delivering success.

Studying Success

People can learn from their own successes

They can recall the specific times when they have performed brilliantly in the past.

They can clarify the specific things they did right then – the principles they followed and how they translated these into action – to perform brilliantly.  

They can clarify how they can follow these principles – plus add other skills – to perform brilliantly in the future.

People can learn from other people’s successes 

They can study when other people have performed brilliantly.

They can clarify the specific things these people did right then – the principles they followed and how they translated these into action – to perform brilliantly.

They can clarify how they can how they can follow these principles in their own way to perform brilliantly.

Great workers often learn from positive models. Looking at my own work, this is an approach I use when running workshops for people who want to develop their skills as trusted advisors.

During the first session individuals are invited to do the exercise called My Trusted Advisor. Here are the instructions for the exercise.

My Trusted Advisor

Looking back on your life, can you think of a time when somebody acted as a trusted advisor for you? They may have been a friend, teacher, coach, mentor, doctor, lawyer or in some other role.

What did they do right then to act as a trusted advisor? What were the principles they followed? How did they translate these into action? 

They may have started by making you feel welcome. They may then have encouraged you to tell your story and describe the challenges you wanted to explore.  

Looking at the first challenge, they may have clarified the real results you wanted to achieve. When appropriate, they may have outlined the possible ways forward and passed on knowledge that helped you to reach your goals.  

What did your trusted advisor actually do to help you in the situation? You will, of course, use your own strengths as a trusted advisor, but sometimes it can be useful to learn from positive models.  

Different people give different answers when doing this exercise. They do, however, often mention certain common themes. Here are some of the these.

Bearing these themes in mind, we clarify how people can build on their strengths as trusted advisors. We then explore the strategies and skills they can add to help their clients to achieve success.

Let’s return to the activity in which you want to become a class act. What are the kinds of competence you need to demonstrate? How can you demonstrate these consistently? How can you, when appropriate, add the necessary creativity?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind your chosen activity, this invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific kinds of competence a person must demonstrate to become a class act in this activity.  

Describe, on a scale 0 – 10, the extent to which you believe you demonstrate these kinds of competence.

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve the rating.

Class

Great workers perform brilliantly and deliver the agreed goals. When appropriate, they also do something special and add that touch of class.

Superb sprinters employ their talent and technique to get in sight of the tape. They then flow, focus and finish. Outstanding negotiators stay calm under pressure. They may then produce a breakthrough solution that ensures all parties get a win-win.

During my own life I have been fortunate to witness live many people who demonstrated class. These have included performers such as Roy Orbison, Carole King, Judy Collins and Simon and Garfunkel.

They have included soccer teams such as The Busby Babes of Manchester United, the teams built by Brian Clough, a remarkable manager, and the great Ajax team that played Total Football.

During my early career I visited many pioneers in social work, therapy and education. Even though I was just a beginner, they were generous with their time and passed on their knowledge.

Great workers in their fields, they all had something in common. They always did the basics and then, when appropriate, added the brilliance. They aimed to give people positive memories for life.

Sometimes people demonstrate a touch of class by doing something exceptional to perform great work. Sometimes they take this step by being generous.

Jaime Thurston is somebody who encourages people to take this step. She founded the movement called 52 Lives that inspires people to show kindness. They show that sometimes simply doing the little things can add that touch of class.

Below are excerpts from the website. These are followed by a video that describes one of the School Kindness projects. You can discover more via the following link.

https://www.52-lives.org/

About Us

52 Lives aims to change someone’s life every week of the year and spread kindness. It is based on the simple premise that people are good, and good people working together can achieve amazing things. 

Every week, 52 Lives helps to change someone’s life. We choose someone somewhere in the world in need of help, share their story on our website and social media, and request what that person needs. 

Our kind supporters then spread the word, offer help if they can, and we change that person’s life – and inspire millions more who read about our stories of kindness. 

History

52 Lives was launched by founder Jaime Thurston in November 2013. It began as a Facebook page that she set up as a way for her friends and family to help people.  

It has since grown into a global network of almost 100,000 kind people who follow our weekly requests on Facebook, Twitter, or via our email newsletter.  

Our Philosophy 

52 Lives gives people tangible help, but our philosophy goes much deeper than that. The most important thing we do is spread kindness. We believe unexpected kindness is a powerful thing and can change someone’s whole outlook on life.  

The people we help all say the same thing: that what changed their lives wasn’t the ‘thing’ we gave them, but the kindness – the fact that complete strangers cared about them.  

We believe our collective actions determine the kind of world we live in – we just need to choose kindness at every possible opportunity.

Some people show class as human beings. Here is one outstanding example that describes how somebody chose to save a person’s life during the Second World War.

Imagine you are a Polish Catholic mother. Suddenly a 12-year-old Jewish boy knocks on the door. His parents have been killed by the Nazis and he is looking for sanctuary.

Hungry and frightened, he has nowhere to hide. He asks for your help. What would you do? Would you close the door, tell the authorities or take him into your home?

Samuel Oliner describes how he, the 12 year-old-boy, was saved by Bulwina, the Polish mother. She took him in, protected him from the Nazis and changed his name to Jusek.

She taught him to go to church on Sunday, learn the Catholic Catechism and blend into the scenery. Bulwina then helped him to make his escape when the situation became too dangerous.

Samuel eventually went to the USA and began to study human beings at their best. This resulted in he and Pearl Oliner co-authoring The Altruistic Personality.

The Altruistic Personality chronicles the activities of people who protected Jews during the Holocaust. Somewhere up to 500,000 non-Jews risked their own lives to rescue the victims of Nazi persecution.

They were ‘ordinary’ people, say Pearl and Samuel, they were farmers, teachers, entrepreneurs, factory workers, rich and poor, parents and single people, Protestants and Catholic.

Different people helped the Jews in different ways. Some offered them shelter; some helped them escape from prison; some smuggled them out of the country.

The Rescuers committed themselves to helping Jews, knowing that capture would mean death for their families. Why? Individuals said some of the following things when describing their actions.

It was the right thing to do. I was always filled with love for everyone, for every creature, for things. I am fused into every object. For me everything is alive. 

I sensed I had in front of me human beings that were hunted down like wild animals. This aroused a feeling of brotherhood and a desire to help. 

We had to help these people in order to save them, not because they were Jews, but because they were persecuted human beings who needed help.

Different people show class in different ways. The way they do this will depend on whether they are singing a song, playing a sport, cooking a meal, leading a team, solving a crisis or doing another activity.

Let’s return to the activity in which you want to become a class act. Imagine that you have built on your strengths, followed your chosen strategies and done superb work. How can you then add that touch of class?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind your chosen activity, this invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific qualities a person may need to demonstrate to become a class act in this activity. 

Describe, on a scale 0 – 10, the extent to which you believe you demonstrate these kinds of qualities.

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve the rating.

There are many models for doing great work. Different people will choose to follow their particular approach.

Some choose to build on their strengths, pursue practical strategies and work to achieve their picture of success. Some aim to follow their passion, translate this into a clear purpose and achieve peak performance.

This article has explored how you can aim to become a class act. As mentioned earlier, you can focus on the specific activity where you have the required character and competence. You can then do superb work and add that touch of class.

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

Describe again the specific activity in which you may have the ability to become a class act.

Describe the specific things you can do to do your best to become a class act in this activity.

Describe the specific benefits – both to yourself and other people – of becoming a class act in this activity.

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    D is for Distancing Yourself, Decision Making And Delivering The Desired Results    

    There are many ways to do superb work. One approach is particularly useful when tackling challenging situations. This involves taking the following steps.

    Step 1 is to distance yourself from the situation to see what is really happening. It is to avoid getting sucked into the drama or be overcome by the emotions. 

    Step 2 is to see the big picture. It is to clarify the desired results and make decisions about the way forwards.

    Step 3 is to go back into the situation. It is to then to be fully present and do your best to deliver the desired results.   

    This is an approach taken by crisis managers, bomb disposal experts and many others who manage challenging situations. They buy time to see the big picture, clarify the options and choose their way forwards. They then go back into the situation and aim to deliver the picture of success

    Looking back, can you think of a time when you took some of these steps to manage a challenging situation? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

    The emotions may have been powerful or the distractions threatened to blow you off-course. You chose to manage your emotions, however, rather than let your emotions manage you.

    You may have taken these steps when managing a crisis, making a transition, dealing with an illness or tackling another challenge. You may have done so when acting as a paramedic, leading an A & E department, dealing with a PR disaster or whatever.

    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 were able to distance yourself, make good decisions and then go back into the situation to deliver the desired results.

    Describe the specific things you did then to take these steps.

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

    Different people take these steps in different ways. Let’s explore some of the ways that you may do this in your own life and work.

    Distancing yourself 

    Looking back, what was the situation when you chose to distance yourself? You may have been awaiting the results of x-rays, dealing with a motorway accident, giving tough news to employees or whatever.

    Different people use different techniques to take this step. These include deep breathing, helicoptering above the situation or draining themselves of emotion.

    Some use what psychologists call self-distancing. One such approach is to imagine that the person involved is somebody other than themselves. This could be a friend or somebody who has approached them for professional advice.

    Bearing this in mind, they are invited to explore the following themes.

    Looking at the situation from the outside,
    what would you do in a measured way:

    To help the person who is seeking your advice to stay calm and see things in perspective; 

    To clarify the real results the person wants to achieve and then translate these into a clear picture of success; 

    To consider all the possible options for going forwards – both the obvious routes and the other possible creative solutions; 

    To clarify the consequences – the pluses and minuses – of each option;

    To give the person time to settle on their chosen option, make an action plan and work towards achieving their picture of success?

    The person can then take the advice they would give to somebody else. Looking at themselves from the outside can help them to make more considered decisions.

    Virginia Duffy has helped many people to behave calmly when faced by difficulties. She specialises in helping paramedics, first responders and those in the caring professions. Her book Behavioral First Aid: Managing Emotions During Emergencies provides many practical tools they can use in stressful situations.

    Her book provides many ideas for dealing with difficult scenarios. These include working with individuals who may be anxious, suicidal, psychotic or under the influence of drugs.

    Virginia also shows how to deal with a disturbed patient who is threatening others with violence. The most important consideration is for the safety of any people being threatened, any bystanders, the patient and the rescuer. Virginia then offers the following suggestions for the rescuer who is aiming to diffuse the situation.

    Dealing with a potentially
    violent situation

    Dos: What to say and do

    Do remove the means of violence whenever possible. 

    Do keep sentences short. Repeat clearly and often the minimum you need to say. 

    Do stay at a safe distance. 

    Do use only one lead person. 

    Do talk slowly in a quiet, calm voice. 

    Do maintain a calm, non-threatening environment. Reduce noise and lights. 

    Do listen and ask for clarification of the patient’s statements.

    Do make empathetic statements. 

    Do bring important persons (from the patient’s point of view) to the scene. 

    Do evaluate the patient’s response to your comments and reuse the techniques that have the most positive effect. 

    Do allow the patient to somehow save face. Avoid the patient feeling he must ‘give in’.

    Do give the patient as much control as possible. Offer choices where feasible.  

    Don’ts: What not to say and do 

    Do not joke.

    Do not try to reason with the person under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

    Do not give complicated instructions. 

    Do not touch the person or get too close.

    Do not have more than one person talking to the patient at a time. 

    Do not talk too loud or too fast. 

    Do not overwhelm the patient with stimuli.

    Do not interpret what the patient is saying or jump to conclusions.

    Do not be judgmental.

    Do not reply to verbal challenges. Avoid debate and confrontation.  

    Do not be condescending or patronising. 

    Do not allow others at the scene who agitate the patient.

    Do not give commands or challenges.

    Great workers buy time to think when faced by challenges. Sometimes they do this by staying calm, distancing themselves and getting an overview of what is happening. They then move on to the next step.

    Decision making

    Imagine you are deciding how to manage a difficult challenge. You may be making a transition, dealing with a crisis, helping somebody who is experiencing problems or tackling another issue.

    There are many models for making decisions. One model is to use the 3C approach. This means going through the stages of focusing on clarity, creativity and concrete results. Let’s explore how this works in action.

    Good decision makers start by clarifying the ‘What’ before moving on to the ‘How’. Bearing this in mind, you may want to work through some of the following questions.

    Clarity

    What is the challenge I want to tackle? For example: How to …? Looking at this challenge, what are the real results I want to achieve? What is the picture of success? What are the things I can control in the situation? How can I build on what I can control and manage what I can’t? 

    Creativity

    What are the possible choices for tackling the challenge? Option A is … Option B is … Option C is  … What are the consequences – the pluses and minuses – of each option? How attractive are each of these options on a scale 0-10? Are there any other potential creative solutions? 

    Concrete Results

    What is the option – or combination of options – I want to follow? How can I translate this into a clear action plan? Are there any working contracts I need to make with other people to make this happen? How can I do my best to deliver the desired concrete results?

    Let’s return to the challenging situation you may face in your life or work. Imagine that you have decided on your strategy for going forwards. It is will then be time to take the next step.

    Delivering the desired results

    Great workers prepare themselves properly before implementing their chosen strategy. They often use mental rehearsal before moving into action.

    Different people do this in different ways. One approach is to take the following steps.

    They focus on the real results they want to achieve – the picture of success. 

    They rehearse following their chosen strategies for achieving the picture of success. 

    They rehearse managing any potential challenges on the way towards achieving the picture of success. 

    They again focus on the picture of success.

    Great workers relax, re-centre and rehearse what they are going to do. They may also follow their chosen ritual to click into action when entering their chosen arena. They then aim to be fully present and follow their chosen principles.

    Sometimes they embrace seeming paradoxes – such as being both helicoptering and hands-on. They are able to see patterns from above and yet do hands-on work to achieve the picture of success.

    Great workers keep demonstrating the required character and competence. Sometimes they also produce something special. They then deliver the desired results by adding that touch of class.

    Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a specific situation when you may want to take some of these steps in your own way?

    Looking at the situation, how can you manage your emotions? How can distance yourself? How can you make good decisions? How can you then do your best to deliver the desired results?

    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 distance yourself, make decisions and then deliver the desired 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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