The Art of Strengths Coaching

G is for Gumption

There are many models for doing fine work. One approach is for a person to focus on the specific activities in which they have the gifts and the gumption required to do great work.

There are several definitions for gumption. These include people having common sense, courage and practical skills required to deliver the goods. Here are two explanations:

The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:

The ability to decide what is the best thing to do in a particular situation and then to do it with energy and determination.

The Grammarist website
gives the following background:

Gumption means bravery, get-up-and-go, drive or initiative. Someone who possesses gumption is a self-starter and has the nerve and motivation to succeed.

However, this current definition of gumption didn’t arise until the nineteenth century. Before that time, gumption was a Scottish term and meant having street smarts or common sense, or being shrewd.

People can use this quality to build on their strengths and do fine work. This often involves them focusing on the following steps.


They can clarify the specific activities in which they demonstrate the gifts required to do great work. They can recognise that these may be specialist gifts but that some of these skills may be transferable across different fields.  


They can develop the gumption – the common sense and savvy – required to reach their goals. They can focus on the following themes.

How to apply their gifts to achieve specific goals.

How to show the grit required to achieve the specific goals. 

How to use the gumption required to achieve the specific goals.

Great Work

They can keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance. They can embody the ethic of constant improvement and develop the habit of doing great work.

Looking at your own life and work, can you think of a specific activity in which you have the gifts and gumption required to do great work? This may be in a specialist area or niche.

You may show it when pursuing a passion, practising a skill, managing money or making certain decisions. You may show it when working with specific clients, leading creative teams, managing certain kinds of crises or doing another activity.

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 may have the gumption required to build on a gift you have and aim to do great work.  

Describe some specific examples of when you have demonstrated gumption when doing this activity in the past.

Robert Pirsig referred to gumption in his book Zen Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. He saw the word as synonymous with quality. Here are some quotes from the book. (Pirsig used ‘he’ to refer to both male and female.)

I like the word ‘gumption’ because it’s so homely and so forlorn and so out of style it looks as if it needs a friend and isn’t likely to reject anyone who comes along.

I like it also because it describes exactly what happens to someone who connects with Quality. He gets filled with gumption.

A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.

If you’re going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool.

If you haven’t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won’t do you any good.

People who make a living doing what they love often need gumption. They need to get the right balance between creativity, customers and cash.

Creativity is a good starting point. But it is vital to provide great service to customers and get cash in the bank. This helps to feed future creativity.

Social entrepreneurs also need gumption. Such people often do work that makes their soul sing, but they also need savvy. This will help them to negotiate the many hurdles they face on the way to delivering success.

Nick Offerman, the actor and author, wrote Gumption: Relight the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers. In it he pays homage to some of his personal heroes and heroines who showed gumption.

The book describes well-known figures such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Eleanor Roosevelt and Yoko Ono. It also provides insights into the work done by artisans, farmers and others who pursue their calling. Here are some quotes from Nick.

I am always hugely inspired (and personally relieved) to learn of the hard work that was required of any of my heroes before they could arrive at the level of mastery for which they ultimately garnered renown.

Part of what defines gumption involves a willingness, even a hunger, for one’s mettle to be challenged. 

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. 

Find out what makes you kinder, what opens you up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of you – and go after those things as if nothing else matters. Because, actually, nothing else does. 

Here is a video in which Nick explains more about the book. You can also discover more about his ventures via his twitter feed.

Today there are many websites that describe how people can demonstrate gumption. Some tell the stories of real-life individuals, campaigners, artists, entrepreneurs and pioneers we can learn from.

Some websites describe famous or fictional characters who have demonstrated gumption. Here is an excerpt from one such site. This highlights 30 Women With Gumption Movies. You can discover more via the following link.

Only Good Movies

30 Women With Gumption Movies 

These 30 women with gumption movies are perfect for anyone looking to be entertained by tales of strong and independent females.

From gun-toting cowgirls to determined cotton farmers, this list covers a wide range of genres and time periods. But they all have one thing in common: the men take a backseat to the women, and the estrogen will flow like a raging river. 

And just in case you’re wondering what in the blue blazes the word “gumption” means, let’s take a look at the definitions provided by

Common Sense

Here are some of the films that the website mentions.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Julia Roberts captured a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of real-life figure Erin Brockovich, a single mom who gets a job as a file clerk at a lawyer’s office and ends up discovering a massive cover-up involving Pacific Gas and Electric.

Miss Potter (2006)

Renee Zellweger stars as Beatrix Potter, the author of such children’s stories as Peter Rabbit. A strong-willed woman, she starts her career as an author, defies her parents when it comes to marriage, and eventually begins buying up property to help preserve nature.

9 to 5 (1980)

Sick and tired of their sexist boss (Dabney Coleman), a trio of female employees (Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda) decide to give him a taste of his own medicine.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) 

Directed by Ang Lee, this international production features lots of eye-popping fight sequences and wire work, but none is more impressive than the showdown between Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and Jen (Zhang Ziyi), two martial arts masters with plenty of issues to work out. 

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Hillary Swank won her second Oscar for playing Margareth Fitzgerald, a scrappy waitress who lives her Missouri hometown and heads to Los Angeles to become a professional boxer.

Norma Rae (1979)

Sally Field won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a factory worker in Alabama who becomes involved with the struggle to bring in a labor union. Based on the real-life tale of Crystal Lee Sutton.

A key question is: “Is it possible to develop gumption?” The answer is yes, but this comes with several provisos. A person must have the right attitude and want to learn. They must also have some natural ability in the specific activity.

Let’s assume that they meet these conditions. They can then follow the classic steps that people often take when learning about a topic.

Developing Gumption. The person can aim: 

To focus on the specific activity in which they want to improve and clarify what they want to learn about the specific activity.

To study good practice – what works – in the specific activity and also gather hands-on experience by doing the specific activity.  

To clarify what they have learned and how they can apply this knowledge in the future when doing the specific activity.

Let’s return to the specific activity in which you may want to build on a possible gift you have and develop your gumption. You may want to focus on counselling, playing a sport, leading a team, building a successful prototype or pursuing another activity.

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 may have the gumption required to build on a gift you have and aim to do great work.

Describe the specific things you can do to develop your gumption in this activity. 

Describe the specific benefits of developing your gumption in this activity.


    P is for Pursuing Your Principles And Not Worrying About The Opposition

    There are many models for doing fine work. One approach is to put all your energy into pursuing your principles for achieving peak performance.

    It is not to use energy worrying about the opposition. The latter may be other competitors or even negative thoughts inside your head.

    Great workers always do the basics and then add the brilliance. They often take this step by aiming to become the best they can be rather than by worrying about distractions. Sometimes these distractions come from outside, sometimes they come from inside.

    Tim Gallwey popularised aspects of this approach in the 1970s. He encouraged people to focus on their inner game as well as the outer game. He provided many tools that people could use to perform at their best in sports and other aspects of life.

    Tim summarised this approach in the following way. You can discover more via the following link to The Inner Game website.

    The inner game can be summarised as: Performance = Potential – Interference.   

    Performance can be enhanced either by growing Potential or decreasing Interference.

    It is impossible to achieve mastery or satisfaction in any endeavor without first developing some degree of mastery of the relatively neglected skills of the inner game.

    Most of us have experienced days when our self-interference was at a minimum.

    Whether on a sports field, at work, or in some creative effort, we have all had moments in which our actions flowed from us with a kind of effortless excellence.  

    Unfortunately most of us have also experienced times when everything we do seems difficult. With minds filled with self-criticism, hesitation, and over-analysis, our actions were awkward, mistimed, and ineffective.  

    Obviously we all would prefer to have more of the first and less of the second.

    Looking back, can you think of a situation when you pursued your chosen principles for achieving peak performance? You did not get side-tracked by negative thoughts. Nor did you worry about potential competitors.

    You may have taken this approach when performing creative work, playing a sport or pitching for business. You may have done it when giving a keynote speech, auditioning for a part or doing another activity.

    What did you do then to keep focusing on your principles? What did you do to, when appropriate, buy time to find solutions to challenges? What did you do to keep focusing on the picture of success?

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

    Describe a situation in the past when you pursued your chosen principles for achieving peak performance rather than worried about the opposition.

    Describe the specific things you did to take these steps.

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

    Today there are many models that encourage people to follow the principles approach. Here are some of these.

    The Positive History Approach

    This positive history approach encourages individuals to find and follow their successful patterns. Everybody has a positive history. Everybody has overcome challenges and worked to achieve specific goals.

    This approach is used in many fields. Sports psychologists, for example, often invite athletes to recall their best performances and explore the principles they followed. They then focus on how the person can follow similar principles to achieve success in the future.

    Mentors sometimes use this approach when helping a person to manage a crisis. They create an encouraging environment in which the person can feel at ease and express at their feelings.

    At a certain point, however, they may ask the person to explore their positive history. They may then ask some of the following questions.

    Looking back on your life and work, when have you have tackled a similar challenge successfully? 

    What did you do right then – what were the principles you followed – to tackle the challenge successfully?  

    Looking ahead, how can you follow some of these principles – plus maybe add other skills – to tackle this challenge successfully?

    Mentors often enable a person to build on their inner strengths and successful patterns. When appropriate, they also provide positive models, knowledge and practical tools that the person can use to achieve their picture of success.

    The Process Approach

    Great athletes sometimes focus on the process rather than worry about the prize. Paradoxically, this approach can result in them actually winning more prizes.

    Nathan Barber wrote an article for Edutopia that describes how this approach can be applied to education. Below are excerpts from the article. You can discover more via the following link.

    Nathan Barber On Process

    Focus On The Process
    And Results Will Follow

    Great sports coaches focus on player growth and development for the ultimate win. Educators can follow suit by focusing on student learning rather than test scores. 

    As I explored the correlation between great coaching and great teaching while interviewing highly successful sports coaches for a book about what teachers can learn from them, a common theme surfaced repeatedly. 

    Several coaches stressed the importance of emphasizing the process rather than the results. This approach may seem counterintuitive, especially given the unprecedented emphasis on testing and performance in education today.  

    However, the process-oriented approach to teaching and learning falls in line nicely with classroom instructional goals such as growth mindset and mastery.

    One might expect coaches competing for Olympic medals and NCAA national championships to focus on big-picture goals, wins, and titles.

    While truly great coaches such Marv Dunphy, Terry Schroeder, Brad Frost, and Brandon Slay do have NCAA titles, Olympic medals, or both, what I learned from them runs counter to what might be expected.  

    Many of these coaches maintain that focus on the process has been a key ingredient for their success. They define “the process” as the emphasis on player growth and team development, mastery of skills, and mastery of elements of their respective games. 

    Each insists on staying centered daily on the process, rather than talking daily about how to win games and championships. Consider, for example, the words of the Tampa Bay Rays’ manager Joe Maddon:

    “You’re not trying to beat the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Blue Jays, you’re trying to beat the game of baseball through execution.”

    What makes this philosophy perhaps both counterintuitive and ironic is this: athletes and teams perform best when their coaches focus on the process and train to mastery, not when their coaches train them to perform.  

    An athlete focused on his own growth and mastery of the game will see improved performance. For example, when a pitcher in baseball focuses on mastering the curve ball rather than striking out batters, the results will follow. 

    Great leaders who see the value in process-focused teaching and learning, though, can help teachers improve what happens in their classrooms.  

    Focus on the process will lead to mastery, growth, and ultimately, better performance. If you don’t believe me, ask Coaches Dunphy, Schroeder, Frost, and Slay – to name just a few.

    The Professional Standards Approach

    This is an approach used by artists, athletes, scientists, medical staff and people in many other fields. They aim to set and maintain high standards that will result in them delivering success.

    Different people set different standards depending on the field in which they operate and the goals they want to achieve. The key is for them to go beyond simply writing grand sounding words and translate the standards into action.

    Great workers consistently deliver the standards. They deliver excellence and on occasions produce extraordinary work. Such workers also embody the Japanese concept of Kaizen and are committed to constant improvement.

    Good mentors, for example, create an encouraging environment in which a person can feel at ease. They clarify the person’s agenda and the real results they want to achieve.

    When appropriate, they then pass on knowledge and practical tools the person can use to tackle the challenge. Such mentors also keep expanding their repertoire of tools for helping people to achieve their pictures of success.

    Below are the guidelines we provide for people who want to act as mentors in their own organisation. They are also encouraged to add other points that will enable them to achieve the required professional standards.

    Choosing to follow
    the principles approach

    Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation where you want to follow your principles for achieving peak performance?

    You may want to take this step when encouraging a person, teaching a course, giving a keynote speech or creating something beautiful. You may want to do it when leading a team, managing a crisis, acting as a trusted advisor or doing a creative project.

    Imagine that you have chosen to focus on a specific activity. What are the principles you want to follow in the situation? How can you translate these into action? What may happen as a result of taking these steps?

    You can put 100 percent of your energy into pursuing your principles rather than worrying about the opposition. You can then keep doing your best to achieve the picture of success.

    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 pursue your principles for achieving peak performance rather than worrying about the opposition.  

    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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