The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for The Positive Approach To Pursuing Your Purpose During Your Time On The Planet

There are many ways to live life. One approach is to choose to have a positive attitude. You can then pursue your purpose, principles and picture of success. It is to keep following this approach during your time on the planet.

People who take this approach are often positive realists. They have a positive attitude but are also good at reading reality. They are good at seeing patterns and anticipating what may happen. They then build on what they can control and manage what they can’t.

Such people develop a sense of purpose. Sometimes it means following a spiritual faith, a vocation or serving something greater than themselves. Sometimes it means focusing on short-term goals. Sometimes it means working towards their life goals.

They believe in following their principles and expressing these in their daily lives and work. They may choose to do this by, for example, encouraging people, doing satisfying work or helping to build a better world.

Such people sometimes translate their purpose and principles into achieving specific aims. They focus on the real results they want to achieve. They then translate these into working towards a clear picture of success.

Looking back, can you think of a situation when you chose to take some of these steps? You may have chosen to overcome a setback, pursue a stimulating project, tackle a challenge or do another activity that gave you satisfaction.

What did you do then to have a positive attitude? What did you to focus on the specific purpose, follow your principles and achieve your 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 past when you pursued a specific purpose, followed your principles and worked to achieve a picture of success.  

Describe the specific things you did to take these steps. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result.

Imagine that you want to maintain a sense of purpose and pursue this in future. Let’s explore how you can take some of these steps in your own way. 

Choosing To Have
A Positive Attitude

People make choices every day. They can choose to be positive or negative, to be creators or complainers, to take responsibility or avoid responsibility. The choices they make have consequences, both for themselves and other people.

Alice Herz-Sommer was somebody who chose to be positive. A pianist and survivor of Nazi concentration camps, she continued to enjoy life well past the age of 100.

Alice’s view of life reached a wider audience after an interview she gave to the BBC became popular on the web. Here are some things she said in the interview.

Life is beautiful

I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times – including my husband, my mother and my beloved son.

Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.

And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love.

Life brings pain and beauty, said Alice, but she focused on gratitude, love, kindness, nature, music and the joyful things in life. She said the secret of happiness is:

To focus on what is really important in life.

Caroline Stoessinger gave an insight to Alice’s approach in her book A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer. She provided a series of quotes in which Alice explained her philosophy. These included the following.

Gratitude is essential for happiness. Only when we are old do we realise the beauty of life.  

When I play Bach, I am in the sky. My world is music. Music is a dream. It takes you to paradise. 

I am richer than the world’s richest people, because I am a musician. Music saved my life. Music is God.

Every day is a miracle. No matter how bad my circumstances, I have the freedom to choose my attitude to life, even to find joy.  

Evil is not new. It is up to us how we deal with both good and bad. No one can take this power away from us.

My optimism has helped me through my darkest days. The more I read, think and speak with people, the more I realise just how happy I am.

When I die I can have a good feeling. I have done my best. I believe I lived my life the right way.

Here is a video in which Alice talks about her life and philosophy.

I learned a similar lesson about choosing to be positive during my early twenties when I was caring for older people in hospital. Jacko, as he wished to be called, was one of the people I looked after. He had lost the use of his lower body but he loved his food and continued to enjoy each day.

Part of my duties involved dragging small pieces of faeces from his bottom. Jacko asked me to count each piece during the process and he took great delight in reaching a certain number. Procedure over, he then looked forward to the food he was going to enjoy that day. He taught me about the joy of being alive each day.

Choosing To
Develop A Purpose

People love to have a sense of purpose. They love to do something they believe in and work towards achieving a stimulating goal.

Sometimes this can involve pursuing a short-term purpose, such as completing a satisfying task. Sometimes it can involve doing something each day towards achieving their life goals.

Some people seem to know their purpose at an early age, whilst for others it is a lifetime quest. Here are some of the approaches that people take towards developing a sense of purpose. We will then explore some of these approaches.

One view is that finding a sense of purpose can happen in a Eureka Moment. Another view is that it is more likely to develop over time. Let’s explore several approaches you can take towards making this happen.

Clarifying the things that
give you positive energy

One approach is to focus on doing things that give you positive energy. This can lead to exploring many themes and sometimes result in developing a compelling purpose.

Energy is life. Bearing this in mind, what are the things that give you positive energy? Here are some of the answers that people give when doing this exercise.

The things that give
me positive energy are:

Encouraging people … Spending time with our children … Cooking for friends … Caring for animals … Showing kindness … Nurturing gardens … Building boats … Teaching wellbeing.  

Helping people to find satisfying work … Fixing certain kinds of problems … Making things better … Working on new ways to treat cancer … Mediating disputes … Leading pioneering companies.

If you wish, try tacking the exercise on this theme. This invites you to explore the following themes.

Describe the things that give you positive energy in your personal and professional life.

Describe the specific things you can do to do more of these things in the future.

Clarifying the positive things
you want to give to people
during your time on the planet

Another approach is to explore the positive things you want to give to people during your time on the planet. Different people mention different themes when doing this exercise. Here are some of the answers they give.

I want: 

To give my family a loving home … To give people encouragement … To give my students hope … To give people nourishing food … To show people how they can take care of their health … To show people how to make use of their talents.

To give people tools they can use to build great organisations … To give people models they can use to build successful and sustainable systems … To pass on knowledge that helps both present and future generations.

Some people experience an interesting realisation when answering this question. They realise that the things they want to give to others may mirror the things they have been given in life. Some build on what they have written and translate this into a clear purpose.

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

Describe the positive things you want to give to people during your time on the planet. 

Describe the specific steps you can take to give these things to people.  

Describe the specific benefits of giving these things to people.

Clarifying something you really
believe in and serving
something greater than yourself

People often gain strength by doing something they really believe in. This often involves choosing to serve something greater than themselves. A person will aim to serve their loved ones and they may also choose:

To serve a spiritual faith, a set of values or a philosophy

To serve a purpose, a mission or a cause

To serve a vocation, a creative drive or a project

People often want to serve a cause even though they may be not around to see the fruits of their labours. Doing what they believe in helps them to feel alive and able to give to other people.

Different people choose to different things to serve. Here are some examples.

A spiritual follower may serve their faith … A nurse may help people to regain their health … A medical scientist may aim to find a breakthrough cure … A counsellor may help people to manage problems successfully.

A singer may serve the songs they sing … An architect may aim to make beautiful buildings … An environmentalist may make TV films that encourage people to appreciate the beauty of the Earth.

An educator may help students to shape their futures … A social entrepreneur may improve the quality of people’s lives … A mediator may find positive solutions to conflicts … A trusted advisor may pass on knowledge that helps other people to succeed.

A person who serves something greater than themselves is more able to withstand outside pressures. They keep focusing on what they really value in life. When in doubt, they go back to their inner compass and ask:

What do I believe in? How can I keep following these beliefs – even during difficult times? How can I take steps to translate these beliefs into action?

Such people also gain strength from recognising their tradition. Many people have followed this path in the past and others will follow it in the future.

Bearing this in mind, they realise they are not alone. They are part of something greater than themselves. Being aware of this tradition can help people to feel humbler yet stronger. It can encourage them to keep following this path in their own way.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Is there something that you really believe in doing? You may want to follow a particular faith, pursue your vocation or do a specific project. How can you translate this into action?

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

Describe the specific thing you really believe in doing. 

Describe the specific things you can do to do what you believe in. 

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

Clarifying your
positive goals

People often get a sense of purpose by choosing to work towards specific goals. Here are some of the aims that people mention when exploring this theme.

My positive goals are:

To appreciate life and maintain a sense of gratitude … To provide a happy childhood for our children … To help our teenage children to find and do work they love … To do satisfying work that helps other people.

To build a pioneering company … To keep stretching myself and achieve peak performance … To pass on knowledge that helps people to shape their future lives … To do work that helps to build a better world.

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

Start by brainstorming ideas and then whittle these down to the top three positive goals you want to focus on in life. If appropriate, write these in headline terms and then add examples that bring these to life.

Move on to describing the benefits of achieving these goals – both for other people and yourself. It can be useful to keep focusing on the benefits, especially when you need to motivate yourself. Here is the exercise.

Clarifying
your purpose

Imagine that you have done some of the earlier exercises. It can then be useful to focus on clarifying your purpose.

Many people’s primary purpose, of course, is simply to get access to the basics of life. They spend their days focusing on how to get food and be healthy.

Many other people have access to these basics. Some then simply want to accumulate money, but some want to go further. They want to give to others and pursue a satisfying purpose.

Here are some of the ways that individuals describe their sense of purpose. They may, however, express these in different ways.

I want to be kind in my daily life and work … I want to help people to build on their strengths and achieve their picture of success … I want to show people the power of slow thinking … I want to spread positive news across the planet.

I want to enable people to shape their futures … I want to create enriching environments in which people can grow … I want to create beautiful things that bring people joy and give them positive memories for life.

I want to help people to see what they have in common and find peaceful solutions to conflicts … I want to ensure that as many people as possible have access to clean water … I want to develop pioneering technology that provides people with cheap renewable energy.

Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning, spent much of his life helping people to find their meaning in life. Below is a video from 1972 in which he explores this theme. He said:

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment.

Some people may have a number of overlapping purposes. This is important to bear in mind if a person starts agonising about trying to find the one big thing they should focus on in their life.

Seth Godin underlined another key point. He said that it could sometimes be more fruitful to focus on what we care about rather than being too concerned with our calling. Here is a short piece he wrote on this topic.

Seth Godin

In search of your calling

I don’t think we have a calling. I do think it’s possible to have a caring.

A calling implies that there’s just one thing for you, just one thing you’re supposed to do. 

What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care.

There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

As we have seen, there are many ways to begin developing your purpose. We will soon move on to the exercise that invites you to take this step.

Before doing this, it can be useful to revisit several of the earlier exercises. These have invited you:

To clarify the things that give you positive energy. 

To clarify the positive things you want to give to people during your time on the planet.

To clarify the things you really believe in and to serve something greater than yourself.

To clarify your positive goals.

There are, of course, many other themes you can explore to develop  a sense of purpose.

Looking at the answers that you have given, can you see any recurring theme or themes? Bearing these in mind, what may be one of the things you feel really compelled to do in your life? Can you summarise this in a one-liner?

Different people give different answers to this question. The answer I give, for example, is:

I want to be a positive encourager and help to build a positive planet.

Some individuals answer by describing the philosophy they want to follow in their personal and professional life. Some describe a personal strength they want to use to serve others. Some describe a specific passion they want to pursue.

As mentioned earlier, there are some things to bear in mind when describing your purpose. It is important:

To focus on something you feel really compelled to do. 

To begin clarifying your purpose by writing a one-liner that begins with the words ‘I want to …’ 

To recognise that it may take a lifetime to get the wording right, but this one-liner can give a pointer to your purpose.

Here is the exercise on defining a purpose. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific thing you really want to do. 

Describe the specific things you want to do to translate this purpose into action.

We will revisit this second part – translating the theme into action – later in the article. For the moment, however, it can be useful to begin thinking about the specific things you can do to follow your purpose. Here is the exercise.

Choosing To Follow
Your Principles

Imagine that you have begun to clarify your purpose. You may want to encourage other people, create beauty, help people find satisfying work, pass on a positive legacy or pursue another activity.

How you can you translate this into action? One approach is to clarify the principles you want to follow in your daily life and work. The Dalai Lama 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. He keeps focusing on the core drivers in his life.

Many individuals take this approach. They clarify their purpose and the principles they want to follow to translate this into action. They aim to express these principles in personal and professional situations.

Such individuals then return to their centre. They relax, re-centre and refocus. This enables them to keep drawing strength from the central beliefs in their life. They then explore how they can follow their principles in the next 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.

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 strengths 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.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Imagine that you have done some work on clarifying your purpose. What are the principles you want to follow to translate this purpose into action?

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

Describe your purpose – the specific thing you want to focus on doing. 

Describe the principles you want to follow to translate this purpose into action.

Describe the specific things you can do to translate these principles into action.

Clarifying Your
Picture Of Success

Imagine you are clear on your purpose and the principles you want to follow. What are the goals you want to achieve by taking these steps? What is your picture of success? Let’s look at the path that one person took to pursue his aims.

Richard St. Barbe Baker chose to dedicate his life to showing people the value of planting trees. This epiphany came about 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-six 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. He also started the Green Front action group, returning to Africa to develop re-forestation work in the Sahara. During his life Richard is believed to have personally planted many millions of trees.

He focused on a crystal clear vision. He wanted to save the Californian Redwoods. 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 that he worked towards during the rest of his life. These were the following.

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.

Here is the first part of an interview with Richard. This was filmed in 1981.

Some people, like Richard, have a grand vision. Many people, however, set shorter-term goals. They then translate these into a clear picture of success.

Imagine that you have begun to develop a sense of purpose and the principles you want to follow. It can be useful to look ahead and translate these into specific goals.

You may want to keep building a loving family, help students to take charge of shaping their futures or enable people to find satisfying careers. You may want to write a book, make films, build a pioneering company or deliver a stimulating project.

Looking ahead, what are the real results you want to achieve? What will be the benefits – both for yourself and other people?

Describe your purpose – the specific thing you really want to do.

Describe the specific results you want to achieve by pursuing your purpose and following your chosen principles.

Describe the specific benefits of achieving these results.

Super Teams Often Pursue
Their Purpose, Principles
And Picture Of Success

Great teams also focus on their aims. There are many models for building such teams and the following section looks at one approach.

Super teams create a positive environment in which motivated people can achieve peak performance. They believe that people work best if they have context and can see the big picture. Bearing this in mind, they make sure that everybody understands the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

Such teams then give people the chance to reflect and decide if they want to contribute. If so, they encourage people to build on their strengths and clarify their best contributions.

Super teams are made up of people who choose to have a positive attitude and be professional. They also want to perform superb work and do their best to help the team to succeed.

Such teams make clear contracts with people about the results they will deliver towards achieving the goals. They also give people the support they need to deliver the goods.

Super teams then manage by outcomes rather than by tasks. They encourage people to co-ordinate their strengths, perform superb work and find solutions to challenges. People then do whatever is required to achieve the picture of success.

Imagine that you lead a team. The following sections provide a framework that you can use to clarify and communicate the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success. People can then make clear contracts about their best contributions towards achieving the goals.

This is an approach that I have used hundreds of times with teams in organisations. There we have used the framework of focusing on the 3 Ps – Profits, Products and People. But you may use another framework for clarifying your team’s aims.

As mentioned earlier, there are many ways to live life. Some people choose to have a positive attitude. They then focus on their purpose, principles and picture of success.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to take this approach? You may want to do this when encouraging a person, managing a transition, tackling a challenge or doing another project.

Looking at the situation, what can you do then to have a positive attitude? How can you clarify the purpose – the specific thing you really want to do? How can you follow your chosen principles? How can you do your best to achieve your 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 a specific purpose, follow your principles and work to achieve a picture of success. 

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

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

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    T is for Educating Your Team To Focus On Both Today’s Business And Tomorrow’s Business    

    Great teams perform superb work and also shape a successful future. They encourage their people to maintain today’s business whilst also developing tomorrow’s business.

    This article describes one approach to making this happen. Imagine that you lead a team. You may wish to start by gathering people together and reminding them of the big picture.

    Different leaders will do this in different ways. One approach is to remind people of the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success. You can do this by talking them through the following framework.

    The Purpose

    The purpose of our team – the specific
    thing we really want to do – is:

    *

    The specific reasons why we want to pursue this purpose
    – including the benefits for the various stakeholders – are:

    *

    * 

    * 

    The Principles 

    The principles we want people to follow to achieve this
    purpose – together with the reasons for these – are: 

    * 

    * 

    * 

    The Picture Of Success 

    The specific results we want to achieve by …
    that will be an expression of our purpose are:

    *

    * 

    *

    The actual things that we want to hear the various stakeholders
    saying then that will show we have achieved the purpose are:

    *

    * 

    * 

    The Present Situation

    The specific things that we are doing well and have
    delivered so far towards achieving the picture of success are:

    *

    * 

    *

    The Present And
    Potential Challenges 

    The specific things we can improve
    and the potential future challenges are: 

    * 

    * 

    *

    Imagine that you have given people this big picture. You can then invite them to focus on what they can do regarding both the present and future business.

    One approach is to invite people to go into two groups. One group will focus on today’s business, the other on tomorrow’s business.

    Different leaders will position these exercises in different ways. One approach is to say something along the following lines. You will, of course, do this in your own way.

    Introducing the exercises on today’s
    business and tomorrow’s business

    Earlier we revisited our team’s purpose, principles and picture of success. We also looked at the positive things we are doing and the potential challenges. Looking ahead, I now want you to focus on two areas.

     Today’s Business

    I would like one group to focus on how we can continue to do superb work and maintain today’s business. This may include the specific things we can do: 

    To clarify which customers are in the Green Zone – the customers where things are going well – and how we can continue to do great work with these customers; 

    To clarify which customers are in the Amber Zone – the customers where there may be warning signs – and how we can do our best to move these into the Green Zone; 

    To clarify which customers are in the Red Zone – the customers where things are not going well – and how, if we wish, we can go forwards with these customers; 

    To clarify the specific things we can do to maintain or improve the service we give to our customers – such as making it easy for them to do business with us, simplifying our processes or adding that touch of class;

    To clarify what we can do to build on our strengths – both our individual and collective strengths – to get wins for our customers, wins for our company and wins for ourselves as contributors.

    Here is the exercise that I would like people to do on this theme. Try to bring the ideas to life by giving real examples. Write the names of the specific customers with whom it would be possible to implement some of the actions.

    Tomorrow’s Business 

    I would like another group to focus on how we can develop tomorrow’s business. Many people have ideas about shaping the future but the key is implementation and making a positive impact.

    One approach is to work with some of our present customers and clarify their future challenges. It can be particularly useful to focus on our pacesetting customers who are already successful. 

    We can work with these customers to create products and services that will help them to tackle these challenges. Sometimes this may also involve building prototypes that will help them to achieve future success.  

    These pacesetting customers are already ahead of the game. They may therefore be exploring challenges that will later affect others in their market.  

    Today’s customisation is tomorrow’s commodity. So, if we help these customers to achieve success, we may also be creating products that others will need in the future. This can also help us to keep developing as individuals and as a company.

    We can work with these customers on specific projects and find solutions to their challenges. This means that: a) We will help them to achieve success: b) We will get paid for the work; c) We will also get funding for developing our future products and services. 

    This is just one idea for developing tomorrow’s business. You will probably have many more. Bearing this in mind, you may want to consider the specific things we can do:

    To clarify the challenges that some of our customers will face in the next one, two and five years;

    To clarify how we can build on our strengths to help them to tackle these challenges;

    To clarify the specific products and services we can develop to help specific customers – please give the names of these customers – and help them to achieve success;

    To work with these customers in ways that mean we can get funding for helping them succeed whilst also developing products and services that help us to achieve future success; 

    To clarify any other ideas you have for helping us to develop tomorrow’s business.

    Here is the exercise that I would like people to tackle. Write the names of the specific customers with whom it would be possible to implement the ideas and make a positive impact.

    Imagine that people have done these exercises and presented back to the whole team. After discussing the points you can then settle on the team’s action plan.

    This will involve clarifying the key strategies the team aims to pursue. You can also appoint mission holders who will be responsible for ensuring each of these strategies are implemented. 

    Good teams have mission holders who enjoy taking responsibility. They are often eager beavers who like to make lists and implement action plans. They get a kick from getting things done and seeing positive results.

    Mission holders are prepared to be accountable, so it is vital to give them the required support. Everybody in the team must know they have the authority to make decisions required to deliver the goods.

    Many teams discuss ideas. These plans may not come to fruition, however, unless they appoint mission holders. It is vital to have people who take responsibility for translating the ideas into action.

    Imagine that you have clarified the key strategies the team will follow and have appointed mission holders. You can then invite people:

    To translate each of these strategies into specific action plans and make sure they build in some quick successes;

    To schedule regular updates when they will report back about the progress they have made towards delivering the strategies;

    To describe any other actions they will take to maintain today’s business and develop tomorrow’s business.

    Good leaders educate their people to shape a successful future. One approach is to involve them in developing both today’s business and tomorrow’s business.

    You will do this in your own way. If you wish, however, you can invite people to complete the following exercises. They can then do superb work and help the team to achieve ongoing success.

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