The Art of Strengths Coaching

A is for Attitude, Ability And Achievement

Imagine that a person has asked for your help in working towards achieving their goals. You can start by creating an encouraging environment. It can then be helpful:

To invite the person to explore their aspirations; 

To, if appropriate, share ideas about what you believe it may be possible for them to achieve;

To invite them to set specific goals and clarify the real results they want to achieve. 

Let’s consider some of the steps you can take to follow this approach.

Achievement

Imagine that a person has said they want to shape their future career. Before settling on their goals, it can be useful to invite them to explore the following questions.

“What are the things you want to do in your career? What are kinds of work you find most satisfying? What are the specific things you find satisfying when doing these kinds of work?  

“Imagine you had a blank piece of paper and could create your ideal job. Try describing three things you would love to have in such a role.

My Ideal Job Would Be One Where:

* 

*

* 

“Let’s move into the future. Imagine that you are looking back at the end of your career. What do you want to have achieved by then? What for you will mean that you have had a satisfying career?” 

You can start by exploring what the person wants to do. If appropriate, you can also think about what you believe they can achieve.

How to clarify their possibilities? One approach is to ask some of the following questions when looking at a person or an example of their work.

“What is the person’s positive spirit? When do they show positive energy? When do they come alive? What do they seem to go into another dimension when they are talking about or doing a particular activity?

“What are the person’s strengths? When do they do satisfying work? What are the vocational themes they are pursuing? How can they follow these themes in the future? 

“Bearing in mind what I have seen, what do I believe it may be possible for the person to achieve? What are the reasons why I believe they can achieve these things?”

Clarifying What A Person Can Achieve

Good coaches clarify what they believe a person can achieve. They then check whether this resonates with the person. This calls for using both the first and second empathy. Let’s explore what this means.

The First Empathy

Some coaches show that they can see, feel and experience the world from the other person’s point of view. They then play this back to the person to ensure they have got the right picture. This is the first empathy.

The Second Empathy

Some coaches connect with people’s aspirations. They do this in such a way that the person feels it is possible for them to achieve these goals. This is the second empathy.

How to practice the second empathy? One approach is to focus on when a person has used their strengths or followed their successful style – even if it only for a few seconds. It is then extrapolate this information to explore what the person can become in the future.

This involves using the organic approach. It is to focus on examples of when a person has done fine work. You can then show how it may be possible for them to follow these principles to shape their future.

Belief is an inside job. People have to believe in their guts. If they have done something before, they are more likely to believe they can do it again. They can follow similar principles – plus add other skills – to succeed in the future.

Good coaches invite a person to talk about their aspirations. It appropriate, they also clarify what they believe the person can achieve. They may then say something like the following.

“As far as I understand it, you want to … Is that right?

“Let me ask you a question. Would you also like:  

1) To …  

2) To …

3) To … 

“The reason I ask is because, from what you have said and the things I seen, I believe you could do those things.  

“This would involve you choosing to set certain goals and do the necessary work. But I believe that you could achieve those goals. What do you think?”

This seems an enormous leap but I have seen it taken by many great counsellors, educators and mentors. For example, here is an introduction to what such coaches do when using the second empathy. There are, of course, many dimensions to this approach.

Imagine that you have shared some of these ideas with the person. It will then be time to settle on the goals they want to achieve. Bearing this in mind, you may say something along the follow lines.

“Looking at the various possibilities, which of these themes would you like to focus on? What are the specific goals you would like to work towards? 

“Let’s focus on your chosen goal. Looking at this, what are the real results you want to achieve? What is the picture of success? What will be the benefits of achieving these aims?”

Imagine that you are working with a person who has asked for your help. How can you clarify their aspirations? How can you then help them to settle on the specific goals they want to achieve?

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

Everybody has aspirations, everybody has dreams. Some people translate these into action. This calls for them having the attitude and ability required to achieve their aims. Let’s explore these themes.

Attitude

Imagine that a person wants to achieve a specific goal. They may want to do this when working as a writer, actor, business leader, footballer or in another professional role.

What attitude must they demonstrate to succeed? Depending on their chosen activity, they may need:

To be positive … To encourage other people … To be kind … To want to learn … To be proactive … To think ahead … To be resilient … To have a sense of perspective … To be patient … To be committed to continuous improvement. 

Some people seem to already have the required attitude. Some people may need to choose if they wish to develop and demonstrate these qualities.

People can choose their attitude. They do not choose the talents they are given or, in many cases, the circumstances they meet. They can, however, choose the way they respond to situations. A person can choose:

To be positive or negative; To be a creator or a complainer; To take responsibility or avoid responsibility; To help people or hurt people; To do their best or not to do their best.

Imagine that you are helping somebody to work towards achieving their aims. Looking at their behaviour, it can be useful to ask the following questions.

What is the attitude the person must demonstrate to achieve their goals? On a scale 0-10, to what extent do they demonstrate the required attitude? What can they do to maintain or improve the rating?  

When have they demonstrated these qualities in the past? How can they demonstrate these qualities in the future? How can I help them to maintain or develop the required attitude? How can I pass on this knowledge in a way they accept? 

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

Ability

Imagine the person wants to work as a counsellor, singer, football manager, scientist, lawyer, developer, sales person, business owner or in another role. What are the abilities they must demonstrate?

Depending on their chosen activity, they may to need score highly in the following areas:

To encourage people … To have certain professional skills … To think strategically … To be able to see patterns … To be a problem solver … To enable other people to perform at their best … To build superb teams … To demonstrate the specific abilities needed to succeed in their field. 

How to clarify whether the person has such abilities? One approach is to invite them to do the following things:

To describe two satisfying and successful projects they have done in their life; To describe what made each of these satisfying; To describe the actual things they did – in behaviour terms – to deliver success.

Invite the person to describe these projects and look for recurring patterns. These can give clues to a person’s successful style of working. They also show how they have translated their strengths into action.

Imagine you have clarified some of the person’s abilities. It can be useful to ask yourself the following questions.

What are the specific abilities they need to demonstrate to reach their goals? On a scale 0-10, to what extent do they have these abilities? What can they do to maintain or improve the rating?  

When have they demonstrated these abilities in the past? How can I help them to keep developing these abilities? How can I help them to add to their repertoire? How can I pass on this knowledge in a way they accept?

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

Achievement

Imagine the person wants to achieve a specific goal. They may have the right attitude and abilities. They will need to apply themselves to achieve their aims. The following section explores how it is possible to help them to take this step. Let’s begin with one of the most important qualities.

Application

How can the person apply themselves properly? Depending on their chosen activity, they may need to score highly in the following areas:

To have the necessary drive … To be self-disciplined and self-managing … To follow their chosen strategies … To keep doing the right things in the right way every day … To do superb work … To find solutions to challenges … To keep their key stakeholders happy … To help their customers and colleagues to succeed.

One key factor is the person’s style – the way they behave, communicate and relate to people. It can be useful to help them: a) To build on the pluses of their style; b) To manage the consequences of any minuses. This can help to increase their chances of success.

Bearing in mind the person’s chosen activity, it can be useful to ask yourself the following questions.

Does the person have the necessary drive? Do they have the required self-discipline? Will they keep focusing on the key strategies required to achieve success? Will they consistently deliver the required professional standards?  

What is their style of behaving, communicating and relating to other people? What are the pluses and minuses of their style? How can they build on the pluses? How can they manage the consequences of any minuses? How can I help them to take these steps? 

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

Achievement

Let’s move on to helping the person to achieve their goals. Imagine they have demonstrated the right attitude, built on their abilities and applied themselves properly. They can now do everything possible to achieve their picture of success.

There are many models for helping individuals to move from clarifying their potential to delivering peak performances. Let’s consider one of those approaches.

Good coaches sometimes help people to do their best by guiding them through the following steps.

Potential

They help the person to clarify their strengths, explore their possibilities and focus on their potential. They help the person: a) To build on what they can control; b) To set stimulating but achievable personal goals: c) To clarify their picture of achieving peak performance.

Principles 

They help the person to clarify the principles they want to follow on the way towards achieving their goals. They help them to translate their principles into practice. They also help them to expand their repertoire of skills on the way towards achieving peak performance.

Peak Performance 

They help the person to follow their principles, perform superb work and get successes. They help them to perform at their best in both stimulating and challenging situations. They then help the person to maintain high standards, keep developing and consistently deliver peak performances.

Imagine that you have helped a person to clarify their potential and embark on their journey towards achieving their goal. It can then be useful to help them to clarify the principles they want to follow. If you wish, you can invite them to do the following exercise.

Principles

The principles I want to follow to keep doing my best on
the way towards delivering peak performances are these.

 I want:

* To …

* To …

* To … 

Principles Into Practice

Great workers aim to put their principles into practise. Sometimes this can be done gradually. Sometimes the person may find themselves thrown in the deep end.

Charles Garfield, the author of Peak Performers, described how many great workers practice before going into their version of the arena. This can involve both physical and mental rehearsal. The latter is described in the following way.

Peak performers practice mental rehearsal. They rehearse, in their mind’s eye, any incident or event that is important to them. Mental rehearsal is a core capability of peak performers.

Great workers in many fields take this approach. Wayne Rooney, the footballer, explained what he did before his team had an away fixture and needed to change the colours of their kit. Speaking in an interview with ESPN, he said:

“Part of my preparation is I go and ask the kit man what colour we’re wearing – if it’s red top, white shorts, white socks or black socks.  

“Then I lie in bed the night before the game and visualise myself scoring goals or doing well.

“You’re trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a ‘memory’ before the game. 

“I don’t know if you’d call it visualising or dreaming, but I’ve always done it, my whole life.”

There are many approaches to mental rehearsal. One approach involves people relaxing and working through the following steps.

Imagine that you have helped a person to practice following their principles in a situation. This could be either mental rehearsal or physical rehearsal. The next step is for them to apply these in real life situations.

The person may do this immersing themselves in doing work as a counsellor, footballer, writer, medic or in another role. They may start by doing activities where they can get some early successes. They may then expand their repertoire by applying their skills in various situations.

Great workers often follow a certain approach when pursuing their chosen route. They often take the following steps:

They rehearse the strategies they are going to follow to work towards the picture of success;

They click into action, aim to be fully present and follow their chosen strategies; 

They do superb work, keep improving and do their best to achieve the picture of success. 

Imagine that you are helping a person to develop. How can they develop the skills to achieve peak performance? Here is one model that has helped many people to take this route. 

The Dreyfus Model

Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus spent many years studying superb practitioners in different fields. They created a model that describes the five stages a person goes through to progress from being a novice to becoming an expert. Here is an introduction to the model.

Novice

They have little or no previous experience. They have little situational perception or discretionary judgement. They have a rigid adherence to rules. 

Advanced Beginner 

They start trying tasks on their own. They have difficulty troubleshooting. They wants information fast. They can place some advice in the context required. They use guidelines but without holistic understanding 

Competent

They develop conceptual models. They are able to deal with ‘crowdedness’. They develop conscious planning and routines. They troubleshoot on their own and seek out expert advice. They see actions in terms of long-term plans and goals.

Proficient

They are guided by maxims but apply these to current situations. They see situations holistically and see what is important. They self-correct and learn from the experience of others. They make quicker and better decisions that achieve success.

Expert 

They transcend rules, guidelines and maxims. They work primarily on intuition based on deep understanding. They sometimes return to analytic approaches used in novel or problematic situations. They have a vision of what is possible and deliver it.

Imagine that you are helping a person to go through some of these steps. One of the key factors is to help them to manage crowdedness.

Some people may feel comfortable managing complexity in certain activities, but may get thrown off-course in other areas. The slightest complication or setback can lead to them feeling burdened. This highlights the following factors.

Some people who are good at a specific activity may naturally be able to manage crowdedness in this particular activity; 

Some people may be able to add to their repertoire of skills for managing crowdedness in a particular activity;

Some people will be good at managing crowdedness in some activities but often have difficulties in other areas.

Great workers have the ability to cut through crowdedness in the activities where they excel. They can deal with masses of information – and many things happening at once – in situations that may confuse other people.

Different people demonstrate this skill in different situations. They may have it when solving technical problems, helping people who have emotional challenges, dealing with particular kinds of crises or whatever.

Such workers often have a strong feeling for the activity. They have a framework for making sense of the information, clarifying what is important and then pursuing their chosen strategy.

People can learn tools for dealing with crowdedness in the areas where they feel uncomfortable. Sometimes they can do this by themselves. They can identify the triggers that lead to them feeling out of control, getting angry or feeling overwhelmed.

They can develop a ritual for buying time to think. They can clarify the options for going forward – including the pluses and minuses of each option. They can then pursue their chosen strategy for achieving the desired results.

Some people may need help to take this step. If appropriate, you can help them learn how to manage their emotions. You can help them to develop their own rituals for taking control in the situation and working to achieve success. Let’s move on to the final step.

Peak Performance

There are many models for helping a person to achieve peak performance. This sometimes involves them going into their equivalent of the zone.

Imagine you are helping a person to take this step. It is vital to help them to find and follow their way of doing such work. They are then more likely to believe in the approach and apply it when it matters. Bearing this in mind, however, here are some of the classic approaches that may help the person.

The Positive History Approach

This is to invite the person to recall times when they have managed a similar situation successfully. It is to clarify the principles they followed and how they translated these into action.

Looking ahead, they can explore how they can follow these principles – plus maybe add other skills – in the future. They can then rehearse this approach and, when appropriate, translate it into action to achieve peak performance.

The Channelling
Your Champ Approach

This is similar to the positive history approach. Peak performers often aim to channel their inner champ rather than their inner chimp. What does this mean?

During the last decade Steve Peters has helped many athletes to manage their chimp. Their chimp can take many forms. It can be self-doubt, irrational emotion and negative self-talk.

Steve helps them to manage these impulses. He also encourages athletes to make specific plans for performing at their best. He uses his own terms to describe this pursuit of excellence and become the best they can be.

Great workers often channel their inner champ rather than their inner chimp. They recall when they have delivered their equivalent of championship performances.

They follow similar principles to do the basics and reach 8+/10. They then add the brilliance to achieve 10/10. Great workers build on their champ rather than get distracted by their chimp.

The Flow Approach

This is for the person to go into their version of the zone. They can then aim to flow, focus and finish.

Michael Murphy and Rhea White described such experiences in their book In The Zone: Transcendent experiences in sports. They quote Margherita Duncan writing about Isadora Duncan in the following way.

When she danced the Blue Danube, her simple waltzing forward and back, like the oncoming and receding waves on the shore, had such ecstasy of rhythm that the audience became frenzied with the contagion of it.

They could not contain themselves, but rose from their seats, cheering, applauding, laughing and crying. 

Rhea and Michael describe a similar phenomenon happening in team sports. They quote Bill Russell, who played for the Boston Celtics, describing how the basketball team produced magic in games.

Bill explains how the process would start with three or four of the team’s top players acting as a catalyst. He continues in the following way.

The feeling would spread to the other guys and we’d all levitate.

At that special level all sorts of odd things happened. It was almost as if we were playing in slow motion.

I could almost sense how the next play would develop and where the next shot would be taken. 

My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart but also all the opposing players, and that they all knew me.

These were the moments when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine.

The Calmness Approach

Many sports psychologists help athletes to focus on the following themes when managing pressure. They encourage them:

To stay calm, buy time to think and clarify the real results they want to achieve;  

To clarify the possible options for going forward together with the pluses and minuses of each option;

To settle on their chosen strategy and do whatever is required to achieve the desired concrete results.

James Kerr describes one model in his book Legacy, which is about the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. The players were expected to inspire the nation and win every match.

Looking at the team’s history, however, this has sometimes led to the players having negative emotions and failing to deliver the goods. This was sometimes because they had difficulty making good decisions at critical moments.

James describes how the players learned to feel calm rather than frantic. They switched to a state they called Blue Head rather than Red Head. Here is an overview of the two states.

Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, summarised this approach in one of his blogs. Below are excerpts from the piece.

Quick background: a few years ago, the team was going through a period of uncharacteristic struggle. Some players were having trouble controlling their emotions in matches.

So, with the help of a former Rhodes Scholar named Ceri Evans, they devised a tool to fix that, built on a simple two-part frame that describes the mental state you want to avoid, and the one you want to be in. They call it Red Head/Blue Head.

Red Head is the negative state, when you are heated, overwhelmed, and tense (H.O.T., in the parlance). Your emotional engine is smoking, your perceptions are slow, the game feels too fast, and your decision making is rushed. 

Blue Head, on the other hand, is the precise opposite: the cool, controlled, pattern-seeing state, when you retain your awareness and your decision-making power, when you stay flexible and deliver top performance. The key is doing three things:

1) Seek to stay in Blue Head as your default setting.

2) Sense cues when you are entering Red Head mode 

3) Use a physical or mental trigger to get yourself back into Blue Head. 

On the All Blacks, each player is encouraged to devise personal triggers to make the transition. One player stamps his feet into the grass, to ground himself. Another uses mental imagery, picturing himself from the highest seat in the stadium, to help put the moment in perspective.

Whatever tool you use doesn’t matter – what matters is realizing you’re in the wrong emotional zone, and finding ways to cool yourself off and get back in a high-performing head space.

Imagine that you have helped a person to take some of these steps. How can you tell when a person is performing at their best? Some people display the following characteristics:

They make complicated things look simple and achieve success;

They keep developing, add extra dimensions to their approach and achieve ongoing success;

They do, in some cases, help other people to achieve success.

Different people do this in different activities. They may do it when playing a sport, dancing, teaching about a specific topic, fixing a technical problem, helping customers to succeed or doing another project.

You can help the person to do this in their own way. They may then continue to clarify their potential, follow their principles and deliver peak performances.

There are many ways to help people to achieve their goals. This section has focused on how they can focus on developing the required attitude, ability and application. They can then do their best to achieve their aims.

Let’s return to the person you are helping. On a scale 0-10, how high would you rate the likelihood of them achieving their chosen aims? What can they do to maintain or improve the rating?

How can you help them to take this step? How can you help them to do superb work and keep developing? How can you help them to achieve their goals and fulfil their aspirations?

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

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