The Art of Strengths Coaching

A is for People Who Are Already On The Third Alphabet

“Our leader is a real visionary,” said one Chief Operating Officer. “He sees the future and is years ahead of everybody.”

“It is as if he is actually there. He can see, feel and experience what is happening. He can also describe the steps that have been taken to get to this place.

“Whilst a visionary, he can explain some aspects of the journey in great detail. He describes the steps to take and how to overcome challenges. On other occasions, however, he gets exasperated with people who throw in objections.

“He simply says: ‘We can solve that,’ and goes on to explain the vision. Many people find him inspiring, whilst other want more detail and get frustrated.

“My job is to act as a translator. It is to clarify how we can keep running the business whilst also working towards his long term vision.”

Practical visionaries see the destination quickly. When entering the situation in which they excel, they quickly see the potential picture of success. They go A, B … and then leap to … Z.

The architect walks onto a site and visualises the finished house. The innovator sees how a piece of technology can transform the world. The gifted mediator imagines a potential win-win solution for people who are stuck in a conflict.

Some people go beyond the Z. They go onto the second alphabet. Some people go even further. They go into another dimension and onto the third alphabet.

Have you have ever met or heard about somebody who seems to go into this dimension? They may be a practical visionary in a specific field of science, therapy, education, technology, art or whatever.

What are the qualities that indicate they may go into this dimension? What is the kind of language they use? What do they do to bring this third alphabet to life? How do they describe the Z?

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

Describe a person who you believe goes into the third alphabet in their particular field.

Describe the specific things the person does to indicate that they may go into this dimension.

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Imagine that you lead a team and report to a leader who is on the third alphabet. Sometimes this can be challenging.

You may think that you and the leader have agreed about what your team must deliver by a certain date. This is the first Z. But it can be difficult working with a visionary.

The leader may start thinking aloud about the future and give glimpses of the third Z. They may even indicate that your team needs to take these things into account during its present work. This can create confusion.

Should your team still deliver the agreed goals or have things changed? Should you explore whether the leader is really serious about changing the brief or should you wait a few days to let things settle? Should you try to extract what the leader really wants you to integrate?

One approach is to encourage the leader to talk about their vision for the future. After awhile, however, you may want say some of the following things.

“I see what you want to do in the future. Bearing this in mind, does this have any impact on our team’s present goals?

“People are working towards the present agreed goals. This is version 1.0. Delivering these goals will provide a platform for the future versions 2.0 and 3.0.

“We are on track to deliver these aims by the agreed date. We can, of course, integrate some adjustments.

“Let me know if you would like us to continue with this version 1.0. Or, if necessary, add some adjustments. We can then provide the right platform for building a successful future.”

Imagine that you have such a conversation with your visionary leader. Many leaders recognise that is important to be positive and predictable, so they try to stick to the agreed contracts.

They accept that the people who work for them need to work towards a clear picture of success. This will hopefully be the case with your leader.

What to do if the leader keeps moving the goalposts? You can try to get as much clarity and consistency as possible regarding the agreed goals for your team.

You will also need to provide air cover and act as a translator for your team. This can be hard work but, if you feel the overall goal is worth it, you may want to continue managing upwards.

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“That sounds reasonable in theory,” a person may say.

“But what if the leader you report to keeps doing 180 degree turns or delves down into micro-managing your people?

“Sometimes we dread our boss returning from a long flight. Having time to think, he rushes back into the office and sprays lots of ideas around. Nobody knows what to do next.”

There may come a point when constant changes from above are affecting your health. You may then want to focus on your priorities in life. It is important:

To encourage yourself and your loved ones. 

To do satisfying work.  

To, if appropriate, help your team members to do satisfying work and get a sense of achievement.

Bearing these factors in mind, you can decide if you want: a) To continue in the present role, or: b) To explore how to find a more satisfying role.

There are, of course, many positives about working with visionaries who operate in the third alphabet. Such people are often inspiring.

They can give us glimpses of the future and provide the chance to do pioneering work. This is not only satisfying. It also helps us to develop as people and professionals.

So far we have talked about other people, but what about yourself? Are there any activities in which you explore such dimensions?

Arie de Geus, the author of The Living Company, found that great workers have what he called ‘a memory of the future.’ Looking ahead, they explore scenarios in the activities they find fascinating. They use their imagination to take the following steps.

They explore both the positive and challenging scenarios.

They explore how to create and capitalise on the positive scenarios. They also explore how to prevent or, if necessary, manage the challenging scenarios.

They explore the best ways forwards for improving the chances of creating future success.

Such workers find this homework helps them as events unfold. They may have anticipated the actual scenario and are able to implement their chosen strategy.

Even if the unexpected happens, they will have rehearsed strategies for dealing with many scenarios. They can build on aspects of the strategies that may work in the situation, whilst also adding other elements. This gives them an advantage over others who may not have rehearsed properly.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Can you think of a specific activity in which you explore the future and may even go onto the third alphabet?

How can you spend more time focusing on this activity? What may be the benefits of pursuing this activity – both for yourself and other people?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe a specific activity in which you may have the ability to go into the third alphabet. It then asks you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you do that indicate you may have the ability to go into the third alphabet in this activity.

Describe the specific things you can do to focus more on this activity. 

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

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