The Art of Strengths Coaching

A is for The Aspirations To Achievement Approach  

 

There are many ways to encourage people. One approach is to focus on people’s aspirations, application and achievement. This approach sounds basic but, when used properly, it can be extremely effective.

During the past 50 years I have found it can be used to help people, teams and organisations to achieve their goals. Let’s explore how it can work in practice.

Aspirations

Everybody has aspirations. Some people translate these into action. This calls for them having the attitude, ability and application required to achieve their aims.

One key point is worth bearing in mind. People will always have aspirations. They will always want to improve, develop and achieve certain goals. It can therefore be useful:

To encourage a person to explore their aspirations;

To focus on some of these aspirations – such as one aim or several related aims – and set achievable goals; 

To clarify the real results they want to achieve and translate these into a clear picture of success;

Imagine that a person has asked for your help in working towards achieving their goals. You can start by clarifying their aspirations. This may call for using both the first and second empathy. Let’s explore what this means.

Some coaches are good at connecting with people. They make people feel welcome and at ease. People then feel able to talk about their challenges and goals.

Such coaches show that they can see, feel and experience the world from the 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.

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

Such coaches start by inviting a person to talk about their goals. They also go through some of the steps that I describe later. They 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. Here is an introduction to what such people do. There are, of course, many dimensions to this approach.

Good coaches often follow the organic approach. They focus on when a person has used their strengths or followed their successful style – even if it was only for ten seconds.

They then extrapolate this information to explore what the person can become in the future. The seeds are already within people and it is possible to help them to grow.

Good coaches connect with people’s positive spirit. They remind people of when they have done fine work in the past. They also show how they can follow these principles in the future.

People are then more likely to believe they can achieve their aims. They believe this in their guts because they have done it before. They can follow similar principles – plus add other skills – to succeed in the future.

This is an approach I learned from great workers in therapy, education and other fields. They helped people to build on people’s strengths and manage the consequences of their weaknesses. They also helped people to find practical solutions to challenges.

Great coaches, for example, often chose to have positive eyes rather than negative eyes. Here are some of the basic questions they ask when watching people in action or seeing an example of their work.

Imagine that a person has asked for your help. How can you clarify their goals? How can you listen for some of the underlying themes when they are talking?

How can you look for their positive spirit? How can you begin to see their strengths and successful style? How can you clarify their possibilities and what they may be able to achieve?

How can you clarify whether they have the attitude required to achieve such an aim? How can you clarify whether they have the required abilities? How can you clarify whether they will be able to apply themselves to achieve their aspiration”

How can you show you understand their short-term goals? How can you focus on their long-term aims? How can you share what you believe it may be possible for them to achieve?

How can you clarify which of the things you say resonate with the person? How can you build on these and explore their aspirations? How can you help them to translate these into a clear 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 where a person may ask for help in working towards achieving their goals. 

Describe the specific things that you can do to help them to focus on their aspirations.

Application

Everybody has aspirations. Some people translate these into action. This calls for them having the attitude, ability and application 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, professional footballer or in another 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 curious … To be proactive … To think ahead … To enjoy helping people and getting the helper’s high. 

To be resilient … To recover from disappointments … To have a sense of perspective … To be patient … To want to develop … To be committed to continuous improvement. 

Sometimes it may mean a person choosing their attitude. Sometime it may mean them switching between different modes.

Many introverts, for example, enjoy reflecting or working by themselves. This can be fulfilling but does not always pay the bills. How to take this step?

Some introverts choose to go into a rewarding role when helping other people. They may then aim to do superb work as a nurse, teacher, problem solver or other professional.

They switch into role, build on their strengths and do their best to help other people. Then, after completing the work, they go back to spending time by themselves.

Imagine that you are helping a person to work towards achieving their aims. It can be useful to ask the following questions.

What is the attitude they must demonstrate to achieve their goals? When have they demonstrated these qualities in the past? What did they do right then to translate this attitude into action? How can they demonstrate these qualities in the future? 

How can I help them to maintain or develop the required attitude? What are the positive models and practical tools I can pass on to add to their repertoire of options? How can I pass on this knowledge in a way they accept? 

How can I help them to look ahead and rehearse choosing their attitude in certain situations? How can I help them to see what may be happening, buy time to think and then choose their way forward? How can I help them to maintain the required attitude?

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

Ability

Imagine the person wants to achieve a specific goal. They may want to do this when working as a counsellor, singer, football manager, scientist, lawyer, developer, sales person, business owner or in another role.

What are the abilities they must demonstrate to succeed? Depending on their chosen activity, they may need score highly in the following areas:

To be empathetic … To coach people … To give great customer service … To be a problem solver … To be able to see patterns … To make complicated things simple in a specific activity  

To communicate clearly  … To have sales skills … … To demonstrate clear thinking … To encourage other people to perform at their best … To the specific the abilities needed to succeed in their chosen field. 

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

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.

Look for any 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 that you have clarified some of their abilities. Bearing in mind what they want to achieve, it can be useful to ask yourself the following questions.

What are the abilities they need to demonstrate? When have they demonstrated these abilities in the past? What did they do right then to translate these into action? How can they demonstrate these abilities in the future? How can I help them to keep developing these abilities?  

How can I provide positive models and practical tools they can use to add to or make better use of their abilities? How can I pass on this knowledge in a way they accept? How can I help them to look ahead and rehearse using these abilities in certain situations?

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

Application

Imagine the person wants to achieve a specific goal. They may have the right attitude and abilities, but they will need to apply themselves to achieve their aims.

What are the qualities they need to demonstrate to apply themselves properly? Depending on their chosen activity, they may need score highly in the following areas:

To have the necessary drive … To be self-managing … To be self-disciplined … To follow their chosen strategies … To follow their rhythm …To keep doing the right things in the right way … To do superb work.

To find solutions to challenges … To keep their key stakeholders happy … To encourage themselves on the journey … To help their customers and colleagues to succeed … To keep improving their work.

One key factor is the person’s style. This is the way they behave, communicate and relate to people. The way they operate can support or stop other people achieving success.

Looking at the person, it can be useful to clarify the pluses and minuses of their style. This can have consequences for both themselves and other people.

Imagine that you have clarified how the person may apply themselves to achieving their aims. 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 keep doing the basics? 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 describe the following things.

Achievement

Imagine that somebody has asked for your help in working to reach their goals. Building on the things they can control, they have also taken the following steps.

They translated their aspirations into a clear picture of success. They demonstrated the right attitude, built on their abilities and applied themselves properly. They now want to do everything possible to achieve their picture of success. 

There are many approaches you can use to help them take this step. You encourage them, for example:

To rehearse, follow their rhythm and deliver the required results; 

To embody the concept of Kaizen – continuous improvement; 

To translate their potential into delivering peak performances.

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 a person to clarify their strengths, explore their future possibilities and focus on their potential.

Personal Goals 

They help a person to clarify what they can control and set stimulating but achievable personal goals. 

Principles

They help a person to clarify the principles they want to follow on the way towards achieving their personal goals.

Practise

They help a person to translate their principles into practise and expand their repertoire of skills on the way towards achieving their personal goals.

Peak Performance

They help a person to follow their principles and perform superb work in both stimulating and challenging situations on the way towards delivering peak performances.

Imagine that you have helped a person to embark on their journey towards achieving the goal. It can then be useful to help them to clarify the principles they want to follow.

Different people will follow different principles. If a counsellor is helping somebody who is experiencing PTSD, for example, they may aim to help the person:

To feel at ease and able to talk;

To feel more in control, manage their emotions and, when necessary, know how to manage flashbacks; 

To shape their future in a positive way for themselves and other people.

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.

Practice And Practise

Charles Garfield, the author of Peak Performers, described how many great workers practice before practising their skills. 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.

Arie de Geus, an expert in scenario planning, described a similar approach in his book The Living Company. He said that many peak performers develop what he called a memory of the future.

They constantly envisage scenarios in their chosen field. They look ahead, anticipate situations and clarify the potential solutions. This means they are several steps ahead of other people when these situations occur.

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 colours. 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 practise in real life situations. They throw themselves into 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 choose:

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

To click into action, be fully present and follow their chosen strategies;

To 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 you tell whether they will be able to deliver peak performance? Here is one model that it is possible to learn from.

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.

Managing Crowdedness

Imagine that you are helping a person to go through some of these steps. One clue to their strengths is the specific activity where they manage crowdedness.

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.

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.

Peak Performance

There are many models for taking the final step and achieving peak performance. This sometimes involves people 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.

Here are some of the classic approaches. Some of these we have explored before, so these will be mentioned briefly.

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, Clarity And
Concrete Results Approach

Many sports psychologists help athletes to focus on the following themes when managing pressure. They encourage them: 1) To stay calm; 2) To clarify the real results they want to achieve; 3) To do what 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? One approach is to consider the following steps taken by people who deliver great work.

They often build on their strengths and do deeply satisfying work. They follow their principles, do superb work and expand their experiences. They may then become specialists.

They may combine their strengths to create a new kind of specialism. This may be in an area where they have the strategic and other skills required to succeed.

They focus on a specific activity and perform superb work. They then demonstrate a characteristic of many peak performers.

They make complicated things look simple.

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.

Some people recognise their strengths. They build on these and aim to become the best kind of counsellor, singer, carpenter, leader or whatever they want to be.

Some people overlook their strengths because they believe what they do is nothing special. Sometimes it is only after years of observing others that they realise they may have a gift. They say things like:

“It’s something I do naturally, so I did not think it was anything special.”

Talent is just the starting point. The person may then also need to develop the temperament and technique required to deliver top performances.

Great workers make complicated things look simple. Sometimes they appear to do things slowly yet swiftly. They seem have more time and space than other people.

This is an approach I used to find a player’s strengths when working as a coach with young footballers. When holding trial matches, I would sometimes ask players to switch positions.

One player, for example, found the game passed them by when playing in in midfield, so I asked them to play centre back. They then read the game superbly and marshalled the defence.

The player was in their element – at ease and yet able to excel. They were able to see the big picture, think strategically and use their skills to deliver success. They became the team captain.

This section has focused on how you can use the aspirations approach. Imagine that you are using aspects of this to help a person to work towards achieving their goals.

They translated their aspirations into a clear picture of success. They demonstrated a positive attitude, built on their abilities and applied themselves properly.

How can you help them to keep doing superb work? How can you help them to develop? 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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