The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Concentrating On What People Can Do rather than What They Can’t Do  

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There are many models for helping people to develop. Here are two approaches.

The Strengths Approach –
Concentrating On What People Can Do

This approach builds on people’s strengths and concentrates on what they can do. It also helps them to manage the consequences of their weaknesses and what they can’t do.

The Shortcomings Approach –
Concentrating On What People Can’t Do

This approach concentrates on fixing people’s weaknesses and what they can’t do. It pays less attention to building on their strengths and what they can do.

Today it is more common to help people to build on strengths, but this was not always the case. Many people are familiar with the quote often attributed to Albert Einstein:

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Many agree with these sentiments. As the website Quote Investigator points out, however, there is no record of Einstein actually saying these words.

Looking at the possible origins of the quote, the website describes how many educators have used similar analogies. The old story about a school for animals, for example, was first published in 1898.

Below is an introduction to that story. You can discover more via the following link to the Quote Investigator website.

http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/04/06/fish-climb/

A long time ago, when the animal creation was being differentiated into swimmers, climbers, fliers, and runners, there was a school for the development of the animals.

The theory of the school was that the best animals should be able to do one thing as well as another; and if there was an apparent aptitude in a given animal for doing one thing and an apparent inaptitude for doing other things, the time and effort should be spent upon the latter instead of the former.

Generations of educators have since updated the story. Here is one version.

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Looking back, can you think of a situation when you helped a person to build on what they could do? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have helped a person to build on their strengths to find a satisfying career, develop as a leader or deliver a project. You may also have helped them to manage the consequence of any weaknesses.

Looking at the person you may have asked some of the following question.

What are the things they can do as opposed to what they can’t do? What are their strengths? What are the specific activities in which they have the potential to deliver As rather than Bs or Cs?

What are the activities that give them positive energy? What are the activities they are good at where they have natural self-discipline? What are the activities where they enjoy the journey as much as reaching the goal?

What are the person’s goals? How motivated are they to achieve these goals? What is the person’s learning style? How can they follow their learning style to keep developing?

How can the person build on their strengths to achieve their goals? How can they manage the consequences of any weaknesses? What support may they need to help them to achieve 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 helped a person to develop by building on what they could do and managing the consequences of what they could not do. 

Describe the specific things you did to help the person in this way.

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

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Thorkil Sonne is somebody who took this approach. He founded The Specialist People Foundation. This builds on the strengths of people with autism.

He was elected as an Ashoka Fellow in 2009. Here is the citation that was published at the time.

https://www.ashoka.org/fellow/thorkil-sonne

Thorkil changes the way society perceives autism by transforming it from a handicap to a competitive advantage.

His Specialist People Foundation employs autistic people, who have a ten times lower fault rate in software testing and other tasks.

Thorkil now plans to go beyond Denmark, empowering people with ASD globally.

Below are excerpts from The Specialist People Foundation website. You can discover more via the following link.

http://specialistpeople.com/

The Idea for Specialisterne and Specialist
People Foundation Started with Lars

My son Lars was 2½ years old when my wife and I noticed that his development began to differ from that of his older brothers.

We arranged with his nursery carers that he would get extra support from a qualified child psychologist, all the while hoping of course that we could learn how best to help him become more like his brothers. 

Our Lives Changed

Eventually, we were informed that Lars had infantile autism – a life-long invisible handicap in the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

Lars would face a life where he would be constantly misunderstood and isolated because it would be difficult for him to interpret what others expected of him. 

Most likely, Lars would never have a normal working life.

My Fight

I became active in the Danish Autism Association. I also studied the Danish welfare model, and realized that although the model is strong and has many good aspects, there was a lot of room for improvement.

I learned that families with a child with ASD have a high risk of disintegration. 

This is most often because this handicap is invisible, meaning that the family has to struggle get the outside world to understand and provide timely support. 

Social workers also work under difficult conditions where welfare schemes are available, but the knowledge of how best to help people with complicated invisible handicaps is thin on the ground.

I experienced that both those who need the help and those who provide help are under great and increasing strain. 

Specialisterne

With the support of my family I re-mortgaged our home and established Specialisterne (The Specialists) in an attempt to tailor a working environment geared towards people with ASD, enabling them to use their specialist skills to act as consultants to the business sector, at market terms.

My vision is to create new possibilities for people with ASD and to influence society to adopt a more positive attitude towards people with ASD.

One Million Jobs

It is believed that one percent of the world’s population may have Autism Spectrum Disorder. This is equivalent to 68 million people worldwide.

Even more people may have other disorders on the autism spectrum, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). These are all potential specialist people – with great business potential.

We have set our goal: to provide meaningful and productive jobs for one million people with autism and other invisible disorders.

There are many approaches to helping people to develop. One approach is to focus on people’s strengths and find ways to manage the consequences of any shortcomings.

Looking to the future, can you think of a situation when you may want to use this approach to help a person to develop? This could be in your personal or professional life.

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 help a person to develop by building on what they can do and managing the consequences of what they can’t do. 

Describe the specific things you can do to help the person in this way. 

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

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