The Art of Strengths Coaching

E is for Enjoyment, Encouragement And Excellence  

There are many ways to live life. One approach is to enjoy life, encourage people and deliver excellence. It is to count your blessings, be kind and do your best.

These themes are often demonstrated by people who are happy. During the past 40 years students of positive psychology have researched the topic of happiness. They have asked some of the following questions.

What kinds of people are happy? What are the principles such people follow to be happy? Is it possible for other people to follow these principles in their own ways to maintain or improve their happiness?

Here is an overview of some principles that have emerged from these studies. There is obviously more detail behind each of the principles.

Different people express these themes in different ways. Let’s begin by focusing on how people do what they enjoy and get positive energy.

Enjoyment

During the early 1970s I ran many programmes that encouraged people to build on their strengths. Sometimes it was hard for individuals to identify the deeply satisfying activities in which they delivered As rather than Bs or Cs.

Bearing this in mind, we began by focusing on enjoyment. The first exercise invited each person to take a flip chart and write the following. 

Thirty Things I Enjoy Doing Are:

* 

* 

*

People put the flip charts around the walls. Forming pairs, they then introduced themselves to each other by talking through the things they enjoyed doing. Later we focused on how they could make a living doing what they enjoyed.

Today I still follow similar themes. During one-to-one sessions I invite people to describe the things that give them positive energy. When doing workshops I invite people to do the following exercise and then share what they have written.

Doing what you enjoy – providing you don’t hurt others – can provide benefits for both yourself and other people. It can also give you the strength to overcome obstacles.

Robert Thurman, the Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, underlines this in the video below. He believes we can help others by focusing on happiness, even in our darkest hours.

Some people are so full of angst, he says, that they create bad vibes around them. This does not help anybody. It is important not to submit to the forces that have spread fear and created problems.

If we become consumed by fear, we are giving in to those forces. We may then become dependent on those same people to solve the problems. But they won’t.

Robert repeats the importance of beginning with ourselves. This is the best place to start expressing a positive spirit. Here is the official introduction to the Big Think interview which is shown below.

Thurman’s advice is, that even in the midst of life’s gloom and doom, we should try to figure out how to understand things to be so joyful, that even if they kill you you’ll die happy.

You can discover more about Robert’s work at:

http://bobthurman.com/

Let’s return to your own life and work. What are the things you can do to continue to enjoy life? What would be the benefits of doing these things?

You may want to maintain a sense of gratitude, play your favourite music, nurture your garden and spend times with positive people. You may want to walk regularly, give yourself time to think, pursue creative projects or tackle particular challenges.

Doing these things will do more than bring enjoyment. They will develop your strength to deal with challenging situations. They may also increase your ability to give to other people.

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

Describe the specific things you can do to continue to enjoy life. 

Describe the specific benefits – both for yourself and others – of doing these things.

 

Encouragement

There are many models for doing your best to help other people. One approach is to be an encourager. This approach came home to me when I began doing social work in the late 1960s.

As part of my education, I interviewed many different people to learn about development. The people I met included social workers, educators, therapists and leaders in their respective fields. The first question I asked was:

What has helped you to grow most in your life?

Different people answered this question in different ways, but several key themes emerged. They said some of the following things.

I had somebody who encouraged me. They made me feel as if I was the centre of their world.  

They encouraged me to build on my strengths, but they also explained what I might need to do to thrive. They said things like:

“Be who you are only more so. But remember, if you are going to be a deviant you will always have to over-deliver.”

They were supportive, but they also drew clear lines if I did something that was not acceptable. They then gave me a positive alternative by saying something like: 

“In the future, it would be helpful if you did … rather than …”

Different people encourage others in different ways. Some do this in their daily lives by doing the following things.

They look for when people come alive and then encourage them to do more of these things.

They encourage people to build on their strengths and, when appropriate, find ways to manage any weaknesses.

They pass on knowledge that enables people to achieve their picture of success.

Some people do work which encourages other people. Depending on their strengths, they may pursue some of the following paths.

They may work as an educator, counsellor, coach, mentor, trusted advisor or in some other role that encourages people.  

They may do positive work – such as providing food, health care, information, software, books, knowledge, solutions or other products and services – that encourages people. 

They may create environments in which people, teams and organisations can do superb work. 

Encouragers sometimes do more than support people on a one-to-one basis. They may also aim to lead a project, school, team or organisation. The culture they create can reach many people and produce a lasting legacy.

Such encouragers are like good gardeners. They create an environment in which people can grow. How do they make this happen?

Certainly they provide encouragement, but they also combine elements that may at first sight seem paradoxical. They get the right balance between encouragement, education, enablement and enforcement.

Let’s explore some of the steps people take to make this happen.

Explaining The Environment

Encouraging leaders, for example, are moral and explain the culture before people join a project, team or organisation. They then give people the chance to decide if they want to contribute towards achieving the goals.

Different leaders use different ways to explain the environment. Some say something along the following lines when describing the project to people.

The goals of the project are …

The guidelines we encourage people to follow to achieve the goals are …

The reasons for encouraging people to follow these guidelines are … 

Let me know if you would like to follow these guidelines and make a positive contribution towards achieving the goals.

People can take time to reflect and decide if they want to opt into contributing to the culture.

Encouragers then follow certain guidelines for creating and maintaining a stimulating environment. They focus on the following themes.

Encouragement

They provide encouragement. They provide a stimulating and supportive environment in which motivated people can grow.

Education

They provide – in its widest sense – education. This includes providing knowledge, wisdom and models that people can use to achieve positive results.  

Enablement

They provide practical tools that enable people to shape their futures and achieve ongoing success. 

Enforcement

They provide protection. They are prepared to act as enforcers and protect the environment from those who want to spoil it for others.

If somebody transgresses the agreed guidelines, for example, the leader returns to the original explanation they gave about the culture. They say something like the following.

Let’s go back to the original contract regarding the culture that is required to ensure the project succeeds. 

The goals of the project are …

The guidelines we encourage people to follow to achieve the goals are … 

The reasons for encouraging people to follow these guidelines are …

Let me know if you would like to follow these guidelines and make a positive contribution towards achieving the goals.

Encouragers love to create a supportive environment. When necessary, however, they are prepared to act as guardians of the culture. They do whatever is necessary to protect the environment for the people who want to develop.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Imagine that you want to continue to be an encourager. How can you support people in your own way?

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

Describe the specific things you can do to encourage people. 

Describe the specific benefits – both for yourself and others – of doing these things.

Excellence

Imagine that you want to do what you enjoy and deliver excellence. There are many models for making this happen. The following section explores one approach.

Enjoyment

You can focus on a specific activity you enjoy doing in which you may be able to deliver excellence. How to choose such an activity? One approach is to clarify the deeply satisfying activities in which you can deliver As rather than Bs or Cs.

You may do this when encouraging people, writing an article or teaching a class. You may do it when playing a sport, designing a website, leading a team or doing another activity. It can be worth asking yourself some of the following questions.

When do I feel in my element – at ease and yet able to excel? When do I enjoy the journey as much as reaching the goal? When do I make complicated things appear simple? What are the specific activities I find fascinating in which I also have a track record of finishing successfully?

Imagine that you have decided to focus on a specific activity. It will then be time to move on to the next stage.

Enterprise

You can translate the activity you enjoy doing into a specific project. This may call for being proactive, energetic and enterprising. Sometimes it may also call for creating the opportunity to do such a project.

How to take these steps? One approach is to ask yourself the following questions.

What is the specific activity I want to pursue? How can I translate this into a specific project? What are the specific things I want to achieve by doing the project?  

Will it be a personal project that I do for myself? Will it be a project that helps other people? Will it be a professional project? What will be the benefits – for myself or other people – of doing such a project?

If I want to do a professional project, who may be the potential customers? What are the specific challenges they face? How can the potential project help them to achieve their picture of success?

How can I find or create the opportunity to do such a project? If it is a personal project, how can I create the time to do it properly? When do I want to start and finish the project?

If it is a professional project, how can I find potential sponsors – customers or employers – who may benefit from such a project? How can I reach these people in a way that fits my values system? How can I make clear working contracts with them about the specific things I will deliver by doing the project?  

Looking at the specific project, what is my definition of excellence? What are the real results I want to achieve? What is the picture of success? What will be happening that will show me that I have delivered excellence?  

What are the key strategies I can follow to give myself the greatest chance of success? What is the support I require to achieve the goals? What else can I do to increase the chances of delivering the project successfully?

Imagine that you have started doing the specific project. It will then be time to move on to the next step.

Effectiveness 

You can then do effective work. This calls for clarifying the strategies you can follow that are most likely to deliver success. It is vital to clarify:

What mountain you are climbing – making sure it is the right mountain – and translating this into a clear picture of success.

Why you are climbing it and making sure everybody understands the benefits.

How you can climb the mountain in the most effective way that will give you the greatest chance of success.

Some people confuse efficiency with effectiveness. The problem can be, however, that people are simply being more efficient at climbing the wrong mountain.

Great workers clarify what works and follow these strategies in an effective and efficient way. They often demonstrate elements of OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Discipline – and maintain good habits.

Such people follow a certain rhythm each day. They make the best use of their prime times – the times when they have most energy – and work in the way they find most effective.

They also keep doing reality checks. They keep asking: “What is working? How can I do more of these things? What can I do better and how?” They implement the findings and keep producing fine work.

Imagine that you are doing this in your own way. It will then be time to move on to the next stage.

Excellence 

Great workers going beyond being effective and aim to achieve excellence. They keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance. Sometimes they reach the goals by adding that touch of class.

Excellence is something that can make your soul sing. You may recognise it when watching a superb athlete, seeing a wonderful piece of work or even experiencing great customer service. Let’s look at one situation where you may want to deliver such high standards.

Imagine that you work as a trusted advisor. You will aim to pass on knowledge and practical tools that helps the client to achieve success. Bearing in mind your strengths, you will do this in your own way.

Whatever approach you use, however, you will probably prepare properly for the session. Different trusted advisors do this in different ways. Some use the following framework.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Imagine that you want to go beyond being effective and deliver excellence.

You may want to add that touch of class when helping a person, renovating a house or leading a workshop. You may want to do it when curating an exhibition, designing a website, running an event or doing another activity.

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

Describe the specific things you can do to deliver excellence.

Describe the specific benefits – both for yourself and other people – of doing these things.  

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