The Art of Strengths Coaching

G is for Helping People To Grow


“What has helped you to grow in your life?”

This was the question I asked people when I began my first role in social work. At the time I had little training, so it made sense to ask people what had helped them to develop.

Looking at your own life, for example, you may have had Encouragers who gave you support. Some may also have opened doors. At some point, you may also have taken key decisions to shape your future.

People gave two types of answers to the question. The first response described things they had been given. Here is a flavour of the answers they gave.

I met many people who encouraged me. My parents provided a wonderful start and, although I did not shine at school, there was one teacher who helped me to develop.

It took several years to find work I enjoyed. One leader was the catalyst. She noticed when I did my best work, even though this comprised only a small part of my job.

Looking at how I could build on this talent, she helped me to explore courses where I could specialise. This led to me doing the work I do today, which is fulfilling.

The second type of response described how people made key decisions to take charge of their lives.

Sue is somebody who typifies this approach. She joined the therapeutic community I was running in the early 1970s.

Several years ago she contacted me again. Here is an excerpt from the story she gave about how she chose to shape her future life.

My mother abandoned me and my two sisters in the park when I was two. During the next 14 years I moved from one children’s home to another. Sometimes I was abused but I did not know anything else, so I thought it was normal.

One housefather kept hitting me with his belt, so I yelled: “Why are you hitting me?”

He said it was because I needed to show him respect. I yelled back: “I’m not going to respect you if you keep hitting me.”

So he hit me harder.

One day I found myself in an institution that was famous for holding a girl who had killed a child. Looking back, I now realise that the only way I had kept my sanity was by rebelling, but it had got me into trouble.

Things looked bad, but then I got the chance to go to a community where young people like me had the opportunity to change their lives.

Over 30 years later I now have three sons and a wonderful granddaughter, who is the apple of my eye.

The years between have sometimes been difficult, but never dull. After leaving the community I met a man and travelled around the world. Returning home, I began working in a children’s home.

Growing-up in institutions myself, I knew what the children needed and tried to help them to feel safe and loved. Even if I say it myself, I found that I was good with children.

None of the relationships I had with men lasted. My greatest fear as a parent was that my kids could end up in care. So I then decided to be the best single parent I could be.

This meant relationships with men were out. I stayed on my own with the boys for the next 18 years.

Then I met a good man with whom I had a child. Even though the man and I have now parted, we are still good friends and he is a good father.

Looking back at my time in the community, I am so happy that I was given the opportunity to meet people who taught me it was okay to talk about things.

So much pain was bottled up inside me from the years spent in care and the abuse that I and my sisters suffered.

I was one of the lucky ones. I found a way to confront my demons, talk about them and they stopped hurting.

About 10 years ago my sisters and I were contacted by the police about the abuse we experienced in children’s homes. The police came to my house and met with me and my sisters and asked if we were victims of abuse. I stood up, faced the policeman and said:


Then I realised I had got rid of my demons. Some people never get the chance to rid themselves of past problems.

The community made us feel safe and we never betrayed that trust. Some newcomers tried to bring drugs into the house, but we said:

“Don’t bring that stuff here. If you want to take drugs, leave the community.”

Sometimes we had fantastic talks. There would be 8 of us sitting in a bedroom till midnight, just sharing thoughts we had never discussed with anybody before.

Every young person in the community had suffered problems. We encouraged each other to talk about the past, but didn’t allow each other to use it as an excuse for behaving badly.

If I said, ‘My mother left me in the park when I was two,’ somebody else said: ‘I can top that. How can you use that bad experience to help others in the future?’

Suddenly I realised that I didn’t have to go on the path I was hurtling along, which would probably have led to drugs or prison.

The people in the community believed in us and my feelings mattered. Someone listened when I was screaming. What could be more wonderful than that?

Nowadays I try to help other people by volunteering to work at the local hospice. But the thing I am most proud of is being a good parent to my children.

Sue is somebody who chose to take charge of her life, but people grow in different ways.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe the specific things that have helped you to grow in your life.

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How do you think you can help other people to grow? One approach is to focus on what has helped you to grow.

You may have been helped by having people who encouraged you and, at the same time, you choosing to take charge of your life. If so, you may want to offer these things to other people.

People are different, however, so they may need different things to help them grow. So it is quite possible to ask them:

“What are you goals? How can I help? What are the things you do and don’t want me to do?”

This was an approach I used when working as a soccer coach. Every player was different, so I asked each of them how they wanted me:

To give encouragement.

To give positive suggestions.

To help them develop.

A similar approach can be used if you are in professional helping relationship with a person. You may, for example, be working as a teacher, coach, manager, mentor or whatever. It can be then useful to recall some of the basics involved when making a coaching contract.

Establishing A
Coaching Contract

Whilst the following process sounds structured, you can do adapt it in your own way. It will provide the basis for building a successful working relationship. This invites the person to have a first go at completing the coaching contract.

They are asked to describe:

The specific goals they want to achieve.

The specific pluses and minuses involved in working towards and achieving the goals – together with how they can build on the pluses and manage the minuses.

The specific things they see as their responsibilities in achieving the goals.

The specific kinds of help they want from the coach in working towards achieving the goals.

The specific things that will be happening that will show they have achieved the goals.

The person is to asked send the contract to the coach. They can then meet and agree on the best way for them to work together.

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There are many ways to help people to grow and, when appropriate, encourage them to take responsibility for their own growth.

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 help people – a specific person, a specific group or people in general – to grow.

Describe the potential benefits of doing these things and doing your best to help people grow.

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