The Art of Strengths Coaching

H is for Always Doing Your Best Whether You Are At The Village Hall Or The Carnegie Hall

Great workers follow the mantra that excellence is a habit. They aim to deliver high standards whether performing at the Village Hall or the Carnegie Hall.

Great educators aim to deliver superb sessions whether working with unemployed teenagers or presenting to professors. They have a duty to their craft. They believe in encouraging, educating and enabling people to succeed.

Great chefs insist that every dish leaving their kitchen meets the highest standards. They are prepared to discard dishes that do not achieve perfection. Showing respect for their values and customers, they believe in maintaining the habit of always doing their best.

Looking back, when have you aimed to do your best at your equivalent of the Village Hall rather than the Carnegie Hall? You may have done so when doing an unglamorous piece of work, presenting to a small audience or giving great service to a customer.

Why did you choose to have a positive attitude towards the work? What did you do to prepare properly? How did you aim to do your best and deliver high standards?

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

Describe the specific situation in the past when you did your best when working at your equivalent of the Village Hall rather than the Carnegie Hall.  

Describe the specific things you did to do your best and deliver high standards. 

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

Different people learn to develop good habits in different ways.  Some build on their natural self-discipline. Some learn by studying positive models. Some learn by working in places that maintain high professional standards.

Looking back, I was fortunate to be taught this approach by my early mentors in social work. It was almost like the equivalent of military training.

They gave me the opportunity to run therapy sessions, lead seminars and present to universities. Before such events, however, they underlined that it was important: 

To plan ahead, research the people I was going to meet – their challenges, goals and the topics they may want to explore – and prepare properly;

To create a positive environment, clarify the topics people wanted to explore and make clear contracts about my role and their role in making it a successful session;  

To be professional, focus on each topic in turn and pass on knowledge and practical tools that people could use to achieve their picture of success.

Great sports coaches also expect their players to always do their best. Bill Walsh, the legendary San Francisco 49ers American Football coach, took this approach.

He encouraged his players to practice relentlessly until they were able to produce what he called routine perfection. Providing they delivered the desired standard of performance, the score took care of itself.

Bill described his time at the 49ers to Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh, who co-authored The Score Takes Care Of Itself. Here are some excerpts from the book.

I came to the San Francisco 49ers with an overriding priority and specific goal – to implement what I call the Standard of Performance. 

It was a way of doing things, a leadership philosophy that has as much to do with core values, principles, and ideals as with blocking, tackling, and passing: more to do with the mental than with the physical. 

While I prized preparation, planning, precision, and poise, I also knew that organizational ethics were crucial to ultimate ongoing success. 

It began with this fundamental leadership assertion: Regardless of your specific job, it is vital to our team that you do that job at the highest possible level in all its various aspects, both mental and physical (i.e., good talent with bad attitude equals bad talent). 

There are also the basic characteristics of attitude and action – the new organizational ethos – I tried to teach our team, to put into our DNA.

Of course, for this to happen the person in charge – whether the head coach, CEO, manager, or assembly line foreman – must exhibit the principles. 

The culture precedes positive results. It doesn’t get tacked on as an afterthought on the way to the victory stand. Champions behave like champions before they’re champions; they have a winning standard of performance before they are winners.

Bill’s approach took time to work. It took two seasons – 1979 and 1980 – to revitalise the ailing team. The 49ers then won the Super Bowl three times – in 1981, 1984 and 1988. Part of Bill’s legacy was to influence many coaches who educated their people to deliver peak performances.

Great workers recognise the warning signs that could lead to letting their standards drop. One sign is getting sloppy about working at their equivalent of the Village Hall.

Sometimes you can spot this attitude in talented people who believe they are rising stars. Getting to a certain stage, they think they have made it. They stop putting in the effort and think they can wing it. Sometimes they do not show respect for their colleagues or customers.

Great workers quickly spot warning signs regarding their own performance. They then focus on how to be super professional. One approach is for them to re-centre, refocus and rehearse what they are going to do. Some ask themselves the following questions.

What is the piece of work I want to do? What are the real results I want to achieve? What is the picture of success?

What are the key strategies I can follow to achieve the picture of success? How can I follow these strategies? What are the potential challenges? How can I manage these challenges?

What can I do to get an early success? How can I keep doing reality checks about what is working and what could be better? What else can I do to achieve the picture of success?

Going into their version of the arena – be it the Village Hall or the Carnegie Hall – they click action. They then do their best to achieve the picture of success.

Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to do work in your version of the Village Hall? This could be unglamorous but something you would like to do.

How can you prepare properly? How can you rehearse following your chosen strategies? How can you click into action and deliver your desired professional standards? How can you do your best to achieve the 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 in the future when you may want to do your best when working at your equivalent of the Village Hall rather than the Carnegie Hall.

Describe the specific things you can do then do to your best and deliver high standards.

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

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