The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for People Workers Who Shape A Positive Future

People workers may work in different fields but they often have a similar calling. They focus on helping people to shape a positive future. They may do this when working in education, sport, business or in other fields.

The following section describes how such workers follow some of these principles. This includes examples of people I have known. It also invites you to explore your own approach to translating these principles into action.

They Are Positive

Many people workers have a positive attitude. They also build on the positive things in other people. They are realists, however, rather than starry-eyed optimists. They are good at spotting both successful and unsuccessful patterns.

Good encouragers, for example, often start by clarifying people’s picture of success. When appropriate, they then help people:

To build on their successful patterns; 

To manage any unsuccessful patterns; 

To achieve their picture of success.

Henry Pluckrose was such an encourager. He was remarkable teacher who inspired thousands of people around the world. I met him during the early 1970s when I was running courses for teachers.

Between 1968 and 1984 he was the head teacher of Prior Weston, a state primary school in London’s Barbican. The school encouraged children to be creative and built a superb reputation.

I first heard about Prior Weston on the BBC radio programme The World At One. It was introduced as a school which ‘everybody liked’. Students and parents were so enthusiastic that the presenter pleaded:

“Please tell me one thing that is wrong with the school.”

Prior Weston enabled children to master social and educational skills. It also encouraged them to express their individuality through the arts – such as poetry, music and acting.

The school’s approach to education proved successful with students, parents and even governments. Visitors to Prior Weston had to be limited to 4,000 a year and, on one occasion, included the Queen of Denmark.

Henry wrote many books for children and towards the end of his career wrote a memoir called The Travels of a Journey-Man Teacher. Here is a summary of his views about schools and learning.

Roger Tingle, who knew Henry well, wrote the following words about this book. 

“The only argument I have is with the title of this book. Having had the rare privilege of working alongside Henry for so many years, I believe that this teacher will be remembered not as a journey-man but as a genius. 

“I first met him in the spring of 1965, Henry was teaching on the very top floor of the John Ruskin School (in South London) and I joined him there as a student, a humble apprentice to a Master Sorcerer.

“His classroom was quite unlike anything I had ever visited before and his teaching methods unlike anything I had previously experienced.

“The teaching space itself resembled an artist’s studio and was buzzing with a level of activity that only 42 lively ten and eleven year olds can generate. 

“Whilst practical art and craft work was most clearly in evidence, it was the Arts in the broadest sense that formed the basis of the curriculum: drama, music, poetry and dance.

“Particular importance was given to direct, personal experience. In practice, this meant that much of the children’s learning took place in a variety of settings outside the school: in museums, art galleries, churches and other historic buildings as well as the natural environment.”

Prior Weston worked because it took an educational rather than engineering approach to helping children develop. Making learning relevant and rewarding, it encouraged children: 

To be curious, gather knowledge and learn how to learn;  

To build on their strengths, set specific goals and work to achieve success;  

To develop skills they could use to shape their futures.

The school embodied what employers now call the required Four Cs of 21st Century Skills. Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication. Prior Weston worked because it helped its students to develop these in the 1970s.

Imagine that you work in the helping professions. How do you rate yourself in term of having a positive attitude? How good are you at building on the positive things in people – their strengths and successful patterns?

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

They Are Professional

Many people workers are super professional. They prepare properly for events, click into action and are fully present. Pursuing their chosen principles, they then do their best to produce positive results.

The Covid 19 crisis highlighted the work of nurses, doctors and key workers who took this approach. Putting their lives at risk, many delivered consistently high professional standards.

Caroline Moore is somebody who embodies this approach. Professor of Urology at University College London, she does pioneering work in the treatment of prostate cancer.

At this point, I need to declare an interest. Caroline has conducted several operations on me using HIFU – High Intensity Focused Ultra Sound. This is a non-invasive form of treating prostate cancer and has proved successful.

Caroline is kind, positive and brilliant. She has juggled her career whilst also bringing up four children. Her view is that it is vital to manage your priorities.

Sometimes this means focusing totally on your loved ones; sometimes on pursuing your professional passion. When working in medicine, it means doing superb work to help patients.

Professor Mark Emberton, another pioneer in the field of prostate treatment, wrote the following about Caroline.

It is this dedication, drive, and vision for the end objective – benefiting patients – that I admire so much.

I also admire Caroline’s ability to corral teams through her infectious determination, balanced with a touch of humour.

Importantly, Caroline is not just a role model to her colleagues in urology, but, working with her, I can see that she is a trail blazer for women in science.

As the first female professor of urology in the UK, she is a role model for all women considering careers in medicine and all women at UCL.

Let’s return to your own work. What are the professional guidelines you aim to follow? How well do you think you follow these? How would you rate yourself on a scale 0-10? What can you do to maintain or improve the rating?

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

They Are Problem Solvers

Many people workers are good at solving problems in their areas of expertise. Some go further and help others to develop their skills in problem solving.

There are many ways to find solutions to challenges. One model is to use the outcomes approach. It is to help people to channel their spirit and strengths towards achieving the desired outcomes.

Some therapists I worked with during my early career took this approach. They believed in:

Building on the positive parts of people;  

Expanding people’s options for tackling problems;

Helping people to work towards achieving their personal goals.

These therapists adopted an outcomes approach. Whilst acknowledging that people had been through tough times, they encouraged them to focus on shaping their futures.

This was an approach I used running therapeutic communities. When working with troubled teenagers, for example, we invited them to focus on their life goals. This involved asking them the following questions.

“What do you want out of life? How can you get what you want out of life? How can you stop yourself getting what you want? When do you want to work towards getting what you want out of life?” 

This approach sounds basic, but many young people chose to work towards achieving their desired outcomes. We then focused on how they could also help both themselves and others on the way towards achieving their life goals.

One key point to remember regarding the outcomes approach. It is important to clarify the specific things that people want to achieve on: 

A factual level – such as the tangible results they and others want to achieve in the future; 

A feelings level – such as the feelings they want themselves and others to experience in the future.

This is an approach I saw in action when working with problem solvers and entrepreneurs during the 1970s and 80s. They seemed to relish tackling problems and working towards delivering the desired outcomes.

Different people used different terms when finding solutions. But many of them applied versions of the following approach.

The Outcomes Approach

Good problem solvers often start by observing what is actually happening in a situation. They then focus on the following themes and ask certain questions

Outcomes 

What is happening at the moment? What do we want to happen in the future? What are the outcomes – the real results – we want to achieve? What are these in order of priority? What will be the benefits of achieving these outcomes? 

Options

What are the possible options for going forwards? What are the pluses and minuses – and the attractiveness rating – of each option? What are the other potential options? What are the possible opportunities? 

Operations

What is the option we want to pursue? How can we make this happen? Who will be in charge of the operation? How can we organise things properly? What else can we do to deliver the desired outcomes?

Some people workers go a step further. They help others to learn how to apply problem solving techniques. This enables people to add to their way power – their ability to see ways to find solutions and achieve their goals.

Let’s return to your area of expertise. How would you rate yourself as being a problem solver and also helping others to develop their problem solving skills?

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

They Pass On Knowledge

Many people workers pass on knowledge that helps others to achieve their goals. They do this in different ways and sometimes in different roles.

Some simply act as good models and show how to behave in positive ways. Some pass on knowledge in their professional role. They may act as a counsellor, educator, coach, mentor, trusted advisor or in another role.

Sometimes they share ideas during their sessions. Before taking this step, however, they make a psychological contract with the client to make sure this is okay. They may say something along the following lines. 

“Looking at the results you want to achieve, is it okay for me to share some ideas?”

The psychological contracting part is crucial. It is vital to ensure the person is open to ideas that they can use to achieve their goals. The people worker then shares knowledge, models and practical tools the person can use in their own way.

Here are some of the roles that such a worker may take. They may also move between these roles when passing on knowledge.

 

Problem Solvers 

People workers sometimes act as practical problem solvers. They may take this role when helping a person to get access to the basic materials for life – such as food, housing or funding.

Social workers sometimes take this role at the beginning of a professional relationship. They may then move into other roles on the road towards helping a person to shape their future.

Counsellors 

Counsellors help people who want to solve a problem they are experiencing in their lives. The classic method is to create a safe environment, use listening skills and be non-directive.

Sometimes the counsellor may use facilitation skills to help the client to find their own answers. Sometimes they may move into a more active role and use other methods to help the person to achieve their aims.

Therapists 

Therapists use their abilities to help a person to take more control of their life and work towards their personal goals. Different therapists use different approaches when taking this role.

Before choosing a therapist, it can therefore be useful for a person to research: a) The therapist’s approach and reputation; b) The pluses and any potential minuses of the therapeutic approach.

This research can take time but it is worthwhile. The person then knows what they can and can’t expect from the therapy sessions.

Educators

Educators are often experts in their chosen field. They clarify what the learner wants to learn. They then aim to encourage, educate and enable the person to achieve success.

Many see education as the ultimate democratic activity. This involves offering people more knowledge and tools they can use in their lives and work. People then have more choices and hence more freedom to shape their futures. 

Coaches

Good coaches help people to improve in a specific activity. They help a person to build on their strengths, tackle areas for improvement and achieve ongoing success.

Coaches like to watch a person in action or see a piece of their work. They then ask themselves the following questions before giving any feedback.

What is the person’s goal? What are the real results they want to achieve? What is their picture of success? 

What are the specific things the person is doing well? How can they do more of these things in the future to help them to reach their goal? What are the specific things they can do better in the future and how?

What are the key messages I therefore want to give the person? How can I put these messages in a way that the person can accept and use? Are there any other things I can do to help the person to achieve their picture of success? 

Trusted Advisors

Trusted advisors pass on specialist knowledge that can help their clients. David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford outlined this approach in their book The Trusted Advisor. They said that it is important for advisors to earn trust, build relationships and give advice effectively. 

Bearing in mind the client’s agenda, advisors use their expertise to outline the possible ways forwards. At a certain point, however, they may say something along the following lines.

I can explain more about the possible options. If you wish, I can also share some ideas and a potential way forward. But it will, of course, be up to you to decide.” 

Trusted advisors then share their expertise. The client can decide whether they want to use this to help them to reach their goals.

Mentors

Mentors also act as wise and trusted advisors. They create a stimulating sanctuary in which a person can feel safe and at ease. They then pass on knowledge that helps the person to tackle challenges and achieve their picture of success.

There are many models for running a mentoring session. You can explore one approach via the following link. This provides many practical tools that you can use to help a person to shape their future.

Mentoring

Let’s return to your own work. How would you rate yourself at passing on knowledge to people? What can you do to maintain or improve the rating?

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

They Shape A
Positive Future

Different people workers have different reasons for going into their chosen profession. Here are some reasons they give regarding choosing their work.

The reasons I went into this kind
of work were because I wanted:

To help people … To give people a better start in life … To give people more opportunities … To give people a good education … To help people to take care of their health … To enable people to have more options and freedom to shape their futures.

To help children from difficult backgrounds … To help children with learning difficulties … To help former addicts to stay healthy … To help former prisoners … To help military veterans to use their skills to make a contribution to society.

To help people to build on their strengths … To help people to do satisfying work … To help people to overcome problems … To play a part in helping to build a better society … To give people hope … To help people to achieve success.

People workers can sometimes feel overwhelmed with challenges. During the Covid 19 outbreak, for example, many were working long hours helping those affected by the events.

Some gained strength by recalling why they went into doing social work, nursing, education or the helping professions. Some saw it has a chance to pursue their calling. They saw it has a privilege – rather than a pressure – to help others during the crisis.

Different people workers supported others in different ways. Some tried to help people to feel more in control of shaping the future. This involved taking the following steps.

They helped people to manage any pressing issues at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs – such as taking care of their health, housing and finding ways to extend their financial runway.  

They encouraged people to establish a routine they wanted to follow – this included doing work related activities, doing things that gave them positive energy and, when appropriate, helping other people. 

They invited people to recall when they had overcome crises in the past and explore how they could follow some of these principles – plus add other skills – to tackle the present challenge.

They helped people to focus on their strengths and how they may be able to do satisfying work in the future – either in their present role or finding a role in industries that would thrive beyond the crisis. 

They took the time to focus on each individual’s personal situation and aimed to provide practical tools the person could use to increase their way power and shape the future.

Looking back at your own life, can you think of a situation when helped people to shape their future? This could have been in your personal or professional life?

You may have done this when acting as a parent, educator, counsellor, coach, leader or in another role. What did you do to help the person or group of people? What were the principles you followed? How can you follow these principles in the future?

Many people workers are positive, professional, problem solvers and pass on knowledge. They also aim to help people shape a positive future. How would you rate yourself in terms of taking this final step?

If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences. You can then continue to help people to shape a positive future.

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