The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for Providing Positive Alternatives

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There are many ways to offer people positive alternatives. Good mentors sit alongside a person, for example, and help them to explore the possible options for achieving their goals. They then enable the person to follow the route they want to pursue.

Good leaders sometimes need to offer people positive alternatives. Imagine you lead a team. Most of your people behave in a professional way that helps the team to succeed.

One person, however, behaves in a way that hurts other people and diminishes the team’s chances of success. It is their responsibility to behave professionally, but how can you be moral and help them to see positive alternatives?

One approach is to start by outlining the team’s picture of success. It is then to describe the professional guidelines that people can follow to help the team succeed. You can also to explain the reasons for these guidelines.

The person can then choose whether they want to pursue these alternatives to their present behaviour. Commitment is crucial. They must want to follow the guidelines, of course, because otherwise it won’t work.

Later we will explore other ways of giving a person more ownership of considering their options. Let’s begin, however, by looking at the guidelines route.

Much of my early work with people involved helping them to consider positive alternatives. At the time I was running a therapeutic community for troubled young people.

Many applied to join our community because they were unhappy or had got into trouble. They did not want to spend the rest of their lives in psychiatric hospitals or custodial institutions.

The young person had to pass an interview to get into the community. We made them feel welcome, but they were also given the following messages.

“We can help you to work towards achieving your goals in life.

“You may, for example, want to be happy, healthy and successful. If you join us, we will spend a lot of time helping you to clarify your life goals.

“The approach we will then take will be to focus on choices and consequences. People make choices every moment and each choice has consequences.

“You can, of course, choose to behave in ways that sometimes get you into difficulties. These may or may not result in you getting the things you want in life.

“Looking ahead, there are several other possible routes you may wish to follow to achieve your life goals.

“The other possible ways forward are: a) To … b) To … c) To … Each of these routes have both pluses and minuses.

“There may also be many other ways forward. We can explore these with you if you wish.

“If you come here, you will be expected to follow the community guidelines. You will be expected to take responsibility, encourage other people and work towards achieving your goals.

“Looking ahead, it is up to you to choose which route you want to follow. If you wish, take time to reflect. You can then decide on your chosen route.

“If you choose to come here and take responsibility, we will then help you to work towards achieving your life goals.”

The guidelines approach is a simple and clear way to show people that they have positive alternatives. They can decide whether or not they want to take those routes or, for example, continue to behave in other ways.

The approach focuses on being able: a) To show a person they can choose how they want to behave in the future; b) To show that each choice has consequences. The person can then be given the chance to reflect and decide which route they want to pursue.

There are, of course, other ways of enabling person to explore other positive alternatives. We will explore some of these later in the article.

Looking back on your own life, can you think of a time when you gave a person or a group of people the chance to explore positive alternatives? This could have been 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 past when you provided positive alternatives and a person or a group of people chose to pursue one of these alternatives.

Describe the specific things you did to provide the positive alternatives.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of the person or the group of people choosing to pursue one of these positive alternatives.

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Let’s explore another way this works in action. Several years ago I was asked to hold a mentoring session with Steve, a rising star who had recently been turned down for promotion.

He had been given the following messages.

“You are charismatic and often deliver outstanding sales results, but there are a couple of problems.

“The key stakeholders in this business, such as those on the Board, think that you sometimes come across as arrogant and you do not keep them informed.

“The morale score in your department is low. Some people we respect say that you talk over them and come across as dismissive.

“We want you to keep playing to your strengths, but we would also like to tackle some of these weaknesses. We will then reconsider you for promotion.”

Will comes before skill. So it was important to establish Steve’s will before exploring the potential skills he could develop. Bearing this in mind, I welcomed him to the session and said something along the following lines.

“I believe you have many strengths. From what I have heard, you are brilliant at dealing with customers. You also give inspiring keynote speeches and can be great at leading peak performers.

“As far as I understand it, however, you may need to develop other skills if you are going to get promotion.

“The approach I will take will be to build on your strengths. It will also be to offer some tools you can use to manage the consequences of any weaknesses.

“Bearing this in mind, let me know if you really want to develop such skills. We can then go from there.”

Steve could be inspiring or intimidating. He needed to maintain high standards and work with people who were positive and professional, rather than lower those standards. At the same time, however, he could add more tools to his repertoire.

Steve said he wanted to develop. We therefore began by clarifying his picture of success.

There are many ways to help a person to clarify the real results they want to achieve. The approach we took was to clarify the actual words he wanted each of his stakeholders to be saying about him and his work.

Here is a flavour of what he wanted one group of people to say.

The Chief Executive and Board Members –
I would like them to say the following things

Steve makes a great contribution to the company. He shows he understands the overall company’s strategy, rather than just focusing on his team’s contribution. He proactively keeps us informed about the progress his team is making towards delivering its goals.

He plays a positive role in the leadership team meetings. He prepares properly, supports his peers and focuses on solutions, rather than just problems.  

Steve’s team is made up of people who are high performers and who enjoy working for the company. They say that he creates a good environment in which they are given the support they need to deliver success.

He expects the people around him to deliver high professional standards. At the same time, he shows a sincere interest in people and helps them to develop in their careers.

How could he do his best to achieve these results? Steve and I explored how to build on some of his strengths, whilst also adding other strategies for achieving the goals. Here are some of the positive alternatives we considered.

Steve could treat his stakeholders – such as the Chief Executive and Board Members – in the same way that he treated his external customers.

He could prepare properly for his meetings with them, mentally rehearse what might happen and focus on how he could help them succeed. He could also proactively keep them informed about his team’s progress and deliver the team’s Scorecard.

He could make positive contributions during senior team meetings, show that he saw things from the company’s point of view and actively help his peers to succeed.

Steve could act in a positive and predictable way as a leader. He could continue to communicate the vision and share success stories about how people in the team had done superb work.  

He could get a good co-ordinator. They could help him to manage the team by outcomes, rather than him continually diving into micro managing.

He could spend quality time with each person in his department. He could invite them to describe: a) Their strengths; b) The specific contributions they would like to make towards the company in the future. Wherever possible, he could help them make these contributions.

He could also learn how to give full attention to individuals. If somebody stopped him in the corridor, for example, he had a habit of rushing past, saying: “I am busy.” 

He could say instead: “I am sorry, I am on my way to a meeting. Can we meet in an hour? I will then be able to give you my full attention.”

He could then make sure the person felt listened to and valued. He did this with his customers, so he could do it with his staff.

Steve explored the possible options for going forward. I then invited him to reflect and decide which of the ideas he wanted to follow. This led to him making a specific action plan and getting some quick successes.

There are many ways to help a person to explore positive alternatives to their present behaviour. When doing so, however, it can be important to go through the following steps.

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The key is to start with their picture of success. Why? Focusing on their behaviour can be perceived as an attack. It be useful to start by clarifying results they want to achieve. They can then explore the possible behaviours to achieve these results.

Here are some questions you can invite the person to explore at each of these stages.

Picture of Success

What are your goals? What are the real results you want to achieve? What is your picture of success? 

What will be happening that will show you have achieved your goals? What will be the actual words that each of your stakeholders will be saying?

Positive Alternatives 

Let’s explore the possible options you can pursue to achieve these results. Each one, of course, has pluses and minuses. 

Option A is to … The pluses are … The potential minuses are …

Option B is to … The pluses are … The potential minuses are … 

Option C is to … The pluses are … The potential minuses are …

Let’s explore your positive history. Looking back, when have you tackled a similar challenge successfully in the past?

What did you do right then? What were the principles you followed? How can you follow similar principles – plus maybe add other skills – to tackle the present challenge? 

Let’s focus on your strengths. How can you build on your strengths in this area? How can you add other skills to manage the consequences of any weaknesses?

Looking at the results you want to achieve, what are the key strategies you can follow to give yourself the greatest chance of success?

Pause

Let’s take time to reflect and let things sink in. Bearing in mind your picture of success, would you like to pursue any of the potential options?

If so, which feel right for you? Take some time to do some slow thinking. If you wish, we can then focus on the route you want to follow.  

Pursuing The Chosen
Positive Alternative
 

Let’s move on to your action plan. What are the key things you can do to give yourself the greatest chance of success?  

How can you translate these strategies into action? What will be the pluses and minuses of pursuing these strategies? How can you build on the pluses and manage the minuses?

How can you start by getting some early successes? How can you encourage yourself on the journey? How can you do whatever is required to achieve the picture of success?  

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a time when you may want to give a person or a group of people the chance to explore positive alternatives? This can 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 provide positive alternatives for a person or a group of people. 

Describe the specific things you can do to provide the positive alternatives.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of providing the person or the group of people with these positive alternatives.

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