The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for The Privilege Of Being Able To Play To Your Strengths And Perform Superb Work

Looking back, can you think of a time when you had the privilege of being able to play to your strengths and perform superb work? This could have been an opportunity you created or one that you were given.

There are many ways to take this step. Here are three of the main approaches.

The Pursuing A Passion Approach 

You may have taken this route by pursuing a passion. This could have been playing a sport, caring for animals, exploring astronomy, singing on stage or doing another activity. You may have taken this step early in life, during your career or during your Third Age. 

The Professional Work Approach

You may have taken this route in your professional work. This may have involved building on your strengths and doing satisfying work. It may have involved following your vocation and expressing this through a particular vehicle on the way towards doing valuable work.

The Problem Becoming
An Opportunity Approach

You may have taken this route when facing a challenge. This may have involved dealing with a redundancy, recovering from an illness or changing your lifestyle.

You may then have focused on doing things that gave you positive energy. This may then have led to doing a particular project and developing a sense of purpose.

Different people react differently to these scenarios. Some see the positive possibilities in a situation even if it does seem challenging. Some take time to find or create the opportunity to play to their strengths. Some drift without direction until an event triggers them into action.

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 had the privilege to be able to play to your strengths and aim to perform superb work.  

Describe the specific things you did then to take the opportunity to play to your strengths and aim to perform superb work.

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

People may pursue each of these routes at different times during their lives. Let’s explore how this can happen.

The Pursuing A
Passion Approach

Many young people take this route early in life. They may throw themselves into playing a sport, singing, dancing, fixing bikes, drawing or doing another activity. They learn by going through the stages of absorption, adventure and achievement.

Young people who pursue a passion often develop what are now called the Four Cs of the 21st Century Skills. These are Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication. They develop by doing stimulating activities in which they set specific goals, develop skills and work to achieve success.

Good educators recognise that many youngsters already use the Four Cs when pursuing their interests. They therefore build on these qualities and help students to apply them to tackle specific challenges. Here is a video on this topic.

Some people pursue their passion and play to their strengths in their work. Some take this approach during their Third Age. Here is one approach to making this happen. has the strapline second acts for the greater good. It encourages and enables people to use their skills to help both present and future generations. Below are excerpts from its website. You can discover more via the following link. 


Our Vision

While many see our aging society as a problem, we view it as a solution.  

Those in and beyond midlife represent a powerful source of talent with the accumulated skills, experience and wisdom to tackle some of society’s most urgent challenges.

By embracing this unique opportunity, we can transform a zero-sum prediction into a win-win strategy, creating a better future for generations to come.

Neither young nor old, the vast population moving into midlife offers an extraordinary resource.  

Millions are determined to apply their experience to make a difference for others. And they are looking for a new model combining elements of work, service, and social impact – an “encore” or “encore career.”  

Some are able to do so as unpaid volunteers or in roles in their communities or families. But for many, encore work can bring a new source of continued income.

As one approaches later life, there is a natural urge to think about legacy – about how we will be remembered, how we can influence the lives of young people and how we can leave a mark.

The encore vision is rooted in this concept of “generativity,” which is why our animating idea is about leveraging the experience of older adults to improve our world now and for future generations. 

At a time when there are so many critical problems in our education and health care systems, in our government, in our environment and on our streets, we can’t afford to let decades of experience go to waste.

The Professional Work Approach

Many pioneers have encouraged people to play to their strengths and perform superb work. Here is a selection of books that have provided people with practical tools they can use to follow this path. We will then look at one of the pioneers in this field.

Bernard Haldane – Helping people to play
to their strengths and do professional work

Bernard is recognised as one of the giants of the strengths philosophy, which he was already using in the 1940s. His legacy lives on through his thought leadership, the people he inspired and the continuing work with what he called Dependable Strengths.

The following pages give a brief overview of Bernard’s approach, which was enriched and supported by his wife Jean. You can discover more at the definitive site regarding his work:

Bernard was born in 1911, grew up in England and trained to be a doctor. He moved to New York in 1946 but found that his medical qualifications did not meet US standards. Choosing to go another route, he became an editor at the New York Journal of Commerce.

While the job market was being flooded by veterans returning from the war, it became apparent that organisations did not know how to employ people’s talents. Veterans were used to war jobs, many of which did not exist in the labour market.

Fascinated by the field, Bernard did three things to help veterans:

He asked them to recall their best achievements and, in the process, clarified what they enjoyed doing and what they did well.

He clarified their individual strengths and transferable skills that would be useful to an organisation.

He helped people to market and present their offering in a way that showed the benefits to a potential employer.

Bernard’s inside-out out approach was radical for the time. Most people who assisted job seekers adopted an outside-in approach. Beginning from the job box, they tried to fit people into this definition.

Richard Knowdell, a highly respected figure in career development and a friend of Haldane, explains the approach.

Bernard believed that he could reveal ‘the excellence in each person’ by analysing the skills that individuals had used in performing past accomplishments.

People then needed help in marketing their strengths and conducting interviews. Bernard was highly skilled at helping individuals, but this approach was highly labour intensive. Richard Knowdell explains how Haldane tackled this challenge.

He asked the job seeker to enlist a small group of friends. The individual would relate past accomplishments and the group members would record the skills on a skills analysis checklist.

He trained interested people to practice this approach with job seekers. Many went on to develop Bernard’s ideas. He continued to expand his network of career counsellors.

The demand became so great that he set-up Bernard Haldane Associates (BHA) in New York and Washington.

Bernard published Career Satisfaction and Success in 1974. Eight years earlier he had married Jean, who added her skills to enriching the strengths approach.

BHA grew in size, spread across America and he sold the company in the 70s. With it he sold the rights to use the name and the methodology to work with people in the commercial sector.

The company bore his name, but he had no connection to it. Bernard and Jean then focused on the not-for-profit sector, continuing to do superb work into the 21st Century.

Bernard developed many of the ideas that are now common practice in personal and professional development. Peter Drucker called Bernard:

A pathfinder in finding human strength and making it productive.

Jean said that Bernard’s methods stayed the same throughout his life, even though he refined the methodology. He would:

Help a person to look at their experiences and find things they feel they do well, enjoy doing and are proud of.

This approach was developed by many of his protégés. Richard Knowdell, for example, created a card sort where people created a matrix that revealed their motivated skills. These were activities that:

They loved doing.

They did brilliantly.

Richard describes what he learned from Bernard in the following way.

One of the major insights that I received from Bernard’s work on skill identification was that there were two dimensions of skills – competency (how good we are at the skill) … and motivation (how motivated we are to use the skill).

The skills in the upper left of the matrix are ‘Motivated Skills’ that the client loves using and is highly proficient in using.

These are skills the client would like to use even if she is not paid to do so. It is this concept and category of ‘Motivated Skills’ that is based upon the ideas and writings of Bernard Haldane.

The Center for Dependable Strengths is an organisation that applies Bernard’s approach. The Center’s mission is:

To enhance individual potential through use of the Dependable Strengths Articulation Process with the widest variety of people and organizations – resulting in increased employability, self-esteem, teamwork, productivity, motivation, and greater career and life satisfaction.

People often work together in groups to make this happen. Here is an introduction to how this works in practice.

Bernard helped people to find their strengths and then encouraged them to find their perfect role. He did this by helping them to do what is now called networking.

In an article called Bernard Haldane Was Ahead Of His Time, Jerald Forster starts by giving some overall background and then explains the approach.

In his 1960 book, How to Make a Habit of Success, Bernard Haldane made the case for focusing on successes rather than mistakes.

He then described a series of activities wherein the person ‘mines the gold’ in his key achievements, searching for success factors.

As early as 1962, Bernard wrote: ‘Seventy percent of all beginning jobs today are obtained through personal contacts with an employer or through friends.’

One method Bernard taught was initially called the Job Magnet. The person wrote letters outlining how their strengths might benefit a potential employer. They then sent the letters to specific business leaders.

Contrary to the prevailing approach, they did not ask for a job. The person asked leaders to consider where such talents might benefit an organisation. If appropriate, leaders were asked if they might consider sending on the letter to other contacts. The letters acted like magnets and attracted potential employers.

One of Bernard’s greatest legacies has been the number of people who have followed the trail he blazed. Virtually all the grandees in the field of Career Development acknowledge the debt they owe to Bernard. Jerald Forster writes:

Bernard Haldane deserves the title of ‘pioneer’ in the optimization of behavior and the application of positive psychology.

Bernard started to articulate methods of optimization in the 1950s and he continued to develop these methods into the 1990s.

However, it was not until the 1990s that the theories and rationales for positive psychology and optimization through wellness became key concepts in the literatures of psychology and counselling.

Building on your strengths
and delivering success

There are many models for taking this step in your professional work. The following section outlines one of the most common approaches to finding or creating satisfying work that nourishes the soul and also earns a salary.

Imagine that you want to explore how to do this in your own way. It can be useful to focus on the following steps.


You can clarify your strengths. These are the deeply satisfying activities in which you deliver As rather than Bs or Cs.


You can clarify your potential sponsors. These are the people – the customers and employers – with whom you work best. You can also clarify the challenges they face.


You can clarify how you can use your strengths to help these people to tackle their challenges. You can then do superb work and help them to achieve success.

The following slides give an introduction to the kinds of questions you can ask when exploring these themes. Each person will, of course, take these steps in their own way.

Different people apply their answers to these questions in different ways on the road towards doing professional work. Let’s move on to another situation in which a person may have the chance to play to their strengths and do superb work.

The Problem Becoming
An Opportunity Approach

You may have taken this route when facing a challenge. This may have involved dealing with a redundancy, recovering from an illness or changing your lifestyle.

Sometimes it can take time to begin dealing with such events, particularly if they are unexpected. You may need to rest and spend time in your particular sanctuary. After a while, however, you will want to begin shaping your future.

Sometimes there is an obvious route forward. If you lose your job, you may create a schedule to follow each week and make getting a job a full-time job. If you fall ill, you will aim to recover your strength.

Sometimes you may find yourself in limbo, however, and begin searching for a positive way forward. There may be practical things you can do, but it can also be that you go through a period of soul-searching.

Different people respond in different ways to such situations. Some fall into a negative cycle, but others take a positive approach. People who adopt the latter route sometimes do the following things.

They do the things that give them positive energy  

They translate these satisfying activities into doing a specific project.

They sometimes find this helps them to develop a sense of purpose.

People who take this route take charge of their schedule. They then focus on doing rewarding activities rather than wait for events to provide opportunities. Let’s look at one person who chose to take this path.

Joseph Campbell’s journey
during the Great Recession

Joseph studied myths and legends from many civilisations. He found that many stories followed a similar structure, which he described in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

This chronicled the stages that protagonists often go through when travelling on their respective journeys. They may be pursuing an odyssey, fighting for a cause or striving to achieve their version of the Holy Grail.

Sometimes the odyssey involves an outer journey, sometimes an inner journey, sometimes a combination of both. Reaching the goal may produce a sense of peace. The person rests for a while, but they may then want to embark on another journey.

Joseph’s writings were popularised by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer’s Journey. This became a set text for budding writers across the world. George Lucas brought Campbell’s work to an even wider audience, however, when paying homage to it as the director of Star Wars.

Here is an overview of the journey the Joseph described. You can discover more at the Joseph Campbell Foundation.

Joseph Campbell Foundation

Joseph embarked on a personal journey during the Great Depression. Unable to find paid work, he lived off the savings he had earned and rented a shack in Woodstock, New York.

Writing in the blog Better Humans, Charles Chu describes what Joseph said about his activities during those five years. Below are some of the quotes. You can discover more via the following link.

Charles Chu Better Humans

I went up to Woodstock and just read, and read, and read, and read, for five years. No job, no money.

I learned then that you don’t need money to live if you’re a young man who didn’t get himself involved sooner than he should have, before he had the ability to support what this involvement might be.

So during the years of the Depression I had arranged a schedule for myself. When you don’t have a job or anyone to tell you what to do, you’ve got to fix one for yourself.  

I divided the day into four four-hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four-hour periods, and free one of them. By getting up at eight o’clock in the morning, by nine I could sit down to read.

That meant that I used the first hour to prepare my own breakfast and take care of the house and put things together in whatever shack I happened to be living in at the time. Then three hours of that first four-hour period went to reading.

Then came an hour break for lunch and another three-hour unit. And then comes the optional next section. It should normally be three hours of reading and then an hour out for dinner and then three hours free and an hour getting to bed so I’m in bed by twelve. 

On the other hand, if I were invited out for cocktails or something like that, then I would put the work hour in the evening and the play hour in the afternoon.

It worked very well. I would get nine hours of sheer reading done in a day. And this went on for five years straight. You get a lot done in that time.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may have the privilege of playing to your strengths and doing superb work?

You may want to pursue a passion and do a stimulating project. This may involve self-publishing a book, getting yourself fit, visiting art galleries, passing on knowledge that helps other people or doing another activity.

You may want to do professional work. This may involve working in a field that you find fascinating and have a feeling for. You may then be able to create a niche by building on your strengths, finding sponsors and helping them to achieve success.

You may want to turn a problem into an opportunity. This may involve recovering from losing a job by following your already prepared back-up plan. You may then follow a daily schedule to find or create more satisfying work.

It may involve resting and recovering from an illness. You may then follow an action plan for refreshing your body and soul. It may involve filling a void or lack of direction. You may then develop the habit of doing things that give you positive energy. This can then lead to developing a new sense of purpose.

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 have the privilege of being able to play to your strengths and aim to perform superb work. 

Describe the specific things you can do then to take the opportunity to play to your strengths and aim to perform superb work.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result.


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