The Art of Strengths Coaching

S is for The Strengths Approach To Helping People To Achieve Their Picture Of Success  

 

There are many ways to encourage people. The strengths approach helps people to build on their strengths, set specific goals and achieve their picture of success.

Different people have different views of success. Some people may simply aim to be happy. Some may aim to do satisfying work that pays a salary. Some may aim to become the best they can be. Some may aim to achieve peak performance.

Some may aim to encourage other people. Some may aim to regain a sense of control and overcome setbacks. Some may aim to refocus on their life goals. Some may aim to find creative solutions to specific challenges.

Some people in organisations may aim to build super teams. Some may aim to build a pioneering business. Some may aim to create a positive environment in which motivated people can achieve peak performance. Some may aim to leave a positive legacy.

The strengths approach starts by clarifying people’s picture of success. It then provides positive models and practical tools that they can use:

To build on their strengths. 

To set specific goals. 

To achieve their picture of success.

The approach is based on what works. It aims to study what works, simplify what works – in a profound way – and share what works. People can then use the tools in their own ways to achieve their goals.

There are many ways to use the strengths approach. This article focuses on how you can use it when working with individuals.

The Strengths Approach In Action 

Imagine that somebody has asked for your help. They may want to work towards achieving their personal or professional goals.

You will, of course, have your own philosophy about how to help the person. The following sections, however, provide ideas you can apply to use aspects of the strengths approach.

The first step will be to prepare properly for the session. Good mentors, for example, focus on the person they are going to meet. They try to clarify what may be happening in the person’s world and the topics the person may want to explore. They then focus on how they may be able to help the person.

Bearing this in mind, you may ask yourself some of the following questions to understand the person and their goals. Exploring these themes can help you to prepare properly for the session.

Imagine that you have prepared properly. You can then take the following steps to encourage the person during the session.

Setting The Scene 

Good mentors, for example, start by creating an encouraging environment. They create a stimulating sanctuary in which a person can feel at ease and able to explore their aims. They then focus on:

The specific themes the person wants to explore and their personal or professional goals. 

The specific things that they can and can’t offer to help the person to achieve their goals.

The specific things the person wants to take away from the session – such as the practical tools they can use – and how these would help them to achieve their goals. 

Here are some of the things you may want to say when clarifying what the person wants to explore. You will, of course, do this in your own way. 

Welcome to the session. As you know, we can focus on any topic that you would like to explore. We can look at how to tackle specific challenges or achieve your particular goals. 

Once we have settled on the first topic, I will probably ask you lots of questions to build up the picture. Then, if is it okay by you, I will share some ideas and practical tools that you can use in your own way.  

Let’s begin by seeing things in context. What is happening in your world at the moment? Are there any particular challenges that you face? Are there any particular goals that you would like to work towards?

Different people will want to explore different questions. Here are some of the themes that individuals have asked to explore when I have been facilitating such sessions.

How can I take the next step in my career? How can I feel more in control of my life and work? How can I make a living doing satisfying work? How can I recover my zest for life?

How can I encourage my child – who loves to learn when pursuing their hobbies – but finds it difficult to deal with school? How can I set up and run my own business? How can I stay calm in challenging situations? 

How can I turnaround a difficult team? How can I manage my bosses who keep changing their minds? How can we build a values-driven organisation?

Imagine that the person has explained what is happening in their world. The next step will be to settle on the topics they want to cover in the session. You will clarify the person aims in your own way. One approach is to say something along the following lines to the person.

Thank you for giving the big picture. As far as I understand it, some of the topics would you like to explore include the following: 

* How to …

* How to …

* How to …

Looking at these topics, which would you like to explore first? For example:

* How to …

As I mentioned earlier, I will ask you some questions about this topic. We will then focus on how to achieve your goals. Is that okay?

Looking at the first topic you want to explore, can you tell me a bit more about what is happening at the moment?

The person will probably give you more details about their particular situation. It can be important to understand what is happening at the moment, but then to move on to the future.

Imagine that the person has clarified the specific goal they want to achieve. You may say something like the following. 

Bearing in mind the present situation, let’s begin looking towards to the future.

Looking ahead, what are the real results you want to achieve? What is your picture of success?

As far as I understand, the specific goal you want to achieve is: 

* To … 

For example:

– To …

– To …

– To … 

Is that right?

If appropriate, you can then move on to sharing ideas the person can use to achieve their goal. We will look at how to do this later in the article in the section called Specific Goals. There we will focus on the strategies they can use to achieve their aims.

In some cases, however, you may want to ask the person if it is okay to spend some time exploring their strengths. You will then be in a better position to clarify how they can use these on the way towards achieving the goal.

As mentioned earlier, if you want to go straight to the Specific Goals part, that is fine. Otherwise you can explore more about the person’s strengths.

Strengths

There are many ways to find a person’s strengths. This section explores how you can help the person to focus on the following themes. 

Strengths – the specific activities in which they deliver As rather than Bs or Cs.

Successful Style – their successful way of working. 

Specific Contribution – the specific ways they can use their strengths to help others to achieve success. 

If you choose to clarify the person’s strengths, you will obviously use your own method. One approach is to explore the following themes with a person.

Strengths

People often grow by building on their strengths and managing the consequences of their weaknesses. They can then aim to become the best kind of person or professional by want to be.

There are many ways to clarify what a person does best. One approach is to explore the following themes.

 

Let’s assume that you have explored some of these themes. It can then be useful to move on to the next stage.

Successful Style

People often work best when they follow their successful style. Finding and following this style can help them to do satisfying work. Sometimes it can also help them to follow their vocation.

Everybody has a positive history. Everybody has done fine work, tackled challenges and reached their goals. Exploring the principles they followed then can provide clues to helping a person to find their successful style.

How to find their preferred way of working? One approach is to invite them to do the exercise called My Successful Style. This invites the person to do the following things.

To describe several satisfying projects they have done in the past.

To describe the specific things that made these satisfying – such as the principles they followed – and identify any recurring patterns. 

To describe how they can follow these principles to do satisfying work in the future.

Here are the instructions for the exercise. These are written directly to the person but you can work through the themes with them.

Different themes emerge when different people do this exercise. Sometimes these themes provide clues to a person’s vocation.

A person’s vocation is their calling. It is what they are here to do. Their vocation remains constant throughout their life, but they may express it through various vehicles on the way towards doing valuable work.

The My Successful Style can help a person to find their vocation. This can be done by looking at their most satisfying projects and seeing the recurring themes. Here are some of the most common vocational themes that emerge when doing this exercise.

Some of the common vocational
themes include the following

Encouraging people … Co-ordinating people’s efforts … Creating enriching environments … Creating beauty … Solving certain kinds of problems … Doing pioneering work that shows people a better way … Leading teams … Building successful prototypes … Passing on knowledge … Making the world a better place.

The next step is to help a person to find the right vehicle for expressing their vocation. You can discover more how to do this via the following link.

Vocation

Imagine that you have helped a person to find their successful style of working. It can then be useful to move on to the next step.

Specific Contribution

You can help the person to clarify how they can do satisfying work and help other people to succeed. Let’s explore one approach to making this happen.

Everybody has strengths. Everybody has activities in which they can deliver As rather than Bs or Cs. Everybody has successful patterns that they can follow in their life and work.

Imagine that the person wants to get paid for doing the things they love. Bearing this in mind, it is useful to bear in mind that the world of work has changed. There are no long-term jobs anymore, but there are lots of projects.

How to thrive in such a world? One approach is to learn from some of the themes that creative people have followed throughout history. It is to take the following steps.

Step One is to clarify their strengths. As we have seen, these are the deeply satisfying activities in which they deliver As rather than Bs or Cs. It also involves clarifying their successful style of working.

Step Two is to clarify their potential sponsors. These are the people – the potential customers, employers or other people – who may pay them for doing what they do best. It is also good to clarify the kinds of people with whom they work best and the challenges such people face.

Step Three is to clarify how they can use their strengths to help these people to tackle these challenges. They can then aim to reach such people, do superb work and deliver success. You can discover more about how people can take this approach via the following link.

Getting work by going out and helping people to succeed

Imagine that you have worked through some of these steps with the person. It can then be useful to clarify the specific contribution they can make to help other people to succeed.

This approach can be applied to both funded and non-funded work. It can be used to clarify the specific outcomes a person can deliver to a customer or employer. It can also be used to clarify how they can use their strengths to serve others during their time on the planet.

Here is the exercise. The instructions are written directly to the person but, if appropriate, you can work through these sections with them.

Imagine that you have gone through some of these stages to clarify the person’s strengths, successful style and specific contribution. The next step is to focus on the person’s specific goals.

As mentioned earlier, you may actually have moved straight on to this step. Let’s explore how to build from here and help the person to achieve their picture of success.

Specific Goals

One key point is worth bearing in mind at this stage. Clarifying the person’s strengths often re-affirms their original specific goals. Sometimes, however, it can lead to them revisiting and revising their picture of success.

Let’s imagine that the person has returned to their original aims. This section explores how you can help the person to focus on the following areas.

Specific Goals – their specific goals and picture of success. 

Strategies – the key strategies they can follow to give themselves the greatest chance of achieving success.

Support – the support they may need to achieve success.

Let’s explore each of these themes. 

Specific Goals

As mentioned earlier, you will have invited the person to describe the various challenges or topics they may want to explore. You can then focus on the first topic they want to tackle.

Invite them to frame the challenge in positive terms. The reason for this is that it can be simpler to work towards achieving a positive goal rather than a negative one. For example:

“How to stay healthy?” rather than “How to stop smoking?”

“How to make a living doing satisfying work?” rather than “How to stop feeling disillusioned at work?” 

“How to build a successful team?” rather than ‘How to stop the team being dysfunctional?”

It can also be useful to frame the challenge in terms of: “How to …?” or ‘How can I …?” The “How to …?” phrase encourages a person to begin using their imagination to generate solutions.

Imagine that the person has described the goal they want to achieve. We now come to a key part in goal setting.

Clarity

Clarity is crucial. It is vital to clarify the real ‘What’ before moving on to the ‘How’. This is because a person sometimes starts by presenting their view of ‘How’ they can tackle an issue. It can be, however, that they need to clarify their aims.

Good mentors, for example, clarify the real results the person wants to achieve. They then help them to translate these into a clear picture of success.

Here are some examples from my own mentoring work of how people changed their aims when focusing on the real results they wanted to achieve.

Person A originally said: “How can I get promotion in my company?”  

They settled on: “How can I build a satisfying career where I do stimulating work and get a good salary?”

Person B originally said: “How can I as a leader turnaround difficult people in my organisation?”  

They settled on: “How can I build a successful organisation?” 

Person C originally said: “How can I deal with my manager who insists on micro-managing me every day?

They settled on two things: “How can I deal with the present situation by behaving professionally towards my manager and delivering positive results? How can find a rewarding role where I work with a manager whom I respect?”

Sometimes the person may also want to achieve lots of things related to this topic. If so, it can be useful to clarify all their goals and list these in order of priority.

Bearing this in mind, start by looking at the first challenge or topic the person wants to explore. You may want to say something along the following lines. 

Looking at the first theme to explore, what is your specific goal? What are the real results you want to achieve? What is your picture of success? What will be happening that will show you have reached your goal?

Let’s take a reality check before going any further. What are the controllables? What are the things you can control? What can’t you control? How can you build on what you can control and manage what you can’t? 

Bearing in mind the controllables, let’s go back to your goals. What are the specific results you want to achieve? You may, of course, want to achieve lots of things. If so, let’s list these in order of priority.

Sometimes this process takes a little time, but it is a key step in goal setting. Conclude this part by playing back your understanding of what the person wants to achieve. If appropriate, you can say something along the following lines.

The Picture Of Success 

As far as I understand it, the real results you want to achieve are: 

* To … 

* To … 

* To …

Is that right? Are there any other things you want to achieve?

Good mentors recognise that the more specific the person is about their desired outcomes, the greater their chances of success. It is then time to move on to the next step.

Strategies

You will have your own approach to helping the person to achieve their goals. Different people have different approaches.

Some help the person to explore and expand the
potential options they have for tackling a challenge

They start by exploring the person’s choices and the consequences of each option. They then, if appropriate, offer practical strategies and tools the person can use to expand their repertoire of options.

Some help the person to build on their
strengths and successful style of working

They focus on how the person can apply their strengths – plus maybe add other skills – to achieve their picture of success. They then translate these into a clear action plan for achieving the goals. 

Some act as a trusted advisor and pass on knowledge
that the person can use to achieve their goals

They start by clarifying the person’s aims. They then ask if it okay for them to share some ideas. If so, they pass on knowledge in a way the person can use to achieve their picture of success.

You will use your own approach to sharing knowledge, models and practical tools. It may then be important to help the person to settle on their strategies for working to achieve their goals.

How to take this step? One approach is to invite them to do the following exercise.

Support

Even the toughest people need encouragement. Good mentors, for example, therefore sometimes clarify what support the person may need. They ask some of the following questions.

Looking at the strategies you are going to pursue, what support do you need to make these happen? What is the practical support? What is the psychological support?

Who are the people from whom you need support? How can you make clear contracts with these people? What is your back-up plan if you do not get the support?

How can you encourage yourself on the journey? How can you manage your energy properly? How can create times for rest and recovery? How can you get some quick successes?

It can be useful to ensure the person has enough support. They can then move on to the next stage.

Success

Let’s imagine that the person is ready to translate their strategy into action. This section explores how you can help the person to focus on the following areas.

Superb Work – the specific things they can do to perform superb work.

Solutions – the specific things they can do to find solutions to challenges. 

Success – the specific things they can do to achieve their picture of success.

Let’s explore these steps.

Superb Work

Imagine that the person is clear on the strategies they can follow to achieve their goals. It will then be time for them to translate these ideas into action.

Bearing in mind the person’s aims, below are some of the themes it can be useful to explore with them. It is obviously important for them to develop an action plan that they believe in.

If appropriate, however, at time you can ask the person if it is okay for you to share some ideas. You can then pass on practical tools they can use in their own way. Here are some of the themes it can be useful to explore with them.

How can the person perform superb work? How can they build on their strengths and manage the consequences of any weaknesses? How can they follow their successful style of working?

How can keep following their chosen strategies? How can they keep doing the right things in the right way every day? How can they keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance? 

Solutions 

Great workers think ahead and anticipate challenges. They then clarify what they can do: a) To prevent some of the issues happening; b) To manage the issues if, despite everything, they do happen.

Such workers also buy time in difficult situations. They stay calm and clarify on the real results to achieve. Considering the potential options for going forwards, they consider the pluses and minuses of each option. They then pursue the road they want to take.

Bearing these things in mind, it can be useful to explore the following themes with the person. They will, of course, develop their own approach to finding solutions.

How can the person anticipate potential difficulties? How can they prevent these difficulties happening? How can they manage such difficulties if, despite their best efforts, these do happen?

How can they stay calm in a crisis? How can they buy time to make considered decisions? How can they find solutions to challenges by focusing on clarity – the real results to achieve – creativity and concrete results? 

Success

Great workers follow their principles. They keep doing superb work and find solutions to challenges. They then do their best to achieve their picture of success.

Such workers also manage their energy. Sometimes they go at full speed; sometimes they rest, reflect and rehearse what they are going to do next. They then go back into the arena and aim to achieve peak performance.

Bearing these things in mind, it can be useful to explore the following themes with the person. They will, of course, develop their own approach to delivering the goods. 

How can the person do their best to achieve their goals? How can they finish successfully? How can they do whatever is required to achieve their picture of success? How can they add that touch of class? 

How can they keep developing? How can they focus on: a) The specific things they did well and how they can do these more in the future; b) The specific things they can do better in the future and how? 

How can they rest, reflect and re-energise themselves? How can they then, when appropriate, focus on the next step they want to take? How can they continue to achieve ongoing success?

Imagine that you have gone through some of these steps with the person. If appropriate, they can then make their action plan.

Different people use different methods for producing such a plan so the person will use their own approach. Below is one framework that some people use.

The person can do superb work, get some quick successes and encourage themselves on the journey. They can then do their best to achieve the picture of success.

There are many ways to help people. You will, of course, have your own model for enabling people to achieve their goals.

This article has explored one approach. Take the ideas you like and use these in your own way. Here again is an overview of the strengths approach.

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