The Art of Strengths Coaching

S is for Using Your Strengths To Serve Other People And Help Them Succeed  

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There are many ways to encourage both present and future generations. One approach is to use your strengths to serve other people and help them to achieve success.

Different people use their talents in different ways. A person may be good at showing kindness, teaching specific skills, building pioneering companies or doing other activities.

Jill Bolte Taylor is somebody who has specific strengths that she uses to help other people. Here is an excerpt from the introduction to her well-known TED talk.

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke.

As it happened – as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding – she studied and remembered every moment. 

This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

Jill went on to use her experience to help others. She published her book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.

She also created several websites that help people to understand their brains and develop a sense of calm. You can discover more about her work via the following links.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you write the name of a person who you believe used their strengths to help others people. It then invites you to do the following things. 

Describe the specific things the person did to take these steps.

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

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Neil Hawkes is a gifted educator. In addition to being a head teacher, he has spent much of his life exploring the values that are admired in cultures around the world.

He has found that these include values such as respect, compassion, responsibility, justice, happiness and honesty. He believes that these can provide the foundation for building a sustainable world.

Neil has built on his strengths as an educator to help children, parents and teachers to build values-based schools. This approach has produced positive results in terms of children’s calmness, caring and academic results. Here is a video in which Neil explains the approach.

So what is values-based education? Here is some more background from the web site.

What Values Are

Values are principles that drive behaviour. They influence our actions and attitudes, and become our framework for living. They influence our relationship with ourselves and others.

The wide range of positive human values encouraged in schools include patience, respect, fairness, tolerance, respect, compassion and collaboration.

Like riding a bike, values are learned through a combination of practice and instruction. Students learn what values are, how to recognise them, and how people react to them, equipping them with invaluable social skills and emotional intelligence. 

What Values Are Not

Values education is not additional curriculum. It is not something teachers have to bolt on to an already full agenda. It is an approach that makes teaching the very full agenda easier.

It is not a quick fix solution. Many people perceive values to be liberal and soft. In reality, they are exactly the opposite. They provide a clear awareness of acceptable behaviour, against which staff and students choices of behaviour are evaluated. Values help reduce the options for inappropriate behaviour.

It is not something expected only of students. Effective teaching of values is measured not by students’ ability to define values, by its impact on their behaviour. For teaching of values to be effective, positive values need to be modelled by staff. A values-driven environment applies equally to staff and students alike.

Neil has used is gifts to create inspiring environments in which people can grow. What are your strengths? You may be good at encouraging people, passing on certain skills, coaching sports, solving technical problems or whatever.

There are many ways to clarify your strengths. Here are some of the questions it can be useful to explore.

What are the deeply satisfying activities in which I deliver As rather than Bs or Cs? When do I feel in my element – at ease and yet able to excel? What are the activities that give me positive energy – even when I just think about them?

What are the situations in which I quickly see patterns? What are the activities in which I see the destination quickly? When do I go ‘A, B … and then leap to … Z’? What are the activities I feel passionately about in which I can also deliver peak performance? 

What are the activities in which I can make complicated things look simple? What are the situations in which I am calm, clear and deliver concrete results? What are the activities in which I enjoy the journey as much as reaching the goal?

What are the activities in which I have natural self discipline? What are the activities in which I score highly on drive, detail and delivery? What are the activities in which I always do the basics and then add the brilliance?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to clarify your strengths.

If you have difficulty, try starting each sentence with “I can …” Then give an example of when you have translated that strength into action.

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People often gain strength from finding something to serve. Rabindranath Tagore summed up this approach when he wrote:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.

Robert Greenleaf underlined this message in his book Servant Leadership. Below is an excerpt from the Greenleaf Organization website. You can discover more via the following link.

The servant-leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. 

That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions … 

The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.

Such leaders often see themselves as serving something greater than themselves. This could be a purpose, mission or other kind of cause. Some see themselves as serving the vocation they aim to follow.

They may want to serve the cause of civil rights, freedom, justice, building a better future or whatever. They often aim to build a more caring society.

Many people want to give to others. They often start out by giving to everybody. At some point, however, they may realise there are certain kinds of people with whom they work best.

This happened for me in my own work. During the 1960s I got the chance to work in therapeutic communities for young people. I wanted to encourage and enable people to achieve their picture of success.

After awhile, however, I found that is approach worked best with people who were prepared to be positive and take responsibility for shaping their futures. This rule has held true in the work I have done since with people in education, sports, business and other fields.

Imagine you want to use your strengths to help other people. Certainly you may want to employ these to help everybody, but there may also be certain kinds of people with whom you best. Bearing this in mind, try answering the following questions.

Who are the kinds of people you want to help with whom you work best? What are the characteristics of these people? What is it that makes it satisfying to work with these people?

Different people give different answers to these questions. Here are some that they have given.

The kinds of people I want to help
with whom I work best are those:

Who have a positive attitude … Who are experiencing a trauma … Who want to recover from an addiction … Who are prepared to put in the hours required to learn a particular skill … Who want to do satisfying work … Who have the heart of a humanist and the savvy of a business person.

Who want to build positive environments in which people grow … Who want to achieve their personal best in sports … Who want to build pioneering businesses … Who are decision makers in organisations … Who are committed to constant improvement … Who want to build a better world.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind your strengths, describe the kinds of people you would like to help with whom you work best.

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How can you use your talents to help people to reach their goals? Different people obviously have different pictures of success.

Some may aim to be healthy, happy and find a sense of peace. Some may aim to do satisfying work, pass on knowledge and leave a positive legacy. Some may aim to achieve other personal or professional goals.

Different people choose different ways to use their strengths to help other people. Let’s consider some examples.

Michael Unger, for example, has spent much of his life helping children, parents and teachers to learn about resilience. In the video below he describes factors that have been shown to predict resilience across cultures and contexts.

He is the author of a regular blog in Psychology Today. This is called Nurturing Resilience: Raising children to be competent and caring. You can discover more via the following link.

Kathleen Taylor has spent more than 20 years working as a counsellor in hospices. When asked about her work, she says she loves her job.

Why? She enables people to tackle this final chapter. At the same time, she learns from them about what does and does not matter in life.

When facing death, a person is able to be who they really are. They become courageous and honest. They find joy in the smallest moments.

They are authentic and able to be their true self. 

They talk about things they have never expressed before.

They look back on and make sense of the body of work in their life.

Kathleen says that, whilst there are many stages in our lives, three stand out.

When we are young we are fearless and set our course.

When we are in mid-life we question and maybe readjust our course. 

When we are at the end of our life we find answers about our course.

Kathleen says that we can take a hint from people who are living their last days. She says:

I would like to hope it is never too soon to learn these lessons.

Maybe we can take some of these steps earlier in our lives. We can be who we truly are and express our uniqueness.

Here is a TEDx talk in which she talks about her work. You can discover more via her website.

The Elders are an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. Here is an excerpt from their website. You can discover more via the following link.

The Elders represent an independent voice, not bound by the interests of any nation, government or institution. 

We are committed to promoting the shared interests of humanity, and the universal human rights we all share.

We believe that in any conflict, it is important to listen to everyone – no matter how unpalatable or unpopular this may be.

We aim to act boldly, speaking difficult truths and tackling taboos. 

We don’t claim to have all the answers, and stress that every individual can make a difference and create positive change in their society. 

You will have your own approach to helping people. If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to use your strengths to serve people and help them to achieve their picture of success.

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

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