The Art of Strengths Coaching

T is for Being Highly Tuned

There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is to make sure you are highly tuned and use your talents to do tremendous work. This increases the chances of delivering high performances.

There are several definitions for being highly tuned. These highlight the following themes:

Being highly tuned is making sure that you, your senses and your systems are highly sensitive and do what is required to produce high performances in certain situations. 

Great workers tune in properly before doing the work. They do this whether working as a musician, crisis manager, trusted advisor, leader or in another role. They clarify what will be happening in the situation and how they can achieve the potential picture of success.

Such workers then tune in properly when doing the work. They click into action, make sure they are fully present and perform superb work. They keep using their senses to clarify what is working and what may need improving. They then do their best to achieve the picture of success.

Great workers rest after doing the work. They then tune in properly to reflect on their performance. They clarify what went well and what could have been done better. They clarify how they can do their best in the future to achieve success.

People who fail to tune in properly may perform poor work. They may fail to prepare, fail to understand what is happening or fail to be fully present. They may then be out of synch when doing the work and fail to deliver the required results.

Looking back on your own work, can you think of a situation when you were highly tuned and did your best to do tremendous work? What did you do right then to make sure you were highly tuned?

You may have taken these steps when coaching a person, teaching a seminar, playing a sport, performing on stage or doing another activity. You may have done so when working as a therapist, mediator, technical expert, leader or in another role.

What did you do then to tune in properly before and during doing the work? What did you do to make sure you continued to be highly tuned? What happened as a result of taking these steps?

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 were highly tuned when doing a piece of work. 

Describe the specific things you did then to be highly tuned.

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

Imagine that you want to follow similar steps in the future. Let’s explore how you can be highly tuned before the work, during the work and after the work.

Being highly tuned
before the work

Great workers love to tune in properly before doing the work. They get a kick from planning ahead and preparing properly. They clarify what will be happening in the situation and how they can do their best to achieve the picture of success.

Charles Garfield described this approach in his 1986 book Peak Performers. After studying great workers in medicine, sports, business and other fields, he found they prepared properly to achieve their aims. He described this in the following way.

I’ve discovered that numerous peak performers use the skill of mental rehearsal and visualisation. They mentally run through important events before they happen. 

Peak performers develop powerful mental images of the behaviour that will lead to the desired results. They see in their mind’s eye the result they want, and the actions leading to it.

Charles illustrated these points by describing the work of pianist Liu Chi Kung, who was placed second in the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition. Liu was imprisoned for seven years during the Cultural Revolution in China and was denied the use of a piano.

When Liu toured soon after his release critics were astonished to find his musicianship was better than ever. One person asked how he had managed to retain such skill, because he had no chance to practice. Liu replied in the following way. 

I did practice every day. I rehearsed every piece I had played, note for note, in my mind.

Charles found that many people had the ability to do superb work. This often depended on them having a sense of purpose. They could then follow their principles and work to achieve their picture of success. He described this in the following way.

Great workers look ahead to the situation they will be entering. They make sure they are in tune with what is happening and what they want to achieve.

Different people do this in different ways. Many people explore the following themes, however, when looking ahead and making their plans.

What is happening in the situation? What are the positive and negative things that may be happening? What are the consequences? Who are the people who are in the situation? What is happening in their lives and work? What are the challenges they face? What would they like to achieve? What may be their picture of success?

What are the things I can control in the situation? What are the real results I want to achieve? What is the picture of success? What are the key strategies I can follow to give myself the greatest chance of success? What will be happening that will show I have achieved the picture of success?

Depending on their profession, different people explore these themes in different ways. Good mentors, for example, often ask the following questions before meeting a person. They do this to tune into the person, their challenges and their potential aims.

Being highly tuned
during the work

Great workers tune in properly when doing the work. Clicking into action, they aim to be fully present, do superb work and use their senses to keep reading reality. They build on what is working and find solutions to challenges. They then do their best to achieve the picture of success.

Some people do this by using what is called personal radar. Going into situations where they excel, they seem to know what will happen before it happens. Looking for patterns, they clarify their strategy for shaping the future. They then use their repertoire of skills to achieve the desired results.

Some people do reality checks by observing what is actually happening. They ask themselves: a) What is going well and how can I do more of these things; b) What can I do better and how? They then implement these ideas to achieve success.

Imagine that you lead a team. How can you make sure people keep in tune with what is happening? One approach is to adapt the model mentioned above. It is to focus on what is working and what can be improved.

Some teams take another approach. They invite the team members to focus on the activities that are in: a) The Green Zone; b) The Amber Zone; c) The Red Zone. People then take action to ensure the team achieves success.

Imagine you want to take this approach. Here is how one company I worked with stayed in tune with what was happening. As a leader, you could adapt these ideas in your own way to ensure your team is on track.

The company had a dedicated room where people constantly updated the progress towards achieving the goal. It had charts that covered the following areas.

The Picture of Success

People could keep referring to the company’s aims that were displayed on one wall. These were grouped in terms of what it wanted to achieve under the 3 Ps: profits, products – including customer satisfaction – and people.

The other walls had the following charts that described the current state of play regarding various activities.

The Green Zone

People listed the things that were going well. They also provided concrete suggestions regarding how to maintain or build on these activities.

Great workers capitalise on what is working. If things are going well with a particular customer, for example, they explore how to continue providing great service. This can lead to developing the relationship even further.

The Amber Zone

People described where there were warning signs. They also provided suggestions regarding how to improve these activities.

Great workers worry about things that are in the amber zone. They are concerned that, unless these issues are addressed, these may quickly slide into the red zone. So they focus on how to move these activities more towards the green zone.

The Red Zone

People listed the things that were going badly. They also gave suggestions regarding how to improve these activities. These could involve making radical improvements or even call for key decisions to be taken.

Great workers think ahead to ensure that, as far as possible, things do not slide into the red zone. Crises do occur, of course, so then it is vital to find positive solutions.

There may be some issues, however, that are continually falling into the red zone. If systems are breaking down, for example, these may well need replacing.

A more challenging issue could be a customer who continually makes life difficult. It is vital to provide great service, but in some cases a customer may prove impossible to please. This may mean deciding to move on from the customer, but also to have a back-up plan to deal with any negative consequences.

Different people use different methods to stay highly tuned and keep reading reality whilst doing the work. They aim to continue to do superb work and, when appropriate, find solutions to challenges. They then do their best to achieve the picture of success.

Being highly tuned
after the work 

Great workers rest after the work. They then choose a suitable time to reflect on what happened and their own performance. This can lead to them focusing on implementing the learning in the future.

They embody the Japanese concept of Kaizen – continuous improvement. They tune in properly to clarify what actually happened. Aiming to find the truth rather than making assumptions, they gather information and back this up with specific examples.

Such workers often employ a positive approach to professional development. They recognise it is important: a) To build on their strengths; b) To tackle areas for improvement. Here is an example from a leader with whom I worked.

They described the specific things they had done well to communicate the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success. They made a specific action plan for continuing to communicate these to their people in the future. 

They described how they had used their strengths to go out and get business with customers. We focused on how they could play to this strength and complement it by working closely with a co-ordinator who would make sure the daily work got done.  

They also described how they could be better at making clear contracts with some individuals about the required professional standards. We created a specific action plan for making such a clear contract with one member of the senior team.

Different people use different methods to do reality checks regarding their performance. Here is an exercise that people can use to take a positive approach to professional development.

Let’s return to your own work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to be highly tuned when doing a piece of work.

You may want to take these steps when counselling a person, doing a creative project, managing a crisis or doing another activity. You may want to do so when working as a nurse, educator, problem solver, keynote speaker, leader or in another role.

What can you do then to be highly tuned? How can you prepare properly before doing the work? How can you click into action, perform superb work and keep reading reality? How can you stay highly tuned and use your talents to do tremendous work?

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 be highly tuned when doing a piece of work. 

Describe the specific things you can do then to be highly tuned. 

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

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