The Art of Strengths Coaching

T is for Top Performances

There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is to focus on a specific activity where you may have the ability to deliver top performances. It is then to develop the temperament, talent, technique and the tactics that work to deliver top performances.

You can use this approach to develop as a counsellor, athlete, artist, surgeon, crisis manager, leader or doing other kinds of work. You can use it to develop as both a person and as a professional.

Imagine that you want to take these steps in your own way. If appropriate, you can start by choosing to focus on an activity in which you have the ability to deliver top performances.

How to choose such an activity? One approach is to begin by asking yourself the following questions.

My Chosen Activity

What are the deeply satisfying activities in which I deliver As rather than Bs or Cs? What are the activities that give me positive energy? When am I in my element – at ease and yet able to excel?  

When do I see the destination quickly? When do I go ‘A, B … and then leap to … Z’? Where do I see patterns quickly? Where do I have the equivalent of a photographic memory? Where do I have good personal radar and seem to know what will happen before it happens?  

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

What are the activities in which I feel calm? What are those where I am good at dealing with crowdedness – many things happening at once? When do I do creative problem solving by focusing on clarity, creativity and concrete results?

When do I enjoy the journey as much as reaching the goal? What are the activities that I find fascinating, have a feeling for and in which I have a track record of finishing? What are those where I sometimes add that touch of class?

Imagine that you have explored these questions and are ready to settle on a specific activity. You may want to do work as a therapist, technical expert, researcher, marketer, prototype builder or in some other role.

What are the reasons you believe you may have the ability to deliver top performances in this activity? Can you give specific examples of when you have demonstrated aspects of this ability? Looking ahead, what will be the benefits of you pursuing this activity?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific activity in which you want to deliver top performances.

Describe the specific reasons why you believe you may have the ability to deliver top performances in this activity. 

Describe the specific benefits of delivering top performances in this activity.

Temperament

Imagine that you have chosen to focus on a specific activity. Looking at this field, what do you believe is the temperament required to deliver top performances?

Different kinds of work require different temperaments. A paramedic needs to be calm in distressing situations. A sales person needs to be motivated and resilient. An athlete needs to manage pressure and rise to the occasion.

If you want to lead an organisation, for example, this calls for having a certain kind of personality. It also involves being prepared to accept the pluses and minuses involved in the role. Here are some of the upsides and downsides when running an organisation.

The pluses may
include being able:

To clarify and communicate the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success;

To create a positive culture in which motived people can grow and deliver success;

To earn a good salary and grow as a person; 

To enjoy the adrenaline and excitement involved in leading an organisation; 

To make sure the organisation keeps delivering today’s business whilst also building tomorrow’s business in order to achieve ongoing success.

The potential
minuses may include:

To sometimes feel lonely because nobody else may be privy to the implications of the decisions you are making;

To make decisions that have implications for all the stakeholders – the owners, employees, customers and society; 

To proactively manage the key stakeholders – such as head office – to keep them satisfied and stop them interfering; 

To perhaps work a minimum of 12 hours a day plus weekends;

To get cut off from the reality of what is happening on the ground – particularly what is happening for customers – and therefore making poorer decisions.

Let’s return to your chosen activity. What is the temperament you need to  consistently demonstrate to deliver top performances?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind your chosen activity, this invites you to do the following things. 

Describe the rating you would give yourself regarding consistently demonstrating the temperament required to deliver top performances. Do this on a scale 0-10.

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve this rating.

Talent

Imagine that you have chosen to focus on a specific activity. Looking at this field, what do you believe is the talent required to deliver top performances? Different kinds of work require different kinds of talents.

A leader must have the ability to make good decisions. They need to implement the right strategy with the right people in the right way. They also need to build a positive culture in which motivated people do superb work and deliver ongoing success.

Let’s return to your chosen activity. What are the talents you need to  deliver top performances? You will need to demonstrate certain skills if you aim to do fine work as a counsellor, paramedic, writer, doctor, newsreader or in another profession.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind your chosen activity, this invites you to do the following things.

Describe the rating you would give yourself regarding consistently demonstrating the talent required to deliver top performances. Do this on a scale 0-10. 

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve this rating.

Technique

Talent is a good starting point, but then you need to translate this into action. This often calls for demonstrating the technique required to do superb work.

A surgeon needs to be skilled at performing operations. A triathlete needs to be good at swimming, cycling and running. An artist needs to master the art of putting their vision onto canvas.

Great workers focus on the strategy and skills required to reach the goals. They also keep practicing the technique required to achieve the picture of success.

Such workers embody the ethic of constant improvement. They keep focusing: a) What they are doing well and how to do more of these things in the future; b) What they can do better and how. They then implement these findings to improve their work.

Great workers also recognise that some challenges may require new strategies and new skills. This leads to them developing and practicing new techniques to achieve the picture of success.

Let’s return to your chosen activity. How can you continue to build on your talents? What are the techniques and tools you can use to translate these into action? How can you develop this repertoire to do superb work?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind your chosen activity, this invites you to do the following things. 

Describe the rating you would give yourself regarding consistently demonstrating the technique required to deliver top performances. Do this on a scale 0-10. 

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve this rating.

 

Tactics That Work

Great workers focus on the tactics that are most likely to work. They start by studying success. Bearing in mind the challenge they want to tackle, they often take the following steps. 

They clarify the specific things that they have done the past to tackle such challenges successfully;

They clarify the specific things that other people have done in the past to tackle such challenges successfully;

They clarify the key strategies they can follow to give themselves the greatest chance of success. 

Great workers take these steps whether they are aiming to encourage people, do brain surgery, solve conflicts, lead teams or do another activity. They learn from best practice and then apply the principles in their own ways. When appropriate, they also develop new ways of working that deliver success.

This is an approach that I was encouraged to take early in my career. At the time I was working with troubled teenagers. One of my mentors urged me to visit therapy programmes that worked. He explained this in the following way.

Study success. Lots of people can tell you what does not work, but it is important to learn from what does work. Bearing in mind the topic you want to explore, look around the world and ask yourself the following questions.

“What works? What are people doing right to make things work? What are the principles they are following? How do they translate those principles into action?”

Bearing in mind your strengths and what works, you can then ask yourself the following questions. 

“How can I follow these strategies in my own way? How can I build on my strengths when following these strategies? How can I compensate for any weaknesses? What else can I do to increase the chances of success?” 

Great workers keep developing. They follow their chosen strategies but also keep reading reality. They ask themselves the following questions.

What is working? How can I do more of these things? What can I do better and how? 

What else can I do to keep developing? Looking ahead, what are the challenges I will face in the future? What can I do to tackle these challenges and keep delivering success?

Let’s return to the specific activity where you want to deliver top performances. How can you clarify what works? How can you implement these ideas in your own way? How can you keep developing?

If you wish, try tackling the following exercise. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the rating you would give yourself regarding consistently clarifying and implementing the tactics that work to deliver top performances. Do this on a scale 0-10. 

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve this rating.

Top Performances

Great workers believe that excellence is a habit. They maintain the discipline of doing their best all the time rather than let their standards drop.

One soccer manager insisted on his team maintaining a winning habit to top their qualifying group during a tournament. This despite the possibility of having easier games – on paper at least – further down the line if they came second in their group. He echoed the following view that is often expressed in sport.

Doing your best is a habit. Players who slack off during a game can find it hard to turn it on again.  

We pick players who aim to consistently deliver 8+/10. They then keep striving to achieve 10/10. This is the route to delivering peak performance.  

Charles Garfield helped many people to perform at their best by sharing his knowledge in the book Peak Performers. Published in 1986, this outlined the steps people took to do their best.

The book was aimed at people in business, but Charles said he first heard the phrase peak performance from a cancer patient. The patient said:

Staying alive these days is my peak performance.

Charles went on to study great workers in many fields. These included people in medicine, sports, business and the NASA work in which he was participating.

He found that many people had the ability to do superb work, but it 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.

Charles also found that such people focused on their picture of success. They then kept practicing how 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.

Great workers keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance. They keep doing their personal best and do whatever is required to achieve their goals. Sometimes they do this by adding that touch of class.

There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is to demonstrate the temperament, talent, technique and tactics required to deliver top performances.

Let’s return to your chosen activity. You may wish to continue to develop as a counsellor, artist, athlete, mentor, scientist or in another field. How can you continue to build on your strengths and do superb work?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind your chosen activity, this invites you to do the following things.

Describe the rating you would give yourself regarding consistently delivering top performances. Do this on a scale 0-10. 

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve this rating.

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