The Art of Strengths Coaching

I is for Continuous Improvement


Peak performers are addicted to constant improvement. Different people use different models for making this happen.

One approach is to use the following framework. This is one I have employed when working with young people, athletes, performing artists, coaches, leaders and professionals in many other fields.

Before meeting them in a one-to-one session, I invited the person to reflect back on the last week. They may have been living in a therapeutic community, playing sports, performing on stage, coaching other people, leading a team or whatever.

The person was invited to complete the following exercise. This encouraged them to build on their strengths and also tackle areas for improvement. They were asked to provide specific examples under the following headings.

Doing Well

The specific things I have done well – or that have gone well – in
the past week and how I can do more of these things in the future are:




Doing Better

The specific things I can do better in the future and how are:




The aim was to help the person to develop the habit of self-improvement. This called for them being able:

To read reality.

To build on their strengths and tackle areas for improvement.

To continue to develop.

Different people came with different examples. Here are some.

The teenager described how they had been kind, encouraged others and stayed out of trouble, even when provoked. They also described how they could say ‘No,’ and walk on when offered drugs by former friends they met on the street.

The soccer player described how they had organised the defence, made crucial tackles and hit good passes. They also described how they could retain their composure when dealing with incorrect decisions by the referee.  

The leader described how they had communicated the vision, explained the strategy and made clear working contracts with people. They also described how they needed to behave towards an individual who was causing havoc in the team.

Over the years I have used different names for this exercise. The approach has remained similar, however, and has encouraged people to keep developing. Here is one format for the exercise.

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Different people used different methods to improve performance. Masaaki Imai introduced many people to Kaizen, for example, which is the Japanese concept of continuous improvement.

His books became bestsellers during the 1980s. You can learn more about his work at the official site.

Masaaki explained that the original definition of Kaizen stemmed from two Chinese characters. In those characters, ‘Kai’ meant ‘change’ and ‘zen’ meant ‘for the better’.

The concept of ‘change for the better’ was then translated into ‘continuous improvement’. The Kaizen Institute websites explains that this is based on certain guiding principles.

Good processes bring good results

Go see for yourself to grasp the current situation

Speak with data, manage by facts

Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems

Work as a team

Kaizen is everybody’s business

And much more!

Kaizen involves using many different models, techniques and tools for making improvements. These may take the form of quality circles; the Plan, Do, Check, Act model or other approaches to eliminating waste and improving the work.

Some of these ideas grew from the influence of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. His work on Quality Management was widely adopted in the manufacturing industries in Japan. The aim was to achieve better quality, greater efficiency and, where appropriate, improved profits.

You will have your own approach to continuing to develop. You may have a specific framework you use to reflect on your work, for example, and then focus on how to improve.

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

Describe the specific approach you want to take – including any frameworks you want to use – towards continuing to improve. 

Describe the specific benefits of taking this approach and continuing to improve.

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    P is for The Positive Approach To Developing A Purpose

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    People love to pursue a positive purpose. They love to do meaningful things in their lives and work.

    Many people’s primary purpose, of course, is simply to get access to the basics of life. They spend their days focusing on how to get food and be healthy.

    Many other people have access to these basics. Some then simply want to accumulate money, but some want to go further. They want to give to others and pursue a satisfying purpose.

    Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning, said:

    “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment.”

    Here is a video of him in 1972 describing people’s desire to have a sense of meaning.

    There are many ways that people can develop a sense of purpose. People can choose to follow The Positive, Pause or Procrastination Approaches. Let’s explore each of these routes.

    The Positive Approach

    People who follow this route focus on the positive things they can do each day. They do things that give them positive energy, including things that help other people.

    Some people wait for a purpose to appear, but this seldom happens. People are more likely to develop a purpose by doing things they find stimulating.

    Sometimes it can be useful to invite people to talk about the things that give them positive energy. Here are some answers people give to this question.

    The things that give me positive energy are:

    Encouraging people … Spending time with our children … Cooking for friends … Caring for animals … Showing kindness … Nurturing gardens … Building boats … Teaching wellbeing.

    Helping people to find satisfying work … Fixing certain kinds of problems … Making things better … Showing people new ways to treat cancer … Mediating disputes … Leading pioneering companies.

    People who follow this route often believe that: “A purpose is something that you develop. It is not something that you find.”

    Such people do not always start by being absolutely clear on the career they want to pursue. They are passionate, however, about something they want to explore or do. So they throw themselves into gathering experience on their chosen theme.

    A person who wants to help other people, for example, may try many different things. These may include working with troubled children, counselling, teaching, sports coaching, empowerment programmes, helping young entrepreneurs, music therapy or whatever.

    There are many approaches to encouraging people to take this route. Peter Benson, for example, enabled parents and teachers to help children to follow their Sparks. Here is a video in which Peter explains this approach.

    People who follow the positive route may get to a point where they see an opportunity – or an unmet need – they find exciting. They can then choose either:

    To pursue an existing approach to do satisfying work.

    To fuse together several approaches to do satisfying work.

    To create a pioneering approach to do satisfying work.

    “That sounds fine in terms of people developing a career that has a sense of purpose,” somebody may say.

    “But what about the days when somebody just feels out of sorts? A person may just feel down and not able to summon up a sense of purpose. What happens then?”

    People sometimes need to spend time in a sanctuary to heal their body and soul. At some point, however, they need to emerge from the sanctuary.

    The person can then focus on the positive things they want to do in their life. These can include the positive things they want to give to other people.

    They can translate these aims into action by doing small things, such as showing kindness to another person.

    Such small acts may not produce a life changing purpose. But they can produce stimulation and satisfaction that lead to greater things in the future.

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on the theme of The Positive Approach. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe the positive things you want to do – including the positive things you want to give to people – during your time on the planet.

    Describe the positive benefits – both for yourself and other people – of doing these things.

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    The Pause Approach

    People who take this route build in time to pause and reflect on their experiences. There are many ways to make this happen.

    A person may choose to spend time on the equivalent of a spiritual retreat. They may focus on how they can live in harmony with a spiritual belief and serve something greater than themselves.

    Another person may choose to take a step back from what they are doing and gain some perspective. Looking at their life and work, they may ask some of the following questions regarding purpose.

    What has gone well? What have been the positive experiences? What have been the most deeply satisfying activities?

    When have I lost myself in activities? When have I felt that I was serving something greater than myself? When have I felt in my element – at ease and yet able to excel?

    When have I encouraged other people? When have I done things that helped them to succeed? When have I passed on knowledge they could use to shape their futures?

    When have I done superb work? What was I doing right then? What were the principles I was following? How can I follow some of these principles – plus add other skills – to do superb work in the future?

    What is my life philosophy – my guiding compass? What are the principles I believe it is important to follow in life? How can I translate these principles into pursuing a specific purpose?

    What is my vocation? How can I express this vocation through different vehicles? How can I follow my vocation and do valuable work?

    What do I want to give to people? What are the kinds of knowledge, models and practical tools I want to pass on to them? How can I give my best to people and the planet?

    What are the positive things I want to do in the future? How will doing these things help other people? How can I take practical steps towards making these happen? What is the purpose I want to achieve by doing these things?

    Different people use different methods to follow the pause approach. Some set aside a block of time to do some slow thinking. Others build in such times during the day.

    Carl Honoré hit a chord with his book In Praise of Slow. More recently he has produced The Slow Fix. He believes that human beings can enrich their lives by some things more slowly.

    Many people have become addicted to cramming in as many activities as possible within a finite time. Sometimes this is necessary, sometimes it is counter-productive.

    Carl believes it is vital to get the right balance between fast thinking and slow thinking. Fast thinking generates the pieces of the jigsaw, but slow thinking is needed to make sense of the whole picture. Many of our epiphanies come as a result of slow thinking.

    Below is a video of Carl explaining these ideas. You can discover more at his website.

    Kevin Cashman highlights a similar approach in his book The Pause Principle. Below is an excerpt from his website. You can discover more via the following link.

    We live and lead in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. But paradoxically, Kevin Cashman contends that leaders today must not merely act more quickly but pause more deeply.

    Rather than merely doing more, we must learn to pause and to do things differently in order to grow, achieve and innovate. All of these practices lead to purposeful change, and contribution, an essential part of a leader’s everyday life.

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on the theme of The Pause Approach. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe the specific things you can do to build in times to pause and reflect on your experiences.

    Describe the potential consequences – both the pluses and minuses – of doing these things.

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    The Procrastination Approach

    Some people procrastinate. Sometimes this can take the form of continuing to do unrewarding work and hoping that things will change.

    Sometimes it can take the form of waiting and hoping that a purpose will appear. Sometimes it can mean slipping into a state of paralysis.

    “After losing my job, I decided to take some time out to find out what I really wanted to do,” said one person.

    “My batteries were dead, so I needed to re-energise myself. This was great at first, but after two months I began to drift.

    “Maybe I was a bit institutionalised, but it took six months to get back into any kind of rhythm.

    “Looking back, I should probably have taken a couple of weeks off and then followed the standard advice: ‘Make getting a job a full time job.’

    “After getting a job I could have relaxed and looked ahead to shaping my future career.

    “On reflection, I was never going to make the jump from losing my job to getting my dream job.

    “The company I moved to proved to be just a stepping stone towards eventually finding more satisfying work.”

    Developing A
    Sense Of Purpose

    There are many ways that people can develop a sense of purpose. Viktor Frankl described three ways to create meaning in life. These were:

    By doing a deed or creating a work.

    By appreciating the experience of someone or something.

    By choosing our attitude towards suffering.

    You can read more about his life and work via the following link.

    How can you describe your purpose? Some people go through the following steps to explain their purpose in a one liner.

    They start by doing positive things that are satisfying and worthwhile. They move on to doing deeply satisfying projects.

    They look at each of these projects in turn and try to find the recurring themes.

    They try to sum up these themes in a provisional one liner that describes their purpose.

    They recognise that it may take a lifetime to get the wording right, but this one liner gives a pointer to their purpose.

    They often begin this one liner with the words ‘I want to …’

    Here are some examples of such phrases that people have written to try to sum up their purpose.

    I want to encourage people … I want to promote justice … I want to help everybody to have access to food … I want to help people to be architects of their futures … I want to help to find a cure for HIV.

    I want to educate people to respect animals … I want to create enriching environments that enable people to grow … I want to encourage people to be kind … I want to contribute to increasing the amount of happiness in the world.

    These phrases say what each person wants to do – the purpose they want to follow. They will then express their purpose in different ways at different times of their lives.

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme called My Purpose. This is a challenging exercise, but it can also be worthwhile. The summary you produce regarding your purpose may not be definitive, but it can provide some pointers.

    Some people have a first go at the exercise. They then keep returning to the one liner and refining it until it feels right. In the meantime, of course, they keep doing things that express their purpose.

    Here is the exercise. It invites you to do the following things.

    Describe the specific thing you really want to do in your life – the specific theme you want to follow.

    Describe this by beginning with the words: “I want to …”

    Describe the specific ways you want to express this purpose in your daily life and work – such as in your actions and the things you want to produce.

    Describe the specific benefits of expressing your purpose by doing these things.

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