The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Showing Character During Challenges

Lightening 2

People sometimes welcome challenges. They look forward to testing themselves when playing a key soccer match, delivering a keynote speech or tackling a particular kind of crisis.

Great workers, for example, want to show character. So they seek challenges where they can express their core beliefs. They then focus on clarity, creativity and concrete results. Sometimes they reach the goals by adding that touch of class.

Let’s explore where this might happen for you.

Clarifying when you
have shown character

Looking back on your life, can you think of a time when you showed character? You may have been helping another person, tackling an illness, dealing with a crisis or whatever.

People often perform better when they take the emotion out of such situations. One person said:

“This is what I did when faced with a difficult illness. After the initial shock, I treated it has a project.

“This seemed a good way to use my energy and explore the possible ways forward. I did not want to get into the idea of ‘battling it’.

“I saw it has an opportunity to grow, appreciate life and help other people.”

Such perspective may seem odd, but it is a theme repeated by many people who appear to show courage. They often say things like:

“It was the obvious thing to do.”

A similar theme was highlighted by Samuel and Pearl Oliner in their book The Altruistic Personality. In it they described the actions of non-Jews who risked their own lives to rescue the victims of Nazi persecution.

They were ordinary people, say Pearl and Samuel. They were farmers, teachers, entrepreneurs, factory workers, rich and poor, parents and single people, Protestants and Catholic.

Different people helped the Jews in different ways. Some offered them shelter; some helped them escape from prison; some smuggled them out of the country.


The rescuers showed that people can do wonderful things, even in the midst of catastrophe. Why did they do it? Here are some of the things that people said:

“It was the right thing to do … My mother influenced me mostly by love. She was a warm woman, and we admired her for her wit, her wisdom, and her intelligence.

“I was always filled with love for everyone, for every creature, for things. I am fused into every object. For me everything is alive …

“I sensed I had in front of me human beings that were hunted down like wild animals. This aroused a feeling of brotherhood and a desire to help.

“We had to help these people in order to save them, not because they were Jews, but because they were persecuted human beings who needed help.”

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

Describe a specific time when you have shown character tackling a challenge.

Describe the specific things you did right then – the principles you followed – to show character.

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Clarifying how you
can show character

Looking to the future, can you think of any situations where you want to show character? How can you do this in your own way?

People sometimes show certain characteristics when faced by a challenge. They embody the following themes.


They follow their purpose and principles. They realise they have been given the chance to follow these principles. Maybe the realisation comes as a shock. Such as:

“Oh, this is happening to me. It isn’t a game. I am now called upon to show what I really stand for.”

Sometimes they are presented with a big challenge that involves helping other people. They may say:

“This is an opportunity. If not me, then who will step up and do it?”


People aim to develop the competence to manage the challenge successfully.

They do this by building on their strengths and following their successful style – their best way of working. Sometimes they complement their efforts by asking for help from others. This may involve getting support from friends, trusted advisors and experts.

People prepare properly before embarking on the many stages of tackling the challenge. They then commit themselves fully when entering the situation.

They keep pursuing their chosen principles and aim to perform at their best. Sometimes this also involves finding creative solutions to problems.


How do people show class? They do this by showing character or, as some say, grace under pressure.

People managing an illness, for example, often provide comfort to those who come to comfort them. They demonstrate it is possible to follow their principles, especially when faced by tough events.

Perhaps this is the real goal – to pursue one’s purpose and principles. The people we admire often do this, even when they are facing pressure. They show the triumph of the human spirit.

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

Describe a specific challenge that you may face in the future.

Describe the specific things that you can do to show character when tackling that challenge.

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Clarifying the benefits
of showing character

Looking back, when you have benefited from showing character when tackling a challenge? Different people give different answers to this question. Here are some of the things they say.

The benefits were:

Being true to my values … Appreciating the important things in life … Giving everything … Realising I was stronger than I thought … Meeting people who have since become trusted friends … Developing skills that I have applied since.

People sometimes look back fondly at those times, even though they might have been tough. One person said:

“Looking back at the illness, I actually felt more alive than for some time. It helped me to gain a sense of perspective.

“Soon afterwards I returned to climbing mountains, something I had not done since my youth.

“I began with climbs suitable for my age and ability, but then slowly increased my range. This has given me the opportunity to test my mettle and also enjoy feeling alive.”

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

Describe the specific challenge where you will have the chance to show character.

Describe the specific benefits of showing character when tackling this challenge.

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    U is for Appropriate Urgency

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    Great workers demonstrate appropriate urgency. They do things at the right pace on the road to achieving success.

    Sometimes they do things quickly. Sometimes they take time to reflect before acting. Sometimes they put things on the back burner and act when necessary.

    Such workers recognise that this approach calls for always being proactive. They believe that:

    Appropriate urgency is a state of mind,
    which is then translated into action.

    Great workers think ahead, anticipate what will happen and clarify their strategy. Getting on the front foot, they aim to shape the future. They aim to make things happen, rather than just react to what happens.

    Pete Collins, the American Football Coach, has a mantra that he expects his players to follow. This is: “Be Early.” The phrase means more than: “Be early for training and meetings.”

    The approach means: “Be early in your thinking, your preparation and your actions. Be proactive in everything you do in order to stay ahead of the game.”

    Looking back on your own life, can you think of a situation when you did something with appropriate urgency?

    You may have anticipated a crisis, dealt with the fall out from an emergency, been proactive in your own career or whatever.

    What did you do to deal with the situation? What lessons did you learn that you could apply in the future?

    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 did something with appropriate urgency.

    Describe the specific things you did then to act with appropriate urgency. 

    Describe the specific things you learned that you could apply in the future.

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    Dwight Eisenhower and Stephen Covey –
    Being effective as well as being efficient

    People who apply appropriate urgency often focus on priority management. They aim to be effective, rather than just being efficient. Many times, of course, it is important to be both effective and efficient.

    This approach was popularised by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Drawing on a model attributed to President Eisenhower, Covey described how tasks often fell into one of four quadrants.

    Quadrant 1. Important and Urgent 

    Quadrant 2. Important but Not Urgent 

    Quadrant 3. Not Important but Urgent 

    Quadrant 4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    Many people have since built on the approach. The following video describes an App that helps people to prioritise things in their lives and work. You can discover more via the following link.

    John Kotter – Maintaining
    a sense of urgency

    John emphasised the importance of organisations continuing to be proactive. He explained:

    Winners first make sure that a sufficient number of people feel a true sense of urgency to look for an organisation’s critical opportunities and hazards now.

    Great organisations create strategies for shaping the future. This calls for communicating clear goals, building committed teams and empowering them to deliver the goods.

    People are encouraged to get some early wins and build momentum. They continue to do fine work, refuse to declare victory too early and then make change stick.

    Great organisations build a culture of constant improvement. This calls for continuing to have an appropriate sense of urgency. You can discover more via the following link.

    Let’s return to your own life and work. How can you stay ahead of the game? How can you maintain an appropriate sense of urgency?

    Bearing in mind your life goals, you may wish to ask the following questions.

    What are the top priorities I need to act on now? What do I need to reflect on before acting? What can I put on the back burner?

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe your action plan for acting with appropriate urgency.

    Describe the specific things you want to act on now.

    Describe the specific things you want to reflect on before acting.  

    Describe the specific things you want to put on the back burner.

    Describe the specific action plan for acting with appropriate urgency.

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