The Art of Strengths Coaching

E is for Being An Encourager By Focusing on Encouragement, Enterprise and Excellence

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There are many models for encouraging people. One approach is to focus on encouragement, enterprise and excellence. Let’s explore how this works in action.

Good encouragers often start by creating an encouraging environment. They do this whether facilitating a mentoring session, running a workshop or building a superb organisation.

They provide lots of support and stimulation. They then look for when people come alive and show enterprise.

Good encouragers make clear contracts with people about whether they want to pursue these activities. If appropriate, they encourage and enable people to deliver excellence.

Looking back on your own life, can you think of a situation when a person encouraged you by following these principles? They may have been a teacher, coach, leader or whatever.

What did they do to create a positive environment? How did they spot when you showed enterprise? How did they then help you to achieve excellence?

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

Describe a specific situation when a person helped you by focusing on the principles of encouragement, enterprise and excellence.

Describe the specific things they did to translate these principles into action.

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

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Imagine you want to follow these principles in your own way. Let’s explore how it is possible to translate them into action.


Different people encourage others in different ways. Some create an environment in which people feel able to focus on the topics they want to explore.

Good mentors, for example, start by creating a stimulating sanctuary. They make the person feel welcome and clarify the themes the person wants to explore. They then make clear working contracts and agree on the goals for the session.

Good educators focus on inspiration, implementation and integration. They aim to create an inspiring environment and provide implementation tools that work. They then help people to integrate the learning into their daily lives and work.

Such educators follow the old adage that ‘the learner learns what the learner wants to learn.’ They follow this approach when designing educational experiences. They aim to make the learning:

Personal – It must relate to the person and their goals

Practical – It must be practical and provide tools that help the person to reach their goals.

Profitable – It must be, in the widest sense, profitable and help the person to achieve their goals.

Good leaders do more than communicate a compelling story, strategy and road to success. They often build and maintain a positive culture in which motivated people can achieve peak performance.

They start by creating an encouraging environment. They also explain the organisation’s purpose, principles and the pluses and minuses involved in working to achieve the goals.

Such leaders explain the professional deal to people. They explain: a) The organisation’s responsibilities in working towards achieving the goals; b) The individual’s responsibilities in working towards achieving the goals.

They then invite people to reflect and decide if they want to contribute. If so, they give people the support they require to make their best contributions towards achieving the goals.

Imagine that you want to encourage a person or a group of people. You may want to do this when helping people in your family, facilitating a coaching session, running a workshop, leading a team or whatever.

How can you create an encouraging environment? How can you make people feel welcome? How can you, if appropriate, explain the guidelines that people can follow to play their part in building an encouraging environment?

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

Describe a specific situation where you want to encourage a person or a group of people.

Describe the specific things you can do to do your best to encourage the person or the group of people.

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Different people use different methods for spotting when others come alive and show enterprise. One approach is to ask the following questions about a person or a group of people.

When do they come alive? When are they in their element – at ease and yet able to excel? What are the specific activities in which they deliver As, rather then Bs or Cs?

When do they see the destination quickly? When do they go ‘A, B .. then leap to … Z’? What are the activities in which they score highly on drive, detail and delivery?

When have they done satisfying projects and achieved success? What were the principles they followed? How can they follow these principles – plus add other skills – to do superb work in the future?

Peter Benson, the author of Sparks, looked for when people came alive. He had a profound influence on the way many people learned to support children, teenagers and adults. Much of his work was around the theme of sparks. He wrote:

“A spark is something that gives your life meaning and purpose. It’s an interest, a passion, or a gift.”

Children want to be known for their sparks, said Peter. When you see these sparks, affirm them. He maintained that:

“You shall know them by their sparks.”

Peter died at the age of 65 in 2011, but his work lives on through colleagues at the Search Institute. You can discover more at the official web site. Below is a video of Peter talking at TED.

People show sparks throughout their lives. Here are some answers that different people gave when I asked them about their sparks.

My Sparks – I am aware of my sparks when I am:

Trouble Shooting

I am a fixer and love making things work. The best part of my job is being called out to solve technical problems for clients. This gets the adrenalin going and gives me a big kick.

Coaching Footballers

I know how footballers think and I enjoy being on the training field. It is rewarding to see the players develop skills and put these into practice during matches.

Making Wildlife Films

I love the travel, setting up camp in the wilderness, the long wait for action shots and even the process of editing afterwards. The response from the public is also a huge bonus.

Imagine that you want to spot when a person or a group of people show enterprise. You may want to focus on when they come alive, when they perform brilliantly or when they demonstrate sparks.

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

Describe a specific situation where you want to look for and build on when a person or a group of people show enterprise.

Describe the specific things you can do to look for and build on when they show enterprise.

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Different people use different methods for encouraging people to achieve excellence. One approach is to use tools from Appreciative Inquiry.

AI is a positive approach to helping people, teams and organisations to develop. The approach starts by inviting people to define the particular topic they want to explore. They may choose to focus on topics such as:

How can we work well together?
How can we develop successful new products?
How can we tap into the creativity in our organisation?
How can we find solutions that – as far as possible – benefit all the stakeholders?
How can we build a superb organisation?

People start by defining the topic they want to explore. They then follow the 4D cycle that goes through the stages of Discovery, Dream, Design and Delivery.

Discovery – They discover when they have performed brilliantly in this area in the past and the principles they followed to do superb work. 

Dream – They explore how they can follow these principles in the future and express these in a stimulating and stretching dream. 

Design – They design the strategy for achieving the dream.

Delivery – They perform superb work and do what is necessary to deliver the dream.

In the original model the fourth stage is called Destiny. This is to signify that delivering the goals is more than an end in itself. David Cooperrider, one of the founders of AI, describes this in the following way.

The Destiny phase represents both the conclusion of the Discovery, Dream, and Design phases and the beginning of an ongoing creation of an ‘appreciative learning culture.’

AI has been used by people in all walks of life to tackle challenges in their daily lives, work and communities. People like the approach. They build on when they have performed brilliantly and aim to keep developing.

In my own work I have used elements of it when working with organisations in business. Every time people have applied the approach properly they have delivered success. You can discover more about Appreciative Inquiry via the following links.

Let’s explore another type of situation. Imagine that somebody has asked you to help them to build on their strengths and achieve professional excellence.

One approach is to make a coaching contract. Clear contracting is vital in any relationship. This is especially so between the coach and the coachee.

Setting specific targets also increases the likelihood of success. So here are some suggestions for clarifying the coaching contract.

Whilst the following process sounds structured, you can do it in your own way. It will provide the basis for building a successful coaching relationship.

The coachee is asked to describe:

The specific goals they want to achieve.

The specific pluses and potential minuses involved in working towards and achieving the goals.

The specific things they see as their responsibilities in working towards achieving the goals.

The specific kinds of help they want from the coach in working towards achieving the goals.

The specific things they can do to take steps towards achieving their goals.

You can, if appropriate, adapt this approach in your own way. Here is the framework that is to be completed by the coachee.

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Let’s return to your own life and work. How can you help people to achieve excellence? You may want to take this step when working with students, coaching athletes, leading a team or whatever.

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

Describe a specific situation where you want to encourage a person or a group of people to achieve excellence.

Describe the specific things you can do to encourage them to achieve excellence.

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    C is for Clear Contracting With A Person About How They Want You To Help Them During Difficult Times

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    Imagine you are mentoring a person who is unsure about how to behave towards somebody who is experiencing difficulties. They may not know what to do in a situation where either:

    A person is experiencing an illness.

    A person is experiencing depression 

    A person is returning to work after a personal tragedy.

    Certainly they want to show caring, but sometimes it can be difficult to know how to behave. One approach is to invite the person they care for to describe what they do and do not want others to do in the situation. Let’s explore how this can work in action.

    Several years ago I was counselling a person who had lost her husband in traumatic circumstances. One month after her loss she decided to return to her work in a small technology company.

    Still grieving from the tragedy, she wanted to feel more in control. Returning to work would help her to follow a predictable rhythm and regain a sense of success. She recognised, however, that people might not know how to behave when she returned.

    This was confirmed when the CEO of the company called me. He asked for guidance about how people should behave. Should they treat her in particular way, ask how she was doing or not mention the tragedy?

    The last thing she wanted were lots of personal therapy sessions over coffee. So how should people behave when she returned to work?

    The key in such situations is that the person who is being ‘cared for’ should feel in control. Bearing this in mind, I asked her to describe the Dos and Don’ts regarding how people should treat her at work.

    After some reflection she produced the following list. This was shared with the forty people in the company two days before she returned to work. Here is what she produced.


    Do treat me normally and, if appropriate, involve me in your professional projects. 

    Do use my skills on the work you are doing for customers.

    Do invite me to some of your social events, though I may not come to all of them.

    Do be yourselves – laugh, joke and enjoy life.

    Do respect my privacy and the fact that it will take time for me to recover. 


    Don’t be shocked by my appearance, because I have lost a lot of weight. 

    Don’t ask about my feelings, because it will take time to deal with what has happened. 

    Don’t ask how my family is dealing with my husband’s death, because this is something we are working on privately.   

    The return to work went well. She continued to experience challenges, but she found it helpful to follow a set routine and enjoy feelings of success. Six months later the pain still remained, but she felt more able to shape her future life.

    Making clear contracts with people
    who are going through difficulties

    Sometimes it can be hard to know how to help others who are going through tough times. One person said:

    “I am not sure how to help my partner who has recently had an illness. The physical problems have eased, but now he falls into deep depressions.

    “Some days he feels good, but other days he finds it difficult to get out of bed. I want to help, but sometimes it feels like I am doing the wrong thing.”

    People who want to help others can sometimes feel helpless. It is then important to clarify what they can and can’t do for the other person.

    They can provide physical and psychological support, but they can’t fix everything for the one they love. The other person may also need to focus on what they can control in the particular situation.

    People who experience difficulties sometime go through the reactive change curve. They go through the stages of shock, denial, paralysis, anger and hurt.

    Spending time in their chosen sanctuary, they may then begin the process of healing. Gathering strength, they may set new goals, work hard, achieve success and gain self-confidence.

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    The process is not linear, of course, and there may be many ups and downs on the journey. Sometimes a person may feel they are back on the road to recovery, only to have flashbacks and return to experiencing the pain.

    Over the years, however, many people put the bad experience into perspective. They feel older, wiser and stronger

    How do people come through the curve? They may manage it by themselves, talk with a friend, join a self-help group or use another approach.

    Depending on the approach they use, people may spend time in a sanctuary. They then take charge of shaping their future and getting a success. Let’s explore this process.

    People who suffer a setback often need to lick their wounds and begin to make sense of the experience. Different people choose different kinds of sanctuaries. They may rest, sleep, write, listen to music, see a counsellor or whatever. People begin to heal and regain their strength.

    Sanctuaries are great. But there comes a time to move on, otherwise the muscles atrophy. People focus on what they can control and start shaping their future.

    They set short-term goals, work hard and get a success. Feeling more confident, they take the next step in their life or work.

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    Let’s return to the person mentioned earlier who wanted to help their partner who had overcome the physical aspects of an illness. How could they help them to deal with any psychological aspects?

    Their partner had read about many aspects of dealing with depression. They had also joined a self-help group and followed its suggested guidelines for taking charge of their life. These included:

    To follow a structured routine, such as getting up at the same time every day, even if they felt like staying under the covers.

    To eat healthy food and do the kinds of exercise they enjoyed, such as running. 

    To spend time with positive people and do things that gave them positive energy. 

    To do satisfying projects that gave them a sense of purpose and success.

    To keep a gratitude journal and also focus on how they could use their experience to help other people.

    As mentioned earlier, the person wanted to support their partner during this time. After exploring different routes, they decided to make a clear contract regarding what their partner did and did not want them to do.

    The person planned ahead and chose the right time to have such a conversation. When the time came, they said something along the following lines to their partner.

    “As you know, I want to stay with you for the rest of our lives. We have such good times and I want to keep encouraging you.

    “Looking ahead, I would like some guidance about how I can best support you over the next few months. Sometimes I try to help, but I am not sure if I am doing the right thing.

    “Bearing this in mind, it would be helpful if you can let me know two things. First, the things you do want to me do to help you during this time. Second, the things you don’t want me to do.

    “I am not looking for you to respond straight away. But it would be good to get some ideas once you have had chance to reflect.

    “Building on your ideas, I will then try to do my best to keep encouraging you and building our relationship.”

    The person’s partner wondered where this approach had come from, but then began to reflect. Three days later this resulted in them sharing their ideas over dinner. The conversation helped to clear the air and laid the foundations for building an even better relationship.

    Clear contracting is crucial in any relationship. This is particularly so when people are going through difficult times. Such an approach sounds challenging. But it is even more challenging not knowing how people want you to behave towards them in a relationship.

    Imagine you want to apply this approach. If you wish, you can invite the other person to describe the Dos and Don’ts regarding how they want you to behave towards them. It is then up to you to decide if you would like to follow these guidelines.

    Below is a framework you can use. You will need to feel comfortable taking this step and doing it in your own way. When done properly, however, it can help people to continue to build fulfilling relationships.

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