The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Controlling The Controllables

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Today it is more common to hear people talking about controlling the controllables. The phrase is often used by athletes, but many people are applying the philosophy in their daily lives.

People may cross an emotional threshold in their lives, for example, when they choose to focus on what they can control. They opt for this route, rather than worrying about what they can’t control.

Some find this approach to be liberating. One person said:

“Several years ago I had a health scare. Fortunately I got wonderful treatment, but it also taught me a lesson.

“Nowadays I put my energies into the things I can control. This means choosing to have a positive attitude, encouraging other people and doing satisfying work.

“In the past I often worried about events beyond my control. Sometimes I used to spread gloom and doom, which was self-indulgent.

“These days I count my blessings. Each day is a bonus and I try to do my best to help other people.”

Controlling the controllables is an approach that can be used by individuals, teams or organisations. People can then focus their energies on the things they can do to shape their future lives.

If you wish, try tackling the exercises on this theme. These invite you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can control in your personal and professional life.

You may say, for example, that you can aim to have a take care of your health, eat healthy food and exercise. You can choose to have a positive attitude, be professional and make good use of the talents you have been given.

You can aim to encourage other people and help them to build on their strengths. You can spread hope and do your best to build a better world.

Describe the specific things you can’t control in your personal and professional life – though you may do your best to influence them. 

You can’t control whether or not or you get an illness, though you can do everything possible to stay healthy. You can’t control what people think of you, though you can try do you best to build a good reputation.

You can’t control your employers or the job market. You can’t control everything that happens in the world, though you can control your attitude towards these things.

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Imagine that you have clarified what you can and can’t control. The next step is one that many people find shapes their future lives. They choose to focus on controlling the controllables.

Looking at your own life, when have you taken this step? When did you build on what you could control and manage what you couldn’t? What happened as a result of taking this approach?

Some people take this step after going through a crisis. They may experience an illness, job loss or other kind of setback. Looking at the situation, they have a choice.

As Viktor Frankl said in his famous book Man’s Search For Meaning, people can always choose their attitude. One of the first Holocaust survivor books, it describes his harrowing journey through the Nazi concentration camps.


Viktor tried to make sense of the madness. Life or death seemed so random, so how could you survive?

One approach was to do everything possible to look fit for work. This did not always succeed, but it increased the chances of living.

Viktor discovered another factor about many of the people who survived. They often had a meaning to live for beyond the immediate horror. They had a book to write, a relationship to rebuild or a dream to pursue. He later wrote:

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

A person can choose to be positive or negative, to be a creator or a complainer, to take responsibility or avoid responsibility. They can choose to build on what they do have – their strengths and assets – or moan about what they don’t have.

They can choose wilful intelligence – rather than wilful ignorance – and find solutions to challenges. They can choose to work hard to succeed or they can choose to sulk. Each choice has consequences, both for themselves and other people.

People love to feel in control. Sometimes, however, this simply means focusing on controlling the controllables. People can then aim to do their best in a situation. Strangely enough, this can produce a feeling of liberation.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind the things you can and can’t control, this invites you to do the following things.

Describe specific things you can do to build on what you can control and manage what you can’t.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking this approach in your personal and professional life.

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    P is for Persistence

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    Looking back on your life, when have you shown persistence? You may have shown it when pursuing a passion, playing a sport, fixing a problem, leading a project or whatever.

    What did you do right then? You may have chosen to work hard and sweat because you believed in following certain principles. You may have also strongly believed in the benefits of achieving the goal.

    This is a pattern demonstrated by many peak performers. They often focus on the following themes when doing fine work.

    Picture of Success

    They clarify the real results they want to achieve and translate these into a clear picture of success.


    They clarify the key principles they can follow towards achieving the picture of success 


    They show persistence when following the principles towards achieving the picture of success.

    Great workers believe in continuing to do the right things in the right way every day. This calls for following the key principles they believe will produce the desired results.

    Such workers recognise that different results will appear at different times. Sometimes it is vital to do certain things quickly and get quick successes.

    Sometimes it is important to follow the key principles but also be patient. Some things take longer on the route to achieving success.

    Bill Drayton, founder of The Ashoka Organization, believes that persistence is a key characteristic of successful social entrepreneurs.

    Ashoka is a pioneering organisation that supports social entrepreneurs across the world. These entrepreneurs aim to improve the quality of peoples’ lives.

    They may focus on education, medical care, agriculture, housing, broadcasting or any field of human need. Such people have the passion and practical skills to translate their vision into reality. Bill says:

    “What differentiates Ashoka Fellows from mere idealists is that, for these rare men and women, an idea can bring satisfaction only when it is realised.

    “Possessing the same unstoppable drive of a Steve Jobs, they define new issues and create new approaches. Their innovations then set new yardsticks of performance for helping society.”

    In the video below Bill describes the key qualities that Ashoka looks for in potential Fellows. You can discover more via the following link.

    Let’s return to your own life and 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 past when you showed persistence when following your principles on the way towards achieving the picture of success.

    Describe the specific things you did to show persistence.

    Describe the specific things that happened as a result of showing persistence.

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    Certainly it takes sweat to reach a goal, but it also requires resilience. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, an expert on leadership, describes how even visionary optimists can feel weary.

    Here is an excerpt from her piece on this theme in the Harvard Business Review. You can find the full article via the following link.

    “Welcome to the miserable middles of change. This is the time when Kanter’s Law kicks in.

    “Everything looks like a failure in the middle. Everyone loves inspiring beginnings and happy endings; it is just the middles that involve hard work.

    “Stay with it through its hurdles, make appropriate adjustments, and you could be on the way to success. Though some ideas are dead-ends, many simply need mid-course corrections.”

    Rosabeth provides a checklist of topics to ensure you are on course. These include ensuring that the vision is still inspiring and the benefits are worthwhile.

    Looking at leadership as a whole, Rosabeth believes there are six factors that people can embrace when working to create positive change.

    Here is a video in which she explains that it is important to do the following things.

    1) Show Up. 2) Speak Up. 3) Look Up. 4) Team Up. 5) Never Give Up. 6) Lift Others Up.

    There are many ways to do fine work. A person may have talent, a big idea or something that could create a breakthrough. They will still need to show persistence, however, to achieve positive results.

    Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking to the future, can you think of a situation when you may need to show persistence? You may want to do this when caring for your health, pursuing a dream, leading a project, passing on knowledge to people or whatever.

    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 show persistence when following your principles towards achieving a picture of success. 

    Describe the specific things you can do to show persistence.

    Describe the specific things that may result from you showing persistence.

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