The Art of Strengths Coaching

T is for Earning Trust

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A pilot in the Red Arrows flying team gave an interesting view of trust. Describing his state of mind when performing, he said the following.

“When the team needs to turn right, I do not trust that everybody has turned right. I know that everybody has turned right.”

Trust is something that we earn by keeping our promises. It can be earned in some of the following ways.

By a person taking responsibility, keeping their promises and delivering the required results.

By a worker showing they understand what is required, making clear working contracts and performing superb work.

By a team showing they understand the employer’s goals, proactively keeping stakeholders informed and delivering the agreed picture of success.

Looking back, can you think of a time when somebody earned your trust? They may have been a parent, friend, teacher, doctor, trusted advisor or other professional.

What did they do to earn your trust? They may have shown you respect, shown they knew their job, kept you informed and delivered the goods.

What happened as a result? You may have felt safer, more confident and reaped the fruits of success. If they provided a professional service, you may have recommended them to other people.

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 somebody earned your trust.

Describe the specific things the person did to earn your trust.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of them earning your trust.

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People like the feeling of predictability. They like to feel that if they make agreements, for example, then these will be met. This provides a greater sense of security in an unpredictable world.

People also like to feel that any professionals they hire are experts in their fields and will deliver success. This point was underlined in The Trusted Advisor, the book by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford.

The authors say that a person needs to demonstrate three basic skills to become a trusted advisor to their clients. They need to earn trust, build relationships and give advice effectively.

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Different people earn trust in different ways. Here are three themes that it can be useful to bear in mind when aiming to help people.

You can show you understand the world
from the person’s point of view and show
you understand their picture of success

Credibility is crucial. There are various ways to build credibility. One approach is to go through the following steps. It is:

To show respect for the person, make them feel welcome and create an encouraging environment.

To show you understand the world from their point of view.

To show you understand their picture of success.

Good professionals often demonstrate such skills. They recognise that the interaction is about the other person and their agenda. It is also about using their knowledge to help the person to achieve success.

You can show you understand what is required and
make crystal clear contracts about the various
responsibilities in working to achieve the picture of success

Good professionals, for example, listen to what they client wants to achieve. They then play back their understanding to make sure that everybody has the same picture.

Such professionals are also good at explaining what they can and cannot do for the client. They may say something like the following.

“As far as I understand it, the specific goals you want to achieve are …

“The specific things I can help you with regarding achieving the goals are …

“The specific things I cannot help you with regarding achieving the goals are …

“If appropriate, however, I may be able to recommend others who can help you in those areas.”

If the person does want to go ahead, then the professional will make clear working contracts. They may say something like the following.

“The specific things I see as my responsibilities in working towards achieving the goals are …

“The specific things you can expect to see happening and by when on the road to achieving the goals – including getting some early successes – are …

“The specific things I will do to proactively keep you informed about the progress towards achieving the goals are …

“The specific things that are other people’s responsibilities – including your own – in working towards achieving the goals are …

“The other specific things that are worth mentioning are …”

Good professionals then do something to get a quick success. This reassures the client. It also buys them time to get on with doing the other necessary work.

Such people recognise that clients – be these people buying a service or their own leaders in an organisation – often worry. So they proactively keep people informed about the progress towards achieving the goals.

You can meet your promises, do superb work
and deliver the agreed picture of success

Delivery is crucial. People buy success, not the theory of success.

Good leaders, for example, manage by outcomes, rather than by tasks. They make clear contracts with their team members about the outcomes that must be delivered and by when.

They then expect people to use their expertise to deliver the agreed picture of success. One leader explained this in the following way.

“I am interested in what people are delivering, rather than what they are doing. This is why I employ bright people.

“People are expected make clear contracts about their contributions. They are then expected to proactively keep others informed about their progress and deliver on their promises.

“People must follow the team’s agreed principles, of course, but it is up to them how they use their talents to deliver the goods. This also includes encouraging other team members, however, and helping them to achieve the goals.”

Many people talk about the importance of trust. Certainly individuals must be given opportunities to stretch themselves and develop. At the same time, however, it is their responsibility to keep others informed and to deliver the goods.

Trust is an outcome. The more times we deliver on our promises, the greater the increase in trust. People will then give us more opportunities. They will do so because we have earned their trust.

Looking to the future, can you think of any situations when you will want to earn a person’s trust? You may want to do this in a personal or professional situation.

How can you show you understand the world from their point of view? How can you show you understand their goals? How can you show you know what is required? How can you make clear contracts, do superb work and help the person to achieve success?

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 earn a person’s trust.

Describe the specific things you can do to do your best to earn the person’s trust.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of earning the person’s trust.

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    E is for Encouragement

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    There are many approaches to helping people. One approach is to focus on the art of encouragement. This aims to encourage, educate and enable people to shape their future lives.

    This philosophy played a big part in my early career. During the 1960s I was given the opportunity to work in therapeutic communities. At the time I had little formal training, so it called for studying what worked.

    Bearing this in mind, I approached many different people to learn about development. The first question I asked was:

    “What has helped you to grow most in your life?”

    The people I interviewed included teenagers, teachers, artists, social workers, professors and leaders in their respective fields. Different people answered the question in different ways, but several key themes emerged. They said some of the following things.

    “I had somebody who encouraged me. They made me feel as if I was the centre of their world.

    “They encouraged me to build on my strengths. They also offered positive suggestions about how to deal with my weaknesses.

    “These people were supportive, but sometimes they were tough. They encouraged me to take responsibility for shaping my future life.”

    Looking back on your own life, who have been the people who have encouraged you? These may have included loved ones, parents, friends, teachers, sports coaches, managers or mentors.

    What did each of these people do right to encourage you? What were the principles they followed? How can you, if you wish, follow these principles in your own way to encourage other people?

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to start by writing the names of three people who have encouraged you. It then invites you to do the following things.

    Describe the specific things that each of the people did to encourage you.

    Describe some of the principles these people followed to encourage you.  

    Describe the specific things you can do to follow some of these principles in your own way – plus add other skills – to encourage people.

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    Different people encourage others in different ways. Some do it in their daily lives. Such people often have a positive attitude and do the following things.

    They focus on when people come alive and encourage them to do more of these things.

    They encourage people to build on their strengths and, when appropriate, find ways to manage any weaknesses.

    They may pass on knowledge – such as positive models and practical tools – that encourages people.  

    Some people use their strengths to do work which encourages other people. Different people do this in different ways. Depending on their strengths, they may pursue some of the following paths.

    They may work as an educator, counsellor, coach, mentor, trusted advisor or in some other role that encourages people.

    They may do positive work – such as providing food, health care, information, software, books, knowledge, solutions or other products and services – that encourages people.

    They may create environments in which people, teams and organisations can do superb work.

    Encouragers sometimes do more than support people on a one-to-one basis. They may also aim to lead a project, school, team or organisation. The culture they create can reach many people and produce a lasting legacy.

    Such encouragers are like good gardeners. They create an environment in which people can grow. How do they make this happen?

    Certainly they provide encouragement, but they also combine elements that may at first sight seem paradoxical. They get the right balance between encouragement, education, enablement and enforcement.

    Let’s explore some of the steps people take to make this happen.

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    Explaining The Environment

    Encouraging leaders, for example, are moral and explain the culture before people join a project, team or organisation. Different leaders use different ways to explain the environment. It is vital, however, that they outline:

    The goals of the project, team or organisation and the benefits of achieving these goals.

    The guidelines that people will be encouraged to follow – the overall Dos and Don’ts and the reasons for these – to reach the goals.

    People can take time to reflect and decide if they want to opt into contributing to the culture.

    Encouragers then follow certain guidelines for creating a stimulating environment. They focus on the following themes.


    They provide encouragement. They provide a stimulating and supportive environment in which people can grow.


    They provide – in its widest sense – education. This includes providing knowledge, wisdom and models that people can use to achieve positive results.


    They provide practical tools that enable people to shape their futures and achieve ongoing success.


    They provide protection. They are prepared to act as enforcers and protect the environment from those who want to spoil it for others.

    If somebody transgresses the agreed guidelines, for example, the leader returns to the original explanation they gave about the culture. They say something like:

    “Let’s go back to the original contract regarding the culture that is required to ensure the project succeeds.

    “The goals of the project are …

    “The guidelines we encourage people to follow to achieve the goals are …

    “The reasons for encouraging people to follow these guidelines are …

    “Let me know if you would like to follow these guidelines and make a positive contribution to the culture.”

    Good encouragers often embody the qualities of good educators. They love to enable people to shape their future lives.

    When necessary, however, they are also prepared to protect the environment. They make it safe for people who want to develop.

    Different people use their strengths in different ways to encourage other people. Sometimes they ask themselves the following questions.

    How can I continue to be a good encourager?

    How can I use my strengths to encourage people?

    How can I do positive work and pass on knowledge that encourages both present and future generations?

    There are many ways to help people. One of the best is to provide them with the gift of encouragement.

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

    Describe the specific things you want to do to encourage people in your daily life and work

    Describe the specific benefits of doing these things – both for you and other people.

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