The Art of Strengths Coaching

M is for Making The Most Of Life Whilst Managing Challenging Issues

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When have you chosen to enjoy life, even whilst managing a difficulty? Different people choose to do this in different ways. Individuals may say some of the following things.

I am going to make the most of life by:

Counting my blessings … Having a sense of gratitude … Appreciating each day … Encouraging other people … Doing the things I enjoy … Playing inspiring music … Surrounding myself with beautiful things.

Being creative … Doing satisfying work … Building on my strengths … Spending time with positive people … Working on my bucket list … Passing on knowledge to people … Doing things that bring joy to both myself and other people … Making the most of each day.

I am going to manage a challenging issue by:

Choosing my attitude each day … Taking care of my health … Redefining the illness as a project … Gathering knowledge about the breakthroughs in this field … Going for regular treatment … Helping others to manage similar challenges … Caring for my parents as they get older

Doing small things to retake control of my life … Taking control of my money and slowly paying off my debts … Finding smart ways to do things that previously came easily … Managing the consequences of my weaknesses … Finding solutions to challenges … … Getting small wins each day.

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 made the most of life whilst also managing challenging issues.

Describe the specific things you did to take these steps. 

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

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Bengt Elmén is somebody who taught me a lot about this approach. He says the cerebral palsy that has been with him since birth has shaped his life. But for good, not for bad.

Rather than be limited by what it took away, he embraces the way it refines his sense of self. His love of learning and facing up to challenges have seen him do pioneering work in many fields.

I first met Bengt when he attended a workshop I ran in Uppsala, Sweden. Below are some of his thoughts about his approach to life. You can discover more on his website.


My own experiences with difficulty began early on – as early as birth, in fact.

I had a rough delivery, during which I suffered lack of oxygen that resulted in a type of brain damage known as CP, or Cerebral Palsy.

As far as I’m concerned, though, CP actually stands for “Cool and Powerful”.

The brain damage diminished my ability to walk, talk and use my hands. Early on I had to learn to think of creative solutions to daily situations. I could sit for days, for example, using my mouth and nose to piece together a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle.

This taught me that it’s always worth the effort to face your difficulties rather than trying to run away from them. Such lessons have been invaluable to me as an adult.

I also learned early on how to be intimate with people. However good I was at putting together puzzles, there were many other things I couldn’t do without help.

This means that over the years, I have employed several hundred people, and from this I have gained a precious understanding of people from all walks of life.

After I earned a B.S. degree in Public Law at Stockholm’s University, I worked five years as director of the Stockholm Cooperative for Independent Living (STIL).

STIL took over part of the communal home help service and developed its personal assistance program. During my time with the organization, its annual turnover rose from zero to four million U.S. dollars.

This project led to new legislation in 1994. Today the service is financed by the government and has an annual turnover of 700 million U.S. dollars.

About 25,000 personal assistants are employed throughout Sweden to assist approximately 9,000 disabled people.

After my time with STIL, I started my own company. I wanted to teach others the importance of daring to tackle their difficulties.

I wrote a book called Your Responsibility and Mine which, unfortunately, is available only in Swedish. Despite my physical disability and speech impediment, I began to travel around giving seminars and workshops. And that is what I’ve been doing for the last ten years.

Decide your destiny

‘Survivor’ speeches have become very popular at conferences over the last few years. People who invite me to speak have often heard how previous audiences began to see things in perspective.

I use humour to show how I coped with my ‘tragic fate’, explaining that it is possible to see hardships from two perspectives: positive or negative.

People often leave the session finding it harder to complain about trivialities, such as the food being too cold when they go home at night. The sessions show it is possible to overcome great difficulties, rather than drown in depression.

This is a message of hope and joy – and people are forced to re-examine challenging situations in their own lives. But I have a confession to make. I am not interested in giving ‘Survivor’ speeches anymore.

Why? I am more interested in giving ‘Achiever’ speeches. I love working with Achievers.

Such people are prepared to take responsibility and build on what they have got. Deciding what they want to do, they then work hard to achieve their dreams.

People do not define the hand of cards they are given at birth, but they do decide how to use the cards. That is what I mean by ‘Decide Your Destiny’.

Take responsibility

Achievers are prepared to take responsibility for their lives. Perhaps that is why I like working with them. 

As far as I know, this is the only life I have got. I met death already at birth due to lack of oxygen, but I disregarded him. I chose life.

Since then death has been a reality to me. Life is short and it’s no use hiding from the fact that we all are going to die some day. 

Therefore I want to be in charge of my own life. I want to decide how I spend the time that has been given to me. I don’t want to leave that to anyone else. It is my responsibility and I am not ready to spoil a second.

My first book in Swedish Your responsibility and Mine provoked quite a response. Why? Because I was urging people to do what they could do, rather than complain about what they couldn’t do.

Build on what you have got

Did Stevie Wonder stop singing because of his lack of sight? What about José Feliciano, Ray Charles and Andrea Bocelli?

Did Stephen Hawking shape his life based on his doctors’ early death sentences? Did Helen Keller’s difficulties stop her helping other people?

Did Franklin D Roosevelt refuse to carry-out the Presidency because he suffered from Polio? If Ludwig van Beethoven had focused on what he lacked-rather than what he had – we would not have heard his Ninth Symphony and its tribute to the joy of life.

Life has taught me to build on what I have got. My physical abilities do not always reach 10/10! My walking ability is probably 3/10.

But I decided to transport myself from the physical world to the mental world – so I became fascinated by people’s hopes, ideas, plans and ambitions.

I manage the physical world with the help of technical aids and my personal assistants. For example, let me explain how I write.

Right now that I am hitting each key on my Mac with a stick that is fastened to a band around my head. It is not the fastest way in the world, but it gives me time to think about what I want to write. (Think different!)

While other authors use their hands at work, I use my head. (And heart.) So that is how you turn a limitation into a strength. That is how you build on what you have got.

And when you have chosen to concentrate on what you have got, then you also have to pick the direction of your life. This brings us to my third message.


Dare to be an achiever
– but do it in your way

Achievers have a special quality. They decide what they want to do-then they do it.

Perhaps all of us have listened to inspiring keynote speakers who urged us to follow our dreams. But then what happens? The instant motivation begins to fade away and we return to our daily lives.

If you look back at the times you have achieved, however, it is because: a) You made an inner decision to do something; b) You were prepared to work hard; c) You did it in your own way.

Pursuing your route can be affirming yet also lonely. In order to achieve greatness, you have to discover your own path.

Unfortunately, greatness never can be accomplished by copying someone else-and sometimes it means paying less attention to what others think.

You will find it more beneficial to listen to your own inner voice when making the most important decisions in your life. Ask yourself:

“What are my innermost aspirations? What do I really want? What do I lack in my life right now? What do I want to accomplish within this lifetime?”

Can the future be rainbow coloured, rather than grey? Speaking to people in the business world, the best response has always been from ‘new’ business people. 

They are unconventional, enjoy being challenged and want to discover new ways of looking at the world. Just like the blind, deaf or disabled people I mentioned, some are prepared to follow their hearts and do what they are here to do.

My passion is to help achievers to find their purpose, possibilities and peace in life. Why? They love freedom – the freedom to be, the freedom to create – and so do I.

Sometimes we all need somebody to say: “You can do it – let’s explore how.” My work is about helping people to make that decision – then putting it into practice.

Inspirational speeches can be a start, but then comes the sweat. People are more willing to do the hard work, however, if they have taken the responsibility to decide their destiny.

Different people choose different ways to make the best of life, whilst also managing any difficulties.

Looking ahead, can you think of any situations when you may want to apply this approach? You may wish to do this when taking the next step in your career, managing a transition, dealing with a particular issue or whatever.

How can you continue to enjoy life, but also do your best to manage the challenge? 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 make the best of life whilst also managing challenging issues.

Describe the specific things you can do to take these steps.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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    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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