The Art of Strengths Coaching

E is for Balancing Being An Encourager, Educator and Enforcer

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Imagine you lead a team. You will aim to build on your strengths as a leader, whilst compensating for any weaknesses.

There are also many leadership models you can use in your own way. One approach is to combine the elements of being an encourager, educator and, when necessary, an enforcer. Let’s explore these themes.


Good leaders encourage people when meeting them in one-to-one situations. They give their full attention to the person and, when appropriate, give specific encouragement. They also show a sincere interest in the person and their development.

Such leaders aim to build a positive culture in which motivated people can achieve peak performance. Realising they are always on stage, such leaders aim to be good models. The team members must be self-motivated, of course, but they can also be lifted by a leader who is energetic and enthusiastic.

Good leaders often communicate a compelling purpose. They also communicate the benefits – to all stakeholders – of achieving the goals.

Such leaders explain the guidelines – the Dos and Don’ts – people can follow to do superb work. They then invite people to choose if they would like to contribute. They implement the right strategy with the right people in the right way.

Good leaders are encouraging, but they are also crystal clear. They explain the professional standards people will need to follow to achieve success. As we will see later, they are prepared to act if people choose not to follow those standards.

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

Looking at your own leadership style, how would you rate yourself as being an encourager for the people in your team? Do this on a scale 0-10. Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve the rating.

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Good leaders educate their people to become more self-managing and perform superb work. Different leaders do this in different ways. Depending on their own strengths, they may do this in some of the following ways.

They act as a positive model for their people. 

They coach people to perform superb work.

They provide practical tools and educational programmes that enable people to develop.

Good leaders often educate people by giving them context and the big picture. They then manage by outcomes, rather than by tasks. They achieve this by doing the following things.

They keep communicating the team’s story, strategy and road to success. They explain the What, Why, How, Who and When.

They invite people to make clear contracts about their contributions towards achieving the picture of success.

They encourage people to write their goals in outcome terms – describing the specific things they will deliver and by when – rather than as a list of tasks.

They manage by outcomes – rather than by tasks. When having conversations with people, they continually return to the actual things people have contracted to deliver. They encourage and enable people to deliver those outcomes.

Good leaders are decisive. They are happy to make decisions themselves but, when appropriate, they also educate their people to make good decisions and find creative solutions to challenges.

Different leaders do this in different ways. Some educate people to focus on Clarity, Creativity and Concrete Results. They encourage them to go through the following steps.

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

Looking at your own leadership style, how would you rate yourself as being an educator for the people in your team? Do this on a scale 0-10. Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve the rating.

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Some leaders are happy to encourage and educate others, but they may find it hard to deal with people who step over the line. One person said:

“I score highly on being an encourager and educator, probably 8/10 on both.

“I have difficulty with the enforcement part, however, where I score 6/10. Have you any suggestions?”

Good leaders see themselves as custodians of the culture. As mentioned earlier, they explain the guidelines and goals to people who want to be part of the culture.

Such leaders are prepared to act to protect the environment if some people want to spoil it for others. Let’s explore how to take this step.

Great teams focus on their purpose, follow certain principles and translate these into professional standards. So what can you do if somebody continually fails to deliver the required standards?

One approach is to act as a policeman and supervise them every day, but that will consume too much time. Let’s look at the alternative approach.

You are the trustee of the team’s purpose and principles. Certainly the trigger for taking action may be that a person has failed to deliver on some element of the standards.

When talking with the person, however, it is vital to return to the team’s compass. So you may wish to say something like:

“Let’s go back to the team’s purpose, principles and professional standards. Are these things that you are prepared to follow?”

Sometimes the person may say: “Yes, but …” They may blame somebody else or want to get into an argument. If so, simply go back to the original agreements that were made when they joined the team.

Again, you are the custodian of the team’s culture. If the person wants to drag you into the gutter with them, do not start arguing about the past. If appropriate, say:

“Looking to the future, do you want to deliver on the team’s professional standards? It is up to you. It is your choice.”

Give the person chance to reflect. They can choose whether they want to follow the required professional standards. You can then give them the opportunity to create and present an action plan for how they are going to translate these words into action.

Remember, it is not your job to persuade a person to behave responsibly. It is their job to persuade you. Bearing this in mind, however, it is important that:

You have previously explained the team’s purpose, principles and professional standards. You have also give the reasons for these standards.

You have made clear contracts with people about their best contribution to the team. 

You have given them the support they need to do the job. You have asked people to proactively keep you informed of their progress towards their agreed goals.

You have been managing by outcomes – focusing on what people actually deliver – rather than falling into managing by tasks.

The person can decide whether or not they want to follow the required professional standards. If not, you can replace them with somebody who does want to be positive, professional and deliver peak performance.

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Good leaders protect the environment in which motivated people can do good work. The leader mentioned at the start of this section liked this approach. He said:

“I feel comfortable with being a protector of the culture.

“Even though I will be acting as an enforcer, I will be doing so in a positive way.”

Great leaders are good encouragers and educators. They are also prepared to be enforcers to protect the environment, however, to help the team to success.

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

Looking at your own leadership style, how would you rate yourself as being an enforcer who protects the culture for the people in your team? Do this on a scale 0-10. Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve the rating.

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    A is for Being A Good Advisor

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    Imagine that you are working as an advisor in a particular field. You may help people with their careers, relationships, teams, companies, finances, health, professional development or whatever.

    There are many models for advising people in ways they find relevant and rewarding. One approach is to pass on knowledge that a person finds personal, practical and profitable.

    Personal – it should be personal and relate to their agenda and aims.

    Practical – it should provide them with possible alternatives and practical ways forward that can be translated into action. 

    Profitable – it should be, in the widest sense, profitable and help them to achieve aims.

    David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford wrote one of the seminal books on this theme called The Trusted Advisor. You can discover more about David’s work via the following link.

    Looking back on your own life, when have you been helped by a good advisor? They may have been a parent, friend, teacher, coach, mentor, leader, expert or whatever. They may have helped you in a personal or professional situation.

    What did they do to act as a good advisor? What were the principles they followed? What did you learn from the experience?

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

    Describe a person who has acted as a good advisor to you at some point in your life.

    Describe the specific things they did to act as a good advisor.

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    Imagine that a person has asked for your help regarding a specific challenge. Creating an encouraging environment, you may then go through following stages with them.

    Stage 1:
    Agenda and Aims

    Good advisors explore the person’s agenda and aims. Different people do this in different ways. Whichever way you choose, it can be useful to cover the following points.

    To clarify the person’s agenda – the various topics they want to explore and any challenges they face.

    To, if appropriate, clarify what is happening in their world at the moment – including specific examples related to the topics they want to explore – and get the whole picture.

    To agree on the first topic the person wants to explore and clarify their aims – the real results they want to achieve. 

    Conclude this part by double-checking you are clear on their aims. Play back your understanding and keep going until they say something like:

    “That is right. Those are the things I want to achieve.”

    Good advisors then make clear working contracts at this point. They say something like:

    “Before we explore the possible options for going forwards, it may be useful to outline what we can and can’t control in this situation.

    “The things we can control are … The things we can’t control are …

    “Bearing these in mind, here is what I can and can’t offer as a professional.

    “I can help you with the following things in the following ways …

    “I can’t help you with the following things though, if appropriate, I can recommend somebody who can …

    “Looking at these things, would you still like to go ahead and explore the possible options?”

    Let’s assume the person wants to go ahead. You can then move on to the next stage.

    Stage 2:
    Alternatives and Advice

    Good advisors outline the possible options for working towards achieving the aims. You may do this by saying something like the following.

    “Looking ahead, there are various options for going forward. Each option does, of course, have both pluses and minuses.

    “Option A is to … The pluses are … The potential minuses are …

    “Option B is to … The pluses are … The potential minuses are …

    “Option C is to … The pluses are … The potential minuses are …

    “I do have a professional opinion about which may be the most likely route to achieve your aims.

    “Before exploring that, however, is there anything else you would like to know about the various options I have outlined?”

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    Good advisors share their knowledge in a way that helps the person to succeed. At an appropriate point, you may therefore say something like the following.

    “So far we have explored the various options. If you wish, would you like me to give a professional opinion?

    “It will, of course, be your decision regarding the route you want to follow.”

    Such advisors then pass on advice in a way the person can understand. They give reasons for their opinion and answer any questions about the potential options. They then give the person chance to reflect before making a decision.

    Imagine that you have gone through this process and the person has made their decision. You will then decide if you want to help them to pursue this route. The chosen way forward obviously needs to fit with your own ethical and professional standards.

    Stage 3:
    Action and Achievements

    Good advisors help the person to pursue their chosen course of action. Sometimes they implement the actions themselves. Sometimes they act as a co-ordinator or coach. Sometimes they play another role.

    Before going ahead, however, they make clear contracts regarding the various responsibilities in working towards achieving the goals. You may, in you own way, explain the following areas for the person.

    “Looking forwards, the aims you want to achieve are: …

    “The various responsibilities in making this happen are as follows.

    “My responsibilities are to …

    “Your responsibilities are to …

    “The other stakeholder’s responsibilities are to …

    “Bearing these factors in mind, the various things you can expect to see happen in the next days, weeks and months are …

    “Let me check with you. Are you happy with these arrangements? Are there any questions you have? Are there any other things you would like to discuss?”

    Good advisors make clear contracts about everybody’s role in pursuing the route forwards. Sometimes they follow up with an email or other written communication. Everybody needs to be clear about the various responsibilities and the next steps towards achieving the aims.

    Such advisors do their best to ensure they and the people involved implement the action plan successfully. They may play a somewhat different role, however, if they are acting as a mentor or coach.

    Good advisors then act like educators. They encourage and enable the person to do their best. They pass on positive models and practical tools the person can use to achieve their goals.

    Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when a person may ask you to act as a good advisor? They may want you to help them in your role as a counsellor, coach, mentor, leader or whatever.

    How can you clarify their agenda and aims? How can you explain the alternatives and, if appropriate, share advice? How can you help them to move from words to action and achieve their aims?

    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 somebody may ask you to act as a good advisor.

    Describe the specific things you can do to act as a good advisor in the situation.

    Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of acting as a good advisor to the person.

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