The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Customisation Rather Than Commoditisation In Development

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“The learner learns what the learner wants to learn,” was the message I was given during my early days of working with people.

Clarifying the learner’s agenda made it more likely to be able to help them to achieve their goals. So it was vital to make clear contracts with people when doing a one-to-one session or running a workshop.

During my early days of running sessions on strengths and super teams, people seemed hungry to learn about the concepts. As the years went by, however, they wanted much more customised attention.

During the breaks it became more frequent for people to approach and say something like the following.

“I understand what you said in the session, but can I ask you a specific question?

“What do you do if …?”

People had always asked questions, but these enquiries were at a different level. They knew the theory, but now they wanted a much more customised answer. They did not want a commoditised, off-the-shelf, answer.

One Managing Director explained this in the following way. He said:

“I have been on many leadership courses and know lots of theories.

“What I would like to know, however, is how to work with a particular person in my team.

“I have tried lots of things, but I need some practical ideas that work.”

The MD was aware of many leadership concepts. He wanted something practical, however, that he could apply to achieve concrete results.

Good educators make learning personal, practical and, in the widest sense, profitable. They make sure that it relates to the person’s agenda. They then provide practical tools that help the person to achieve their picture of success.

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

Describe a specific situation when somebody clarified what you really wanted and then provided relevant knowledge or practical tools that helped you to develop.

Describe the specific things they did to connect with you and provide customised development.

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Customisation is relatively simple if you can make clear contracts with people before or at the start of a session. Let’s explore ways of doing this in various kinds of sessions.

Customising A
Mentoring Session

When facilitating a mentoring session you will create an encouraging environment and make the person feel welcome. You may then ask them some of the following questions.

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Bearing in mind the results the person wants to achieve, you will then explore ideas and pass on knowledge they can use to achieve success.

A Workshop

Clear contracting is crucial when running a workshop. Imagine you have been asked to run a session for a department. You will probably meet with the key stakeholders ahead of time and ask some of the following questions.

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Bearing their answers in mind, play back your understanding regarding the goals for the session. Make sure everybody is agreed on the desired outcomes.

You will then design the workshop to make sure it is relevant and rewarding for the participants.

When starting the actual session, it will be important to make clear working contracts with people. You may say something like:

Welcome to the session.

Today the aim is to provide practical tools you can use to continue to achieve success.

Bearing in mind the overall organisation’s goals – and the challenges you face in your work – some of the topics we aim to explore today are:

How to …

How to …

How to …

My role is to provide an encouraging environment and practical tools that work. The role I would like you to take is to encourage each other and also apply the tools in your own way.

Bearing in mind what I have outlined, are there any other topics you would like us to explore?

If appropriate, you can also add other topics that will contribute towards people achieving success. People often say, however:

“That sounds enough to be going on with. If we do those things, then we will be well on our way.”

Good educators make sure that the learning relates to people’s personal or professional goals. They then provide relevant knowledge and practical tools that people can use to achieve success.

Customising Answers
To A Specific Question

Let’s return to the situation where a person comes up to you during a break, for example, and asks how to tackle a specific challenge.

You will listen carefully, provide a starter answer, but then ask for more details. One approach is to go through the follow stages that focus on clarity, creativity and concrete results.

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Let’s return to the earlier conversation when the Managing Director asked how to work with a particular person in the team. After getting a picture of the situation, I asked about the real results he wanted to achieve.

He began by talking about how he wanted to understand the challenging person. After a few minutes, however, he explained:

“I have tried lots of things to get the person on board, but he causes lots of collateral damage.

“Looking ahead, the real result I want to achieve is to build a successful team.”

Bearing this in mind, we explored several options he could take:

To communicate the team’s story, strategy and road to success.

To build a positive culture in which motivated people could achieve peak performance.

To give clear messages to the difficult person regarding the professional behaviour that was required if he wanted to contribute to the team.

The MD and I had an informal follow up meeting a week later to focus on the specific steps he could take to build a successful team. This included the positive back up plan if people chose not to contribute in a professional way.

Customisation often results from somebody saying: “I know about the theory, but what can I actually do?”

People often grow by going through the stages of awareness, application and achievement. If you work as a coach, mentor or trusted advisor, for example, you may be judged by your ability to help people with application.

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One business leader expressed this sentiment in the following way.

“Many people are aware of the guiding principles for leading a business or running successful teams.

“People can surf the web and see these principles repeated time and again. There are thousands of experts on organisations, for example, who want to market their latest idea.

“What leaders pay for, however, is application. They want people to be helped to apply the ideas in real life situations and deliver success.”

Commoditisation is sometimes necessary when passing on general concepts, but then comes the personal touch. Customisation is often about helping people to apply the relevant learning and take the practical steps required to achieve their goals.

Looking ahead, can you think of a situation where you may want to provide customised development for people? You may aim to do this when helping an individual, team or organisation.

What can you do then to connect with people and clarify their agenda? How can you pass on relevant knowledge and practical tools that help them to succeed?

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 where you may want to provide customised development for people. This can be for a person or a group of people.

Describe the specific things you can do to provide customised development for them.

Describe the specific benefits of providing this customised development.

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    H is for Health, Hope and Happiness

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    There are many ways to help people to shape their future lives. One approach is to focus on their health, hope and happiness.

    Imagine you are facilitating a coaching session where a person wants to explore these areas. There are many models and tools you can use. Let’s consider some of these.


    People want to feel physically and psychologically healthy.

    Unless you are medically qualified, it can be tricky to focus on a person’s physical health. If wish, however, you can invite them to tackle the following exercise.

    This invites them to explore their own view of their health. Bearing in mind the person’s age and time in life, the exercise invites them to do the following things.

    They can – on a scale 0-10 – rate their physical health.

    They can then describe the specific things they can do to maintain or improve this rating.

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    If the person wants to explore this topic further, you can ask some of the following questions. (Again, it is vital to explain that you are not offering any medical advice or opinions.)

    “What are your goals regarding your energy and physical health?

    “When have you felt most healthy? What were you doing right then?

    “What was the amount of sleep you were getting? What was the food you were eating? What was the exercise you were doing?

    “What do you want to do regarding your physical health? How can you get some early successes? What will be the benefits of doing these things?”

    Tom Rath is committed to helping people to take care of their health. A best selling author of business books, he decided to switch to providing people with knowledge they could use to improve their wellbeing.

    Here is an extract from his website devoted to Eat, Move, Sleep. This takes the form of a Question and Answer regarding why he wrote the book. You can discover more via the following link.

    Q: What prompted you to write a book about health?
    After writing business books for more than a decade, I realized that improving health is the biggest business challenge of our generation. Nothing breaks household finances, corporate balance sheets, or national economies faster than poor health.

    But the much larger reason why I decided to focus all of my time and energy on this topic is because I was tired of seeing people that I care about suffer unnecessarily and die early.

    We are literally killing ourselves, sapping our energy, and destroying our wellbeing as a result of lousy decisions we make about our health each day.

    Q: Why have you spent so much time studying this topic?

    I first started doing this research to save my own life, literally. While I have been reluctant to discuss this before, I have been battling cancer for more than twenty years now.

    Ever since my diagnosis, I’ve spent time every day learning about specific things I can do to extend my odds of living a bit longer.

    Over the last decade, I have focused more attention on helping friends, family, and colleagues to learn from these discoveries and lead healthier lives.


    Q: What are some of the most important things you have learned from this research?

    What I learned, not only about how to prevent cancer, but also how to prevent heart disease, diabetes, and obesity – is remarkably encouraging.

    The vast majority of human disease and illness is preventable. There are hundreds of specific, proven actions we can take to increase our odds of living longer and stronger.

    What matters most are the small decisions we make each day, ones that give us more energy in the moment and also prevent illness in the future.

    The second major finding is that these three elements – eating, moving, and sleeping – build on one another.

    Eating right makes it easier to be active. Being active makes it easier to sleep.

    Sleeping well helps you to avoid bad foods, and so on. As a result, working on all three at once is even easier than focusing on one area in isolation.

    Q: Don’t we already know that we should be eating, moving, and sleeping better?

    In Eat Move Sleep, I cover a lot of the essentials that people know they should be doing, but have trouble applying on a daily basis.

    I like books that help me figure out how to apply things I already know but don’t do.

    There are several things in the book I have known for a long time, yet did not practice myself until I learned new ways to connect short-term incentives with what is best for my long-term health.

    Frankly, my biggest challenge in writing this book was narrowing down to the most practical findings for a broad audience, given the wealth of good science on these topics today.


    People want to feel hopeful. They want to feel in control and able to shape their futures.

    This calls for having a positive attitude, but also controlling the controllables. Positive people build on what they can control, rather than become paralysed about what they can’t control.

    This has implications regarding having sense of hope. You may feel hopeful about shaping your own future, for example, but concerned about the future of the planet. Being positive, however, you will focus on how you can help your loved ones and future generations.

    For the purpose of this exercise, we are exploring: The extent to which a person feels hopeful about shaping their own future.

    Ricky Snyder enabled many people to develop a sense of hope. His book The Psychology of Hope explored two aspects concerning people’s ability to shape their futures. This focused on:

    Will Power

    This is the person’s will to shape their future.

    Way Power

    This is the person’s ability to see ways to shape their future.

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    This explains why a normally positive person can feel confused if they feel depressed when facing a particular challenge. They still have a strong will to solve the issue, but as yet they cannot see a way to find a solution.

    Once they see a way through the problem, however, the cloud evaporates. Their sense of hope returns and they feel reinvigorated to tackle the challenge.

    Bearing these factors in mind, you can invite the person to tackle the following exercise. This invites them to do two things:

    They can – on a scale 0-10 – rate their sense of hope. This is their feeling about their ability to shape their future in a positive way.

    They can describe the specific things they can do to maintain or improve the rating.

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    You can then use some of the following questions regarding their sense of hope.

    “When have you felt most hopeful in your life? What were you doing right then? How can you follow these principles again in the future?

    “Let’s focus on controlling the controllables. What are the things you can control in your life and work? What are the things you can’t control? How can you build on what you can control and manage what you can’t?

    “Bearing in mind the will and the way, let’s explore how you can develop each of these factors.

    “What are your long-term goals in life? Imagine you are 80 years old and looking back on your life.

    “What is your picture of success? What are the things you want to have done by then that for you will mean you have had a successful life?

    “Looking at those long-term goals, what are the three key things you can do to give yourself the greatest chance of success? How can you take steps towards these goals?

    “If appropriate, let’s explore some of the challenges you face. If it fits, we can use the 3C model for finding creative solutions to challenges.”

    You can invite the person to work through one specific challenge by using the following approach. Done properly, this can enable a person to develop their options.

    People who expand their repertoires can find more ways to achieve their goals. This can increase their sense of hope.

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    When you ask parents what they want for their children, they often say: “We want them to be happy.”

    So the question is: “How do people achieve happiness?”

    Some people say that happiness is an outcome of pursuing certain principles, rather than an end in itself. During the past 40 years, however, Positive Psychology has researched the topic of happiness. It has asked:

    “What kinds of people are happy? What are the principles such people follow to be happy? Is it possible for other people to follow these principles in their own ways to maintain or improve their happiness?”

    The recent work on happiness was inspired by psychologists such as Martin Seligman, who wrote Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness.

    Later he would express reservations about the term happiness. Since then he and other researchers have used terms such as wellbeing, flourishing and life-satisfaction. But many people continue to refer to the approach as focusing on happiness.

    The researchers who explore this and related topics include Ed Diener, Robert Biswas-Diener, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Tal Ben-Shahar, Barbara Fredrickson, Tom Rath and many others.

    Here is an overview of some of the principles that have emerged. You will, of course, have your own views on themes that could be added.

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    If appropriate, invite the person to explore their own sense of happiness. You can ask them some of the following questions.

    “What is your picture of happiness? What would you be doing, thinking and feeling?

    “When have been the times you have felt most happy? What were you doing right then? How can you follow these principles again in the future?

    “When have you felt fully alive? When have you felt most creative? What are the kinds of activities in which you gain a sense of fulfilment?”

    “Would you like to do any more of these things in the future? If so, how can you take these steps? What will be the benefits?”

    There are many ways to live life. One approach is to focus on health, hope and happiness.

    If you wish, you can invite the person to tackle the final exercise on these themes. This asks them to do the following things.

    They can – on a scale 0-10 – rate their sense of happiness.

    They can describe the specific things they can do to maintain or improve the rating.

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