Imagine that somebody has asked you to be their coach. There are many different approaches to helping them to reach their goals. This piece shows how you can facilitate a session based on strengths coaching.
You will start by creating an encouraging environment and clarifying the person’s picture of success. You can then provide practical tools they can use:
* To build on their strengths.
* To set specific goals.
* To achieve success.
Before beginning the coaching, however, it is vital to set-up the sessions to succeed. Let’s explore how to make this happen and then go onto running the actual session on strengths coaching.
* Start by clarifying the person’s picture of success.
Before the first session have an informal conversation with the person, either face-to-face or by phone. Clarify the general topics they want to cover and outline your approach to coaching. Providing you both feel there is the basis for working together, schedule the first session.
Prepare properly before that meeting. Take time-out to consider the person’s possible agenda – always leaving room for surprises – and how you can help them to reach their goals. Mentally rehearse the session. Then give yourself time to relax.
Start the actual first session by setting the scene. Create a stimulating sanctuary and clarify the topics the person wants to explore in the sessions. Some people may wish to simply concentrate on short-term goals; others may wish to explore their longer-term personal and professional goals.
Good coaches respect the person’s agenda. So you may ask questions like:
“What topics would you like to explore in the session? What for you would make it a useful session? Exploring the wider picture for a moment, is it okay to look at your medium and long-term goals? What are your professional goals? What do you want to achieve in your life and work?
“Everybody has different pictures of success. What is your picture? Imagine you are 80 and looking back on your life. What for you will mean your life has been successful? Returning to the present day: What are the key challenges you face? Would it be helpful to explore any of these challenges?
“Bearing in mind the various topics we have mentioned, which would be the most helpful to tackle? What would you like to take away from the session?”
Bearing in mind the person’s goals, explain what you can and can’t offer. Let’s assume there is the basis for working together. You can then make clear working contracts.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you can do to create a stimulating sanctuary and clarify the person’s picture of success. Try completing the following sentence.
You can then focus on the person’s strengths, specific goals and success. Let’s explore these steps.
1) You can help the person to build on their strengths.
Certainly you can immediately move into exploring how the person can achieve their first goal.
Before doing this, however, it can be extremely useful to clarify the person’s strengths, successful style and, if appropriate, the specific contribution they can make in their chosen work. There are several reasons for taking this route. It is useful:
* To know what the person does best.
* To know how they work best.
* To know the potential best contribution they can make to an employer.
Bearing this in mind, here are some questions you can ask the person on these themes.
“What are you strengths? What are the activities in which you consistently deliver As, rather than Bs or Cs? When do you feel at ease and yet also excel? When do you go through the stages of absorption, adventure and achievement? What do you feel passionately about? Which of these passions do you have the ability to translate into peak performance?
“What are the activities in which you quickly see the destination – the picture of success? When do you go ‘A, B ____ then leap to _____ Z’? Where do you quickly see patterns? Where do you have personal radar – the ability to know what will happen before it happens? Where do you have a track record of using this ability successfully?
“What are the specific activities in which you quickly go through process of clarity, creativity and concrete results? Where do you have natural self-discipline? What do you score highly on drive, detail and delivery? Where you do always do the basics and then add the brilliance? What are the activities in which you have the ability to become a class act?”
b) Successful Style.
“Let’s move on to exploring your successful style. Looking back on your life, describe what for you have been three satisfying ‘projects’. Use the term ‘project’ in its broadest sense. For example: passing an exam, designing a web site, running a marathon, shipping a product, writing an article, leading a team or whatever.
“Looking at each project in turn, then do several things. First, describe the example in detail. Second, describe the specific things that made it satisfying. Looking at these examples, can you see any patterns? What do you believe is your successful style – your preferred way of working? How can you follow these principles in the future?”
c) Specific Contribution.
“Looking at your successful style, does this provide any clues to your vocation? Your vocation is your calling – it is what you are here to do – and it may be expressed in a recurring life-theme. The ‘red thread’ in your life may be, for example: helping people to develop their talents; solving problems; making the world a better place or whatever.
“Your vocation remains constant. Over the years, however, you will employ different vehicles for expressing it on the road towards doing valuable work. What do you think may be your vocation? How can you express this even more in the future?
“Let’s explore three factors that will help to clarify your specific contribution to, for example, an employer. We will focus on the project, people and place.
* Project: Describe the kind of project you find stimulating.
* People: Describe the kind of people you find stimulating: both customers and colleagues.
* Place: Describe the kind of place – culture and environment – you find stimulating.
“Bearing these things in mind, what would be your perfect project? What would be the benefits to an employer of you delivering this work? How can you find or create such a project?
“What can you actually deliver? If you were a Managing Director, what would you hire somebody like yourself to deliver?
“Let’s put all these components together. What might be the specific contribution you could make to an employer? What would be the benefits – for the employer, the customers and yourself?”
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you can do to clarify the person’s strengths. Try completing the following sentence.
You can clarify the person’s strengths, successful style and, if appropriate, their specific contribution. It is then time to move onto the next step.
2) You can help the person to set specific goals.
Tackle the first topic the person wants to explore. Agree with them on the results they want to achieve – their picture of success. Be crystal clear on the ‘What’ before then moving on to the ‘How’.
This section involves focusing on the person’s specific goals, strategies and support. Let’s explore these themes.
a) Specific Goals.
One key thing is worth bearing in mind at this point. Clarifying the person’s strengths can sometimes lead to revisiting and revising their specific goals.
Let’s consider one example where this may happen. An ambitious leader may feel most alive when running pilot projects, rather than when doing general management. This realisation may well change their aims. They may realise that freedom and fulfilment, as well as getting well paid, are the key drivers. Climbing the corporate ladder may have been their original goal, but they don’t want to spend their life sitting in meetings. This does not mean giving-up on promotion. But the aim may change to doing fulfilling work whilst also being well funded. This is certainly an achievable goal.
Considering a person’s strengths can reaffirm their original aims. But sometimes it can lead to re-clarifying their targets. Let’s imagine, however, that the person has returned to their original agenda. You may want to say something like:
“Let’s look at the first topic you want to explore. What is your specific goal? What is your picture of success? What are the real results you want to achieve? What are the actual words you want people to be saying? What will be happening that will show you have reached your goal? Try to be as specific as possible.
“Let’s take a reality check before going any further. Looking at this situation: What are the controllables? What are the things you can control? What can’t you control? How can you build on what you can control and manage what you can’t? Bearing in mind the controllables, let’s go back to your goals. What are the specific results you want to achieve?”
Clarity is crucial. The more specific you are about the agreed outcomes, the greater the chances of success. You can then start formulating strategies for achieving the goals.
Start by clarifying the strategies that will give the person the greatest chance of success. Begin by building on what works. First, what works for that individual person. Second, what we know works for teams and organisations.
At this point you can also begin passing-on knowledge and practical tools. When sharing your ideas, watch the person to see which resonate – then follow-up these themes. So you may want to ask the person the following kinds of questions.
“Looking at the specific goals you want to achieve, let’s begin by studying success. What do we know works for you? How can you use your strengths – and follow your successful patterns – to achieve your goals? How would this work in practice? What do we know works for people, teams or organisations in this situation? How could you follow these paths in your way?
“Let’s consider the different routes you can take towards reaching your goals. Looking at each route, rate the chances of success. Do this on a scale 0 – 10. Which route do you want to take? Looking at your chosen route, what can you do to increase the rating? What are the 3 key things you can do to give yourself the greatest chance of success?”
“Looking at the strategies you are going to pursue, what support do you need to make them happen? What is the practical support? What is the psychological support?
“Who are the people from whom you need support? How can you make clear contracts with these people? What is your back-up plan if you do not get the support?
“How can you encourage yourself on the journey? How can you manage your energy properly? How can create times for rest and recovery? How can you do some ‘course correction’ and make sure you are still on the road towards achieving your goals? How can you get some early successes?”
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you can do to enable the person to set specific goals. Try completing the following sentence.
3) You can help the person to achieve success.
After establishing the person’s strengths and specific goals, you can now apply the approach that will be used in most of the subsequent sessions. You can concentrate on the themes of Superb Work, Solutions and Success. Let’s explore these in greater detail.
a) Superb Work.
It’s time to get the show on the road – time to sweat. So you may want to ask the person the following questions.
“How can you do superb work? How can you do your best to deliver success? How can you keep building on your strengths and managing the consequences of your weaknesses? How can you follow your creative rhythm? How can you do the right things in the right way every day? How can you be super professional? How can you keep in touch with your ‘customers’? How can you make sure you are satisfying these customers?”
Strengths coaches encourage people to do what they do best and do it brilliantly – but this does not mean ignoring difficulties or weaknesses. Somebody who is doing the right things in the right way will still encounter problems.
When tackling any difficulty, however, you can encourage the person to use the 3C creative problem solving model. This involves encouraging the person to keep focusing on Clarity, Creativity and Concrete Results. Here is an overview of the model.
Sometimes during a session you will use the solutions approach, but sometimes you may simply focus on strengths and strategies. Start the session by clarifying the person’s specific goals. Then focus on the appropriate mixture of strengths, strategies and solutions the person can use to reach their goals. This brings us to the next stage.
Time to move onto action. So you may ask some of the following questions.
“Let’s move onto the final stage. Before considering your action plan for reaching your first goal, it may be worth taking time out to reflect. Looking at the ideas we have discussed so far, which of these ideas can you use in your own way?
“Bearing these things in mind, let’s move onto your action plan. How can you translate these ideas into concrete actions? What do you want to do in the next days, week and month? How can you get an early success? How can you be a good finisher?
“Let’s take one final look the route you have chosen. What will be the pluses of taking this route? What will be the potential minuses? How can you build on the pluses and minimise the minuses? Is there anything else you can do to give yourself the greatest chance of success?”
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you can do to encourage, educate and enable the person to achieve ongoing success. Try completing the following sentence.
Strengths coaches are like good educators. They focus on the 3I’s: inspiration, implementation and integration. They create an inspiring environment, provide implementation tools that work and enable people to integrate the learning in their own way. How to make this happen?
One approach is to conclude the session by inviting the person to do three things:
a) To clarify what they have learned.
b) To clarify how they can apply these ideas in their life and work.
c) To clarify the future topics they want to explore.
You can invite them to take time-out, for example, to reflect on the following questions.
“Let’s return to the beginning. Today’s agenda was to focus on certain specific goals. Bearing these goals in mind, what are your ‘take aways’ from the session? What things have you learned or – more probably – relearned today? Looking to the future, when would you like us to meet for the next session?”
This is one approach to facilitating a first session on strengths coaching. During subsequent sessions, however, you may simply focus on the person’s specific goals. Always bearing in mind their strengths, you will then focus on the strategies and solutions they can follow to achieve ongoing success.