The Strengths Blog

 


March 31st, 2015

C is for Being A Creator rather than A Complainer

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People can choose their attitude in different situations. They can choose to be creators, for example, and find solutions to challenges. They can also choose to just complain.

Different cultures choose to reward creators or complainers. The behaviour that is rewarded has consequences for everybody in the culture.

Looking at your own life, can you recall a time when you chose to be a creator? You may have suffered a setback, felt frustrated with others just talking or seen a problem that needed solving.

You chose to get on with doing good work, however, rather than become apathetic. What did you do right then? What were the benefits – both for you and other people – of choosing to do good work?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to recall the principles you followed to be a creator.

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Successful cultures inspire people to produce solutions. They give messages that encourage positive scripting rather than negative scripting. Positive yet realistic, they communicate messages such as:

We can do it. Let’s take responsibility for tackling this challenge. How can we find – as far as possible – a win-win solution?

Unsuccessful cultures are characterised by people becoming institutionalised. They blame others and look for somebody else to solve the problem.

People who are exposed to positive scripts in the family, work place and society often internalise these attitudes. They are more likely to respond to situations with a ‘Can do…’ approach. Those who internalise negative scripts are more likely to give up.

Some individuals choose to shift their attitude in response to challenges. One person said:

A leader I respect confronted me about my behaviour. They said:

“Do you realise that by being so negative you are driving people away from you? Sometimes you come across as an observer critic. You criticise others rather than have a plan for going forwards.”

Since then I have tried to help people rather than depress them. The whole family says I am better to be around. My son says he now actually enjoys spending time with me.

Looking to the future, can you think of a situation when you may want to take the creative route? You may want to tackle a health challenge, face a transition in your work, deal with a difficult problem in the family or whatever.

How can you clarify the real results you want to achieve in the situation? How can you gather lots of information, explore the potential options and choose your way forward? How can you then be a good implementer and work hard 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 be a creator rather than a complainer.

Describe the specific things you can do to be a creator in that situation.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of you choosing to be a creator.

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March 30th, 2015

C is for Balancing The Cave and The Campfire

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What is your preferred way of living and working? Are you an introvert, extrovert or a mixture of both?

Sometimes you may like to spend time in your cave to reflect. Sometimes you may want to spend time beside the campfire with certain people. Sometimes you may want to get the right combination of both. Let’s explore these different modes.

Spending time
in the cave

When do you like to spend time in a cave? Sometimes in your professional life you may need to do solitary creative work without interruption. Perhaps when you are writing, problem solving or pondering a tough decision.

Sometimes in your personal life you may need individual time to do some slow thinking. Sometimes you may simply want to make sense of experience before moving forwards.

There are many different kinds of caves. Perhaps you have favourite physical spaces where you withdraw from the world. These may be a studio, a bed or even the corner of a coffee house.

Sometimes you may withdraw into your own psychological space. You may want to listen to music, go for a walk or find other ways to reflect.

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

Describe your favourite caves – the places you use as a sanctuary and where you take time out to reflect.

Describe the specific benefits you get from spending time in these caves.

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Spending time
around the campfire

When do you like to spend time around the campfire? What do you get from being in these places?

Looking at your personal life, you may like to share ideas with a few kindred spirits. You may enjoy talking with them, getting stimulation and finding solutions together. How can you spend more time with these people?

Looking at your professional life, who are the specific people with whom you like to share the campfire? Who are the customers and colleagues with whom you enjoy working? Do you have any favourite places where you like to meet? How can you spend more time in these situations?

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

Describe your favourite campfires – the people and places that give you a sense of enjoyment, stimulation or peace.

Describe the specific benefits you get from spending time around these campfires.

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Balancing the cave
and the campfire

What for you is the right balance between the cave and campfire? Do you need to spend more time alone? Or do you need to spend more time getting stimulation from the real world?

Everybody is different and it may be impossible to get the perfect combination. But it can be good to clarify how much time you want to spend in the different places.

Everybody is a mixture of introvert and extrovert. A person who is an introvert, for example, may like to spend time reflecting and composing their thoughts.

They may also be a good leader, however, when moving into the role of doctor, carer, trusted advisor or other professional role. The role provides a chance to follow clear guidelines and enable other people to succeed.

Susan Cain became known for her work on the power of introverts. Below is a TED talk she gave on this theme. You can discover more about her work via the following link.

http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/

Jennifer Kahnweiler has also described how introverts can be fine leaders. You can discover more about this approach via her website.

http://jenniferkahnweiler.com/

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

Describe the specific things you can do to get the right balance between the cave and the campfire.

Describe the specific benefits of getting the right balance between the cave and the campfire.

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March 30th, 2015

C is for Clarifying What Your Small Company Can Do, Maybe Can Do and Probably Can’t Do

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Imagine that you lead a small company. How can you ensure that it focuses on what it can do brilliantly, rather than spread itself too thinly? This article describes an exercise that can be used to clarify your future strategy.

Clarifying What The Company Can Do,
Maybe Can Do and Probably Can’t Do

Small companies often start by offering a specialised service. Some find a niche and develop it to become successful.

Some companies find that they spread themselves across several fields, however, and become unfocused. This can be exacerbated by individuals who want to pursue their own specialities.

The creative process often involves opening up and trying lots of things. After a while, however, it is important to close down, focus on a few things and do these brilliantly.

Imagine you lead a small company that wants to refine its focus. Gather people together, give each person a pack of Post-it Notes and ask them to do the following exercise.

Bearing in mind the company’s strengths, invite them to describe what they believe the company: a) Can Do; b) Maybe Can Do; c) Probably Can’t Do. People are also to give reasons for their ideas.

Invite each person to reflect on these themes and then write as many ideas as they wish under each of the headings. They are to write one idea per Post-it, but can write as many ideas as they wish.

When thinking about what the company can do, remind them to focus on what it may be able to do brilliantly. They are to write: “We can …” A person may write, for example:

“We can create pioneering products – that are also profitable – in the following areas …

“We can gain the reputation for being trusted advisors with the following kinds of clients …

“We can build a culture that our employees feel enables them to build on their strengths and do great work.”

(The company can, of course, go bankrupt. For the sake of this exercise, however, encourage people to focus on the things it can do well, maybe can do well and probably can’t do well.)

Give people time to complete their writing. They are then to each go up in turn and put their ideas on flip charts that have the following headings.

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Concentrating On What
The Company Can Do

Give people an opportunity to discuss the ideas that have been put on the flip charts. After a while, begin focusing more on the things people believe the company can do well. Encourage people to give reasons why they believe it is possible to do excellent work in these areas.

You can then move on to the next stage. Invite people to clarify the strategy for the future. Ask them:

“Looking at the specific things we can do well, which should we focus on to help both our company and our clients to succeed? What will be the benefits of doing these things?”

Explore the various ideas and then make decisions. Settle on the specific areas the team wants to concentrate on in the future.

Looking at each area in turn, encourage people to make crystal clear plans that cover the following themes.

The What: The specific results to achieve.

The Why: The specific benefits of achieving these results.

The How: The specific strategies people can follow to achieve the results.

The Who: The specific people who are responsible for achieving the results.

The When: The specific things that must be achieved and by when.

Small companies often perform best when they concentrate on doing a few things and doing these brilliantly. They must also, of course, be able to do these in a profitable way.

Bearing this in mind, you can summarise the company’s way forward by completing the following exercise. You can then ensure that people focus on what the company can do superbly and deliver success.

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March 28th, 2015

S is for Sharing Strategies For Achieving Success

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There are many ways to help people. One approach is to share strategies that can help them to achieve success.

Different people share strategies in different ways. They may act as mentors, coaches, teachers, counsellors, writers, inventors, leaders or whatever. This article explores how you can study and share such strategies in your own way.

Imagine you want to share knowledge about a particular topic. It is useful: a) To choose a topic you feel passionately about; b) To choose one in which you also have a track record of delivering positive results.

Different people will obviously choose different topics. They may focus on helping people to learn certain skills, do satisfying work, tackle particular challenges or whatever.

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

Describe the specific topic about which you would like to share strategies that can help people to achieve success.

If appropriate, write this in ‘How to …’ terms. For example: How to stay healthy, how to manage their finances, how to shape their future career, how to overcome setbacks or whatever.

Describe the specific reasons why you would like to share strategies that can help people to achieve success in this particular area.

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Imagine that you have chosen to focus on a specific topic. How can you identify the strategies that people follow in this area to achieve success? One approach is to study what works.

This is a step I was helped to take during my early career. After running therapeutic communities for young people, in 1974 I was asked to share this knowledge. Social workers in Scandinavia were interested in how to run such communities.

They invited me to share lessons from the programmes. Certainly I had ideas about what worked, but it also made sense to study other successful therapeutic communities.

What did such programmes do right? What were the strategies they followed? How could others use these strategies to help young people to develop?

Looking around the world, there were many models that people followed. The programmes that were most relevant, however, often pursued the following strategies.

They created a positive culture in which motivated people could develop.

They provided practical tools that enabled people to work towards achieving their life goals.

They only worked with motivated people who were prepared to take responsibility, encourage others and follow the community guidelines.

If people chose to break the guidelines they were choosing to leave the community.

Bearing these themes in mind, I created a two-day course that could be delivered to people interested in running such therapeutic communities. This involved bringing the strategies to life and, where appropriate, enabling the participants to follow these in their own ways.

Different people have different approaches to studying success in their chosen field. They may study what works for people to stay healthy, lead teams, provide medical care, manage crises, solve particular problems or whatever.

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

Describe the specific topic about which you would like to share strategies that can help people to achieve success.

Describe the specific things you can do to study strategies for achieving success in this particular area.

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Imagine that you have clarified the strategies that work in a particular field. How can you share these in a way that helps people to succeed?

Different people choose different vehicles for making this happen. They may choose to mentor, coach, teach, lead teams, write, create websites or use other vehicles.

Whichever method you choose, it can be useful to remember the principles follow by many good educators. They aim to make the learning personal, practical and profitable.

Personal – It must relate to the person and their goals

Practical – It must be practical and provide tools that help the person to reach their goals.

Profitable – It must be, in the widest sense, profitable and help the person to achieve their goals.

Bearing these factors in mind, it can be useful to explore the following questions.

Who are the people I want to reach with the information? What are the challenges they face? What is their picture of success?

What is the knowledge I can share to help them to reach their goals? How can I share this in a way that resonates with them? How can I enable people to apply the strategies in their own ways and achieve success?

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

Describe the specific topic about which you would like to share strategies that can help people to achieve success.

Describe the specific things you can do to share the strategies for achieving success in this particular area.

Describe the specific benefits of sharing the strategies for achieving success in this particular area.

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March 27th, 2015

B is for Being A Builder rather than A Blamer

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People can choose to be builders or blamers. They can choose to build on what people have in common or blame others.

The first route can help to create a better future. The second can create pain for both present and future generations.

Many people want similar things in life. They want to healthy, happy and create a hopeful future for their children. This is ‘What’ they want. People sometimes get into conflict, however, about ‘How’ to achieve these aims.

Builders often help people to focus on the real things they want in life. They then help them to find positive ways to achieve these goals.

Looking back on your life, have you known or heard about a person who was a builder rather than a blamer? What did they do to, for example, help other people?

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

Describe a person you have known or heard about who was a builder rather than a blamer.

Describe the specific things they did to be a builder.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of them being a builder.

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Builders focus on what people have in common. They look beneath a blame culture, for example, and focus on people’s real human needs. If appropriate, they may then help the stakeholders to agree on common goals.

Imagine such a person is counselling divorcing parents. The couple may say they disagree about everything. When asked if they want the best for their children, however, the parents will say: “Of course we do.”

The counsellor may then ask the parents:

“Looking back in future years, what do you want the children to be saying about how you behaved towards them after the divorce?”

Parents often say things like: “We want them to be saying that we encouraged them, rather than used them as pawns.”

Focusing on the children’s welfare, the parents can be encouraged to agree on some common goals. They can then be helped to get some early successes.

Builders Often Focus
On The Third Side

There are many models for helping people to build on common ground. Builders often encourage people to focus on what is called The Third Side.

People can get into difficulties because they sit opposite each other and fight for their own agendas.

Each party says the equivalent of: “I am right,” or “Our side is right.” “You are wrong.” These are the First and Second Sides.

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People are more likely to solve things if they can sit side by side and look together towards a Third Side.

This Third Side can be the greater goal, the picture of success or whatever. The common goal may be, for example, the children’s welfare after a divorce, the team’s mission or the kind of world we want to pass on to future generations.

Good mediators, for example, encourage the interested parties to look together at a compelling Third Side. They then say things like:

“These are the goals to achieve. This is the picture of success. These are the benefits of achieving the goals.

“Is this something you want to work towards achieving?

“If so, how can you do your best to contribute to achieving the goals? How can you help other people to achieve the goals?”

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Mediators keep bringing people back to the ‘What’ – the real results they want to achieve. This can be challenging, because people often want to get into arguing about the ‘How’.

The key is to keep returning to the ‘What’. This calls for following certain rules. It is important:

To show respect and recognise the authenticity of each person’s feelings because everybody must feel they have been heard.

To encourage people to look to the future, rather than fight about the past.

To get people to be super specific about the desired outcome by asking: “What are the real results you want to achieve?”

To encourage the parties to put the challenge in positive terms. For example: “How can we work together to achieve success?” Rather than: “Why can’t we stop fighting?”

To build on the common ground, get some quick success and begin to build confidence.

Builders love to find solutions to challenges. Sometimes they go into this mode when hearing people talk about problems in the world. They channel their energy by focusing on the following themes.

What do the various people want? What is the potential common ground? What could be an agreed picture of success?

How could people achieve these goals? What are the strategies they could follow to achieve success? How could they get some early wins?

How can I use these lessons in my own life? How can I continue to be a builder and help other people?

Builders continually try to improve in their own lives and work. They aim to demonstrate the spirit and, if appropriate, the strategies that others can follow to be builders rather than blamers.

How can you continue to be a good builder? If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the rating you would give yourself regarding being a builder rather than a blamer. Do this on a scale 0 – 10 with 10 being the highest rating for being a good builder.

Describe the rating that you believe other people would give you regarding you being a builder.

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain or improve the ratings regarding being a good builder.

Describe the specific benefits of continuing to be a good builder.

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