The Strengths Blog


June 30th, 2013

The Strengths Companion: E is for Energy

Peak performers are good at managing their energy. This enables them to be at their best when it matters. Similarly, managing one’s energy properly plays an important part in making good use of one’s strengths.

There are, of course, many different kinds of energy. Some writers have produced excellent books on how to manage one’s physical energy. Others are quite practical in terms of managing the philosophical and psychological aspects. Some writers are also rather vague.

Managing one’s energy properly, however, can contribute to achieving great results. One of the best books on the subject is The Power of Full Engagement, written by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. This has the subtitle: Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance.

Jim and Tony have worked with outstanding performers in many fields. The book focuses on the role of the Corporate Athlete. As their site The Human Performance Institute says:

“The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not. This fundamental insight has the power to revolutionize the way you live your life. The Power of Full Engagement is a highly practical, scientifically based approach to managing your energy more skillfully, both on and off the job.”

The book explores how people can manage their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy. Far from being flaky, it offers down to earth concrete ideas that actually work in practice.

You can find out more about their work at The Human Performance Institute and The Energy Project via the links at the end of this article.

Other writers use other categories for focusing on the different kinds of energy. One of the most common is to focus on people’s philosophical, psychological and physical energy. Let’s explore how this relates to strengths.

Philosophical Energy

Peak performers do what they believe in. They gain strength from pursuing a particular purpose, credo or goal. When in doubt, they go back and refocus on this aim. This gives them energy to get up in the morning and do their best that day.

Psychological Energy

Peak performers have a positive attitude. They foucs on stimulating projects and spend time meet with positive people. This provides the strength required to deal with negativity and find creative solutions to challenges. They use their psychological energy to work towards achieving their goals.

Physical Energy

Peak performers make good use of their physical energy in the areas where they perform brilliantly. (Sometimes they may neglect this discipline in other areas.)

They start with their bodies: they eat and rest properly. They plan their time properly. They make good use of their prime times – the times of the day when they have most energy.

They often organise their time in blocks. They can then become absorbed in a subject, rather than be interrupted. They are positively engaged, rather than partly or pretend engaged. They follow the creative process of absorption, adventure and achievement.

Great workers build in time during the day to reflect. They clarify the big picture, consider the potential options and choose their strategy for going forward. They then flow, focus and finish.


Peak performers combine these elements together. They prepare themselves physically and mentally. They relax, rehearse and rise to the occasion.

Energy is life. So they make good use of their philosophical, psychological and psychological energy. They harness this strength to achieve their picture of success.


* The Human Performance Institute.

This provides a link to the work of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.

* The Energy Project.

Tony has combined with other people to form The Energy Project. This aims to help people, teams and organisations to manage their energy to achieve high performance. Below is a link to their site plus their blog.


June 30th, 2013

3 tips for producing a brochure for your perfect customers

How can you clarify what you offer to people? One approach is to write a ‘brochure’ for your perfect customer.

This can be a useful exercise, even though you may never send out the brochure. It forces you to clarify the specific thing you want to offer, the customers you want to reach and how you can help them to achieve success. Let’s explore three steps towards making this happen.

1) You can clarify your perfect customer.

Start by identifying who you want to reach. Begin by asking yourself questions such as:

“Who are my favourite customers? Which customers give me positive energy? Who are the people with whom I work best? Do they have certain personality characteristics? Do they have certain values?

“Do these people work in certain kinds of industries? If so, which? Do they have particular roles in organisations? For example, are they decision makers or certain kinds of specialists?

“Looking at these customers, what might be their professional goals? What is their picture of success? What must they deliver to their employers? What are the challenges they face? How could what I offer help them to achieve success?”

Try tackling the exercise on this theme. First, describe the types of customers with whom you work best. Second, describe the characteristics of these customers. Third, describe the challenges they face.

Most organisations, for example, want to improve aspects of the 3 Ps. They want to improve their profitability; their product quality – including customer satisfaction; and their people. Try completing the following exercise.

2) You can clarify what you can deliver for your perfect customer.

Bearing in mind your strengths, do two things. First, describe the specific things you can deliver to help these customers to tackle their challenges and achieve success. Second, describe the specific benefits these will bring for the customers. Try completing the following exercise.

3) You can produce the brochure.

Different people write different kinds of brochures. Some people want to include everything about themselves. But the aim of the brochure exercise, however, is to crystallise what they offer and the benefits to their perfect customers.

People may also write several versions of their brochure. The first version is often for themselves. While this is a valid step, like writing your autobiography before penning other books, the main purpose is to clarify your own philosophy. It is not necessarily to send it out to the market.

The second version is aimed at your target group. It is written in a way that speaks directly to your customers. People produce brochures in different styles, shapes and sizes. Broadly speaking, however, they fall into one of three categories.

* The ‘Buy Me’ brochure.

This brochure starts with an autobiographical piece. It says something like:

“This is who I am. I have been on a personal and professional adventure. This is my track record. Because of my experience, you should buy me.”

The corporate version says something like:

“We are the leading company in our field and therefore you should buy us.”

Such brochures seldom mention the customer benefits.

* The ‘Success Stories’ brochure.

This brochure starts with a list of success stories. It says something like:

“Company A came to me/us with a problem. They wanted the following things to happen: _________. I/we provided the following solutions. Company A were delighted with the results. Company B came to me/us with a problem … etc.”

This type of brochure can be effective, providing it shows potential clients there is scope for customised solutions.

* The ‘Customer Benefits’ brochure.

This brochure is customer focused. Starting from the customer’s agenda, it shows you understand their issues. It also offers possible solutions and outlines the customer benefits. Put in parody form, it may say something like:

“Would you like to be even happier? Would you like you staff to be even more creative? Would you like to build an even more successful company? If so, read on.”

Successful brochures sometimes combine all three approaches, but these are often placed in reverse order. Starting with the customer’s agenda, the brochure then outlines successes stories and, finally, something about the person or company offering the services.

One key point is worth underlining. Good suppliers outline what they will actually deliver for a customer. They recognise that people buy success, not the theory of success.

Some suppliers go into great detail about what they will do. Explaining their processes in depth, they seem to believe that this will convince the client. At this point, the customer wants to say:

“Just tell me what you can deliver. Then I may be prepared to ask questions about how you will do it. I want to hear your equivalent of the ‘elevator pitch’. I want to know the benefits, not the endless features.”

It’s now time test your brochure. Choose a few customers whose views you respect and who are willing to give you feedback. Explain the purpose of the brochure: what it is supposed to do, what it isn’t. For example, it may aim to give a taster, establish credibility and arouse customer’s interest. Does it achieve this aim? Ask for honest feedback.

What does the brochure do well, what could it do better and how? What could be added or changed to make it more relevant for customers? Incorporate the ideas you believe in and rewrite the brochure.  You can then use in several ways, such as the basis for your offering to customers, your ‘elevator pitch’ or website.

Good brochures have an impact. So tackle the final exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you want people to be saying, thinking and doing after reading the brochure. Try completing the following sentence.

There are many ways to define the services you provide. One of the simplest is to create a brochure for your perfect customer. You may or may not send it out. But the exercise helps to clarify what you want to offer to people.

Try tackling the final exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you can do to produce a brochure for your perfect customers. Try completing the following sentence.

June 29th, 2013

3 tips for enjoying great days, good days and grunt days

You may experience three kinds of days. Great days when you fly and feel exhilarated. Good days when you do a fine job and feel satisfied. Grunt days when you feel as if you are just doing grunt work.

Sometimes we create these different kinds of days; sometimes they seem to ‘happen to us’. Peak performers make the best use of each kind of day.

They also ask: “How can I turn a grunt day into a good day – and a good day into a great day?”

Let’s explore how you can enjoy these three kinds of days. 

1) Great days.

Can you remember a time when you enjoyed a great day? You felt alive, alert and able to do fulfilling work. Perhaps you were immersed in writing, solving a problem, building a house, balancing personal and professional fulfilment or whatever.

What did you do right to set-up such a day? You may have set-aside time, followed your creative rhythm, encouraged yourself on the journey or whatever. How can you create more of these days in the future?

Looking at my own professional life, for example, I have three kinds of great days. One is spent at home – writing one of the ‘3 tips series’, watching football on the TV and walking.

A second is spent doing one-to-one mentoring – preferably 3 or 4 sessions – often in London. Frequently this starts with a 45 minute walk from my hotel – then having the sessions with stimulating people.

A third is spent running a super teams workshop for a creative team. The highs come from working with appreciative people and providing tools they can use to achieve their picture of success.

So when have you experienced such great days? What did you do right to set-up and make the most of those days? How can you follow these principles to create more great days in the future? Try completing the following sentences.

2) Good days.

Good days provide a sense of satisfaction, even if you do not hit the heights.

So what for you are good days? You may set specific goals, sweat – but in a good way – and see positive results. Looking back, you rate the day as an 8+/10.

You were probably working with the right people, in the right place and doing the right things. Perhaps you were pursuing your labour of love, tackling a tough challenge, helping your team to achieve a target or whatever.

Certainly there may have been obstacles. Part of the satisfaction comes from finding creative solutions, however, and reaching the goals. Looking back, you recall both the joy and the learning.

So when have you experienced such good days? What did you do right to set-up and make the most of those days? How can you follow these principles create more good days in the future? Try completing the following sentences.

3) Grunt days.

Grunt days may get off to a difficult start. Tasks dominate the diary and the biorhythms seem against you. Something isn’t right and it feels like pushing water uphill.

So you take time to draw breath and focus on your life-compass. People want to see a connection between the daily tasks and their life-goals. So you ask:

“How will today’s work contribute to achieving my overall picture of success?”

Sometimes it is a struggle, but it is important to find something that makes your soul sing.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich demonstrates the human spirit’s ability to find meaning in grunt work. Ivan Denisovich Shukov is serving a 10 year sentence in the Gulag, but he takes pride in his daily work.

One commentator described Shukov’s approach as:

“He acts under a moral code that allows him to continue to respect himself. He no longer thinks much of home or freedom but instead thinks about that day, taking pride in his work as a mason …

“In working hard at his masonry and taking pride in building a good, strong, straight wall, he is in effect subverting the prison authorities who seek to punish him by making him work. Shukhov, instead, is gaining self-esteem by learning a new skill in prison and making his actions meaningful to himself.

“Shukhov finds a sort of freedom through work because he is no longer working for the authorities but, because it is his desire not to stop even when the end of day signal sounds, for himself.”

Fortunately we do not live in a Gulag, but there may still be tough days.

Let’s assume you reframe the situation and find meaning in the grunt day. You focus on your long-term goals and breakdown the day into chunks – because it will be vital to re-energise yourself at various points during the day.

Starting out on the journey, you get an early success. You focus on the task in hand, encourage yourself and cross-off items along the way. Taking a break, you again refocus on the long-term picture of success – then plunge back into the work.

Looking back at the end of the day, you almost feel exhilarated. Sounds odd? Perhaps, but like Shukhov you may have ‘beaten the system’. The grunt day may even get a 7/10.

So when have you experienced such tough times? What did you do right to make the most of those days? How can you follow these principles in the future? Try completing the following sentences.

June 29th, 2013

3 tips for creating positive momentum by changing the physical things

Imagine you are a leader who wants to transform a culture. How can you show that working life is going be different?

One approach is to learn from individuals who change their lives. People can think about change for years, but the first steps often begin on a physical level. They take care of their body, start running, move house or whatever.

Physical change leads to psychological change and they feel better. This reinforces the philosophical change. Let’s explore how you can follow similar steps to transform a culture: ‘the way we do things around here’.

1) You can change the physical things.

Physical changes set the tone. But they must be followed by deeper changes if you are serious about transforming a culture. Re-branding by changing the airline’s colours, for example, means nothing unless there are deeper changes.

Start by making physical changes for the employees, beginning with the hygiene factors. Pay the market rate, improve the building and give them the tools to do the job.

“Three years ago I took over a company that was in the dark ages,” said one leader.

“So we modernised the entrance, gave the receptionists smart uniforms, displayed our products in the reception area, put in proper coffee bars, installed wireless and gutted the office.

“Previously it had been open plan, full of 90’s style chicken run desks, with little privacy. Stress and sickness were at an all time high. Redesigning the office, we got the balance between public and private spaces so people can talk or do creative work.

“Several Atrium areas are constantly occupied by people working or having informal meetings. They are also encouraged to work from home on Fridays.

“Customers now use our offices for their meetings, productivity has improved and the changes paid for themselves within one year.”

Imagine you are aiming to shift a culture. People believe what they see, not what they hear. Actions speak louder than words.

Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you can do to change the physical things. Try completing the following sentence.

2) You can change the psychological things.

Do what you can to create a winning feeling. Give people the chance to deliver some early wins. But make sure they also have to work to achieve success.

When taking over a failing football team, for example, I organised a pre-season tournament with some top name clubs – teams they had only previously dreamt of playing. At the same time, however, we organised the group stages so that club had a good chance of reaching the semi-finals.

The team achieved this goal, got a medal and boosted their self-confidence. The Board were impressed and granted extra funds for buying more new players.

Here are some ideas for shifting the psychological state in a culture.

Communicate the company’s road map for achieving its picture of success. People enjoy having a sense of direction – they like a ‘plan’.

Put the road map in a place where people can see it everyday, such as on their screen saver.

Give people ownership for implementing their part of the strategy. Give them an opportunity to opt-into delivering their part of the goals.

Encourage them to get some early successes. Publicise these successes in, for example, a newsletter called ‘Weekly Wins’.

Reward the behaviour you want repeated. Promote people who live the values you want in the future culture.

Spend time with the positive people. Don’t pay people who choose not to opt-into the new culture.

Recruit new people who show the drive required to reach the team’s destination.

Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you can do to change the psychological things. Try completing the following sentence.

3) You can change the philosophical things.

Great leaders harness people’s energy towards achieving a compelling goal. They tap into peoples’ aspirations: be it to gain freedom, deliver great customer service or create a pioneering product.

Such leaders also show the new philosophical way is working. They keep moving from the concept to the concrete to describe tangible successes.

You will make this happen in your own way, but here are some suggestions.

Keep communicating the road map towards achieving the picture of success.

Describe the successes that people have delivered in the past month towards achieving the goals.

Describe the plans for the delivering successes in the next month.

Describe the challenges the organisation faces, the strategies for tackling these and the support people will get to do great work.

Produce and publicise success stories that highlight the strategies people are following to achieve the picture of success.

Keep reminding people why they are succeeding: they are doing something physically different. They have changed the physical things to change the psychological things to change the philosophical things.

Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you can do to change the philosophical things. Try completing the following sentence.

June 29th, 2013

The Strengths Companion: E is for having both the First and Second Empathy

Great coaches have two kinds of empathy. The first is with people’s actual situation; the second is with people’s aspirations.

Empathy is being able to see, feel and experience the world from another person’s point of view. Fine coaches connect with people, but they also raise people’s sights.

They encourage them to revisit their strengths and successful patterns. People can then translate these into a realistic picture of success.

Great coaches enable individuals, teams and organisations to make the transition between their actual situation and their longer-term aspirations. Let’s explore how to make this happen.

You can employ the first empathy

Imagine you are coaching somebody who has experienced a setback. The ‘classical’ approach is to spend considerable time showing the person you understand their situation. But the key point is: For how long?

If you move-on too quickly, the person may feel you have not respected their feelings. If you linger too long, you give the problem too much power. Your aim is to enable a person to take control of their life, rather than to become a victim.

Great coaches only need a few minutes to make a person feel welcome and tune into their world. They then encourage the person to choose whether they want:

To dwell on their difficulties.

To direct their future.

Certainly they accept the authenticity of the person’s feelings. When appropriate, however, they help them to explore their future options.

Imagine you are coaching somebody who has experienced a setback. How can you connect with the person, but also be ready to help them to move forward?

Good Counsellors

Good counsellors often ask survivors to describe the traumatic events in detail. They get people to recall what happened on a factual level, whilst also enabling them to express their feelings.

They help people to piece together what took place by asking questions such as: “What happened next?” Whilst done in a feeling way, it enables survivors to build up a solid picture of what has happened.

Moving from ‘facts’ to ‘feelings’, people talk about their emotions as they go through the change curve. They move through the stages of denial, paralysis, anger, hurt, healing, new strength, new goals, hard work, success and self-confidence. Survivors often use the experience to help themselves and others to become stronger in the future.

Try tackling the exercise on this theme. First, describe the specific situation where you want to demonstrate the first empathy. Second, describe the specific things that you can do to show people you understand their actual situation. Try completing the following sentences.

You can employ the second empathy

Somebody who has suffered a setback may need time in a sanctuary to lick their wounds. Gaining strength, they then emerge to shape their future.

Great coaches then use the second empathy. They enable people to focus on their aspirations. But there is one key point.

People must believe they can achieve the potential goals. They must feel this in their guts. People must be able to make a connection between where they are now and where they can be in the future. How to make this happen?

One method is to use the organic approach. It is to invite people to go within and explore their positive history. Looking back on their life, when have they managed a similar situation successfully? What did they do right then? How can they follow similar principles in the future?

The organic approach engenders belief. People can build on what they know works. They can build on their strengths and follow their successful patterns. They can express these to set and reach stimulating goals.

Imagine you are meeting somebody who has had a setback. You will probably encourage them to focus on two kinds of aspirations.

Their short-term aspirations.

You can encourage them to take charge of the ‘practical things’. These may include getting an income, getting a new job or whatever. People want to feel in control, so you can help them to ‘control the controllables’.

They can take charge of their feelings, finances and future. People can set short-term goals, translate these in action plans and get an early success. You can then move onto the next stage.

Their long-term aspirations.

Good coaches encourage people to lift their sights. People need a sense of meaning. This often comes from taking care of the ‘psychological things’. They need to see how what they are doing each day contributes towards achieving their long-term aims.

People can choose from the many exercises available for setting life-goals. You can work with them on clarifying their picture of success. They can then make short, medium and long-term action plans.

One key point. As mentioned above, they need to see how their daily actions connect with their overall aims. People then get positive energy as they follow their inner life-compass.

Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Imagine you are coaching somebody who has experienced a setback. Describe how you can move on to the second empathy. Describe how you can connect with people’s strengths and help them to create a believable goal. Try completing the following sentence.

You can enable people to fulfil their aspirations

Good coaches enable people to shape their future. They encourage people build on they strengths – where they deliver As, rather than Bs or Cs.

They also provide practical tools that people can use to manage the consequences of their weaknesses. This is vital. Otherwise people may continue to get into difficulties.

“People set goals all the time,” somebody may say, ‘but then comes the hard part. They have to do the work. How can you ensure that people develop good habits? How can you feel confident they will work hard and actually reach their goals?”

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry has much to teach us in this area. AI starts by inviting people, teams and organisations to recall when they have performed brilliantly. Revisiting these successful principles, people are then invited to express these in setting a specific goal.

They then do what they know works. People develop good habits, work hard and frequently reach their chosen goal.

Appreciative Inquiry was founded by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney in the 1980s. Since then it has had a remarkable track record of success. It contains many elements of the ‘second empathy’.

It invites people to go through the stages of Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny. The final stage is also sometimes called Delivery.

Discovery. People discover the principles they followed when they performed brilliantly.

Dream. People express these principles in a specific picture of success.

Design. People design the strategies they can follow to achieve success.

Destiny (Delivery). People follow the principles, translate these into practice and deliver the picture of success.

AI is different from most ‘visioning’ approaches in a crucial way. It builds on the stories, strengths and successful principles that have already emerged. People are then doing several things.

First, they are building on what they already know works. They are building on the organic soul of the organisation.

Second, they are then more confident about extrapolating these principles into the future – seeing how these might be expressed in the picture of perfection.

People may be dreaming, but believe they can deliver. This is because they have ‘started from within’. They know what works: something which is rooted in both their intellect and intuition.

AI’s language may sound ‘soft’: but the model delivers ‘hard’ results. This approach works superbly with people who want to shape their futures. You can discover more about it at the Appreciative Inquiry Commons.

Good Leaders and Coaches
use The Second Empathy

Good leaders sometimes use a similar approach. They remind people of what they can achieve and translate this into a specific goal. They often reach into people’s hearts by saying things like:

“We shall overcome … We have a dream … We have been tested before and shown we can succeed … We are being tested now and we will succeed.”

But they are also immensely practical. Great leaders move from the concept to the concrete.

They show people how they can put the philosophy into practice. This makes the message much more believable.

Good coaches use a similar approach. They encourage people to move from awareness to action to achievement. They educate them to find and follow their successful patterns.

People express these in specific goals. They translate these into daily actions, keep working hard and achieve their picture of success.

Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you can do to help people to fulfil their aspirations. Great coaches enable people to take charge of shaping their futures. They often do this by demonstrating both the first and second empathies. Try completing the following sentences.