The Strengths Blog


August 25th, 2014

The Strengths Companion: G is for Great Days, Good Days and Grunt Days


Great days are when you fly and feel exhilarated. Good days are when you do fine work and feel satisfied. Grunt days are when you feel as if you are just doing grunt work.

Sometimes we create these different kinds of days. Other times they seem to happen to us.

Great workers make the best use of each kind of day. They also ask:

“How to 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.

Great Days

Can you remember 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 or whatever.

What did you do right to help to create such a day? Different people have different methods for shaping such great days.

Some people, for example, plan the day ahead and organise their time in blocks. This gives them the chance to flow and focus on a piece of work.

They follow their own rituals and rhythm. Encouraging themselves on the journey, they build in time for rest and recovery. This gives them the opportunity to do good work and, when necessary, to rise to the occasion.

Looking back at the end of the day, they reflect on what went well and how they can follow similar principles in the future. They also explore what they can do better next time and how.

Other people will have other rituals. Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work gives an insight into the different patterns people follow to do superb work. You can discover more via the following link.


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

Describe the specific times when you have had great days.

Describe the specific things you did to help to create and make the best use of the great days.

Describe the specific things you can do to follow similar principles – play maybe add other skills – to create and make the best use of great days in the future.





Good Days

Can you remember when you enjoyed a good day? Good days provide a sense of satisfaction, even if you do not hit the heights.

What for you are good days? You may set specific goals, sweat – but in a good way – and see positive results.

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

Certainly there may be obstacles. But part of the satisfaction comes from finding solutions and reaching the goals. Looking back, you recall both the joy and the learning.

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

Describe the specific times when you have had good days.

Describe the specific things you did to help to create and make the best use of the good days.

Describe the specific things you can do to follow similar principles – play maybe add other skills – to create and make the best use of good days in the future.





Grunt Days

Can you remember when you made the best use of a grunt day?

Such 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.

How to make the best use of such days? One approach is to take time to draw breath and focus on your life compass. People want to see a connection between their daily tasks and their life goals. So may you ask:

“What are my life goals? What is my overall picture of success? How will today’s work contribute to me achieving the picture of success??

Sometimes this can be a struggle, but it is important to find a connection between what you are doing and your overall life goals. Doing so can help to make your soul sing.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn highlights this capacity in his book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

He describes how Ivan Denisovich Shukov, who is serving a ten-year sentence in the Gulag, takes a pride in his daily work. Several commenters say that Shukov’s approach includes the following themes.

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 for himself.

He even wants to carry on building when the signal for the end of the day sounds.

Fortunately we do not live in a Gulag, but there may still be tough days. Let’s assume you reframe the situation and make the best of the grunt day.

You start by finding a larger meaning in your work – for yourself or for other people – and then set your goals for the day.

Looking ahead, you break down the day into chunks. If possible, you build in time to re-energise yourself at various points during the day.

Starting out on the journey, you get an early success. You focus on the list of things to do and encourage yourself by ticking items as you complete them along the way.

Taking a break, you again refocus on your lifetime picture of success and then plunge back into the work. Looking back at the end of the day, you feel almost exhilarated.

Sounds odd? Perhaps, but like Shukhov you may have beaten the system. You have defined and followed your goals. The grunt day may even get a 7/10.

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

Describe the specific times when you have had grunt days.

Describe the specific things you did to make the best use of the grunt days.

Describe the specific things you can do to follow similar principles – play maybe add other skills – to make the best use of grunt days in the future.





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 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

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There are two kinds of empathy. The first empathy is with people’s actual situation; the second empathy is with people’s aspirations.

Good coaches, for example, are good at connecting with people. They show they can see, feel and experience the world from another person’s point of view.

Such coaches often go a step further. They are also able to 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.

Good 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.

Employing 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 question 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 make a person feel welcome and tune into their world. They then encourage the person to choose whether they want:

To decide to take charge of their future.

To dwell on their difficulties.

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 help them to move forward?

Learning From Counsellors

Good counsellors often ask a person to recall what happened on a factual level. They help people to piece together what took place by asking questions such as: “What happened next?”

Whilst done in a feeling way, this enables a person 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 reactive change curve.

They move through the stages of denial, paralysis, anger, hurt, healing, new strength, new goals, hard work, success and self confidence.

Slides Second Empathy.002

Good counsellors often create a sanctuary where somebody can feel safe. The person can then begin to shape their future, set specific goals and get a success.

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

Describe the specific situation where you want to demonstrate the first empathy. This can be when working with a person or a group of people.

Describe the specific things that you can do to connect with the person – or people – and show you understand their actual situation.

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Employing the second empathy

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

Good coaches then use the second empathy. They enable people to focus on their aspirations. They help them to translate these into a clear picture of success.

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 want to be in the future. How to make this happen? One method is to use the organic approach.

The Organic Approach believes that people already
have the seeds of development within them

They already have strengths and successful patterns they can develop.

They already have a history of overcoming challenges successfully.

They can develop by being helped to build on these strengths and successful patterns – plus add other skills – on the way to achieving success.

When working with a troubled person, for example, it can be useful to invite them to recall when 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.

Imagine you are helping somebody who has experienced a setback. You will begin by connecting with the person and showing your understand their situation. After a while, however, you will encourage them to focus on shaping their future.

Helping a person to clarify
their short-term aspirations

You may 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.

Helping a person to clarify
their long-term aspirations

Good coaches encourage people to lift their sights. You may, for example, ask a person some of the following questions when focusing on their aspirations.

Bearing in mind what you can control, what are your short, medium and long-term goals?

Looking at the first goal, what are the real results you want to achieve? What is your picture of success?

What are the specific things that will be happening that will show you have achieved the goal?

One of the classic exercises, for example, is to invite a person to focus on their lifetime picture of success. It is then to help them to take steps towards achieving these goals.

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

Describe a specific situation where you want to demonstrate the second empathy.

Describe the specific things you can do to connect with the person – or people – and clarify their aspirations.

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Enabling people to
achieve their aspirations

Good coaches enable people to shape their futures. 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 help people to develop good habits?

“How can you feel confident they will work hard and actually reach their goals?”

Learning From
Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry has much to teach us in the area of nurturing belief and helping people to pursue successful strategies.

AI 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.

The approach invites 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.

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The AI approach starts by defining a challenge that people want to tackle. Bearing in mind the question they want to explore, people then follow the 4D cycle that goes through the stages of Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny. Some people call this last stage Delivery.


People discover the principles they followed to tackle a similar challenge successfully.


People focus on how they can follow similar principles in the future and translate these into a specific picture of success.


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.

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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.

They are building on what they already know works.

They are then more confident about extrapolating these principles into the future and expressing these in a picture of success.

People may be dreaming, but believe they can deliver. This is because they have started from within. They know what works: something that 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.

Helping People To
Achieve Their Aspirations

There are many approaches to helping people to achieve their goals. One approach is:

To demonstrate the first empathy and show you understand people’s actual situation.

To demonstrate the second empathy and provide practical tools that people can use to achieve their aspirations.

You will, of course, do this in your own way. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific situation where you want to help a person – or people – to achieve their aspirations.

Describe the specific things you can do to help the person – or people – to achieve their aspirations.

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