Words Make Worlds
August 20th, 2023
Working With Strengths
Hello! This is Words Make Worlds Issue 3. You are receiving this newsletter because somewhere along the way you decided to learn more about the Coaching Leadership Style. If you’ve changed your mind and are no longer interested, you can easily unsubscribe at the bottom of this email. If you are still here then keep reading because this week we are learning about the importance of a strengths-based approach to developing your coaching skills.
Each of us has a unique way of engaging with the world that influences what holds our attention, gets us excited, creates meaning, and gives purpose. It shines through in our personality, shapes our leadership style, and can also be a foundation for coaching.
Values and strengths are two ways to describe or encapsulate this uniqueness. Values reflect what we care about and strengths are an expression of what comes naturally. Knowing and living our values is an important part of how we show up in leadership and life, and leaning on our strengths can be an accelerant for development and transformation.
The world of positive psychology and strengths-based change suggest that focusing on what is right is more effective than focusing on what is wrong. As Qui-Gon Jinn says, “your focus determines your reality.” If we focus on weaknesses and what is wrong, then our reality is one of scarcity, lack, and fear. If we focus on strengths and what is right, our reality is filled with capacity, competence, and trust.
So on the one hand we have fear, and on the other we have trust. What does this mean for our ability to learn and change? And to coach? Some moods such wonder, ambition, and trust are conducive to learning while others like fear, overwhelm, and resignation prevent learning from happening 1. When you step into the role of coach, leaning on your strengths can help you feel more confident, present, and open to whatever comes up in conversation. This attitude contributes to an environment of wonder and trust, a place where two people can really explore what is happening with openness and honesty.
Conversely, if you are overly focused on what you might do wrong or what your weaknesses are, the conversation will be palpably different because curiosity and learning are not possible when moods like fear and worry are predominant. If you are unsure of yourself and thinking about what you might do wrong, the environment won’t feel supportive for you or the other person.
It’s important that you apply this same perspective to the person you are working with. Look for and highlight their strengths, reflect their capacities, and communicate the trust you have in their ability to figure things out. Of course, there may be areas to improve, but these can also be approached through a strengths-based lens (more on that in a future issue). The main idea to focus on is that by identifying and working with strengths, on what is going right and working well, leaders as coaches build trusting relationships that support learning, creativity, and growth. If you focus on what someone is doing wrong and where they are lacking, the conversation will generate fear and the range of creative action will narrow.
Knowing Your Strengths
So, what are your strengths? What kind of coach are you? What unique ways do you facilitate insight, action, and learning through conversation? Answering these questions will help you get clear on how you are showing up as a coach.
There are many ways to uncover your strengths, a few of which we’ll go over together. If you have another method or resource you prefer, then by all means use it!
Take a moment and reflect on what comes naturally to you, what you do really well without even thinking about it. Maybe there are things you do, or ways that you do them, that people have commented on. What lights you up and gives you energy when you do it? Spend a week or two doing some reflective journaling around the topic and see what comes up.
Formal and Informal Feedback
Annual reviews, 360 feedback, in the moment appreciations or acknowledgements for something you’ve done well, are all good sources to reference. I’m also a fan of reaching out to people who know you - friends, family, team, colleagues, sangha, whatever - and asking them to share what they see as your strengths.
VIA Strengths Survey
The VIA Institute on Character offers a free survey to help identify your top “character strengths” - 24 scientifically identified strengths that make up what’s best about our personality. They also have some useful resources to understand strengths and develop them more fully in service of leadership and coaching.
If you’ve set up your learning container already, you just need to make a few modifications. If you haven’t you can probably just follow the instructions below and be fine, but if you want to read more about how to set one up, check out Issue #2.
In the morning, continue to spend five quiet minutes with yourself without technology or other distractions. Bring your awareness to hands and arms, feet and legs. Feel your breath in your belly and chest. As you settle in, see if you can sense yourself, your “you-ness”. What thoughts, emotions, and sensations are you aware of, and how do those contribute to the unique way you sense and respond to the world around you?
In the evening, spend some time journaling and reflecting on your strengths. Here are some questions to get you started:
- What are your top strengths?
- What do your strengths mean to you? What do they help you do?
- What happens when you overuse a strength?
- How do your strengths influence how you lead?
- How/when did you use each of your strengths today?
- How can you use these strengths to support others?
Until Next Time
The Coaching Leadership Style has two tracks - development of self and development of others. You may be curious why we haven't gotten into the actual coaching conversation yet, but in many ways we have. By first focusing on ourselves, who we are as leaders, what our strengths are, and increasing our awareness of how we show up, interactions with our teams and colleagues will begin to shift. What we are working on right now is one of the most fundamental and critical tools of coaching - presence. As we’ll begin to uncover, coaching conversations are 20% what you say, 80% how you show up.
See you in a few weeks,