In the world of sports and entertainment our eyes often gravitate towards the specialist, over the generalist and we are prepared to forgive someone of their weaknesses, when we know that they can deliver when their strengths are played. Talent itself is not alone – and nor dreams or positive thinking, it is the application of it and the flexing of our strengths.
Emerging in the 1980’s, Positive Psychology, (as explored in my blog earlier) is not grounded in magical self-belief, but emphasises the importance of accepting reality, and is routed in rationality.
Philosophically, it is aligned to a grounded ethos of ‘knowing thyself’ and acting on what is the best ‘inside us’ the basis of wisdom, found in the philosophy of Aristotle and stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, and the character archetypes and insights into human behaviour of Carl Jung. And too, it adds from the rational approaches of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy developed by Albert Ellis, and shares also the holistic Japanese approaches such as Morita Therapy and the concept of IKIGAI, which stress the importance of action, and principles of purposeful living and focus. As Shona Morita, the founder of Morita Therapy says; ‘Accept your feelings, know your purpose, and do what needs to be done’.
Mirroring the thoughts of Morita, practitioners of Positive Psychology encourage reflection and self-knowledge, and engaging in our interests and with others, with intention and purpose. Positive Psychology encourages recognising the best of us, avoiding neither catastrophising nor irrational over optimism. And this naturally connects to the belief, that we should be acting on the basis of seeking to know well, our true strengths. It is no surprise therefore, that Positive Psychology has always had an interest in knowing our strengths and how this can be used to build less anxious, more happy and purposeful living.
Management theorists such as Bernard Haldane (1947) and later the legendry Peter Drucker (1967), had long promoted the view that leaders were at their most effective when they knew and applied their strengths.
Through the 1980’s-1990’s, strengths-based approaches to recruitment, social work and counselling began to be applied and in 1999, Professor Martin Seligman, then President of the American Psychological Association, identified the thinking behind what was to became known as the Positive Psychology movement, famously advocating a deliberate move away, from ‘fixing people through therapy’, and towards considering more the individual’s capacity for growth and change, achievement, their character and virtues and building on their own positive qualities and attributes – a focus on well-being, not problems.
Through the research of Martin Seligman, along with others, such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Carole Dweck, a common theme is the acknowledgement that individuals are more likely to live and work more happily, when they are operating from a place of purposefully engaging, learning and growing, being challenged and operating from a position of knowing their skills and strengths. A substantial industry-based international study (Corporate Leadership Council, 2002) highlighted that when managers emphasised and used their own strengths more, their performance was 36% higher – and Seligman’s research from 2005 supported the view that working on strengths increased both reported levels of happiness and decreased instances of depression and anxiety. This important point has been validated in further studies; by Proctor et al (2009), Minhas (2010), Park (2004) and research supports the view that focusing on individual’s strengths, also promotes an improvement in; self confidence levels (Govindjii and Linely, 2007), goal setting (Madding et al, 2011), resilience (Elson and Boswell, 2011), mindfulness practice (2012), engagement at work (Gallup, 2012) and in productivity (Cappfinity/Strengths Profile, 2018).
So, when coaching with a positive psychology frame in mind, it is no surprise that a key element of our practice is to work with a coachee on understanding themselves and their strengths. It leads to a better sense of self-identity and supports a growth mindset, that crucial ability to act on the basis that one can change and learn new skills (through small steps and action, practice and habit, not just ‘positive thinking’). These principles are valuable to apply during the coaching conversation, spending time in early sessions, when building the relationship and trust, eliciting the coachee to understand their own motivations and directions. In my own practice, I have often used simple open questions, active listening and discussion tools such IKIGAI and the Wheel of Life, to help promote initial reflection and then, applying strengths assessment, to build deeper questioning of purpose, engagement and relationships.
To support open questioning, a variety of assessment tools can also be used to help identify strengths characteristics. For many people, they are often unaware of the strengths characteristics they may have, and an assessment helps pull out those important questions. They are broadly psychometric instruments but do not purport to be complete personality tests, in the manner of Myers Briggs or Belbin. Strength assessments do share the use of survey weighted measures on reported behavioural preferences (often combined with classic OCEAN based personality measures too, dimensions of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism) – to build profiles of strengths traits. The strength definitions are often developed and tested across industry groups and professions, to create rich profile archetypes and based on the career preferences and attributes. Gallup’s Clifton Strength Finder (1999) was the first and still widely used such test, and this has been followed by alternatives such as; the VIA-Inventory of Strengths (2004), StrengthsScope (2006) and the StrengthsProfile (2009).
Strengths Profile – Sparking The Coaching Conversation…
In my own practice I use Strengths Profile during the first few weeks of an assignment, to help build the relationship, encourage self-knowledge and reflection. I have found that it helps ease the topic of conversation towards behaviour, in a supportive but open way and it sparks interest in the coachee’s perception of themselves, and why they have certain strengths, more than others. Strengths Profile provides a rich 20-page report, with the individual report highlighting the top 24 strengths (from a total pool of 60 overall, broader than other tests) – as distributed within the four strengths quadrants. The Realised Strengths are those that the coachee is already using and enjoys doing, the Learned Behaviours, those that they can do, but may find draining or require lots of focus to perform. The Weaknesses are areas that are difficult or not enjoyed, but crucially this is not something that is over examined, but rather recognised. However – it is the Unrealised Strengths, that always provides the most rich and deeper points of any coaching conversation – these being the strengths that the coachee has, but they are under using or not using at all.
I have seen that discussing these Unrealised Strengths in the report, often leads to questions of why that may be and what would happen, if they could be used a bit more? In some cases, they may be reluctant, for whatever reason, to ‘dial up’ these strengths, perhaps because they have overused them so much in the past? Or maybe, they have fallen out of the habit? In some environments, when we operate well using our strengths, bosses can overload us, and this seems to often appear in the Unrealised Strengths. However, through reflection and thinking positively about their own purpose and ability to change, coachees will often recognise that they can tap into their unrealised strengths again – and add these as powerful additions to their mix. It is about recognising and dialling up the positive traits they have and often, these strengths can also serve to combat the stresses and strains of Learned Behaviours and even counteract some of the Weaknesses.
In most cases, discussing a Strengths Profile with a coachee, helps support a reflective coaching conversation, often opening up more personal insights and motivations, which for some people, may be something they are not accustomed to talk about. In my experience, the report makes the conversation easier to build and provides an anchor to come back to and move the coaching conversation forward. The test is certainly not the provider of a complete and simple answer. It is however a highly valuable catalyst that in my experience, leads to greater insights into self and can move the individual positively, to action. Giving space for this self-reflection, I have also seen initial conversations of career and work, evolve naturally into broader and more holistic themes that often may have been present but unknown, at home, in our relationships as well as at work. Questions invariably arise around topics such as; family life, home and environment, health, engaging in a neglected hobby, focusing more on their partner.
Often though, in a world that can be at times harsh, fast paced and critical, individuals often forget who they are, and their positive characteristics and abilities. We are not set to be masters of everything, capable of anything and placing ourselves in situations and environments that ignore who we truly are. And you don’t believe the philosophical wisdom of Greece or Japan, or appreciate the application of Positive Psychology. As the Latin-soul legend Jennifer Lopez puts it in simple terms, ‘Don’t push your weaknesses – play to your strengths’
To learn more, see; Positive Psychology ≠ Positive Thinking and Coaching Positively #1: Applying Positive Psychology and Coaching Positively #3: The Value of Habits.
For more about how positive psychology, Strengths Assessments and coaching programmes, can help you, your team or your business, contact Andrew Armour, Benchstone Limited
Do you have a plan for everything but you? Does your team know where they are but not where they go to next? In our haste to deliver and to perform, we often lose that all important space to stop, to take time – and to think.Continue reading “A Personal Canvas To Reinvent You”
An introduction to Andrew Armour
Too many conferences and events over sell and under deliver. I am increasingly finding this unacceptable.
Over the last twelve months I have attended a lot of marketing, digital and innovation themed conferences, seminars and industry events. A few were a great investment of my time and money. Some were disappointing – but free. Too many of them however were, universally awful. The worst offenders were more hype over substance and I felt ripped off paying for them as I gained nothing from the experience. Isn’t it time we deserved better, smarter and more productive business conferences, events and seminars?
Continue reading “We Deserve Better Quality Business Events, Conferences & Seminars”
If marketers asked more beautiful marketing questions would we not create more beautiful marketing answers? What should those questions be? And why do we struggle to ask them? Part one of this two-part blog featured a review of Warren Berger’s excellent book ‘A More Beautiful Question’ where he explores the importance of questioning in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. In this second part I’m looking at how this approach can be applied specifically to marketing and the kind of questions that marketing leaders need to encourage to be asked more inside our organisations.
In many marketing and innovation environments there is a big lack of good questioning.
‘Why Don’t Companies Train People To Ask Questions?’ – Warren Berger
This is just one of the many great questions that Berger raises in this wonderful book that should be essential reading to anyone involved in product development, innovation or marketing performance. Linking to the themes from Berger’s main website – it explores the role and power of questioning in business, life – and everything. And just as important he examines why is it we seem too often to have forgotten the power of asking the really important questions – just when we need them more than ever? A More Beautiful Question is subtitled ‘the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas’ – and of course in the vast realm of innovation literature, the role of inquiry and problem solving is a common theme. Curiosity (and some would argue friction and argument, as discussed in my interview with Gordon Torr in 2013) is the foundation of fresh ideas and solution. Continue reading “Book Review – A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. Part One.”
In a recent article published in Entrepreneur magazine, Sir Richard Branson explains why the best entrepreneurs and marketers seek out new conversations, new ideas and new ways of doing things. A common ‘myth’ of innovation and creativity is the belief in the lone creative genius toiling away on their masterpiece. In reality – most breakthroughs require smart, highly motivated, highly communicative, diverse and argumentative small teams of people, energised by good leaderships and working with good processes. This paragraph from this piece from Branson explains it brilliantly;
” Many people think that an entrepreneur is someone who operates alone, overcoming challenges and bringing his idea to market through sheer force of personality. This is completely inaccurate. Few entrepreneurs — scratch that: almost no one — ever achieved anything worthwhile without help. To be successful in business, you need to connect and collaborate and delegate.Finding ways to meet with people in the real world and build business relationships is becoming ever more important in the digital age. While in some industries it’s possible for employees to limit their communications to email and, if they wish, avoid interacting with colleagues (and their managers), that’s not possible for entrepreneurs, since relationships built on trust are vital to doing business.”
To can read the full piece here: Richard Branson Is Not Going Alone.
In the second of this two-part series I am reviewing three more excellent books; ‘The Little Black Book of Innovation’ by Scott D Anthony, ‘Likeable Social Media’ by Dave Kerpen and ‘Pioneers of Digital’ by Paul Springer and Mel Carson. Together they deliver some great answers to relevant questions, such as; What are the deadly sins of innovation? How should a brand develop digital content and engage with consumers in social media? And what kind of people helped create digital landmarks such as iTunes, Lastminute.com and TED? Read on to find our more. Or, alternatively go to Part One to see my reviews of ‘Strategic Partnering’ by Luc Bardin, ‘Brandscaping’ by Andrew M Davis and ‘Media Franchising’ by Derek Johnson by clicking right here…
In the first of this two-part series I am reviewing three recent books; ‘Strategic Partnering’ by Luc Bardin, ‘Brandscaping’ by Andrew M Davis and ‘Media Franchising’ by Derek Johnson.
I try to keep my radar tuned-in whilst trying to avoid too much of the noise. And for that reason there is still something essentially useful about a well structured book with quality content. My lecturing work at Tech Music School in Fulham and developing a paper on media industry collaboration for Henley Management School has seen me explore a number of interesting avenues from a range of great writers recently. From the latest thinking on strategic partnering and innovation to the lessons to be learnt from digital pioneers and brand & media franchising.
In the first of this two-part series I am reviewing; ‘Strategic Partnering’ by Luc Bardin, ‘Brandscaping’ by Andrew M Davis and ‘Media Franchising’ by Derek Johnson.