The strengths based approach has been one of the most profoundly important shifts in the way we think about personal and professional development this century.
New and experienced life coaches, career coaches, executive coaches and more recently well-being and high performance coaches are gradually taking International Coaching Federation (ICF) certified training programs to qualify in this methodology.
The strengths movement, which started in the USA, has made it to Dubai successfully. Dubai based coaches are gradually training and certifying in this methodology. As a result, more and more Dubai based organisations are starting to call themselves strengths based organisations.
At the turn of the 21st century psychology grew a new branch of research – this was called Positive Psychology; The study of human well-being and flourishing.
The basic premise; if we want to understand how to flourish then we need to study human flourishing, not only suffering – which was what dominated the research previously.
Unfortunately, the workplace mirrored the traditional approach; make a light touch on people’s strengths (usually to soften the blow for what was coming next) and then relentlessly fixate on deficit, deficiencies and weaknesses, and identify those as the most fertile “areas for development” or “growth opportunities.”
The strengths methodology investigates both strengths and weaknesses. Then focuses on strengths as the most lucrative opportunity for strategic deployment and growth, and weaknesses as areas to be mitigated and managed around.
The return on investment when we develop our strengths is exponential; we grow faster, find deeper levels of engagement, happiness and performance. When weaknesses are the main focus area for development we are missing out on our greatest opportunity to find deep engagement and high performance.
If we want to help people unlock their potential, then we need to fixate on their potential, not the opposite.
Gallup finds that when individuals learn to focus on their strengths they are 6 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and 3 times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.
The business case for strengths is profoundly strong. In Dubai, which is such a business focused arena, the focus on getting the best from and for the talent in the region is unrelenting. When organisations make a commitment to a strengths based culture, almost every indicator of performance can be improved; from retaining talent to increased productivity and profitability.
For an accelerating market place in a small corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Dubai knows that in order to compete with the rest of the world, its people and businesses need to optimise the talent in the region.
“A person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weakness, let alone on something one cannot do at all.” Peter Drucker
Organisations across the region are gradually being able to call themselves strengths-based organisations. And Dubai-based coaches don’t need to look outside of the country to gain a strengths based business coaching accreditation as ICF certified providers are certifying people on-line and in person in the UAE.
It’s catching on… but slowly.
Leaders, organisations and coaches are only gradually embracing the strengths based approach. But, even though the research is supportive, it still challenges the conventional wisdom, and goes against hidden biases that pull us back to conventional deficit thinking and weakness fixing.
In the turbulence of human relationships, looming deadlines, global pandemics and the drama of everyday life, humans generally default toward certain bias areas. The big one that often extinguishes the strengths based approach is the negativity bias. Human beings are prone to attributing more emotional weight to negatives than we give to positives. We study our failures and celebrate our wins… In the strengths based approach we also study wins!
However, even certified strengths based coaches work hard to resist the negativity bias and the unyielding urge to fixate on weaknesses. I once had a recently graduated coach share this challenge with me during a post training mentoring (supervision) session:
Newly Certified Coach: “I have my second session coming up with my new client and I am really worried about it…
Me: What’s happening?
Newly Certified Coach: I can’t seem to find any problems to work on… the client just said that everything was going well, so I don’t know what to do in session two”
Me: “Study their wins and find out how and why everything is going so well”.
Even though I have every confidence that this newly certified strengths coach will quickly become skilled and consistent with the approach, the impact that can create the most value in the world is when leaders within organisations develop their strengths based coaching skills.
When leaders coach, and coach through strengths they have the potential to make wholesale cascading changes to company culture, engagement, wellbeing and performance. Employees are empowered, enabled and given the best chance of finding mastery, engagement and performance.
Moreover, they create space for employees to be more open about where they have vulnerabilities and can then openly build strategies to mitigate those vulnerabilities.
In a weakness-focussed environment, it is normal for people to exert significant energy fighting against the flow of their strengths. As a result, they make slow progress, hit invisible ceilings, they disengage and worst of all, they hide their vulnerabilities, only to be found-out after months of poor productivity.
Understanding our strengths and knowing how to develop and deploy them is not that easy. If you have ever interviewed people for jobs you will recall the fuzziness that they demonstrate when asked to describe their strengths; “I’m great with people” is the typical vague answer when an interviewee describes their strengths.
However, being ‘good with people’ could mean so many things; Selling to people? Caring for people? Empathising with people? Following people? Leading people? Inspiring people? Challenging people? Developing people? Good with small groups of people? One to one? Big groups? and what kinds of people? Young, old, assertive, shy?
When managers and leaders understand how to give strengths based feedback to their employees they can massively reduce active disengagement and increase active engagement (Gallup, 2018).
Certified and accredited coaches who have done ICF accredited online coach training programs are leveraging the approach across a whole range of arenas. Whether it is a focus on strengths based leadership, strengths based relationships, strengths based sales or strengths based teams, exploring the very best version of ourselves is an exploration of our best chance of being successful.
It is no surprise to all of us that one of the biggest challenges emerging from the last 15 months is around wellbeing; our mental, physical and emotional health.
A deeper understanding of the strengths methodology is a reminder of how this approach has such an important role to play in supporting the wellbeing of us all.
Human beings have relatively stable personality traits. Those traits create patterns of behaving, thinking and feeling that we repeat over time. These patterns shape our personality – who we are. The strengths methodology explores these patterns and helps people work with the flow of these patterns. Because we are working with the flow we can sustain effort, energy and engagement.
Working against the flow of our natural traits is a move away from where we derive energy and engagement. When the pressure is on, and crisis looms, working against the flow is a threat to our wellbeing.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once said: “There is nothing more entropic than unskilled work done under compulsion.” And this is the legacy of command-control, weakness-focussed leadership.
Coach training programs accredited by the International Coaching Federation and/or the Association for Coaching, that are underpinned by the strengths based approach bring a real advantage to leaders and coaches looking to unleash the potential of individuals, teams and organisations.
Imagine; not only a few companies being strengths based, but an entire city being strengths based. As Dubai emerges from the Covid pandemic and strides confidently forward, it will need all of its people, businesses and organisations to be at their very best.
Let’s study that best, and unleash it.
To book a 2bAPC course and take the next step in your career journey, or for more information on Strengths-Based Performance Coaching, please contact us.
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