A fulcrum of our coaching practice—and for many of us in managing and consulting—is working with individual strengths, either the characteristics finding virtuous expression of one’s best attributes or the competencies manifested in work or social roles. Strengths are increasingly being recognized as the centerpiece of engaged, productive transactions within our everyday duties and endeavors. Discovering those strengths that uniquely speak to (and for) us is an early step in launching an engaged, effective coaching effort.
One way I assist clients with that initial self-assessment is through use of the acronym STRONG:
By soliciting an extended narrative response to each of the stimulus words, coaches can readily identify a set of traits that can be described as their hallmark characteristics—their best traits and practices. Here are the intentionally overlapping terms that I ask people to relate to in mining their most effective and self-strengthening features.
Strengths are attributes that help anyone be their most robust selves, exhibiting prowess in their various roles and contexts. It includes what they feel are their best, most adept features, as well as the essence of what uniquely marks them as contributing performers in the workplace and solid connectors in their relationships. It seeks thoughtful expression of what they feel are their strengthening capabilities and characteristic behaviors. I often augment this conversation with either an instrumental assessment of those strengths, or a strengths-focused, mini-360º exercise with a small handful of close associates.
Talents are attributes that enable individuals to thrive and excel in their diverse pursuits. This entails discerning their underdeveloped characteristics—those traits and capacities not yet fully realized as more solid strengths. Talents constitute those qualities that go beyond mere survival on the job, and marking some apt developmental targets for truly flourishing in those roles, positions, and relationships. Donald Clifton, the founder of Gallup Corp., often asserted that talents, combined with effort to acquire knowledge and skills over time, lead to the emergence of strengths.
Resilience taps into the hardiness factors that enable individuals to mobilize resources to cope with crisis, to endure risk-taking, and to adapt to the diversions that are so commonplace in modern life. It is defined in the 2002 Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology as “…demonstrated patterns of positive adaptation in the face of adversity.” Identifying the roots and strategies for adapting when truly challenged is a widely acknowledged critical aspect of one’s strongest self.
Optimum behavior seeks one’s very best outcomes and the pathways to them, as well as having an inclination toward optimistic thinking. This latter element of positive emotions perhaps is most clearly explained in Barbara Frederickson’s “broaden and build” theory as detailed in her groundbreaking book Positivity. Frederickson regards an optimum outlook as a major attitudinal boost toward positive emotional states that enable us to channel our energies into high yield response activities when adversity rears its head in our lives. Seeking that which leads to our best, most positive and productive outcomes is a huge factor in exhibiting our strengths beneficially.
Nurturing is taken here to mean the identification of what both enables us to develop greater levels of capability, and also helps improve on that development with positive, humane, ethical, and moral traits. It is both seeking and expressing through modeling the most fulsome aspects of what helps us be our best. It refers to a frame of mind for appreciating that which fosters healthy, concerted actions that are pro-social, as well as cultivating relationships with our relatives and co-workers that demonstrate caring and encouragement. It constitutes the larger portion of what makes a difference when compared with the contributions of our genetic heritage.
Gratitude refers to shared wellbeing in our relationships and self-regard. Robert Emmons has written of this extensively, citing both the powerful qualities of acknowledging life itself, and appreciating another’s actions with complimentary gestures. Emmons notes the positive impact of both short-term thankfulness, and a long-term disposition to gratefulness. Research over the past decade found expressions of gratitude also to be the most effective interventions yet devised that promote flourishing lifestyles and positive mindsets. Indeed, an abundant outlook—using the lens of generosity for our relationships and comportment—may be the wellspring for leading a flourishing life that has meaning and matters both to oneself and for others. And offering the “benefit of the doubt” can be the most elemental of these gifts that we can bestow routinely on each other.
The discussions that this exercise elicits are foundational to effective strengths coaching, as well as essential to development of a mutual understanding with employees and coaching clients. This mnemonic device has served me well over many years of coaching practice, offering a useful framework for a beginning exploration of assets in one of the more valuable conversations we can undertake as coaches, supervisors, managers, and leaders.