Building on strengths by stretching


Today reflecting and sharing from a client coaching call this week where a combination emerged of building on strengths to then stretch to new growth and learning iteratively.

I hope this method is of value to some readers in their own development.

We all have different styles in life, behaviour, processing, learning, to growing.

Some are high risk, high return, as in the classic quote from Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn:

“an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down”

Others prefer a more incremental and lower risk approach to their personal and professional growth, as well as that of their team, their organisation, their business.

So, to learnings from working with a particular client this week.

Bravery is in the eye of the beholder

The #BeMoreYou page on this site outlines attributes I believe are key for leaders looking to go from thriving to inspiring, from good to truly great. One of them is to Be Brave, which I outline as:

Bravery means you’re open to being uncomfortable, to stretching, as that’s where the growth lies. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re playing it too safe.

Bravery is a virtuous circle. When you embrace your full potential (discomfort and all). Your vision becomes clearer and your confidence increases, even in the face of uncertainty.

Now, in working with this particular client over the last few months, and particularly on our call this week, we gelled with an approach that reflects the “Bravery is a virtuous circle” phrase in that description of bravery.

This particular individual is a highly skilled and successful leader who has chosen to work with me to further develop their leadership. Unusually, though, in initial calls and meetings, it felt that something wasn’t quite gelling in our work together. At one point I sensed that, in being identified by their organisation as someone who could lead to an even higher level, their assessments prior to working with me had very much focussed on “shortcomings”, “weaknesses”, with the result that the individual was struggling with stretching and growing in their leadership.

It then occurred to me to flip the conversation to focussing on their strengths, so as a starting point (and given this person loves to be analytical too), I had them buy the Strengthsfinder book and take the test to identify their top 5 of the 36 strengths in that methodology. I do like that Gallup work, for those who like such broad analysis it is terrific. In a simpler sense, though, I do believe in focussing on our strengths as an approach, so I like it simply as a way to bring awareness and focus to those strengths, as that does tend to shift energy and so future work.

So, in our most recent call we focussed on those five identified strengths then we had a coaching conversation around those.

In that conversation, we then used the concept of learning zones, ie Comfort, Stretch, Panic zones. As in the illustration above, we all have different styles around this too, or, as the illustration notes, we all have different sized zones.

In the case of this leader, they had felt too much stretching due to the focus on weaknesses. However, once we reframed around strengths, they felt they were then starting from a “Comfort Zone” space from which they can now work on themselves (with my ongoing support) to Stretch and so, as a virtuous circle, iteratively grow their own comfort zone.

As part of that process, and coming from a strengths orientation, they will look to stretch more by augmenting and building upon their existing strengths, as well as to bring awareness into actionable ideas around where sometimes if they get too comfortable around those strengths they may not get the best results from themselves and others.

A bit of a rambling narrative today from me. Perhaps I could stretch myself in my writing by editing more, and at the same time I do also allow myself to write my daily posts with minimal editing and to instead trust to see what flows in my writing over the days, weeks, months, and now years.

To summarise though, what has worked for this client may well work for some readers, and it is a three element approach:

  1. Strengths. Bring awareness to your strengths, recognise these are your Comfort Zone
  2. Stretch. Look for opportunities to get into your Stretch zone, both around doing more and different things with those strengths and putting yourself in situations where you are uncomfortable so you can use those and other skills and styles so as to grow your comfort zone.
  3. Iterate. As I noted, bravery is a virtuous circle. Be aware that if we are always in our Stretch Zone we will tend towards approaching the Panic Zone as it can be exhausting. Give yourself a break from time to time, not only literally taking time off to recharge, but also in doing work that you know sits squarely in your (ever expanding, too!) Comfort Zone.

So, iterate. Establish your Comfort Zone, then consciously move into your Stretch Zone, then, having stretched the right amount, drop back to that (expanding) Comfort Zone for a while before Stretching again.

In our call this week, my client actually modelled this several times in an hour. They would reflect, then I would inject my thoughts from what I had heard from them as well as around the theme of our work, then they would take that on. Iteratively they made amazing progress in just an hour! As for me, I learned a subtly new way of working thanks to this brave and stretching client.

Also published on Medium.