For several years, the term “strength-based” has been used often.  What, exactly, does it mean?  It means literally, to focus and discuss what’s going well and what is working well for the situation and to bring about change from that perspective.  Here’s an example from athletics:

A runner has a coach.  After the race, the coach notes that the time is a full second better than the last time.  Then the coach points out that the runner made some sort of arm movement going around turns that could have slowed the time a little.  The runner wasn’t aware of it, and the coach schedules some sessions to videotape the runner and work on arm movements.

What was the main take-away from the runner/coach meeting?  The arm movement and what could be done to “fix” it.  The fact that the time actually improved over the last race was not the focus, although it was mentioned first.  This the old coaching model.  The focus is on the problem that needs improvement and how the problem gets fixed.  The runner comes away feeling that there is something wrong that needs fixing, not even remembering that there was an improvement in time.

After spending years working in the old coaching model, I’ve begun my journey on the strength-based road.  Know that the strength-based road takes longer.  No superhighway here.  Let’s go back to our runner.  Supposing the coach pointed out the better time and asked the runner something like, “How do you think your time improved?” or “What do you think contributed to the better time?”  “What can you practice to get this time again?”  The runner leaves this session proud of the improvement in time.

While watching (and taping) the practice for the next race, the coach may praise the time improvement – perhaps it’s the same time as the last time, so the coach would point out that the improvement that made it happen before is still working.  Then the coach may say, “Look at your arms here.”  The runner may say “I never thought about that. Maybe if I kept them a little straighter, the time would improve.” The coach says, “Great idea.  I have some tips that may help you with this.”

Yes, this takes a little longer, but the runner is now a participant in the solution, feels good about the proposed solution, and is much more likely to keep at it.

A strength-based focus can yield all sorts of great results, at work, and elsewhere.

Do try this at home, and please share how it goes.

Consultants are in business to help their clients.  Program directors’ main job is to maintain full enrollment while making sure the program quality is the best it can be in all respects.  

Programs relate to families and children, consultants relate to clients.  No matter what we call the members of the relationship, the first part of the relationship is about connecting to the family member or client by name. Our name is an important part of our identity. If the person has an unfamiliar name, practice saying it over and over again until it’s right. And remember how to say it. Sometimes, I make little tips for myself so in between contacts, I don’t forget.

My own first name is Ellen. It starts my business email address: and my main social email address starts with the letter E. While it’s not the most common first name, it’s a “common” name that shouldn’t be hard.

Yesterday, I was on the phone with a customer service/email/domain “consultant” who helped me fix up my email accounts. There are a few domains with emails attached to each. Since the prices for email addresses have risen, it was time to prune, move, and otherwise work on them. We were on the phone more than ½ hour, talking about all of the email addresses, some of them starting with “ellen” and some starting with “e”. With all of the deleting, moving, and keeping, the name “Ellen” had to have been said more than 50 times, and other emails starting with “e” close to the same number of times. While the “consultant”  was waiting to make changes happen, she told me how making connections with people was so important to her. I liked that.

A few minutes after the phone call, I got  the follow-up email she had told me about.  She sent it to my email address which started with “e”, with the correct account number and the correct phone number.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the greeting: “Hello Helen”!

Here’s part of my reply to her: “My name, as in every one of the emails we spoke about, is ELLEN, not Helen.”

Here’s a tip: The people in your life don’t usually notice when you get their name right, but they ALWAYS notice when you don’t.