Are you a talent spotter, or the old fashioned nagging type?

28 June 2011

I overheard a conversation the other day between two guys discussing their personal trainers. One clearly loved his - but in describing why he thought his PT was so great he didn't once mention "what" the chap actually did or the techniques he used - he just talked about the relationship they had; how his trainer was so positive and how this bolstered his own self-belief and made him push that bit harder. It got me thinking; "what makes some people good at this sort of stuff?" It's not about how technically good they are, it's the other, unquantifiable things that make them stand out - and so it led me to think about positive psychology.

The business appeal of positive psychology

Positive psychology is the identification, assessment and development of individual strengths. The press is full of articles at the moment about the benefits of positive psychology in the world of work.  I'll admit to a little nervousness about embracing this fully, in case it leaks out into the world of home and family and I'm forced to return to liberal parenting (a pendulum I thought had swung into the far distance a few years back).

But positive psychology is appealing - it's desperately appealing at work, not least because laying down the law and management by pointing out just what a flawed individual you really are is no longer acceptable practice.  And it's a much more palatable way of building client relationships as we move towards  business partnership models rather than old style "we commission -you deliver" models of 1990s consulting. So it's a relief that something with such curb appeal that aligns how we treat people internally with how we build great customer relationships has come along.

Positive psychology and coaching

The most wide-spread application of positive psychology at work is coaching. Coaching refreshes organisations other interventions cannot reach! It reaches out whether you're client facing or do an internal client service role. Part of the appeal of strengths-coaching is the treatment of working people as individuals. We're not shoe-horned into a pre-defined box but allowed to express our own unique traits and strengths - we remain authentic; true to ourselves. Equally, strength-spotting has a natural appeal - we feel good when we focus on our strengths (even if our modesty prevents us shouting them from the rooftops) and our intrinsic motivation increases. Critically, more and more research shows that developing strengths is far more effective way of improving performance than correcting mistakes.  Both these aspects will strengthen rather than strain relationships - and in client situations this is incredibly positive.

So can we use positive psychology and strength-spotting as the
foundation for great client relationships?

Of course! And in doing so we develop stronger more robust relationships where we can challenge client thinking, something that more clients are looking for from a business partner.  As more and more organisations seek business partners rather than traditional consulting roles the ability to strengths-coach within the client relationship becomes ever more important.

To understand what makes a good, strength-spotting coach, project manager or client partner we need to look at both skills and personality - so are you a talent spotter, or the old fashioned nagging type?

Talent spotting - the evidence

I'm reviewing some research from Australia (Linley & Minhas, 2011) published in the International Coaching Psychology Review, and it demonstrates significant  evidence for certain traits a coach needs to be a good talent or strength-spotter -and these are client-critical skills not just coaching skills.

The following skills are predictors of a person's ability to strength-spot...

  • A connector
  • An enabler
  • Fab at feedback

Connector: Able to make connections between different strengths, situations, strategies and opportunities in order to be most effective in developing others. 

Enabler: Helping others to achieve the things of which they are capable, either by removing barriers such as time/process constraints or taking risks by pushing the individual further than they would go alone.

Fab at feedback: Moving away from classifying feedback in positive and negative terms - the bottom line is to be a strength-spotter you've got to be able to give accurate feedback regardless of content, the purpose of which is to modify the behaviour of your coachee or client. The receiver's got to understand the feedback, and understand too, what to do as a consequence. Just think for a moment the impact these skills would have if you were able to apply them in a client meeting or pitch.

It's 'you' that's important

The skills above are predictors of your ability to talent spot and develop. In a client situation they are predictors of your ability to make positive, strong and authentic relationships… they may even say something about the quality of your personal relationships or marriage… but perhaps we don't want to go there!? So if you are a connector, an enabler and fab at feedback, chances are you're a talent spotter too - an extremely valuable and prized quality within organisations. Being good at this stuff enhances your contribution and gets you noticed. And as a leader, you want to get more of these types in to your organisation.

That's the easy bit - you can learn skills, and these are no exception. The difficult bit is your personality… have you got the right temperament to do this - A great strengths-spotter has a certain disposition:

  1. Positive emotional reaction to spotting strengths - you get a buzz from it.
  2. Motivated to do it - you genuinely believe it's important and can see a benefit from doing it.
  3. You apply the learning - i.e. you do something positive with the strengths that you've identified.
  4. Frequency - you do it a lot of the time.

Using strengths to achieve goals is a critical skill for a good coach or talent spotter. If, amongst your many roles, you're a coach reading this - maybe  it's time to assess yourself against these criteria and ask if you have what it takes to be a good strengths-coach…and whether you can apply these skills to your clients… and if you're not sure, don't beat yourself up - but do play to your strengths!


Kate is an Organisation Development specialist, coach and psychotherapist. She has 20 years' experience working with a variety of businesses from start-ups to FTSE 100 companies, helping them design and develop their organisations. As a psychology graduate she started life at Marks & Spencer training in HR management and went on to a commercial role, running stores. She cut her consulting teeth with KPMG running Change and Communications programmes before heading up their Leadership Development practice. She then went and practiced what she preached and set up her own business specialising in vision, brand and behaviour; helping CEO's embed strategies for behavioural change that translated into commercial results. During this time she studied for her post-grad in Psychology working with inmates in Prison and the public sector. She is an expert in organisation systems, individual behavioural psychology and change management and now has her second business working closely with clients' HR and Leadership teams to identify the capabilities, organisation structure, roles and processes required to deliver their visions and step-change organisational performance. To find out more, check our her website, or follow her on twitter.

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