CorporateCoach eNewsletter

Issue No. 16 November 2002

Brought to you by the Brefi Group: "Developing your business through strategy, facilitation and executive coaching – internationally."

Web site:
Editor: Richard Winfield,
Subscribers: 3824 copies, worldwide

Welcome to this issue of CorporateCoach – a free newsletter for senior executives and teams in organisations interested in using coaching to improve corporate performance. Please share it with colleagues and contacts who will benefit from reading it.

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THOUGHT PROVOKER: We have recently been reviewing a performance planning and review scheme for a large organisation. It is competence based and well designed for easy completion. It sets out to facilitate continuous improvement in performance by describing WHAT the jobholder's contribution is and HOW they need to behave. But it doesn't address WHY their performance is important. Similarly, the appraisal training has involved telling participants what to do, rather than helping them to appreciate how the system works.

It you don't know why your contribution matters, then your motivation will be less. If you don't understand the process then you cannot make your own decisions.

These are the fundamentals of empowermnent.


  1. Editorial: Lessons from an 'Afronaut'
  2. Book review: Now, Discover Your Strengths

1.     Editorial: Lessons from an 'Afronaut'

Mark Shuttleworth is the first African to go into space, the second space tourist and an Internet billionaire. He is 28 years old.

He recently gave a presentation to the South African Business Club in London. The theme of his talk was that his life had just been a series of fortunate coincidences. He claimed, for instance, that he only studied business because he noticed on his first days at university that there were lots of girls on that course.

But the tone of his presentation was one of great enthusiasm for everything that he does. He repeatedly used words like "passion" and "fascinated". Since his success in business and his trip into space he has committed a great deal of time and energy in South Africa to visiting schools and supporting entrepreneurs in order to give them a role model of success from an environment that they can relate to.

So, what were the lessons he has learned? Well, two things from his time in space – how thin is the ozone layer, and what the earth looks like without seeing national boundaries. He says that in future everone should have the opportunity to go into space just to experience these two things.

From a business and personal perspective, several things stood out. First, doing what you really want to do. "I find that often there are things we would really love to do, that we actually can do – so why don't we?" In his case, he realised that his wish to go into space was a reachable dream, so he did it.

Second, he found that it was useful being in South Africa and not being in Silicon Valley. It enabled him to stand away from the crowd. "It is important to run with the herd, but it is also important to get ahead of it. Of course this didn't necessarily make sense to those around me at the time." "All my role models have that in common: that they are willing to be thought of as complete nuts."

He stressed the need to read widely, and to differentiate between the news – the noise – and the prevailing wisdom. "Newspapers look at the edge of the bell curve – look at the mass of the curve." It is important to be able to question the prevailing wisdom.

Mark was very impressed with the training provided by the Russians. He spent seven months with them. He concluded that a lot of the training was more to do with pushing the envelope of confidence and experience than specifically the training the skills involved. He discovered that fear is in the anticipation, not the actual. When he walked out to the rocket he was calm – he was ready for it.

The themr of our book review this month is that each person?s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.

Perhaps our theme should be "Find the passion and you will find the potential."

2.     Book review: ?Now, Discover Your Strengths ? How To Develop Your Talents and Those of the People You Manage? by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton

Now, Discover Your Strengths is Marcus Buckingham?s second book, his first being the highly successful First, break all the rules

The main message of the new book is that most organisations have two flawed assumptions about people:

  • Each person can be competent in almost anything.
  • Each person?s greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weaknesses.

The authors go on to say that organisations which operate from these assumptions tend to have the following characteristics:

  • They spend more time on training people they have hired than on selecting them properly in the first place
  • They place a heavy emphasis on work rules, policies, procedures and ?behavioural competencies?
  • Most of the training time and money is spent on trying to plug the gaps in employees? skills and competencies. Personal development plans are built around ?areas of opportunity? (weaknesses).
  • Promotion is based on the skills and experiences which people have acquired.

Most organisations, they say, take their employees? strengths for granted and focus on their weaknesses. Development is about fixing the weaknesses or damage limitation.

The authors go on to argue that to break out of this spiral organisations need to start with two different assumptions about people:

  • Each person?s talents are enduring and unique.
  • Each person?s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.

The book shows how to discover an individual?s strength and how best to manage those strengths.

Readers of the book are given a unique password that enables them to access the web-based assessment instrument. This presents 180 pairs of self-descriptors over a secure Internet connection. The participant is asked to choose which statement in the pair best describes him or her and to what extent. The items are grouped under 34 themes.

I found the assessment quick and easy to complete. It took about 30 minutes and the report was generated instantaneously. The report outlines your five most dominant signature themes (in my case ?learner?, ?focus?, ?maximiser?, ?harmony? and ?empathy?). For each strength there is a page of very useful notes explaining how you and your manager can make best use of them. In my case I discussed them with my coach. This was a highly motivational and energising experience and it has helped me formulate plans for capitalising on my strengths in my professional and personal life.

Overall the book is easy to read and well researched, being based on large numbers of case studies conducted by Gallup. The idea of focusing on and building an individuals strengths makes perfect sense to me but, like the authors, I can also see that at times some damage limitation around weaknesses is going to be necessary. However, this in no way detracts from the central argument of the book, which is that an individuals? strengths are where they have the greatest room for growth.

Carol Newland

Carol is a corporate coach and independent associate of the Brefi Group.

Now, Discover your strengths Now, Discover your strengths

First, break all the rules First, break all the rules

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We hope you enjoyed this issue of CorporateCoach. If you would like to learn more about how we can work together, then please contact me, Richard Winfield:

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