Coaching from a Strengths-based perspective is a fast-growing specialized field. The Strengths-based approach towards coaching is rooted within the foundation of Positive Psychology – a vibrant and refreshing angle within the broader field of psychology.  The essence of Positive Psychology lies within the attitude and approach it represents: a positive outlook towards the potential, the abilities and the fulfilment experienced in a person’s life.  It is concerned mostly with human flourishing and optimal functioning within the awareness, and development of personal strengths and virtues.

Two well regarded authorities within the Positive Psychology are Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  Their research and contributions are central to the understanding of this approach.  Seligman did ground-breaking research on the topic of “human happiness”, while Csikszentmihalyi is credited with attributing the concept of “flow” within psychology and human performance.

Further ground-breaking work was done by an educational psychologist who gave most of his life towards a more in-depth study and application of a Strengths-based approach within Positive Psychology, namely the late Sir Donald Clifton (1924-2003).  Clifton was professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 1950 to 1969 when he founded Selection Research, Inc. (SRI) that grew to the point where in 1988 it acquired the Gallup Organization and took on the older company’s name.Clifton is widely recognized as the “father of the Strengths Movement”, with specific reference towards his research and development of the widely popular assessment named after him, the CliftonStrengths™ Strengths Assessment.

Donald Clifton is known especially for his revealing question that gave impetus to the research and definition of his 34 CliftonStrengths™ talent themes:

What will happen when we think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them?

Clifton hypothesized that these talents were “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied” (Hodges & Clifton, 2004, p. 257). “Strengths”, according to Clifton, are the result of maximized talents. Specifically, a strength is mastery created when one’s most powerful talents are refined with practice and combined with acquired relevant skills and knowledge.

Clifton invested decades on studying successful individuals, teams and organizations, conducted thousands of interviews and played a key role in the development of the online CliftonStrengths™ assessment tool.  This tool is gaining popularity within coaching circles as a Strengths-based discovery assessment and is of immense value when it comes to the discovery and understanding of natural talents, and how to develop them into sustainable strengths.

This research paper will focus on the application of the StrengthsFinder® assessment as a tool within coaching individuals and teams, from a Strengths-based perspective, rooted in the principles of Positive Psychology.

The CliftonStrengths® assessment gives useful and practical insight when it comes to the following:

  1. Understanding talents and strengths;
  2. Awareness of individual natural talent themes in sequence of strong to weak;
  3. Understanding the role of Dominant talent themes;
  4. Understanding the role of Supporting talent themes,
  5. Understanding the role of Resistant talent themes;
  6. Observations regarding talent dynamic patterns between themes;
  7. Aligning a coaching journey with an individual’s most natural strengths;
  8. Guiding the client to focus on natural personal strengths, rather than on weakness;
  9. Incorporating core competencies of coaching with the Strengths-based approach.


In this Research Paper, I focus predominantly on the application of the “Full 34” StrengthsFinder report, and not the “Top 5” report. I find the Top 5 reports limiting in a coaching journey as a tool as it only reveals 5 themes out of a possible 34, thus the application of dynamics cannot be applied to its full extent. Also, the research from Gallup shows that a person will find their “Dominant Themes” of talent within a daily base in their Top 10- 12 talent themes, and not merely in the Top 5. Therefore the Top 5 report gives a restricting and limited overview of someone’s natural potential in talent.The “Non-Patterns” (Bottom 5-8) plays a role within awareness of Strengths – another element that is only revealed by the Full 34 Report.

Most importantly my research and application are not merely towards using an assessment like StrengthsFinder towards awareness of strengths or potential, but towards the coaching application within a Strengths-based focus. This implies the alignment of the coach’s approach within all the core competencies of ICF with a Strengths-based profile of the client. As the most basic definition of a talent theme (as indicated by the 34 StrengthsFinder Themes) is “predominant energy and need”, it serves as a very good indicator within any of the core competencies of coaching towards sustainable energy and need of the client when the coach interacts and explore with the client – without the coach pre-empting anything or stereotyping the client.

Its application in coaching is strongly relevant towards:

1 – making the coach more sensitive towards the clients’ specific needs and feelings, and assisting the coach in competencies like active listening and powerful questioning, and also to

2 – give the client a Strengths Awareness towards their own most natural energy within relationships, execution, thought patterns and influence – that then could be translated through coaching into an active belief in self, a celebration of self and an understanding of personal potential and aspirations.

For this, I apply a 5-step approach:

  1. StrengthsFinder Assessment and Awareness Discussion; (Awareness Discussion is not regarded as coaching, but as feedback on the assessment results);
  2. Co-creating relationships from a Strengths-based approach; (Understanding self and others from a perception of individual energy and need);
  3. Communicating effectively from a Strengths-based approach; (Communicating clearly and authentically by expressing your own energy and need, and listening to others from a perspective of respect and awareness of difference);
  4. Learning and results from a Strengths-based approach; (taking the combined energy and needs and aligning it with a team purpose individual roles and performance outcomes);
  5. Aligning individuals, partners and team in Coaching. (strategies for embedding a culture of awareness, active listening and celebrating uniqueness in self and others).

The CliftonStrengths® Assessment Tool

Gallup’s CliftonStrengths is an online assessment of personal talent that identifies areas in which an individual has the greatest potential for building strengths.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder presents 177 items that each consist of a pair of potential self-descriptors. These items are based on the theory and research foundation associated with semi-structured personal interviews that Selection Research Incorporated and Gallup (Harter, Hayes, & Schmidt, 2004; Schmidt & Rader, 1999) used for more than 30 years.

Developed through rational and empirical processes, researchers have repeatedly subjected the Clifton StrengthsFinder to psychometric examination. A summary of reliability and validity evidence gathered to date appears in this report.

The report also presents the primary application of the Clifton StrengthsFinder as the evaluation that initiates a strengths-based development process in work and academic settings.

The validity of an assessment must be evaluated with respect to its intended purpose. The CSF is an online assessment of personal talent that identifies areas where an individual’s greatest potential for building strengths exists. By identifying one’s top themes of talent, the CSF provides a starting point in the identification of specific personal talents, and the related supporting materials help individuals discover how to build on their talents to develop strengths within their roles. The primary application of the CSF is as an evaluation that initiates a strengths-based development process in work and academic settings.

As an omnibus assessment based on positive psychology, its main application has been in the work domain, but it has been used for understanding individuals and groups in a variety of settings, including employee, executive team, student, family, and personal development.

The CSF is not designed or validated for use in employee selection or mental health screening. Given that CSF feedback is provided to foster intrapersonal development, comparisons across profiles of individuals are discouraged.

Today, the CliftonStrengths Assessment is available in more than 25 languages and is modifiable for individuals with disabilities. Worldwide, more than 18 million individuals (2018) have taken the CSF. It is appropriate for administration to adolescents and adults with a reading level of grade 10 or higher.

The CSF’s intended purpose is to facilitate personal development and growth. It is intended and used as a springboard for discussion with managers, friends, colleagues and advisers and as a tool for self-awareness. CSF results are a preliminary hypothesis to be verified with the respondent. Accordingly, feedback about talents and strengths development often forms the basis of further interventions that help individuals capitalize on their greatest talents and apply them to new challenges.

Understanding “Why you do what you do”, from a Strengths perspective – and why it is important in Coaching.

As mentioned earlier, my approach within Strengths-based Coaching of individuals and teams is not centred primarily around the CliftonStrengths tool. The assessment is extremely useful in the sense of forming a foundation for self-awareness and other awareness from a Strengths-based perspective, especially when it comes to the defining and explanation of patterns of thought, feeling and behavior.  More importantly though is the common language that is created and adopted – both from the Theme Descriptions of the CliftonStrengths assessment, but also from the language found within Positive Psychology.  In creating a common understandable language, you create momentum towards alignment between individuals and teams, and you create an essential foundation built on mutual respect, understanding and interdependence.

Once this understanding and language is created, the true coaching journey starts – a journey built on coaching principles and -dynamics.  Few tools create a more solid foundation for coaching principles like awareness, communication, trust, and accountability.  This said, and CliftonStrengths being my tool of choice, it must be emphasized that, in a coaching process, any scientifically sound and validated Strengths-based tool can be used with great effect.  It is the approach of the coach that makes a Strengths-based approach effective – an approach founded on Positive Psychology, Appreciative Enquiry and the firm belief that every individual is unique and has their own unique combination of talents – even if only (still) merely as potential for them to discover and develop.

This is where the philosophy of Strengths aligns beautifully with an appreciative coaching process.  Awareness in coaching answers a very important question:  the “Why you do what you do” question. 

The biology of the “Why?” is very well explained by Simon Sinek in his “Start with Why”.

Sinek states the “homo sapiens” brain, or neo cortex, corresponds with data and information that we need as humans, in terms of a “What?” level of “What we need to do?”. It is responsible for all of our rational and logical thoughts as well as language. Another part of our brain makes up the limbic brain. The limbic brain is responsible for all of our feelings and emotions, like loyalty, trust and emotional engagement. It is also responsible for all of our human behavior and decisions and has no capacity for processing language. Therefore, when we communicate in coaching from a perspective of “what” needs to be done or “how” it should be done, people understand complex facts and figures, timelines and strategies that align with it. But, extremely important to understand in coaching, this information does not drive behavior or engagement. On the other hand, if we communicate with a person from the “Why?” level of their motivation, their needs and their wants, we communicate directly to the person’s ability to drive behavior, which they can then expand with the rational “what and how” concerned with steps, action plans and strategies. This is where you help someone to access the deepest part of their decision making. This is exactly why a focus on facts and information can still keep a person stuck in an indecisive space where they may say “it just doesn’t feel right.”

This correlates seamlessly with a holistic or three-dimensional approach towards coaching, addressing a person’s thinking (head), the feeling (heart) and the actions (hands) – but, you need to start with the heart – start with the “Why?”. 

In coaching, if someone is unclear about their deepest motives or motivations, they will project an uncertainty towards those around them also. Not only will they be inconsistent in their decisions, but they themselves will not trust their own decisions, and neither will others.

From a Strengths-based perspective, this is exactly how the discovery and understanding of your natural patterns of thought, feeling and behavior (Talent Themes) through an assessment like CliftonStrengths becomes so valuable a tool for a coach and a client. It provides clarity on their deepest energy and deepest need that drives motivation and therefore also decisions. I explain a talent to my clients as “energy and need” to think feel and behave in very specific patterns. When these patterns are managed well and cultivated with knowledge, skills and experiences, you turn it into a Strength that you own and use optimally.

A talent is not ability – a talent is sustainability.  And when you can assist a client to not only understand their natural patterns of sustainable energy and need- and then to embrace and celebrate it as “what is right” about them, something magical happens in coaching.  You can see someone gather the means from within themselves to make decisions and take actions in a confident and clear manner – without any need for someone else to be directive or act on their behalf (things that are far removed from coaching as a practice).

Applying Strengths-Awareness to unique individual experience of energy and need

In the CliftonStrengths Assessment, the 34 Talent Themes are sorted within four Talent Domains, as first published in the book “Strengths-based Leadership – Great leaders, teams and why people follow” by Tom Rath (Gallup Press).  [4]

The four domains are named as Executing themes, Influencing themes, Relational themes and Strategic Thinking themes. 

Although most people find these categories of talent merely interesting, there is a wealth of individual beauty hidden in it when it comes to coaching individuals and teams.  This lies predominantly in the expression of each Talent Domain on collective need that the corresponding themes share.  First, see the image below of the four domains with the 34 themes:

Dries Lombaard Research Paper 1

On the surface, the themes above are merely seen as the “Doers” (Executing), the “Influencers” (Influencing), the “Feelers” (Relational) and the “Thinkers” (Thinking). Although this is true, there is more to it that should be extracted by a coach – be it with individuals or be it with teams. It is the collective expression of “Needs” of the themes within each domain.

One of the most important questions that forms a golden thread throughout any form of coaching, is the question “What do you need?”.  Understanding your own needs is crucial for growth.  For a coach, getting clarity on the needs of a client is absolutely essential.

I explain the needs of the themes within the four domains as follow:

DomainCollective “needs”
Executing ThemesResults & Realities
Influencing ThemesResponse & Reaction
Relational ThemesRelationships & Reassurance
Thinking ThemesReason & Research

When you move from coaching individuals towards coaching teams, individuals can then clearly and confidently express their personal needs and decisions, and align it with differences in thought, feeling and behavior in a team, without compromising relationships or outcomes.  To me it is always amazing how people can tolerate frustration and irritation that arises in teams from differing personalities in a mature and professional manner as soon as they have not only discovered their own unique patterns of energy and need, but when they understand it in every team member, and celebrate and embrace difference as something strong, and not something wrong.

Furthermore, when a team can see a matrix of combined talents (energy and need) and combined weaknesses (which forms their natural avoidance or resistance), they can identify possible “gaps” in a team, and also start to formulate and celebrate different roles by allowing individuals with the aligned strengths to play where they play with strongest energy and need.

Case study – Strengths-based Team Coaching

I worked with a corporate leadership team in a coaching journey by having individual awareness sessions with each team member, and thereafter engaging with them in individual coaching sessions towards their personal needs and energy.

During the individual sessions, it became clear to me that a lot of frustration was experienced by nearly all team members because of a lot of discussions and planning going on in team meetings, but very little decisions were made.  Actually, the feedback was that the team seemed resistant towards decision making. 

One of the team members – let’s call him Mike (not his real name) in particular was extremely outspoken about his frustrations in this regard, especially because he had the experience that the right decision was always very clear to him, but the rest of the team won’t see it, or agree, and then just lean towards continuous discussion without decision. 

The other frustration was that the Chairperson of the team seemed to encourage the discussions rather than drive towards decision. 

Everyone seemed very frustrated with the non-decisive outcomes of the team, but could not understand why this was happening, and simply regarded the team (and the Chairperson) as being dysfunctional.

I then went into a Team Coaching session with the team, providing the opportunity for them to talk openly and honestly about their feelings and experiences.  I facilitated a discussion at the start where I had them come up with firm ground rules in order to protect the nature of the discussion and coaching. The ground rules they came up with were:

  1. Absolute confidentiality
  2. Safety and openness
  3. Respect for opinions
  4. Agreement not to force an outcome
  5. Focusing on one thing only – not being side-tracked
  6. Listening actively
  7. Communicating directly

I found that the individual coaching that I had with them, prepared them well to come up with ground rules that was very much in line with Core Competencies of coaching.  This was a positive for me right at the start.

As the Coach I agreed to facilitate the ground rules, but also to participate fully in the role of a coach.

The outcome of the first coaching session (which lasted about 3 hours), came to the point where everyone felt that they had an opportunity to express themselves clearly on openly.  They all also felt that it was constructive and that they identified one specific area of concern:  not being able to drive decisions as a team.

They decided as a team to make this the topic of the next coaching session.

The second coaching session was focused on me first explaining to them the impact of their individual talents from a Strengths-based perspective as a team.  For this I used a matrix.

As illustrated below, the matrix was based on the results of their CliftonStrengths Assessments.  The matrix was set up to identify clearly the four domains of talent (also color coded) as Executing, Influencing, Relational and Thinking.

Under each Domain the relevant individual talent themes were listed.

Each individual in the team had their sequence of talents displayed in both numerical order and color. 

I displayed the Dominant Talent themes (first 12 on each report) in yellow, and the Non-Patterns (last 5 on each report) in blue.

This was to indicate both individual natural energy and need (yellow) as well as individual natural resistance (blue).

It also revealed both similarities and differences between team members in their collective energy and needs from their talent theme sequences.

See the Example images below:  (names withheld)

Dries Lombaard Research Paper 2

When this matrix is shown to the team, I follow a Coaching approach rather than a Consulting approach in terms of asking questions in order for them to identify patterns that is relevant within the results.  Keep in mind that they went through an Awareness Session regarding the CliftonStrengths results individually and received material on detail explanation of the themes and their meaning and impact – especially with regards to the energy and need of each talent theme.

The important skill to apply as a coach within team coaching, and when using assessment results like this, is to be very aware and focused not to start consulting or become directive. I believe it is a very easy trap to step into as a team coach – and it immediately shifts the impact from team coaching towards training or consulting if one is not careful. The same coaching competencies that are applied in individual sessions are just as relevant in a team session from a Strengths-based perspective – actually even more so.

In most cases, teams come up with brilliant Strengths-based interpretations from information like this Strengths Matrix.

After the Team Coaching session from a Strengths perspective (always keeping the focus on “what is right with each person, true to a Positive psychology approach), I then ask permission from the team to reveal to them some of my own perspectives from the matrix – which will then confirm some of their perspectives or add to it.

In the case of this specific team, this approach was incredibly revealing as to their resistance and blind-spot towards decision making. 

Follow the illustrations below with explanations towards the awareness that an instrument like this can create and confirm:

Combined resistant Strategic with combined Need for Arranger

This clear result confirms their frustration towards their own energy and need that created a blind-spot.  The talent theme of Strategic has the energy and ability to spot different options clearly, and then the need to make a decision fast.  I refer to this energy as the need for “Battlefield Decision-making” – fast, immediate and decisive.

Arranger, on the contrasting end, has the natural energy and ability to see various possibilities from a big-picture perspective, and then the need to discuss it, to arrange (organize) it and to make a collective decision based on all the information available.  I refer to this energy as the need for “Boardroom Decision-making” – inclusive, slower and taking everything into consideration.

It is very clear how this team naturally gravitates towards the latter, and how the natural energy and need they have for collaboration becomes their own detriment.

Also, very revealing was the case of Mike (referred to earlier as the individual who had extreme frustration with the non-decisive nature of the team).  Mike is the only member in the team with a very strong Strategic talent.  (He is displayed in the last line, with Strategic at nr 2).  And, although Mike is also strong in Arranger, his Strategic, by his own admission, always takes the lead with a strong need for making fast decisions.

Combined resistant Futuristic with combined Need for Harmony


The need for Harmony was extremely strong in the team, with four of the members having the Harmony talents energy and need in their Top 5 on their sequence.  This includes the Chairperson (second last line) with not only a strong need for Harmony, collaboration and agreement, but also the only one in the team with an immense strong energy and need to include everyone (Includer).  Also note how Mike has a resistance to Harmony and no need for it and would often clash with the team in this regard. 

Just as revealing was the overall low energy and need for Futuristic as talent. Only two (including Mike) have this theme strong, and nearly all others is resistance to it. Futuristic as a strength is proactive in energy and need, it is visionary and always reaches out to a preferred future – which obviously has an impact on decisiveness. The impact on the team was very clear to them.

There were other strong talents at play (like Responsibility, Relator and Achiever) as well as combined weaknesses like Woo, Adaptability and Competition, but as the team agreed to focus on one thing only for this coaching session, and they chose the topic as “their indecisiveness”, I focus on this only for this case study.

Actions leading from Strengths Coaching

All of this was experienced and very revealing to the team, but now actions and next steps had to be taken.  My role as a Strengths Coach was to facilitate a discussion on this, making sure they keep within a framework of celebrating differences and acknowledging uniqueness.

I always find that, once the foundation has been laid within clarity and understanding of differences in energy and need, a new appreciation enters discussions, even between team members who did not get along well in the past.

The decision that was reached, was found within connecting specific roles towards team members, especially during the meeting times when they needed to get to a decision.

Mike was given the task (and gladly accepted), to “drive decision making” by facilitating a preset timed discussion within each meeting that primarily focused on options and decisions.  For the first time, everybody celebrated the contribution of urgency that Mike brought with his Strengths, and Mikes frustration and disengagement vanished.

It was a process that had its own growing pains, but, six months later I was informed by the Chairperson that the team was in a completely different space.  Decision flowed from every meeting.  The company experienced fresh and energized vision and direction from them as a leadership team.

And, as a Chairperson, he felt relieved and empowered by the support he got from Mike when it came to the decision-making process.

Summary and learning

As a Coach with a passion for uniqueness and individual potential in people, I find a Strengths-based approach extremely beneficial and supportive, when aligned with key core competencies and other relied upon coaching skills.

If any assessment is used without a coaching approach filled with competent and skilled coaching techniques, I am of the opinion and experience that you merely create excitement without action, growth or change.

The most important focus of a coach – and especially a Strengths-based Coach, must always be to search and explore “beyond awareness”. Awareness of somebody’s natural talent, strengths, personality profile or personal styles are very interesting in almost all instances – both for coach and for client. But if this type of awareness becomes the central focus and element of the coaching, then it is simply not coaching any longer, but rather training or consulting.

It took me years of experience and training in both coaching practice and skills, and within a Strengths-based understanding, before I had the experience and feedback that my coaching journeys, with individuals and with teams, had true lasting impact for them.

Three of my biggest learnings from this specific case study were…

  1. The importance of self- and other-awareness within teams. When true awareness of personal and collective behavior, thinking and emotions are addressed, people tend to naturally align better with each other.
  2. The importance of a coaching approach when working with teams to solve a problem. Mostly facilitators try to address team issues either individually with team members, or through either a training or a consulting process with the team collectively.  A coaching approach – guided by core competencies and skills as a coach – truly enhances the participation of team members, and it brings impact through their joint exploration of an issue, and with finding the answer amongst themselves.
  3. The power of celebrating uniqueness and having respect.  It is as if clarity on personal uniqueness, and the positive celebration of it, truly lifts a person to a level of confidence and excitement, from where they are much more able and willing to find their pathway towards any solution or through any challenge.

By Dries Lombaard, Executive Strengths Coach and Strengths Coach Trainer

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Featured in SA Coaching News, South Africa’s only magazine for the coaching industry and coaching professionals.

The value of coaches and mentors

At a recent seminar focussed on women in leadership, the consensus was reached that most successful women rate having a mentor very high in the battle to reach the top. This raises the question: just how many of these mentors were women?

According to the American Psychological Association women do make very good mentors but the unfortunate fact is that there are not very many around. “The women in leadership roles, and who also have family responsibilities, are the psychologists many female students want to emulate,” says Carol Williams, former chair of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS). 

In general, those with the most to give in the form of experience and guidance also seem to be those who have the least time to mentor.

One of the most difficult parts of the coaching/mentoring relationship is finding the right person. First, you have to know what you need. Career guru Richard Bolles suggests making a detailed list of what it takes to succeed in your chosen profession–knowledge, skills (both technical and managerial), personality traits and experience and then list what you already have. This is a simple gap analysis and with help you with your personal development plan too!

Now look for a person who has the attributes you are lacking or feel you have room for improvement in and go after that person as a mentor. That formula however assumes there is a large pool to choose from, which often is not the case. For this reason, your mentor may be a network of mentors rather than a single person.

There are many reasons to have a mentor in your career (and personal life), here are 3:

1. A MENTOR LEADS THE WAY. Often, because they have been there already. 

2. A MENTOR SEES OUR POTENTIAL. Because they no longer feel the need to prove themselves at the expense of thither, they are quick to point your potential out to you

3. A MENTOR ISN’T AFRAID TO ASK THE HARD QUESTIONS. They have been through it before and know that you need to be honest with yourself!

What is the Difference between Coaching and Mentoring?

There are many different definitions, but what is most important is to realise you will need both during you career and lifetime. 

Coaching is focused on an organisation’s key assets – its people – both as individuals and as team members. A coach works with you, using your key performance indicators/technical skills. The focus is on the skill needed to perform your job better. 

A mentor suggests how you hone your business skills and performance, offers solutions and gives analysis and input on how to improve your business acumen. A mentor will bring their own substantial career track record to the table and will utilise this to when discussing good businesses strategy and practice.

You do not always have to do things on your own! Asking someone to be a short-term coach or mentor could bring you so much closer to your career and relationship goals!

By Gizelle McIntyre

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Accelerating the Education Revolution COVID-19

Over the past few years conversation about the need to reinvent the education industry has escalated. The schooling system has changed very little since the beginning of the first industrial revolution. A bell rings and everyone must move into the classroom, then sit still, listen, take instruction from the teacher and don’t question too much. Then another bell goes and it is tea break, etc… Doesn’t this sound like it was designed to prepare people for routine factory work, rather than today’s fast changing and dynamic age, where increasing complexity and ambiguity requires a radically new approach? One that works within non-linear complexity and builds creativity and systems thinking rather than one based on reductionism and linear cause and effect thinking.

The first thing to look at is that education is upside down. One curriculum that everyone must fit into. In most cases, it also includes one way of teaching one curriculum. This needs to be flipped. We are all unique and therefore we need highly individualised curricula which are uniquely shaped around individual’s natural strengths. The early foundation years of one’s education might still require some common building blocks, however, with the advancement of AI and deep learning in the field of human psychology, I believe we will be able to accurately detect a person’s natural strengths from as young as 3 years old, (Research in the field of neuroscience now suggests that our personality at 3 years is very consistent through into adulthood), thus enabling us to begin tailoring a child’s education towards nurturing and growing their natural strengths, from a very early stage of development. Technology platforms such as and many others, will be perfectly positioned to facilitate the connecting of students and tutors. This will mean that individuals will be able to hand pick their subjects and tutors based on which subjects complement their strengths and which tutors complement their style of learning. This will also allow education to become incredibly agile in meeting the dynamically changing needs of our increasingly complex world, which unfortunately, traditional institutions just cannot do.

As human beings we generally tend to resist upsetting status quo, until the status quo begins to fail us or create massive pain. The basic drivers of human behaviour are pain and pleasure, although we will always do much more to avoid pain. This along with the need to find coping mechanisms to meet increasingly complex challenges in our world has driven our individual and collective evolution. Until now, the pain required to change education has to a large extent outweighed the need to change it. Even if you agree with my assumptions about how education needs to change, actually removing your child from a traditional educational institute suddenly sounds a bit uncomfortable or even risky. And the simple reason for this is that the traditional route is familiar and safe.

Enter COVID-19!

With global COVID-19 pandemic escalating exponentially, increased restrictions on international travel, lock down of international boarders and the closure of more and more school, universities and educational institutes – where to from here? Currently we do not know how long this pandemic will continue, but it seems that from this vantage point the end is not yet in sight and the infection numbers are rising, not falling. Whilst we have been talking about the imminent disruption of the education industry, who would have thought that a global health crisis might prove to be the tipping point and accelerator of this disruption. Even if schools and universities close, education cannot stop and people will search and find alternative solutions for the continuity of their education. This could be the very factor that drives the much needed education revolution. If more and more schools and universities continue to close it will force a behaviour change and once people have found comfort in an alternative solution, there will be no going back.

We are seeing a trend in work where companies are reducing their numbers to a small core group of employees, then outsourcing “staff on demand” as described in the book – Exponential Organisations, precipitating a move away from corporatization and towards working remotely in small businesses or self-employment with an emphasis on specialisation, personal branding and global collaboration. I believe a similar trend is emerging in education, where the move is away from traditional educational institutions who own “the brand” and dictate the curricula, towards specialised or niche’d online tutors who own their own personal brand and allow education to become highly agile, accessible and individualised. I see the interpersonal aspect of education and the common human need for connection, being organised around community, cultural and sporting type activities rather than around educational institutes. Could COVID-19 fast track these changes?

By Gavin Lund – Co-Founder of Sterkla Coaching & Tutoring App

Online Tutoring coming in Version2.0 to Sterkla

Retirement Coaching for a your Next Career – Lynda Smith

We live in a world that is changing significantly. The convergence of technology and longevity is changing what the world of work looks like. This brings both opportunity and challenge, depending on one’s skills, health and attitude.

According to academics, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, we are living on average 30 years longer than our great grandparents. This means that one is likely to have an extra season of good health before one becomes impacted by aging disease. The term in the world now is one of “younger old” and older old”. The gift of this extra season means that we need to shift our mindset and navigate and plan what our path may look like. 

The crossroads for this extra season will look different for each person. We are unique and working with a coach who understands the impact of longevity and technology can make a significant difference to an individual. There are many factors to take into consideration. To name a few: health, finances, family, work, purpose, technology and where one should live. We arrive at this crossroads with skills, experience, character and a unique history. 

Technology has changed the way we work, play and live. In previous generations, individuals died earlier due to more physical labour and a lack of health solutions. This is no longer the case and with lifelong learning we can open ourselves to new skills and ways to work, connect and communicate in ways that were not possible in the past. A coach can help you to bring these factors into consideration while mapping your next season.

The convergence of technology and longevity open many innovative solutions for the 50plus generation.  This generation has worked and developed skills over the past 30 years and hopefully has saved for this season. The opportunity to live a rich, blended life of some work, volunteering, travel and family time is possible. A coach can help their client to understand what they don’t see, ask the tough questions and be a mirror of reflection on this journey. The lessons we learnt from our parents and grandparents in this season could be blocking our mindset and not allowing us to create the best future for ourselves.

We live in exciting times. Our work as coaches can add such value to our clients. We too need to keep learning and understanding how much the world around us is shifting. Each generation is currently experiencing these new shifts from their world perspective. We are all impacted. I love to believe that everyday we can help others to live their best life. This life lives in a 21st century world.

By Lynda Smith – Retirement Coach

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Featured in SA Coaching News, South Africa’s only magazine for the coaching industry and coaching professionals.

How to Choose a Coach

The mental health industry has seen huge growth in the availability of life coaches and other mental health practitioners. Access to certification for such practices, and a largely unregulated industry means that not everyone with a certificate should be trusted to guide you through life’s challenges.

Just like not all doctors are created equal, nor are life coaches. Check out this list of points to be aware of before surrendering your vulnerabilities into the hands of a stranger.

1. Certification

While certification is important, it’s not the most important factor. There are certificates available with minimal training instruction for as little as $20 online. Being backed by an international institute or body also doesn’t mean that the training adequately prepares the individual to be a life coach.

Certification should be considered the bare minimum to get your foot in the door. It’s the ticket to the game. It doesn’t mean that they are adequately skilled to play the game, so to speak. Look beyond the certificate and check for experience, references, or other evidence that they are skilled and knowledgeable at what they do.

2. Establish rapport

Believe it or not, many life coaches lack the emotional maturity to handle their own life’s challenges, let alone someone else’s. It’s not easy to determine how emotionally mature they are when reviewing their credentials, so check if they offer a free connect session. That is, a session where they allow you an opportunity to test the suitability of their skills and demeanour in working with you to address your goals or challenges.

Remember, this is about you, not them. So you must be comfortable to work with them or else you won’t feel confident to boldly unpack the detail of what may be holding you back in life. Establishing a good rapport is a major hurdle to overcome if you hope to achieve results as quickly as possible.

3. Are they empathetic or sympathetic?

Empathetic means that they can understand where you’re at, and they have a genuine appreciation for what you’re going through. Sympathetic means that they not only understand, but they also have an emotional investment because of their personal experience with a similar challenge. As strange as it may sound, you don’t want a sympathetic life coach.

If your life coach is sympathetic towards your state, they run a considerably higher risk of losing objectivity and developing a bias for your position. As comforting as that sounds, it could be the very reason that holds you back from overcoming the current obstacles in your path. You need someone that is more empathetic and less sympathetic so that they relate to what you’re experiencing, but are insightful and objective enough to guide you towards understanding your contribution towards your current challenges.

Important! We cannot coach someone that is not in the room. So, if your life coach is focusing on someone else’s behaviour and not dealing with yours, be very concerned. They’re stroking your ego, not helping you to recover.

4. What makes a good life coach?

According to Coach the Life Coach, the following 8 points are key attributes of a good life coach, and I agree:

  • They must be a great listener.
  • Must have an excellent ability to build rapport with their clients
  • An understanding of rapport at different levels for different types of clients is essential.
  • They must be able to formulate questions artfully and skillfully to prompt the client towards self-realisation.
  • Extended or awkward silences must not make them uncomfortable. Some life coaches feel a need to fill every gap in the discussion.
  • Being able to re-frame any event demands that they have broad experience and real life wisdom.
  • They absolutely must be passionate about helping people.

One more I would add to that is that they must be very comfortable with pushing the tough discussion and guiding their client through it. Many life coaches want to be favoured more than they want to be true to the client’s needs. For this reason, they avoid getting too contentious because they’re afraid of losing the client.

In a nutshell, these are the points that you must explore in your connect session with your life coach to determine how skilled and/or suitable they are to help you achieve your goals.

5. Affordability

You don’t always pay for what you get. The rate being charged by a life coach is not always an indication of their expertise. Like every industry, there are dubious members that have questionable ethics. This is true for life coaching as well. Don’t use the rate card of a life coach to measure their skill or expertise. As much as there is massive growth in the life coaching industry, it is still a relatively young industry, and as such, is still establishing its norms and benchmarks.

A good life coach could cost anything between R400 to R2500 per hour (US$30 to US$180). Or more. But it all depends on their client base, and their niche. Someone coaching corporate executives will obviously call a higher rate than someone coaching housewives. But even in that scenario, the rate could go quite high if the suburb is considered seriously upmarket.

The bottom line is that the only thing a rate should tell you is whether or not the life coach is affordable for you. Everything else about them must be assessed independent of their rate, especially for those that do it as a passion, and not only to make money.

6. What about NLP, CBT, and all of that?

NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), or even Hypnotherapy are simply methods that can be used in an approach to resolving issues in a life coaching scenario. Like all methods, they have their place, but they also have their limitations.

Be careful of life coaches that swear by one or the other, or take a textbook approach to responding to your questions or challenges. A sure sign to raise concern is if your life coach constantly tries prescribed methods in every session. The reason I don’t recommend taking either of these routes is because they are only effective as short term coping mechanisms, and then also, only within the context of the current state of the challenges that you face.

Once the conditions around your challenges change, or your level of self-awareness improves, the coping methods lose impact. When this happens, you’ll find yourself grappling with issues that you thought were long since resolved.

Be weary of life coaches that speak in methodologies and psycho-jargon. The human condition is not as complex as many would have us believe. A life coach that draws wisdom from the various available methods, and applies that within context in the way they guide you towards re-framing your perspectives, are the ones to seek out.

A good life coach will not teach you coping mechanisms. They will teach you how to overcome, rather than how to cope with your challenges.


So, why would I share all this with you? I want informed clients, because informed clients add to the integrity of the industry, and they keep us honest.

Life coaches are human, although some of them may suggest that they’re super-human. Nonetheless, we make mistakes, and we have bad days. The more informed you are as a client, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to correct us on those bad days. More importantly, the more informed you are, the higher the probability of finding a life coach that is effective for you.

Remember, this is an investment in taking your life to the next level. Don’t compromise on that by looking for a life coach that is going to make you feel comfortable with where you’re at.

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Quantum Coaching – An evolutionary step in human consciousness – Dr. Claudius van Wyk

The growing public experience of chaos in human affairs might reflect the limits of our current state of human consciousness.

As a coach you help people to think and act more effectively to reach their goals. But the challenges they face are increasingly complex and the disruptive events they need to deal with occur more frequently.

If we take a fresh view and recognize the world we live in as a complex interactive system, a living organism, then our challenge is to help our coachees achieve and sustain coherence as a part of their environment. Success requires more than step by step improvements, we need to support real transformational change.  Quantum coaching enables us to address the whole person; engaging with physical, emotional and mental process to make sense of our complex and changing world. Utilising the latest thinking in physics, neuroscience, complexity science and human development; you are invited to join us and learn how to enable biopsychosocial coherence. 

When we think about chaos in nature, it helps to consider it as an absence of effective organisation. The same might apply in human affairs. Whilst ‘chaos’ has always been a part of life, we might not have had the ability to perceive it in a way that makes sense.


Change is exponentiated in this era where an intensification of communication is enabled by dramatic advances in technology. The near instantaneous sharing of information drawing data from media networks around the globe alerts us when situations become disorganised and consequently results in events easily interpreted as chaotic. But our greater exposure to information also offers a new perspective on the experience of chaos. The coexistence of chaos and order is now legitimized by the new science and, supported by quantum science’s recognition of the ubiquity of ‘randomness’ at the subatomic level, provides new labels for interpreting what we experience as chaos.

However this shift in awareness does invite us to reduce our expectation of the results we might typically anticipate in a perspective of a continuous cyclical mechanical world based on cause-and-effect principles. Where we might have expected that if we put the right strategy in place we would be assured of a predetermined result, now we are less certain about even having to find the right answers.

Science and certainty

The naive expectation of ready solutions to all problems was largely derived from Descartes’ description of a material world limited to the physically measurable domain; the real arena of scientific study. Newton could then offer it’s operative principles in his ground-breaking thermodynamic laws of physics. The universe functioned in fixed and predictable ways and we could comprehend its principles with precise scientific measurement described with logical syllogisms and mathematical equations. The scientific method thus brought certainty.

However, after a number of truly ground shifting discoveries Thomas Kuhn presented the notion of a paradigm shift. He observed the conflict in science with one type of physics operating according to predictable Newtonian laws, and another emerging type that contradicted predictability. Certain scientific discoveries, he proposed, fundamentally challenged a wide range of assumptions about existence. Such paradigm shifting insights now include the creative nature of evolution, relativity theory, the indeterministic quantum dynamics of energy, and its peculiar principle of non-locality, or action at a distance.

Holistic view

Ultimately a new holistic view with its own form of emergent science is seeking to address this dichotomy of the fixed Newtonian model and the indeterminism of the quantum model. Systems and complexity theory help with a new integrative whole-systems view. This provides substance to Aristotle’s notion that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’. Reductionism, with its cause-and effect relationships, becomes fundamentally challenged; not only for its rigid linearity, but also in respect of clinging to Descartes’ ‘scientific’ materialism which insists on looking for the hard bits that make up existence.


As such the new science now grapples with the experience of increasing complexity – and consequently this feature has implications on coaching practice. In complex situations the outcomes of activities cannot be predetermined. They emerge dependent on the complex relationships of the involved participants (variables) in any given situation. Yes, cause and effect relations do still apply in mechanical situations, but especially in human activities, outcomes are more unpredictable simply because we cannot be sure what the participants are thinking and feeling. So, when dealing with complexity we need to pay more attention to process (how things come about) and the dynamical relationships between participants. It is thus the complex dynamic relationships that constitute any living system that ultimately defines such a whole – not the individual components. That dynamic adaptive relational activity is therefore what constitutes our current world situation – described by the VUCA acronym.

Self-perpetuating patterns

Evolutionary advance through time has been a function of a series of self-perpetuating patterns where unstable disorder has emerged into ordered systems. Joseph Needham challenged Marx and Engels’ ‘dialectical materialism’ with ‘dialectical organicism’. What we tend to describe as ‘chaos’ might then very well be an accelerated process of adaptation and reorganisation in pursuit of a newer quality of emergent coherence. That is why it now becomes even more important to differentiate between simple, complicated, complex, and truly chaotic situations, and how to respond to them.

Chaordic coaching

For coaches this implies that people in need of coaching might be trying to apply cause-and-effect linear thinking to complex and even near chaotic circumstances. For example there might be a situation where someone experiences the partner as causing grief. The conclusion is that the partner’s love has ended. The simplistic solution would be separation. Effective coaching would reveal far more subtle dynamics. Another example of a problem is global warming. The conclusion would be that atmospheric carbon dioxide is the culprit. The strategy would be banning fossil fuel emissions. Closer examination again will reveal this to be simplistic with many other factors involved. This is attempting to apply linear thinking in a non-linear world. Complexity science further warns that there might be even more factors involved than we would be able to immediately identify. The implications are that we need to see the whole picture as it is emerging – the holistic view – and that means learning to carefully observe process.

Emergence and curiosity

That challenges us coaches in this era is to become curious about emergence; to find the appeal in the unknown; and to become excited about new developments and potentialities. But in so doing we will need to reduce our reliance for comfort and confidence in certainties, especially the so-called scientific absolutes of ‘best practice, and rather develop a sense of wonder at what may be. For the client we might also want to instil the view: ‘…life is not happening to you – you are co-creating it with your everyday choices moment by moment.

So we want to reduce our need of trying to find rationally based right or wrong answers in response to which we can then apply best practice. We rather want to become agile in our responses to an increasingly dynamical context. And as coaches we must now reconsider how to operationalise that in our coaching processes, especially how to better observe and detect the relevant processes and relationships.

DIKW model

That is why the DIKW model is so useful. It offers how ‘data’ is converted into ‘information’; how information becomes retained as ‘knowledge’; and how knowledge, through experience, can generates ‘wisdom’. This of course applies as much to ourselves as coaches it does to our clients. This perspective enables us to better explore a given situation to understand the client’s worldview, to establish how they are thinking, and how they comprehend the situation. To what data are they responding? How are they interpreting that information into the story are they buying into and converting into future expectations? We can then better explore their sense of competence, namely their capacity to manage what is required, and especially the meaningfulness of it.

Ultimately it is through this process of the deeper revelation of the meaning that we will help to influence both the comprehensibility and the manageability of the clients identified need. Since meaning relates to the client’s operative values system, the alignment of understanding and strategy with what is considered ultimately important will provide a greater sense of coherence for clients in this VUCA age. The meaning-making value system provides a stronger reference point for decision-making. And that helps to better navigate the vagaries of complexity to achieve more lasting outcomes.  We will explore this presently.

Chaordic principle

An insightful consideration in the long evolutionary process that has led to the current world situation is that ‘entropy’, a state of chaos or disorganisation, has been transformed through the action of integrative processes, as described in the holistic view, into ‘syntropy’. This is a new state of order, or organisation. The two states are thus co-dependent. It is from the very disorder that new order arises. That is the chaordic principle. Human thinking has followed a similar trajectory. Beliefs about the world are shaken up and new perspectives emerge, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out with the paradigm shift. We are now probably in such a process of a fundamental new paradigm shift.

The implication for coaching is that we as coaches find ourselves in the same process as our clients. We occupy this current state of disordered thinking together as we wait to catch a clearer glimpse of new emergent meaning-making patterns. The approach will then be less about the expert guiding the client, and more about facilitating a collaborative mutual exploration.

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Featured in SA Coaching News, South Africa’s only magazine for the coaching industry and coaching professionals.

Coaching (leading) in a VUCA World

2019 was a very challenging year for most, it was a year of highs and lows – made so by the increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the current global context – now referred to as VUCA. This enormous instability has caused many to shrink into old fear driven survival patterns. Where most people are experiencing the pain of this radical change, yet not understanding the nature of it, and this is why it is more important now than ever before to lead people in understanding the nature of this change in order to re-establish hope.

Human consciousness is on the brink of a major evolution, prompted by the growing complexity of our world and the need for us to adapt not only our thinking but how we think. This is the shift from first order thinking to second order thinking, or from linear Newtonian thinking to non-linear Einsteinian thinking. It is about understanding that everything in our world, from relationships to business, economics to our environment, is all in a complex state of continual change. It is organic, these are “living systems”.

While Capitalism is crumbling due to its failure to address some significant ecological challenges such as poverty and sustainability, Socialism, partly the response to some of these failures, also has intrinsic flaws such as being an inhibitor of progress. Spiral Dynamics provides a great model for understanding the emerging synthesis of these two world views, (neither of which takes into account the growing complexity of our world), whilst incorporating nonlinear complexity thinking – this is second order thinking.

What does first order thinking look like?

First order thinking is measuring business success by focusing solely on the bottom line. It is about rewarding people for hitting their targets without understanding the impact of the often toxic behaviours we are rewarding on culture, trust and engagement. It is about manipulation in the name of getting a bigger piece of the pie, stemming from an underlying fear of lack and limitation. It is a linear pipeline mentality, the more we push in the more we get out. It is about missing the intangible value of human interaction, compassion, trust and engagement. It is about measuring productivity by how busy we are or how hard we work. It is about considering oneself a leader just because you have a leadership position, then using that position for self gain.

What does second order thinking look like?

Second order thinking is about going beyond the reductionistic and mechanistic mindset, and being present and “available” enough to tune into the subtleties of human experience. It is about holistically seeing business as living entities where engagement, trust, compassion and culture are considered some of the most vital drivers of sustainable success. It is about self reflection, understanding your natural strengths, then meaningfully collaborating with others to generate inspired and holistic solutions to real world problems. It is about realizing that leadership is dynamic and not static – sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow. And having the wisdom and sensitivity to know when, by being present enough to notice when a leadership moment opens up. It is about staying open and seeing with new eyes without overlaying past meaning on new situations. It is about tuning into our own intuitions and then acting on them. It is about holism and sustainability.

What does this all mean?

We are living through highly transformative times, the experience of which is often chaos. However from within this seeming chaos is a new emerging order, this is known as Chaordic. By understanding the nature of this current and radical change we can begin the find hope in realizing that the world is not breaking, just the world as we have known it. The good news is that as the old models and paradigms enter their final death throws, they make space for the new. And with quantum leaps in our collective thinking combined with our rapid technological advancements, I believe we will solve some of the biggest challenges facing humanity. I see a vision of the future where poverty is eradicated, access to information and education is available to everyone, and machines take over routined work allowing more time and space for meaningful human interaction, compassion and creativity.

As leaders we must embrace this shift and begin to see the emerging order through the chaos so we can lead others towards an empower future. We must prioritize the often disregarded and intangible aspects of human experience such as engagement and culture. We must prioritize the building of trust by always making the needs of others at least as important as our own, we must offer compassion where it is needed and create stability by helping people trust in their own strengths, and ultimately we must generate hope by holding an inspiring vision for ourselves and others.

Who must lead?

Each and everyone of us must lead when those leadership moments open up. Because leadership is dynamic and not static, and because we are human beings and are not perfect.

By Gavin Lund

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