I am proud to have recently completed the first draft of the book, and am hopeful that it will be published later this year!
See my previous updates!
One of the principles I explored in my first book, The Joy of Finding FISH – a journey of fulfilment, inspiration, success, and happiness was the fact that we all have these potential emotions within us, and that it is not the pursuit of FISH that is important, but rather the awareness that we are living FISH in every moment of our lives. When we live life by design (a Thought Leadership principle) we have every opportunity to maximise our FISH experience and to discover fulfilment, inspiration, success, and happiness perhaps in corners we never even expected.
In order to be clear, FISH is a very personal journey and the definitions of these, and the way they show up in our lives are as unique as each person’s fingerprint. For the purposes of this book, I have defined FISH as the following:
Fulfilment – The experience of living your purpose every single day
Inspiration – The spontaneous process of thinking, being, creating or doing something new and creative
Success – The accomplishment of a desirable outcome or experience
Happiness – Feeling pleasure or being grateful for someone or something
As you walk through this book, feel free to use these definitions, or write down definitions that feel more personal and accurate for you.
In the context of running a strengths-based practice, in later chapters we will explore:
- The relationship between strengths and purpose/fulfilment – which comes first? Which one feeds the other? The power of being ‘on purpose’ and finding your strengths in flow
- Strengths as a source of inspiration when the practice is running well, or when you are struggling; finding self-expression in the pursuit and implementation of new ideas, experiences and energy
- The significant link between playing to your strengths and generating a track record of achievement over time; leveraging the right strengths for the desired outcome
- Finding love and happiness in what you do, knowing you were born to do this, and pausing to appreciate the joy of it all; feeling grateful for what you have is an amazing source of happiness if/when you take the time to acknowledge it
One concept that will be revisited again and again throughout this book is the idea to surround yourself with complementary partners, or those who love doing what you hate, or are very good at tasks/responsibilities that you are terrible at. In order to build a life where you get to DO WHAT YOU LOVE most of the time AND GET PAID FOR IT, you must find people you trust who are really motivated to do the things that suck the soul out of you. Strengths-based partnerships ensure that everyone in your practice (and in life) have the opportunity to experience their FISH by doing what they love, with people they love, the way they love (adapted from Thought Leaders mantra).
The hypothesis I set out to explore in writing this book was that when a Practice owner plays to their strengths, understands the value of building a practice vs building a business, and surrounds themselves with complementary partners to give themselves the best chance of doing what they love, they have a high likelihood of experiencing fulfilment, inspiration, success, and happiness (FISH) at work and in life. Taken a step further, leading a Strengths-Based Practice becomes a life-choice, rather than a work-choice, and by doing what they love every day, they never have to work another day in their lives. For many, losing the guilt of getting paid to do what you love is part of the journey and goes a long way to redefining what ‘work’ really is.
This book is divided into four sections:
1.0 Early Understanding – where some of the theories and frameworks are explained in preparation for the later chapters
2.0 Building Foundations – where the core principles of building a Strengths-Based Practice are explained
3.0 Finding Rhythm – where the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual priorities of running a Strengths-Based Practice are explored
4.0 – Brightness of Future – where the inspiration of a long-term vision of a Strengths-Based Practice are described
I am on a mission to help the world experience more fulfilment, inspiration, success, and happiness, and for me, running a strengths-based practice is the fastest and easiest way to experience FISH.
Wishing you, the reader, an ocean full of FISH, whatever passion you might pursue in life and work.
Strengths themes are inherently positive in nature, though some rich insights can be gained by exploring when a strength might be over-expressed or strengths that are not your preference and therefore a relative weakness. Before proceeding with this book there might be value in investing in your own strengths-assessment (choose the one that feels right for you) which would bring many of this book’s models and examples to life. If you don’t do an assessment first time around, the book might bear reading again once you have completed a strengths assessment.
One quick way to consider your strengths would be to complete the following Love Most Matrix, which is based upon many of the principles of strengths philosophy, and simplifies the intetion of many of the tools outlined above.
In work and in life, consider:
- What activities / responsibilities do you love most?
- Which ones do you love least?
- What activities / responsibilities do you do best?
- What do you ‘do worst’?
[Insert table to capture Love Most Matrix]
Your love most / do best items will likely give you an indication of your strengths and/or natural talents, while your love least / do worst items are areas where you should explore delegating or finding a complementary partner who can take on those tasks.
Strength’s philosophy is perhaps more powerful than the tool itself, as it shapes our attitude and psychology in the way we view the world around us. Imagine supporting and celebrating an academic subject where your child was achieving an A grade and helping them to take their learning to a new, even higher level of understanding and more importantly enjoyment. If that same child was struggling in another subject, why do we wrap around support like tutoring, and extra time invested in a subject they find difficult and/or unenjoyable? The same choices take place in our workplaces every day.
Strengths is not a stand-alone concept. What is important is to understand where to apply or aim your strengths at a particular activity. You will notice that this book does not treat strengths as an isolated entity, but rather as a catalyst for achieving specific outcomes (e.g. strengths-based purpose or strengths-based marketing etc). Wherever possible, I have used examples of strengths-based practice owners I have interviewed for this book, or I have used myself as a case study. Strengths will give you an opportunity to hypothesise about what activities in a strengths-based practice you will enjoy the most or be exceptional at. It may also offer suggestions about how to tackle a task you usually don’t enjoy, by leveraging your talent in other areas, or choosing to surround yourself with other preferences (think putting good music on, glass of wine before tackling bookkeeping, if you haven’t already delegated that task!)
My Maximiser (#1) and Input (#4) themes (CliftonStrengths) have a certain intuition about combining other people’s intellectual property to hopefully create something useful and insightful for others. You will see examples of this throughout the book such as:
- Combining The Four Needs of Followers (Strengths-Based Leadership – Tom Rath) with Four Elements of Great Companies (Good to Great, Jim Collins) to create a Strengths-Based Leadership Matrix
- Combining Doug Hall’s three elements of great marketing (Jumpstart Your Marketing Brain) with the four domains of CliftonStrengths to create Strengths-Based Marketing actions
Most of the words / language I use to describe the various models in the book have come from my 15 years of coaching and mentoring people using strengths language and philosophy through my own lens, but I am aware that my choice of language may have a bias based on how I perceive each theme and how it expresses itself. Everyone is unique, and I am still learning every day about other people’s perception and acknowledgement of their own themes. Especially for other experienced strengths coaches who read this book, please take my interpretation with a grain of salt and substitute with your own insights and learnings where appropriate. I would value feedback on how the flow and content of this book resonates with the strengths tool that most resonates with you.
A Strengths-Based Practice consists of a Practice Owner, with one or two support staff, that is reliant on the individual and collective talents of this team to add exceptional value and energy to the people they serve. A Strengths-Based Practice is a labour of love where all members of the practice team are able to play to their diverse strengths every day, and are surrounded by opportunities for fulfilment, inspiration, success and happiness. Some of the prevalent emotions coming from my own Strengths-Based Practice are love what we do / do what we love / inspire those we serve.
In order to maximise success and build a reputation on solid foundations, the practice owner especially must continuously work on self-awareness and self-management, exploring what they love most, knowing what they love least, developing what they do best into a superpower and delegating or outsourcing what they do worst. Over time, the practice services and positioning will be intentionally designed around the talents of the practice team, making it easier to run and more successful.
Investing in talent at the right time may also be critical to the success of the practice. Based in Thought Leaders principles, having the courage to position into a new market, try a new form of delivery or be brave with a new message may all be made easier or more successful if these decisions are backed by the right choice of strengths or combination of strengths. Surrounding yourself with advisors / coaches / mentors who have walked your path before AND are willing to understand and honour your unique strengths formula will be key to unlocking your success.
It is probably worth clarifying the definition of a Talent vs a Strength. A talent is a natural ability to perform at a high standard. A strength – by investing time and effort into a talent, a strength can be built to create consistently high performance over time. The journey from starting a new strengths-based practice to a mature practice 10 years later is characterised by the repetitive use of a strength to create consistently high performance – it gets easier and better over time, kind of like building a muscle at the gym.
Tracking progress may come in the form of flow experiences – moments of genius, ease, and almost a magical moment of connection to a task, relationship or activity. These flow experiences can offer a road map toward success and fulfilment – once found, it is worth investing in a formula to repeat the experience, knowing that venturing out and trying new things may be the key to the next flow experience. Perhaps the journey toward mastery is the ease with which we can access flow experiences, knowing that repetition and hard work may be required to reach that state of magic.
Given that a well-run strengths-based practice, over time, will involve up to 3 talented individuals working together, complementary partnerships are an essential ingredient to optimise. As previously identified, strengths tools have an uncanny resemblance to each other, with significant overlap in themes as well as a number of unique strengths that are only obvious from undertaking a specific assessment. Regardless of which strengths language you choose, one of the exercises I enjoy sharing with my clients is a complementary conversation between any two people where we explore:
- How do our strength themes complement each other?
- Why is our partnership ‘fit for purpose’?
- How do my strengths off-set your weaknesses and vice versa?
- What can we do together that we cannot do separately?
In the early stages of a strengths-based practice, the owner may be operating on their own. The concept of complementary partnerships is no less important when considering outsource partners who may lift the reputation of the practice. Your choice of bookkeeper, accountant, graphic designer, print supplier, serviced office all need to fill strengths/talent capability that you do not or cannot do on your own. We will discuss later in the book the importance of value and purpose fit for any internal or external complementary partners.
Playing to your strengths involves engaging a unique combination of loving what you do, feeling confident and good about your capability and creates the paradox that what comes easy (what doesn’t feel like work) is usually where you add the most value. Feeling comfortable with getting paid to do what you love means you will never work another day in your life. For those who have optimised running a strengths-based practice, this is exactly what life feels like.
- Which of your strengths contribute most to your sense of fulfilment, inspiration, success and happiness?
- For you, what is the most exciting aspect of running a strengths-based practice?
Before launching a Strengths-Based Practice in earnest, there are some fundamentals to reflect on and begin building solid foundations that will serve the practice owner, the team that surrounds them, and the clients they serve.
First among these foundations is developing a Strengths-Based Integrated Purpose. Given the reliance of the practice on the reputation and identity of the practice owner, it is valuable to clarify the owner’s personal purpose, the practice purpose and where possible and relevant simplify these into an integrated purpose. The owner’s strengths profile may also inform either the purpose itself, or how the purpose is likely to be lived and experienced at the highest level. Exploring the core sense of purpose of the members of the practice team may also pay dividends in ensuring that practice purpose is congruent and aligned to the collective purposes of everyone contributing to the practice’s success.
Similarly, a set of Strengths-Based Integrated Values can help guide the principles of the practice and will likely benefit from understanding the core values of everyone in the practice team. Given that we all bring our whole selves to work, it is critical to integrate our core life values along with our core work values in articulating the integrated values at play with all members of the practice team. The team’s dominant strengths may define core values, or they may help identify how these values are likely to show up in the day to day running of the practice.
While relatively small, a strengths-based practice relies heavily on the quality of relationships within the team and trust is often built on shared experience and mutual respect for the unique talents each person brings to the organisation. Mapping the complementary strengths partnerships across the team is a vital step in ensuring everyone is positioned to do what they love and what they do best, while delegating or outsourcing what they love least and what they do worst. What is essential is to consciously identify why a complementary partnership is thriving and invest in strategies to lift the effectiveness of that partnership even further.
The practice owner’s leadership style has a role to play in how they lead their team, and how they bring leadership to their strategic partners, outsource partners and to their clients. Conscious competence around how their dominant themes contribute to their leadership style will ensure a level of authenticity and effectiveness in all their key relationships. Understanding whether they lead with Purpose, Values, Brand or Vision (inspired by Jim Collins’ Good to Great) and whether they are most suited to inspiring Hope, Trust, Stability or Compassion (inspired by Tom Rath’s Strengths-Based Leadership) can help simplify a practice owner’s focus when leading others.
A complementary example of a Strengths-Based Practice are those running a Thought Leadership Practice (see book of same name by Matt Church, Peter Cook, Scott Stein). One of the principles of being a thought leader is the discipline to focus on thinking, selling, and delivering in the service to others through your unique contribution to the world. The thought leaders journey involves climbing a belt ladder (like the martial arts) which stipulates specific actions at each stage of the ladder. I offer a strengths-based lens to the thought leaders’ journey, and suggest choosing actions to support thinking, selling and delivery that are congruent with the dominant strength themes of the practice owner. This has the potential to make the journey more effective, faster and/or more enjoyable along the way.
These fundamentals are outlined in the next section of the book, prior to discussing how best to run a strengths-based practice (section 3) and how to plan for the long term (section 4).
- How will the fundamentals outlined above contribute to your experience of FISH in building and leading a strengths-based practice?
- Which of your significant strengths will be most useful in exploring the foundations of your practice?
A tree offers shade, provides a home for birds, absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen – these are its many valuable purposes. Perhaps sustaining life is a tree’s integrated purpose.
I am struck by the fact that human beings are the only living species on the planet with the privilege of being able to choose and voice our unique purpose every single day. Purpose is a very personal topic, and one that I was reluctant to coach in my first few years as a qualified coach. Somehow exploring purpose with a client feels close to the soul, and not to be taken lightly. With experience, I have realised that we can treat purpose more lightly, as an experiment in our lives to give us direction and meaning. You might choose to define your purpose for a day, a week, a month, a year or even a lifetime.
Integrating purpose offers powerful clarity for living a life well-lived. It ensures that we are able to live a life congruently, and removes friction from the dynamics of life and work/practice. Given that we all play a huge number of life roles, an integrated purpose also simplifies our ability to fulfil these roles, and helps us bring the best version of ourselves to every situation.
What becomes clear after several months or years running a strengths-based practice is that the owner’s personal or life’s purpose begins to become inseparable from the practice purpose. Without even trying, these purposes begin to weave together and either become so congruent as to be seamless, or a whole lot of conflict goes on in the life and practice of the owner because this foundational element is incongruent or in direct opposition to one another. This integrated purpose is kind of like all the parts of a tree – roots, trunk, branches, leaves; all serve a different purpose in the life of the tree, and all provide a different function to the deeper purpose of sustaining life. Roots absorb nutrients and are in symbiosis with the earth, trunk provides structure and height so that the tree can thrive, branches provide reach and a home for bird life, leaves serve to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen – all of which contribute to the welfare of the planet.
Creating a life by design and living congruently within a set of core values are potentially high sources of fulfilment, inspiration, success and happiness. Think of core values as a set of rules for living life, but you get to set and change the rules whenever you choose! Some people’s rules are highly competitive, with themselves if not with other people in their lives, while other individuals may take a more co-operative approach to the rules of the game.
Your core values generally reflect what you care most about in life and work. Values serve you well, until they don’t, and often the stress and conflict in a person’s life are created by incongruent values. It is also an interesting process to identify how each value is lived on a day to day basis, and understand that this is a very personal and individual choice. One person’s definition of balancing family and career is unlikely to be the same for another individual. It is remarkable how many people claim family to be an important core value, and yet they choose to spend 60+ hours per week running a business or performing in a high pressure job.
Imagine an individual who sets a high standard for themselves when it comes to health and well-being, but who is also very social and gets a great deal of enjoyment from drinking with friends and family. These two choices may not be in conflict unless and until the drinking habit becomes an inhibitor to living a life with high health and well-being. Symptoms of terrible night’s sleep, fuzzy thinking the next day, grumpy mood that begins affecting other relationships may all contribute to rethinking the need for alcohol when socialising, or at least taking steps to reduce intake to a moderate level. Just reflecting on whether health & well-being really is more important than socialising is a useful debate to have in order to influence habitual behaviour.
In running a practice, with a small team of support staff including a practice manager and/or executive assistant (usually remotely located), it is important to acknowledge the importance of the practice owner’s values as fundamental to how the practice is likely to thrive and grow. In my case, ‘Honour the Evolution’ and ‘Live Life Out Loud’ influence both my coaching / mentoring style, and my transparency through social media and newsletters. If my team were uncomfortable with this in any way, we would have a conflict to navigate given how highly I value these two statements, and how they influence my core behaviour. My leading value of family has become so much easier to live congruently since starting my practice in 2017. Prior to that, 22 years of employment in the pharmaceutical and management consulting industries created regular stressful circumstances where I simply could not be in two places at once, and a career responsibility would often overshadow the best interests of my family. Leading a practice and being largely in control of my own commitments has meant being able to prioritise my sons’ needs, which has been especially important in light of losing their mother to cancer in 2021.
The value set of other members of the practice team are also important in order to ensure that the culture of the practice is in alignment with their needs and wishes. Tash, my practice manager for the last three years lives on a sailboat in Northland in New Zealand (I live in Wellington), and the flexibility of responsibilities coupled with an atmosphere of self-imposed deadlines, and ‘Work when inspired, the rest of the time, PLAY’ means that we are both productive, but neither is overly dependent on each other for inputs / outputs. Similarly, ‘Every day is a 7-day Weekend’ creates maximum use of the week and we are both used to exchanging ‘work’ communication at odd times of the day or week.
Complementary partnerships are at the very heart of strengths-based philosophy. Great teamwork comes from a beautiful alignment of what each person loves most / does best with shared and individual responsibilities that create a much greater outcome than any one individual can achieve.
I am blessed to have found an amazing practice manager, Tash Nihill, who is exceptional at nearly everything I am bad at, and our relationship works so well because my complementary talents are not in domains where Tash would necessarily thrive. Our partnership is built on trust and respect, for our differences as much as for our similarities, and we share a sense of purpose and values that make it easy to show up at work every day.
The following table and insights outline some of the ways we leverage our strengths within our practice partnership. Definitions are our own, rather than Gallup’s official definitions:
Maximiser – commitment to continuously improve the practice, my performance, and the lives/businesses/practices of clients
Learner – not afraid to take on a new challenge where learning is required
Connectedness – values & sees the big picture and feels grateful for the ‘ripple effect’ of client impact
Input – collects, organises, archives, and retrieves useful information in the service of and for the benefit of others
Woo – feels interaction with people as a source of energy and momentum; comfortable public speaking / presenting
Positivity – maintain an optimistic outlook about the future, even in the face of significant setback
Activator – great at starting projects based on a new idea
Individualisation – tailors coaching style and relationships to the needs and strengths of clients/team
Includer – sets very low threshold for participating in events; the more the merrier; Encourages broad participation and creates an inclusive environment
Intellection – engages in thoughtful rumination about mine and others intellectual property; with Input and
Connectedness, see how multiple sources of intellectual property connect (see my Resources @www.christophermiller.co.nz/resources)
Achiever – not shy about, and enjoys working hard; nothing seems too much of an effort
Ideation – Generates multiple ideas and approaches to develop and improve the practice to solve same problem. Approaches problems with multiple angles to find the best fit
Strategic – great at contingency planning, and finding lots of different ways forward
Input – possesses a wealth of technology-based resources, project planning platforms and identifying just the right option to problems
Arranger – coupled with Achiever, orchestrates multiple projects seamlessly and thrives when many plates are spinning
Learner – Enthusiastically embraces new challenges, regardless of prior experience
Restorative – problem-solving powerhouse; uses intuition, process (Strategic) and data (Input, Intellection) to make great decisions
Intellection – thoughtful suggestions, ideas and solutions always in the best interests of the practice
Discipline – super structured and organised; juggles not just me, but other clients she serves as well and very rarely seems overwhelmed
Focus – finishing energy; sets her own deadlines for nearly every project we embark on; hardly ever misses her own self-imposed deadlines
At the time of writing this second book, I have been keeping a daily FISH score in a gratitude journal and now have an 8-month record of my results, along with comments and gratitude statements to capture why my score was the way it was on each given day. What has been interesting over time is the fact that I used to give myself an ‘average’ score for the day – what was my average sense of fulfilment, average level of inspiration, average feeling of success, and average happiness. What I have found more useful is to record my FISH score based on the best FISH experience each day – when was I most on purpose? What was my most inspiring moment of the day? What was my proudest achievement of the day? When was I the happiest throughout the day?
Based on your daily score, you can orient yourself on the table and identify whether that emotion resonates with you. If not, try to find your own language to describe how you are feeling about your level of fulfilment, inspiration, success, and happiness.
From experience, please pause to celebrate any score above an 8, and seek help from friends, family, or your support network for any scores below a 3. I have begun to track FISH scores over time for all of my clients, and the insights are amazing, especially in the integration of professional and personal experiences that contribute to a FISH score.
Thriving, fizzing, abundant, ecstatic are all potentially desirable emotions or states of being to experience, and it takes practice, lots of self-awareness, and intention to make these a reality. What I have found fascinating working with others on their FISH score is that one person’s thriving experience, is another person’s unfulfilled! Our relationship to these emotions is entirely personal, and I do not recommend comparing your FISH score to others, as you might just be on a completely different scale. There are a few people I know who are unlikely to live life below an 8, which means it gets interesting when you compare the difference between a 9.1 and a 9.3.
Similarly feelings of being lost, vacant, failure, and despair are powerful negative emotions that most of us descend into from time to time. What is important to consider initially is: how is this emotion or state of being serving you at the moment. Consider that it (might be protective in some way), then, take the time to explore and reflect on how long you wish to remain in that state. By keeping a FISH score journal, you can usually identify one action or strategy that will pull you out of a low score and into a mid-range or higher score in time. Or a family member, friend, or trusted coach can help you explore options to consider what might brighten the future.
Inspired by the rough scoring system above, I have developed a GoneFISHing Diagnostic which is set to be released in late October / early November 2023. This consists of 80 questions and takes about 20 minutes to complete. The output is a report that offers a score for each FISH element and an overall FISH score, along with a personalised list of recommendations and coaching questions on where to invest time and effort in order to lift the experience of fulfilment, inspiration, success, and happiness at work as well as in life.
New Update: 13th November
Sneak peek: Brightness of Future; from Finding FISH in a Strengths-Based Practice – Fulfilment, Inspiration, Success, and Happiness in a life well-lived
Hope and aspiration are powerful motivators that can create progress and an energy of continuous improvement through life. It is interesting to consider the value and energy derived from Hope, Dreams, Goals and Intentions.
Hope might be described as a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen. You can be hopeful but detached from the agency required to make a hope come true. There is almost a feeling of leaving things to fate and that luck has a role to play in realising a hope.
Dreams on the other hand could be described as a cherished aspiration, ambition or ideal. There is perhaps more commitment to a dream because it resides in the foundations of our wishes or expectations for our life. Rather than rely on luck, there is some implied effort needed to experience a dream or bring a dream into reality.
Goals are perhaps more concrete in nature and can be defined as the object of a person’s ambition or effort, an aim or desired result. The details of a goal are often much more specific and to be really effective, are time-bound in some way. The clarity of a great goal is often in its specificity and clear deadline for completion (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound). A goal offers a roadmap for a specific target to be completed.
Based on 24 years with my wife Fiona, intentions might be the most powerful of these four strategies for accomplishing things. Intentions are created by imagining the completion of a desirable outcome in a way that makes the achievement come true before you even start the journey. There is a certainty to an intention – from the creation of the idea, it is already true because I have seen the end result. An intention can also be described as the determination to act in a certain way, or a purposeful awareness of how you want to experience something. This is not far away from the definition of manifesting which includes to be evidence of or to prove. Fulfilling an intention is to prove or to offer evidence of the accomplishment of some future desirable result.
What is interesting is to consider how Hopes, Dreams, Goals, and Intentions work together to create a brightness of future in someone’s life. In the time before technologically advanced navigation systems, a lighthouse on the horizon offered hope and safety to mariners trapped at sea for many weeks or months. The lighthouse provided a beacon to navigate towards, but also represented safe harbour, food, warmth, and reconnection to community. Similarly hopes, dreams, goals and intentions can provide a guiding light to navigate stormy waters. They provide clarity of direction, a roadmap for success and a focus for where to direct effort even if distracted by other priorities.