Magic in a Box?

A couple of months ago we were presenting at a large coaching conference.  Just before we started our session, a delegate came up to us enthusing about our strengths cards which she’d purchased a few years previously.  She uses the cards regularly and loves them.  She’s had great success in a number of different scenarios and with a wide range of her coaching clients.  It was such wonderful feedback to hear, and I haven’t forgotten her parting comment…

‘Your cards…they’re magic in a box’. 

In the midst of day-to-day work, with the best will in the world, it can be easy to lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve with At My Best - that is, enabling more people to flourish and be at their best more of the time. Hearing the impact our tools are having in practice is always incredibly grounding and gives us a certain amount of pride.

It is lovely to be reminded of what a wonderful impact our cards (and appreciative approaches more generally) can have, but we also need to remember that they are not a miracle cure for all ills. They’re a simple product, easy to use, often with a positive impact. But we should issue a note of caution:

Quick impact doesn’t necessarily equal long-term gain

Our strengths cards, along with all other card decks and questionnaires are not a ‘quick fix’.  Building a strengths-based approach to management and growing a strengths-based organisation takes time.

Strengths-based workshops can be wonderful: they are energising and engaging to both facilitate and participate in.  Let’s face it, it’s a session exploring everything that is working well – what’s is there not to love about that?!  But they are the start point, not the end point. 

They can be a great start point, but you’ll need to be doing much more if you want to see real, long-term change.  Take a look at the work of Kim Cameron and his colleagues, for example, to see the plethora of ways to build positive organisational practice: Many of the concepts are simple, but they take time to implement and take effect.

It takes effort

It’s relatively easy to get people to understand the concept of strengths and how taking a strengths-based approach might be beneficial:  Instinctively it makes a lot of sense, and there’s also a growing body of evidence at our disposal to show the value of understanding and using our strengths (see the work of Gallup, Alex Linley, Lucy Hone, etc.). However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy for people to become strengths-based managers and leaders. 

Forming new habits, and changing the habits of a life-time, can be challenging and require consistent focused effort and attention. However, the emotional benefits of working with strengths mean that change might be a little more likely to stick. As BJ Fogg explains in a recent article, emotion (rather than repetition) is the key to embedding new habits.

Right time, right place, right facilitator

Our cards are designed to be very flexible, and we’ve heard success stories from all sorts of professionals using them in all sorts of contexts, with a wide variety of people.  But a significant part of that success will be down to skilled professionals understanding when, where and how to use them to good effect.  The strengths cards are not difficult to use and don’t require a specific expertise or experience – they can be useful for line managers, leaders, coaches, teachers and counsellors.  The important thing is that the professional understands what they are trying to achieve with them and uses them within their own field of expertise.

So, back to the fan at the coaching conference… I’m hugely proud of our strengths cards and the value they add to people, but I’m not sure I entirely agree that they are ‘magic in a box’.  However, I might accept that, in her hands, they are one of the magic ingredients, alongside patience, hard work and professional skill, that, make a positive, potent potion.


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