Academic writing and research

Book chapter: Working with strengths in coaching

Strengths are at the heart of positive coaching, integral to the work coaches do to help unlock their clients’ potential to perform at their best. Strengths coaching is informed by the assumption that people are naturally inclined to want to discover and grow their potential and that coaches can enhance optimal functioning and wellbeing by helping clients understand and develop their strengths.

This book chapter with Alison Zarecky in a premier coaching handbook provides an overview of strengths research and applications to help coaching practitioners and researchers build on this abundant area in different contexts.


Francis, S. & Zarecky, A. (2016). Working with Strengths in Coaching. In T. Bachkirova, D.B. Drake & G. Spence (eds), The SAGE Handbook of Coaching. SAGE.

Research: Strengths use and self-concordance in difficult situations

Studies show people who use their strengths have greater psychological and subjective wellbeing, vitality and self-efficacy, less stress and more goal attainment. In the workplace, strengths use is associated with performance, engagement, occupational fit and satisfaction. Less is known about how people use their strengths in different contexts such as adversity.

Positive psychologists and coaching scholars are calling for more research into how, why and when strengths work. Strengths use has been positively associated with self-concordance, one factor that might help us better understand the mechanism behind beneficial outcomes of strengths use. This concept is linked to self-actualisation and the organismic valuing process conceived by humanistic psychologists. Self-concordance theory holds that people tend to move toward beneficial goals consistent with their values and self-development over time. This indicates that the more people use their strengths they more they feel they are fulfilling their potential. Self-concordance is also linked to theories of psychological growth through adversity. 

My research aimed to further confirm the link between strengths use and self-concordance and explore how strengths use and self-concordance play out when people overcome difficult situations. I used a quantitative online survey designed to confirm previous findings and identify new and preliminary data in contexts of adversity faced by executives, coaches and others within a sample (N=281) of the working population.

The study found strengths use and self-concordance were significantly and strongly associated, providing further evidence that the more people use their strengths, the more they feel in touch with their feelings, needs, values and life direction. The study also found evidence of strengths adaption and the organismic valuing process when overcoming difficult situations, particularly those people perceive challenge self- and world-view. Findings tentatively suggest people increasingly diversify and draw on lesser used strengths in the most challenging situations.

These results should be interpreted within the context of a non-representative sample that displayed high strengths use and self-concordance. As this study was brief, cross-sectional, retrospective and subjective, more research is needed with robust measures.

My research lends weight to the contextual, adaptive and evolutionary view of strengths, particularly the potential to grow our strengths in difficult situations, not just achieve growth by using our strengths. It is hoped the research helps more coaches and their clients realise strengths potential and turn challenging situations into opportunities for growth and renewal.

I conducted this research project with Dr Grace McCarthy, of the University of Wollongong, in association with Emotional Intelligence Worldwide, as part of my student research for the Masters of Business Coaching. 


Francis, S. (2014). Strengths use and self-concordance in difficult situations. Poster presentation at the 4th Australian Positive Psychology and Well-Being Conference, University of Melbourne, February.

Francis, S. (2013). Strengths use and self-concordance in difficult situations. Research report for Master of Business Coaching, University of Wollongong.


The Sage Handbook of Coaching

Papers and reports

Would you like a copy of my research abstract, report or business-focussed findings?

I discussed my study findings in a poster presentation at the 4th Australian Positive Psychology and Well-Being Conference on 7-9 February 2014 in Melbourne.