While your strengths are innate qualities you have from the beginning, your ability to understand and function in them is not. For instance, which person is more likely to end up in a destiny role that fits their strengths: a young woman fresh out of high school out looking for her first job, or manager with 30 years experience in her industry?
The ability to function in your strengths is also a function of life stage—an important insight for life coaches. J. Robert Clinton in his writings on leadership development theory (like The Making of a Leader) has identified the concept of convergence: a stage of maximum productivity, usually in a person’s 40’s to 60’s, where your destiny role is fit to your strengths, personality and call. This convergent role is often designed by the leader himself to fit his known strengths and weaknesses.
Clinton also identifies several earlier stages in life where we are being prepared by experience for this ultimate task. One way of visualizing our passage through these stages is moving downward through a funnel (see diagram). The walls of the funnel represent the boundaries of your understanding of your life purpose. When you are young, the funnel is wide: there is a lot you don’t know about yourself, and there are many things you can do that move you toward your purpose. The guiding principle is, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
The objective in your teens and twenties is to accumulate experiences that reveal your design. In finding the places you fit and where you don’t fit, you begin to determine the boundaries you must stay within to fulfill your destiny role. The more experiences you have, the clearer the boundaries.
The middle stages of life (often late 20’s to 40’s) are about clarifying your strengths and systematically developing them. You take on roles that build you into the person you need to be to fulfill your destiny. The contracting funnel means that there are fewer roles that fit what you need to learn—your sweet spot is much clearer. Later in life (50’s on) the time of strengths discovery and development has been completed, and it is time to focus on getting into a “best fit” role and maximizing your impact. This stage is represented by the spout of the funnel—the sweet spot no longer contracts, since you know who you are, and as you stay within that channel Christ flows through you to the world with maximum effect.
The importance of understanding these stages is that how you coach strengths varies radically with age. You must coach toward the developmental process, not just toward finding the ideal destiny role that fits the coachee’s strengths. A great plan for a person in his 50’s (identify a convergent role and move into it) may not work for someone who is 25. At that age, the self-knowledge, character and skills needed for a destiny role aren’t yet present. When I coach younger people, I focus on the process of learning from the roles and experiences they have instead of getting them into a “best fit” role. And when I coach people in the middle stages (where often you have any idea what the destiny role is but aren’t prepared for it yet), I help clients develop preparation strategies so they are pro-active about growing instead of just waiting for God to release them.