On this, Character Strengths Day, 2018, I wanted to share some thoughts about character strengths for project managers.
People who know me already, know that I am always looking for ways to engage the teams I work with. Engaged teams are more motivated, more productive, more innovative and more committed to each other and the goals of the project. I use all sorts of techniques, but one of my favorites is Character Strengths.
A couple of weeks ago I walked into my new doctor’s office for that “new patient orientation” appointment – you know the one, where they ask all the questions about your medical history that you cannot possibly remember or in some cases even know!
Anyway, a young man came in and explained that he was the medical assistant working with the doctor for the day. We got talking and he told me that he had always wanted to be a doctor. He had told his family and friends. Everyone was rooting for him to succeed. He did his pre-med course, and during school started to wonder about this doctor idea. So much debt, not necessarily the aspects of medicine he was most interested in.
He was uncomfortable at the prospect of telling his family and friends about his possible change of heart, but he knew he had to explore his options. So he spent time researching his options. After a lot of exploration, he decided the physical therapy was his “thing.” He would see more patients, see their progress, he would be hands on helping people to recover from injuries and surgeries and he would be helping them to help themselves.
He finally told his family and friends and set about getting a place in school to complete his education.
As I listened his strengths really stood out… Pause for a moment - what do you see in that story? (I’ll give you a clue, it is hard to be wrong!)
Take a look at the list of VIA Character Strengths:
I told him that I saw honesty and bravery in challenging his own habitual thinking and facing up to telling people close to him of his change of heart. I saw curiosity when he asked what else was out there, and love of learning as he explored his options more deeply. I saw judgment as he weighed his options, and perspective as he stepped back and considered his choices for a lifetime and not just as the next step in an endless chain of foregone conclusions. I could have gone on and on, but those were the ones that I shared with him.
To say he looked pleased is an understatement. He looked positively radiant. He was engaged in the conversation and his energy level rose. This is what I see whenever I use character strengths as the starting point of a conversation - even a difficult conversation. Character strengths link to our intrinsic motivation and that motivation leads to engagement.
I use lots of tools to promote that engagement, but one of the best has been the VIA Character Strengths Survey. I discovered this free survey during a course on Positive Psychology, and among all the approaches I was introduced to during that course, VIA made the biggest impression.
It met three important criteria for me:
- It is FREE – this was important to me as someone with no training or team-building budget.
- It is written in common everyday language
- It is available in many languages and in every country
- The concepts in the survey and the report are meaningful to us all.
- Research has shown that these concepts are meaningful across cultures, religions, age-groups, geographical locations
- The survey does NOT measure weaknesses or gaps – we have enough tools for that already - it only measures strengths.
- We could focus as individuals and as a team on what made us strong, the motivational factors that we had in common, and the ways in which we complemented each other.
The story above shows how strengths spotting works! How it boosts both the recipient and the giver of the strengths feedback and how character strengths awareness boosts mood and energy. And that is only the start! Over the years, I have incorporated these ideas into my teams, and the positive change has been significant.
In the coming weeks I will be posting more about team engagement, and the concept of Strengths-Based Project Management (SBPM). I look forward to sharing with you!
And come and find me at the PMI Global Conference in LA October 6th-8th!