Appreciating Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence – the strength booster!
“That is a strength? I never thought of it that way…” that is what one workshop participant said when we debriefed character strengths. Her top strength of Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence is not something she had ever identified as a strength or even special. And yet, as she explored that strength further, she started to recognize that (a) not everyone experiences appreciation as deeply as she does (b) this strength is her go-to strength to create balance, perspective, hope and happiness.
For those of you who have not read about Character Strengths before, here are five facts to know:
The Cream of the Crop
My top character strengths – my signature strengths – consistently include Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Curiosity, Fairness, and Gratitude. Others wander in and out of my top five, but my top 10 -12 stay pretty consistent too…
My #1 strength is always Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence (hereafter Appreciation!). It is core to who I am. I cannot imagine a day without it. But what does having a top strength of Appreciation mean?
Appreciation is ranked as a top strength (in the top five out of 24) by approximately ¼ - 1/3 of the population[i]. After 20 years of research into character strengths, we have not yet discovered much about Appreciation. It is not one of the five happiness strengths (which are Hope, Curiosity, Gratitude, Zest & Love)[ii]. It is not strongly correlated with any of the seven team roles of Idea Creator, Information Gatherer, Decision Maker, Influencer, Energizer, Implementer or Relationship Manager. It does not particularly support lower stress or higher self-esteem. All in all, we don’t have much to say about Appreciation as a strength and what it might be helpful for. I could find only one positive reference to Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence[iii] which as about how it contributes to an appreciation of life and to post-traumatic growth. The same research that identified the happiness strengths highlighted Appreciation (along with Judgment, Humility, creativity, and love of learning) as being the least correlated with happiness!
And yet, as important as my other strengths are to me, I would be nothing without Appreciation. In my mind, it is the supercharger for all my other strengths. Curiosity is so much more gratifying when I sprinkle in appreciation of the research, the skill, the work that has gone into a research paper or a new gadget. As I ask, “what does that do?” I am also thinking, “who came up with that? It is amazing that someone could think of that!”
As I am trying to be fair and take the interests of all parties into account, I cannot help but think about, the way in which each person got to where they are, their unique experience of life, the unique path they have followed and to appreciate that they are special.
When I am feeling grateful, it is magnified by being specific about what I am grateful for – appreciating the skill of a musician or … my dentist! The beauty of the surroundings at my house or during my walk. Or the opportunity to appreciate the clouds from a plane. It is so much easier to feel gratitude when I have Appreciation to shore it up!
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence - seeing the best in people and things around us! VIA Institute on Character defines Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence as “you notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
Research shows that Appreciation has three components.
There are three types of "goodness" for which individuals high in Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence are responsive to:
The Power of Appreciation for Project Managers
Appreciation can help us as project managers in several ways. It can lead to a general sense of wellbeing - for example, lifting our mood when we take a walk outside or feeling excited by a virtuoso performance.
And at work, this strength can be really helpful when it comes to noticing and highlighting the good work – and strengths - of others. Using appreciation makes it easier to provide recognition when someone goes above and beyond, and we are more likely to feel comfortable showing recognition in front of others, sharing their accomplishments and downplaying our own - supporting the strength of humility. When team members feel their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated, they tend to give more discretionary effort to project tasks. And people who give discretionary effort are engaged, and get more done!
Other strengths that are closely related to Appreciation are Gratitude, Curiosity, Love of Learning, Kindness, and Creativity[iv]. You may want to focus on one of these related strengths to help boost your strength of appreciation. You can practice using appreciation by looking for experiences that create a sense of awe, admiration, elevation, and inspiration. As you identify those experiences, you will hone your skill with appreciation.
I am an avid strengths spotter. I will point out the strengths I see in people wherever I go, whoever they are. I trust that my strength of Appreciation will guide me wisely and make my feedback feel authentic and warm. This strength gives me the confidence to speak up when I might otherwise observe and say nothing. I will give you an example.
"A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet" Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare
The other day I was riding my bike through our neighborhood. Every day I have been exploring because we only moved to our new location a few months ago. As I was riding on this particular day, I noticed that one front yard had the most amazing display of roses. It reminded me of the rose garden at a historic home I used to visit with my parents when I was growing up. In that historic garden, the perfume was intoxicating. I found myself wondering whether the blooms in this particular garden had that same wonderful perfume – so many flowers seem to have no smell at all these days. I moved closer to the garden, took some photos and leaned in to smell. The aroma was at once sweet and aromatic. The perfume was beautiful and rich. Taken aback by the beauty of the flowers and the wonderful smell, I wanted to express my appreciation and gratitude. How could I let the owner know that in some small way they had made a difference to someone else’s day? I wanted to knock on the door to express my pleasure, but the unwritten rules of neighborhood living, social mores that make approaching strangers at best risky and for some people downright threatening, made me pause, but then I thought about how I would feel if I rode away without saying anything.
I climbed off my bike, took off my helmet and sunglasses, and walked to the front door and knocked. I could hear a dog barking inside and appreciated the way it was warning its owner of a stranger at the door. A woman came to the door looking puzzled through the glass. She opened it tentatively, and I immediately apologized for disturbing her and for if what I was about to say seemed like a thing a stalker would do but told her I wanted her to know how much I appreciated the sight and smell of the roses in her garden. She beamed with pleasure and took me out to show me the different roses, explaining that they are her husband’s pride and joy. In that moment, we two strangers were united in our enjoyment of a simple pleasure.
That day my Appreciation boosted my Bravery and Gratitude.
When talking about Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, one of my favorite clips to share is from The Journey of Purpose - (Google "TJOP - Follow Your Heart"). The images show great feats of expertise and skill. And they make me smile and I feel a great sense of awe at the feats that we can accomplish when we dare to try.
I feel equally moved when I see a blue lizard on the path in front of me, beautiful intricate bark on a tree, all the shades of green on a hillside. Another favorite video of mine is an amazing musical group's performance of the Eagles' classic song Hotel California. (Google "Hotel California Cubanos Acapella") I feel admiration for this band as they make this beautiful music with no musical instruments except their amazing voices! And I feel inspired to try my hand at new things. I am also moved by movies – the bravery, perseverance, social intelligence, self-regulation, love, and kindness in my favorite movie, V for Vendetta, and the richness of the costume and the music, the creativity, love, kindness, humor, forgiveness, and self-regulation in Moulin Rouge.
June 1st marks the 25th anniversary of my immigration to the US and I have just reached 150 consecutive days of meditation. To celebrate I am starting a daily Appreciation post! In it, I will share an example of Appreciation every day. As photos will be the best medium for this, I will share on Instagram and on Twitter - check my profile for details at https://www.projectmanagement.com/profile/ruthpearce/. Twice a month I will use appreciation to explore another strength because as I mentioned earlier, I believe appreciation boosts my other strengths like no other strength in my profile. Those posts will be longer, and I will share those here.
Why not share your experiences of appreciation whenever the mood takes you? What gives you a sense of awe and wonder, what inspires you? Who or what do you admire?
Share your experiences using the hashtags #appreciation and #sbpm and #mbpm
[i] McGrath, R.E. (2017). Technical Report: The VIA Assessment Suite for Adults: Development and initial evaluation, Cincinnati, OH: VIA Institute on Character
[ii] Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.
[iii] Posttraumatic growth in various dimensions corresponds with particular character strengths: improved relationships with others (kindness, love), openness to new possibilities (curiosity, creativity, love of learning), greater appreciation of life (appreciation of beauty, gratitude, zest), enhanced personal strength (bravery, honesty, perseverance), and spiritual development (religiousness; Peterson et al., 2008; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995). 1. Peterson, C., Park, N., Pole, N., D’Andrea, W., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2008). Strengths of Character and posttraumatic growth. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 21 (2), 214–217. 2. Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1995). Trauma and transformation: Growing in the aftermath of suffering. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
[iv] Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Boston: Hogrefe. p141
This is the third in a series of posts based on the questions I ask project managers when we explore being a Project Motivator and the concepts of strengths-based project management. I ask these questions of my readers and workshop attendees, but I think it is important to be transparent, so I share my answers too....
How do you influence people? What is your ripple effect?
This is a continuation of the topic we started to explore earlier. Over time, I have come to realize that I influence others with my behaviors and my language. When I am positive and consistent, so is my team, when I am open to new ideas and tolerant of experimentation and mistakes, so is my team. When I focus on strengths, so does the team.
When have you spread positive emotion to the people around you? How did that happen?
When I focus on the strengths of others, the mood is positive. We spend a lot of time focusing on what is wrong rather than what is strong – it is human nature. Taking time to notice what others contribute and then telling them what I see lifts my mood and theirs, and as research shows, positive mood leads to greater innovation and creativity. I have seen teams do amazing – seemingly impossible things – because of our joint focus on the possible and the strengths we have to make the possible real.
How and when have you spread negative emotion?
Earlier in my career, I unwittingly spread negative emotion by complaining. My negative focus encouraged others to become negative too. When one person is being negative – especially someone with responsibility for others – it gives tacit permission for others to dwell on negatives and the mood quickly spirals downward. And as negative mood makes us less creative and more defensive, it is easy to get stuck there!
When have you had an opportunity to try something new and interesting to you and turned it down saying, “That is just not something I am good at”, or “I have never been any good at that type of thing”? What are some steps you could have taken with a growth mindset to learn?
The first time I was asked to speak to a group of people to share my knowledge on a work topic, I said no. I had no experience of presenting and actually did not like to stand up in front of others. I coached someone else to make the presentation and they went onto to exciting opportunities as a result. I could have asked someone to coach me to get ready and just experimented with the experience of presenting to the group. Now, years on, I really love the opportunity to engage with others and to share knowledge – not just mine but theirs too. I learned from that first experience that if we just say no because it is new, we may miss out on a great opportunity and a new path!
Think of a time you faced a challenge head-on, even though initially you felt you were not smart enough or skilled enough to do it. How did you push past your reluctance to try?
When I was asked to take over as project manager on my first project, I did not feel equipped to do the job. I was a technologist, not a project manager! I overcame my reluctance by enlisting the help of others to make the transition easier. I spoke to a couple of people I trusted and shared my reluctance and they counseled and mentored me. That gave me the confidence to put my best foot forward and give the new role a go. I never looked back!
Think of a time you failed at something you tried. What did you learn from that experience?
In my undergraduate degree, I did not achieve the grades I wanted. In my final year though I was asked to help another student make her grades because she had failed one of the core classes. I learned that other people matter. There was more pleasure for me in seeing her pass than there would have been for me getting a better grade than I did. That is when I realized that there are better measures of success than the grades we get!
Strategies for success:
Be hopeful: choose your language and behaviors to build hope in the team by your example.
Being mindful every day of how we show up is a small act that has big benefits for us AND our colleagues.
Be Strong: Think about one strength you can use to help your team.
I choose a different strength to focus on each day depending on what is on the schedule for the day. It might be bravery when there are difficult conversations, or curiosity when there are meetings, or judgment or perspective when there are decisions to be made. Focusing on one strength does not mean ignoring the others – but when one strength is fully engaged, it tends to make us more thoughtful and that strength may “tow” others along with it! Choosing one strength to focus on for a week so that we can get comfortable is a good start.
Be brave: Model positive team behavior, even when it is hard to do or you get pushback from colleagues.
When there is stress in the air, a project is not going well, or team members are tired, it is easy to lose momentum on modeling positive team behavior. Being hopeful – remembering that hope is a combination of mindset AND action – is hard when others are feeling negative or pessimistic. It is at those most difficult times that our positive modeling is most needed and most beneficial. Problem-solving improves when we come with a positive mindset and an appreciative point of view!
Be curious: Listen to the language you use around team members. What does it convey? Listen for the language of a fixed mindset in others and ask what learning tools are needed to make a change.
When I hear phrases like, “that is just the way it is,” or, “that is how it has always been,” or “I have never been good at,” that is a great opportunity to ask questions to get people thinking! Some questions I like are:
Model the language and behavior you want from others.
This is the second in a series of posts based on the questions I ask project managers when we explore being a Project Motivator and the concepts of strengths-based project management. I ask these questions of my readers and workshop attendees, but I think it is important to be transparent, so I share my answers too....
How does your organization view the role of the project manager?
I have worked in many organizations and their attitudes have all been different. Some see the project manager as the timekeeper with no expectation that the project manager will become a subject matter expert, other organizations have expected that project managers will be the go-to person who can represent the project and the team at every level. Still, other organizations have not known what to expect, they just believe that a project manager is necessary. These organizations can be a lot of fun because you can set the tone for what a project manager does!
What do you believe your role is in building team engagement?
I believe that building team engagement is the biggest part of our role. Team engagement directly relates to project success. Also, greater engagement means more fun on the job, means that people go the extra mile!
How engaged are you?
I have been fortunate to be very engaged in all my recent roles. The fascination I have for team engagement means that I am always experimenting and learning and engaged. My focus is on the team and getting them behind the project goals and that is a lot of FUN! My strengths of Appreciation of beauty and excellence, bravery, curiosity, fairness, and gratitude have all stimulated the projects that I work on. I have worked with great teams, who have been willing to try new things and that has kept my projects fresh and interesting.
What strengths do you already have?
I use many strengths in my day-to-day role which is another reason project management is perfect for me. As mentioned above, my go-to strengths are Appreciation of beauty and excellence, bravery, curiosity, fairness, and gratitude.
What do you want to learn about now?
I want to learn more about motivating project managers in becoming the focal point of building team engagement. I want to learn about what you want in order to be more fulfilled and more effective in your role as a project manager! I’d love it if you would email me with your requests and suggestions!
Strategies for Success
Be Hopeful: You will be the type of project manager who builds great teams.
Anyone who is willing to learn about team engagement and try even a few of the ideas will make a positive difference to the experience of the team!
Be strong: How can you leverage your strengths for the benefit of the team?
I have found that using my strengths mindfully – whatever they are – benefits the team (and me!) in so many ways!
Be brave: Try new things to help the team bond and grow.
I have discovered that when we try new things together, we bond, we learn, and we grow. Even if the new things don’t always work out as expected! Some of the tightest bonds are formed when things don’t go as expected or planned!
Be curious: What questions will you ask to find out what your team wants and needs?
I am reminded of the TV program New Amsterdam where the Medical Director, Max Goodwin asks all the time, “How can I help?” That is a good start. Some other great questions are, “what do you need?” “What’s going well?” and “What are your challenges?”
This is the first in a series of posts based on the questions I ask project managers when we explore being a Project Motivator and the concepts of strengths-based project management. I ask these questions of my readers and workshop attendees, but I think it is important to be transparent, so I share my answers too....
How much time do you spend communicating? Keep a few a journal for a few days to track your communication.
When I first did this exercise, I was totally surprised! First of all, I looked up the definition of communication – sharing of information OR building rapport. Hmmm, I thought. As a project manager that is practically all that I do! When I logged the amount of time I was communicating – by phone, in person, email, Powerpoint, using Sharepoint etc, it was over 90% of my day.
And of course, the research by Andy Crowe (shared by PMI) confirms that we spend the bulk of our time communicating. Of course, knowing that is one thing, seeing that in our own experience is another! When I kept a log of what I was doing, it was a real eye-opener.
Some days it was ALL day. Suddenly I was aware of how important communication is and also how important it is to be thoughtful about the means and modes of communication! I really started to pay attention to whether I was using the best means for each message and each member of my audience. After that, I became much more flexible.
I started to look at when I wanted to “push” information and when I wanted it to be on-demand by the recipient – “pull” communication.
I also started to think about whether we communicate so much because we need to, or whether it is because we don’t do it as well as we can!
See my upcoming post about project managers and social intelligence.
What do you do to influence others?
This was another real eye-opener question for me. Rather than just look at this question on my own, I asked other people what I did or said that was most influential. The feedback I received was enlightening. I heard that (i) I model positive behavior. Even when things are tough, I seem to believe that things will work out and that we have the means to make it happen. (ii) Connected with the first one was the feedback that I show that I believe in the team and have confidence that they will overcome obstacles and make things happen. (iii) I don’t ask others to do things I won’t do myself. If there was weekend work, for example, I was there with the team. (iv) I always make time for people to be people – some days they are on top form, others they are distracted. Some days they seem to ace every decision, other days they make mistakes. Some days they are all about work and some days they are focused on their family, their dog or some other area of their life. It is a fact of being alive!
What are three strategies you already use to be an effective project manager?
I think the main strategies I use are (i) I am always learning – about the team, about the project, about the reason for the project. (ii) I accept that priorities change and that we may have to adjust and re-plan and at the same time I recognize that constant change is not something that everyone is comfortable with and (iii) I work with the strengths of my team.
Strategies for Success:
Over the last few months, since the publication of my book Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management I have been speaking to project managers from all around the world about how the science of Character Strengths can help us build engagement, increase productivity and creativity and help us to get stuff done.
I have been sharing my study of over 250 project managers who have taken the free VIA Character Strengths Survey to get their personalized 24-strength ranking, which shows that on average project managers are lower in Social Intelligence and Perspective than our colleagues, but are higher in Teamwork, Perseverance, Prudence and Forgiveness.
Source, ALLE LLC Study (unpublished), 2019
The feedback from the audiences has been terrific, and here I am sharing the three more answers to questions I frequently receive:
Q1. Is there a difference in the PM strengths rankings between men and women?
A great question came up in a recent webinar when we were discussing the results that show that PMs tend to be lower in social intelligence and perspective than the population in general. Is there a difference between men, women, and others in the results?
I had not looked at the data in this way before, so I immediately went back to the results. Unfortunately, we do not have enough respondents in the other category to look at their data in isolation, but we do have enough in our samples of men and women. And they were very interesting.... it was a resounding NO there is no significant difference between male and female PMs according to my data.
In this colorful, and complicated graph, you can see the strengths of the US population plotted alongside ALL PMs in my sample, Female PMs in the sample (182) and Male PMs in the sample (82).*
In general, the results are very similar. It seems that female PMs rank creativity lower than their male counterparts, and appreciation higher, but otherwise there is remarkable consistency between the group overall and the two sub-groups.
* later this year I will review additional data that has come in since this dataset was analyzed. I look forward to reporting the updated results.
Q2 Does a person's profile change over time?
There is remarkable consistency between the survey results of an individual over time. Here is the example of my survey taken in 2015, 2017, 2018.
Generally, strengths don't move around much. Within the different groupings of signature strengths (typically top 5), middle strengths (approximately 15) and lesser (bottom 3-4), they may shuffle a little, but a lesser strength is not likely to become a top strength or vice versa.
There are two key ways that strengths may move up or down the ranking:
In my profile, you will notice that many of my tops strengths have remained consistent. The movers are Hope which has gone up from 12th to 3rd and Bravery which has moved down from 2nd to 10th. These two changes coincide with me recovering from a lifetime of struggle with a phobia and associated anxiety. Bravery was a key strength for me because it was the "feel uncomfortable and do it anyway" strength. Hope floated upwards as my outlook became more positive. Of course, the big question is did hope float because I became less anxious, or did I become less anxious because I boosted my strength of hope?
I still lean heavily on my bravery strength - it has become a phasic strength for me which is one that is generally in the middle of a profile that shows up strongly under specific conditions. For me, for example, bravery is key when I have a speaking engagement.
Q3 Where do I start with Character Strengths?
In the SBPM model, there are six stages and the first three relate to YOU. Start by taking the free VIA character strengths assessment to find out about your profile. Then pick a few strengths - the top ones are a good place to start - and start noticing how you use them, how they make you feel when you use them, and how others respond when you use them. Then look for new ways to engage those strengths. You can look for different domains to express them - work as well as home for humanity strengths, community as well as work for wisdom strengths for example. And then start mindfully modeling your strengths to others.
You can find out more by watching my webinars on ProjectManagement.com here: https://www.projectmanagement.com/videos/533121/Introduction-to-Strengths-Based-Project-Management---Finding-Your-Strengths--Part-1-
Or by messaging me here!