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
When I die Dublin will be written in my heart.~ James Joyce, writer
For a few days, a group of project managers gathered together in Dublin to talk…. Project management. For some people that sounds a little like watching paint dry. For others, it does not convey much at all!
What does it mean when 900 project managers get together to talk about project management? Are we talking about schedules, budgets, planning tasks, deliverables? Did we sit around in groups planning each others' projects? Did we compare the color coding on our GANTT charts? Or were we telling war stories and success stories?
As it turns out we were talking about a broad array of topics from Agile, to Sociocracy, to Millennials, disrupting behavior through thoughts and feelings, to design thinking, to quality assurance, to virtual teams to whether women make better project managers!
The event got off to a great start with a Keynote on leadership. The opening speech by Jamil Qureshi– "The Disruptive Leader – explored three principles.
1. Changing behavior by changing thoughts and feelings
2. Changing outcomes by changing Response Ability – E(vent) + R(esponse Ability) = O(utcome)
3. Changing leadership by challenging Belief Systems.
But where do I take you from here? I can regale you with stories of great sessions – but some of the ones I missed were just as great as the ones I attended. Instead, I will tour the event through the lens of a few character strengths:
Touring the conference through the lens of Character Strengths.
Appreciation of beauty and excellence – my appreciation was through the roof. The level of organization was terrific, the speakers were amazing, the party nights and the variety of options for us to explore our craft were excellent. Hats off to the amazing PMI Ireland chapter for hosting – here are Jackie, Frances, and Norma!
Bravery – there were a lot of seasoned speakers here but there were new ones too. They overcame their nerves to jump in and share their expertise with us. We need new topics, new speakers and new viewpoints in order to take the art of project management into the next 50 years.
Curiosity – my curiosity was piqued at every turn. I could not completely satisfy it because I could not be in all the sessions at once. Every single session seemed to have something special – and novel to offer. For example, I don’t think I have seen anyone present on Sociocracy (Dynamic Governance for Portfolios/Programmes/Projects with John Buck and Teodor Darabaneau at a project management event before. And what was that session on Why Women Make Better Project Managers from Jordi Teixido? Hopefully, there will be other opportunities to find out!
And one area where my curiosity was satisfied was about our new PMI CEO Sunil Prashara. He went out of his way to be around and available to speak with anyone and everyone. It will be great to see how he moves things forward as he becomes more oriented.
Fairness – this is a key strength for me. The most obvious way that I saw this show up is in the way that the “names” made themselves available. As already mentioned, Sunil Prashara was accessible to everyone throughout the event. Our keynote Jamil Qureshi not only stayed around and made himself available to people with questions, but he also attended other sessions. Jim Snyder was wandering the halls and ready to speak to all of us.
Spot the Keynote Speaker!!
Gratitude – this is overflowing. I am grateful to the fantastic audience who jumped in and participated wholeheartedly in our Social Intelligence session on the first day. I am equally grateful to those who made my book a sellout in the PMI Bookstore. Special thanks to Derek who was my room moderator. He sat down and joined in the session! I am grateful to all the speakers, organizers and attendees. Thank you, Kristin Jones, for making me get over my anxiety about Facebook live! And extra appreciation and gratitude to all the people who greeted me and chatted with me all through the event! Special thanks go to Manolis Papadakis who was the first to greet me on the first day and the last person I spoke to before I headed back home to the US.
Curiosity & Love of Learning
Amongst all this, I did attend a few sessions!! They included:
And just a couple of the ones I missed that I know I wish I had seen!
"I came with curiosity. I wondered what all this was about. And now I want to go deeper to learn more. My love of learning has kicked in!" Session attendee.
But conference events are much more than a collection of fun and informative sessions. They are an opportunity to network, make friends, connect with people we have only “spoken” with online. For example, during the event, I met Manolis (see the picture above). He is the first person I spoke to on day 1 and the last person I spoke to on the last day! He is also the person who took the VIA Character Strengths survey and bravely shared his strengths online.
I met Priya, and Geetanjali – fellow honorees during @Elise Stevens #celebratingwomeninprojectmanagement earlier this year. Bruce Gay and I traveled 3000 miles to say hello in person! And I met Jim Snyder, co-founder of PMI 50 years ago!
How did your top character strengths get excited by the event? If you don’t know your character strengths, you can take the free assessment by searching for the VIA Institute on Character.
If you want to know more about how character strengths improve relationships, workplaces, teams, and health, email me at through this platform or sign up for my monthly strengths newsletter at: Project Motivator Newsletter
See you in Philly October 5-7, 2019 for the 50th Anniversary PMI Global Conference!
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?”
Q1 Do you think we should work on our lowest strengths to improve them?
First, lower strengths are not the same as weaknesses. That said, the research shows that working on our TOP strengths to make sure we are using them optimally is the most beneficial. We can work on ANY of our strengths to boost them. We are most likely to succeed in lifting strengths that we truly value rather than believing are what we “should” have.
There is some research that shows that working on lesser strengths can be beneficial – particularly for people who feel familiar and connected to their top strengths already. Email me to receive a reference to the relevant research.
Q2: has there ever been a comparison of VIACharacter strengths and John Wooden's Pyramid of Success? I have always leaned on the integrity of John Wooden and his pyramid.
I am not aware of any analysis or comparison of the Pyramid of Success to VIA Character Strengths. There has been some work to compare MBTI and Gallup CliftonStrengths (formerly Strengthsfinder). Email me if you would like to receive the references to the articles.
Q3: Does this link to emorgetics?
Unfortunately, I am not familiar with emorgetics. If you can provide me with a link, I would love to learn more!
Q4: What again are the 3 Es?
Signature strengths – typically our top five strengths – are ESSENTIAL, EFFORTLESS and ENERGIZING!
Q5: As you stated that we should focus on the positive?
Character strengths and Positive Psychology are not so much about focusing on the positive, more about starting with what is strong and working from there. We are more creative, more productive, more confident, and more likely to be willing to tackle gaps and weaknesses if we first start with recognizing the positive in us.
Generally, my recommendation is to give feedback often. That way there is no special approach required. Whatever the feedback is, you can just give it. Hopefully, for most people on most days, feedback is positive and the times when the feedback is less than positive is the exception. The sandwich technique is something that is often used when the only feedback is given at annual appraisal time or when there is a problem.
For the giver of the feedback, there are a couple of questions it may be helpful to consider:
Q7: How long does the VIA Survey take to complete? –
It takes about 15-30 minutes in your first language.
Q8: We are very surprised to hear that PMs tend to have low social intelligence. Can you elaborate on why you think that is? Is this survey focused more on a specific industry?
The results are from multiple industries, but there is a concentration in IT and Financial Services. It is hard to say why Social Intelligence would be lower in PMs. Some audiences have hypothesized that project managers are the type of people who don’t want too much social interaction and so people with low social intelligence choose project management because they expect to have to deal with people less. It may also be related to the type of training and education that most project managers get which has tended to focus on tools and techniques rather than human considerations. An analysis of US Masters programs in Project Management shows that the number of credits in topics like team building, negotiation and conflict management are very low – particular when looking at mandatory classes rather than electives.
Q9: [When you discuss the survey results are you talking about strengths] most and least likely to show up for PMs? Or respondents?
Now that my sample size is large enough, I would say that it is both. I believe that this is a representative sample of project managers.
Q10: Is this a self-assessment – yes.
There is a Character Strengths 360 available from VIA institute that you can use to find out what strengths others see in you. Comparing that with your survey results can be very enlightening!
Q11: this is a self-assessment? I'm surprised the honesty is the highest. Has there been other data to confirm this besides project managers?
There are two reports that analyze findings across the world for all takers of the survey. One is an early analysis of the results for 54 Nations the other, more recent study is of 75 nations. Email me and I will send the references.
Q12: I'm not clear as to why spirituality is a character strength? I would think it might be a passion. How could you overuse spirituality?
Any of the CS can be passions/interests and any can be values we have so that’s right. But, spirituality – that pursuit toward meaning/purpose, dwelling with the sacred and specialness in life – is in all people. This has actually been shown on a genetic level in studies of children and adolescents (see Lisa Miller’s new book The Spiritual Child that reviews these). This is, of course, different from participating in religions/institutions/rituals which are clearly not universal.
Q13: If Character Strengths are only positive traits, does that mean negative traits are Character Flaws or Weaknesses?
The survey measures the strengths relative to each other. So, we express our top strengths more frequently and more easily than a bottom-strengths. Negative traits can be all sort of things – habits, practices, beliefs and so on. There is no measure – or definition as far as I know – of character flaws or character weaknesses. All character strengths are positive traits and at the same time, positive traits can be character strengths, skills, beliefs, talents etc.
Q14: What is the URL to take the survey?
The link is available in the handout under RELATED CONTENT in the webinar recording page here:
So far (as of March 27th) about 235 attendees have taken the survey!