Viewing Posts by Ruth Pearce
Little did we know when we were choosing the dates and topics for the ProjectManagement.com blog that we were on the cusp of a major shift in the world! The present, the past and the future – being an adaptable PM. That was the topic already slated for this week… What a timely topic! And I have broadened it to the topic of being an adaptable project manager now and where we expect it to go in the future. It is not just how we will project manage it is how we will live, choose, prioritize and stay sane! And all these are important components of project management too.
We have been down this hole before – or one like it!
As we look back on a time that was just a few weeks ago, we may be surprised at the number of things that we took for granted and just assumed would continue forever. Every day much like another, the same struggles, the same connections, the same processes. How do you feel as you look back at that time? What emotions do you feel about it?
To help you, take a look at the Plutchik Wheel of Emotions. Ask yourselves the questions that follow:
What is one thing you will keep doing from “before”?__________________________________
We are always navigating holes…
Change is something that many people don’t appreciate. A few weeks ago, there was a sudden change. For many we were told to “stay home starting tomorrow”. For some, that means working from home, for others it means losing a job and struggling with day to day expenses and for some it means juggling work from home, schooling the kids, making additional meals, buying groceries with less access to stores. And then of course there are many people who despite the stay at home orders, are still having to go out to work. Maybe to work on the food supply chain, or as a frontline worker in the healthcare field. The change has been dramatic, and we have had no choice but to adjust the best we can.
In group coaching sessions we often hear that people are “not experiencing anything different than usual”. They regularly or habitually work from home. It is “just the same”. When we pause and think about the truth of that statement, we are often surprised, and it turns out that the only thing that seems the same is the idea of working from home. For example, one person said “nothing has changed for me, I always work from home. We asked, how is it different?
She paused, reflected and answered:
She suddenly looked sad and relieved. She was sad that there were so many things that had changed and relieved because she admitted she had been feeling tired and a little down and had been criticizing herself when things were so “normal” for her.
Maria Sirois (Author of “A short course in happiness after loss”) says “pain, is pain, is pain”. Humans don’t experience pain in comparison to others. They experience their own pain and it is not less – or more – because of how it compares to others. It just is. Having just been in a four- hour mindfulness retreat and I am reminded to think about this present and ask these questions:
What is one thing you are doing now that you will continue to do? _______________________
Like holes before this one, we will find our way out
One significant job of a project manager is to collect, challenge and collate project predictions. Our experts predict how long each part of a project will take and what the optimal sequence is, and we put it together to form the plan. So often the plan is not what is ultimately executed and to some degree serves more as a benchmark (baseline) against which to measure the deviation from what we expected. This has never been truer than now.
As the world tentatively reopens, there is even more uncertainty than when it shut down. A few weeks ago, others made the decisions and we lived with – and adjusted to – those decisions as best we could. Our choice was not “what to do” it was “how to do it”. Some of us adjusted more easily than others. Some did not really adjust at all and now suddenly we will be asked to adjust again.
In the future though we will be making the decisions. We may be told it is OK to go back to work, but we will decide if that is safe – for us, for our children who may not be in school – for vulnerable loved ones. We will decide whether going to a restaurant, store, gym or sports venue is “safe enough”.
Our days will be a maze of decisions, and we will be called upon to use our strengths in new ways and to use strengths that come less easily to us in order to get through the next few months.
We are already seeing that everyone is being called upon to use more Prudence than normal. This character strength – the planning strength – is one that we are more likely to be adept with. We may have to lean more on Perspective – yes a choice may feel unsafe, but it may be less dangerous than the alternative (not going back to work and not being able to pay the rent for example).
We will need Hope – that is the strength of positive forward thinking AND taking action.
Forgiveness may be needed more now as people make decisions that turn out to be less than optimal, or tempers fray, or energy is lower. In fact, when we look at the twenty-four research- based character strengths (see below), EVERY one of them has a place in what is coming in this future.
Look at the list and think about which of the strengths come most easily and naturally to you and then make a plan for how to engage those strengths purposefully in the future. These questions may help:
What is one practice you want to adopt going forward to help make each day 2% better? _______________________________________________________________________
Take what you learned in the past, are learning in the present and launch into the future with a curious mind. In mindfulness we call this “beginner’s mind”. In the next few months we will all be beginners. Embrace it, take care of yourself, and see what you learn!
And, remember to put on your own oxygen mask first!
For a great little book to read during these times of uncertainty – to understand how we process change – read Carole Osterweil’s book Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience: A Leader's Guide to Walking in Fog.
Originally, I was going to share the results of some of my research on project managers, and some ways to close the gap on this critical business and team strength. Suffice to say, we, as a group, do not score high in social intelligence. We seem to show more perseverance and prudence. And when it comes to understanding and reading others, we are not necessarily as comfortable as others are.
In these difficult times though, let’s look at social intelligence from a different perspective. We ALL need it – along with emotional intelligence (awareness of emotions and the ability to manage our emotions). Alexithymia is the inability to identify and describe emotions. Let’s face it, most of us are not taught to recognize and name our emotions and, in the West at least, it is common to “stuff” them. We want to push away emotions that are uncomfortable or that we perceive as “bad”. We rarely pause and take stock of our emotions and are even less likely to describe them to others. Until one day our emotions take over our behavior!
So I encourage everyone to practice naming their emotions - see below for a tool to help!
Starting with us: Emotional Intelligence
Today I was listening in on a coaching session and the client – we will call her Amy – wanted to explore ways of decompressing and building resilience during these difficult times. She asked her coach for suggestions, and what followed was a process of the coach helping the client to explore what already helps her reset. She identified being in nature (research shows this is a huge de-stressor), exercising, meditating, reading poetry and planning wonderful trips in the future as ways she can change her emotions from ones that seem to drain energy to ones that help her to feel more Zest, Hope and enthusiasm.
In the course of the hour – one that she had considered canceling – she not only identified rejuvenating practices but EXPERIENCED them. At the end of the hour she commented on how important it had been for her to keep the appointment and she made the following observations:
In the face of stress, we often cancel the things that rejuvenate us FIRST in order to claw back time. We cancel the yoga practice, our meditation, that virtual cup of coffee with a friend, our walk outside, or our coaching session. What Amy said at the end was “I want to make a note of how this feels. It is the best way I could spend this hour. I have identified practices that I will use to help myself and in this moment my head feels clearer and I feel calmer and more optimistic than when we started.”
What does this have to do with Alexithymia – one of the things we often forget to do is CHECK-IN with ourselves. As project managers, we are constantly transitioning – moving from a team meeting to a meeting with frustrated stakeholders, to a briefing with the project sponsor and then to our desks to update reports and statuses. Each encounter generates a response in us and if we don’t take stock, name our emotions, acknowledge them without judgment and then mindfully select the ones we want to leverage, we become overwhelmed and unfocused. This is often when we snap at people unexpectedly or fly off the handle at the smallest thing.
I recommend using a tool such as Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. Pause for 1 minute and think about where you just were and where you are going. Ask the following questions:
Don’t be surprised when conflicting emotions come up. We often have so-called “mixed feelings” about things or we can feel excited about one part of our lives and anxiety about another – all at the same time!
Expanding to others: Social Intelligence
How do we expand this to those around us? After all, everyone could use a little help right now!
A way I like to recommend is the SEA method:
I usually focus on VIA Character strengths when doing this. At the same time, it can be used for any kind of strength or skill.
You might focus on the technical skills of the person; their character strengths of perspective, kindness, honesty, humor and more; you might focus on their behavior from being on time to offering help to someone who is struggling more than they; you might focus on their attitudes – always spreading hope and focusing on what we can do right now, or gratitude – focusing on what they DO have in this moment rather than what they are afraid of.
So here are three questions for you to think about in this moment:
These three steps are the foundations of Social Intelligence!
2. Image by Sydney Rae on Unsplash
One of the wonderful things about character strengths is that although we all have all 24, and they are a common language that lets us express our understanding and appreciation of each other’s qualities in a straightforward way, we do nevertheless express each strength uniquely.
This combination of similarity and difference is what makes character strengths so powerful. They both connect us and differentiate us at the same time.
Nowhere is this more apparent than when you speak to people who are leaders and to the people whom they lead. It is not uncommon to encounter expectations about what a leader will look like, what strengths they will have at their fingertips. We may even expect them to have superhuman capacities that translate into many signature strengths – more than your average person. One person even asked me once whether to be a good leader you needed to get all 24 strengths to the top level.
And of course, the most common preconception of all is that in order to be a leader, we must have the strength of Leadership as a top strength.
Will the Real Leader Please Stand Up?
In reality, it is not the case that every leader or even every good leader has leadership as a top strength. On average across populations, Leadership is a strength that shows up squarely in the middle of the average profile. As with any of the strengths, there are people with Leadership higher than average, but that does not automatically make them a leader.
What we do know is that effective leaders recognize, acknowledge and cultivate the strengths of the people they lead. They play to strengths and recognize that as leaders their job is not to know all the answers, or even provide all the structure and guidance. Their job is to create an environment where their teams flourish and can be their best selves.
Over the years, I have been able to look at the character strengths profiles of many people in leadership positions, and what I find time after time is not that they are high in leadership, but that they know their top strengths and they use the strengths that are at their fingertips – their signature strengths – to be the best they can be. One person actually took their signature strengths and explained how they blended together to make them someone that others took for a leader.
Finding your pathway to Leadership
Interesting preliminary research has shown that there are some promising correlations between seven core team roles and specific character strengths. For example, the role of Decision Maker correlates with Zest, Hope, Bravery, Perseverance, and Leadership. Most people will not be surprised at the last strength, but all these strengths individually and together represent pathways to be a Decision maker – the person who is “energized by analyzing information from various perspectives, weighing evidence, applying logic, and choosing a fruitful course of action.” For most people that would be a leadership role!
The secret to character strengths is to discover your personal profile and your unique way of using those strengths. Does your kindness get used at work to help colleagues, or at home with family to support them as they make their way through life or in your community as you help people facing personal challenges? Do you show your kindness with a hug and understanding when someone is in pain or by doing something practical to help? Does your bravery show up when you get comfortable with being uncomfortable in accepting a personal challenge, or when you speak up for others against a crowd, or you stand by a loved one in the face of criticism from family? And how do those two strengths show up together?
As basic building blocks of personality, your character strengths are the same as mine, the same as a loved one’s, the same as those of your boss. What makes you you is how you use them and blend them and show them to the world. And that is as unique as your thumbprint.
How will you use YOUR top strengths to set you apart today?
 Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2006). Character strengths in fifty-four nations and the fifty US states. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(3), 118-129. doi:10.1080/17439760600619567
 See for example Lavy, S., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Boiman-Meshita, M. (2016b). The wind beneath my wings: The role of social support in enhancing the use of strengths at work. Journal of Career Assessment.
 Pearce, R. (2018). Be a project motivator: Unlock the secrets of strengths-based project management. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
 Be a Project Motivator, p124
 Ruch, W., Gander, F., Platt, T., & Hofmann, J. (2016). Team roles: Their relationships to character strengths and job satisfaction. Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1257051
In my last post, I advocated looking for things to appreciate in yourself, to practice recognizing and acknowledging those traits that you share with others but express in ways that are uniquely you. In this post, I will dig deeper into the strength of appreciation and then suggest ways to use appreciation to the benefit of your team. Building a culture of appreciation builds rapport, a sense of inclusion and well-being for you and for those around you and you don’t need to be in charge to help make it happen.
Research shows that appreciation has three components.
Dacher Keltner, resident expert on the AWE aspect of appreciation at the Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkley, points to research that shows that spending one minute looking up at the trees make us more likely to help out someone in need than spending one minute looking at tall buildings. He tells us that awe is an evolutionary phenomenon that is good for our minds, bodies and, maybe most important of all, our social connections. What could be more helpful to a team?
What about the other components of appreciation? As I mentioned last time, research shows that appreciation is not used a great deal at work even though many of us rank it high in our strengths profiles. It is often associated with appreciating nature, art, or skillful performances. And it is that last definition that is useful in teams in the workplace.
Obstacles to using our appreciation at work
In working with clients who have discovered this strength among their top five, I have often heard them lament, “I never thought of that as a strength!” One young woman (character strength of appreciation #1) told a group coaching session that she regularly takes walks in the local park to clear her head, improve her mood, and marvel at nature all around her. It helps her feel more connected to her team and to the purpose of the project. She was astonished to find that we are not all moved the same way.
Another member of the same group (character strength of appreciation #3) mentioned how much they love to see someone at the top of their game – whether that be a musician, a scientist, a sportsperson or… a work colleague nailing some task or a new skill. When asked whether they ever tell their colleague how much they appreciate them, the answer came back, “No, they know already what they have accomplished right? They don’t want to hear it from me!”
It is common to think that our positive opinion will not be valued, and yet experience and research says it is not so.
For example, fundraisers who felt appreciated raised 50% more than those who just came to work and did their job as normal.
Appreciation is more than just saying, “thank you”. And that is what makes it subtly different than gratitude – which gets lots of positive press by the way! It is about seeing the whole person, their strengths, their positive habits and giving them specific and personal appreciation. But how do you do that?
My favorite way is using character strengths. We all have all 24, which is great because (a) everyone expresses all of them at one time or another and (b) we cannot go wrong! Expressing appreciation for the character strength(s) people demonstrate is something I do often. I have never had anyone say “What? You think I am kind? I don’t think so!” or “You think I used my judgment during that meeting? Nope! I just tossed a coin.” Mostly people beam with pleasure or they share a story with me of why that behavior is important to them.
Four steps to full workplace appreciation:
Step 1 observe strengths in other people any time you can. You can strengths spot during movies, during family dinner, while watching sports on TV. Use the list below and practice until you feel brave enough to share what you see with someone else.
Step 2: Bring the list of strengths to a meeting at work. Instead of checking your messages on your smartphone under the table, hoping no-one will notice, keep the list of strengths with you, and listen to each speaker. Highlight the strengths you hear. Do this for a few days until you get comfortable. Don’t worry about being “right”!
Step 3: After the meeting is over, choose one person and tell them specifically what you saw and why you appreciate it. For example, “I really saw you using judgment as you weighed up the options for our next steps on the project. It really helped us to sort through everything and come to a good decision.” Or, “I really loved how you turned the mood around with your sense of hope! You helped everyone feel that this is possible, and we were able to figure out actions to get us where we need to be.”
Step 4: Note down afterwards (a) what their reaction was (b) how you felt.
Some common reactions from those you appreciate are:
Step 5: Do this for a few days and see what happens. Ripple effect anyone?
 Money, K., Hillenbrand, C., & Camara, N. D. (2008). Putting positive psychology to work in organizations. Journal of General Management, 34 (2), 21-26.
 In a workplace study of 120 participants, it was supervisor support, not colleague support, of employee strengths use that was predictive of increased strengths use the next day (Lavy, Littman-Ovadia, & Boiman-Meshita, 2016b).
 Gallup, Inc. “State of the American Manager.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 30 May 2019, www.gallup.com/services/182138/state-american-manager.aspx.
Research shows that appreciation – as measured by the VIA character strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence – is not used a great deal at work. It is often associated with appreciating nature, art, or skillful performances. And it is that last definition that is useful in teams in the workplace.
Subtly different than gratitude which is about being thankful, appreciation is the strength that allows us to see and name the skills, values, and contributions of people around us. It is a strength that makes calling out the contribution of a colleague more comfortable. And yet we don’t use it much at work.
The strange thing is that it is not an uncommon top strength – some research suggests that 4 out of 10 of us rank it as a top strength! Maybe we just don’t think to use it in the workplace. The same is often true of love – but that is another story!
Checking in on your sense of appreciation
When was the last time you took a stakeholder aside and thanked them for their contribution? Maybe you are good at thanking people – after all research shows that Gratitude is a top strength for about 25% of us.
When was the last time you told them why you are thanking them? Explaining what it is specifically that they bring to the table? Telling them in enough detail that they can repeat the behavior in the future and make it a permanent fixture in their project contributions. If it was recent that is great. But all too often, we go through the day on autopilot, taking in stride the contribution from colleagues. We are all too quick to notice when someone is not giving us what we want or need on a project, but when people do what we think they are supposed to, we tend to take it for granted. We may give a quick “thanks” to someone who has delivered on something
It starts with you
We do the same thing with ourselves. I often speak with groups and train people about character strengths. They are one of the triumvirate of strengths that when working well together put us in what Dr Neal Mayerson of the VIA Institute on Character calls, “the Power Zone”. The other two prongs are Talents and Skills. When we take our talents, build them with training and practice into skills and then add in our character strengths – those internal motivators that give us a sense of connection to what we are doing. This triangle of personal attributes – not unlike the talent triangle of leadership, strategic and technical skills in project management – creates our own capacity to excel.
The other topic we explore I talk about is strengths- blindness. Research shows that 66% of us are strengths blind we don’t actually know what we bring to the table. Often, the attributes that others find most remarkable – and most beneficial – about us we don’t even recognize as special, unusual or note-worthy. One of my coaching clients described her strengths of self-regulation (unusual as a high strength), prudence – the planning strength – and teamwork as boring! And yet her team described her as present, even- tempered and easy to work with. Are they talking about the same strengths? Yes, they are!
Two steps to full appreciation:
Step 1 is to appreciate the contribution YOU make. You can take the free VIA strengths assessment here: http://PMcom.pro.viasurvey.org
Or you can take a look at the strengths sheetbelow and just circle the top 5 that strike a chord with you.
Now watch out for them each day. For example, my top strengths are Appreciation, Bravery, Curiosity, Fairness & Gratitude.
Appreciation – I take a walk in the morning and take in the nature around me and appreciate the silliness of my dog. I look out for people going the extra mile and express my appreciation whenever I can (I also express my dismay when people don’t seem be doing what they are meant to be doing!)
Bravery – I try to push myself to do something outside my comfort zone on a regular basis. I write a post about a new topic or make a call to a new person.
Curiosity – I allow myself to read about new topics, explore new ideas, and get perspective from new people. I also have to manage my curiosity so that I don’t go down rabbit holes!
What are your top strengths?
Make a note for the next 7 days of how each of your strengths show up now that you know about them.
Which ones are a surprise?
Which ones take a back seat at work? Where do they show up strong and present?
Next time in Building a Culture of Appreciation, we will explore expressing appreciation of others!
Strengths list with descriptions – reproduced with kind permission:
 Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 537-551
 Money, K., Hillenbrand, C., & Camara, N. D. (2008). Putting positive psychology to work in rganizations. Journal of General Management, 34 (2), 21-26.
 Character Strengths & Virtues 553-568
 TECHNICAL REPORT The VIA Assessment Suite for Adults ... (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Portals/0/2017 VIA Assessment Suite Technical Report.pdf
 Linley, A. (2008), Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press