Coaching Challenge: Strengths

You have strengths and you need to be using them.  Every day.  In all that you do.  This week I’m challenging you to do so.

Here we go….

  • Still haven’t taken the time to figure out exactly what your strengths are? Use one or all of these methods to find out a little more about yourself.  Keep in mind, this is NOT something you can ask of someone else – only you know what makes you feel strong so only you can do this work.  Also, each of these looks at strengths from differing angles, so it’s not overkill to do them all.
  • Find ways that you can use your strengths each day.  I described how I do it in yesterday’s post.  Of course, you can’t very effectively do this if you haven’t done the work in the first bullet.  So go, get to it!
  • As Danielle LaPorte suggests, find ways to do more of what you love each day.  I will expand that and add: find ways to do more things that strengthen you each day.  In time you’ll be doing more of what you love and what strengthens you and less of what you loathe and depletes you.

People who use their strengths are happier and more successful, more balanced and less stressed.  All fantastic reasons to focus on that which makes you feel strong.

Putting Your Strengths To Work – Today!

If during this week’s discussion on using strengths you’ve realized that you aren’t using your strengths daily in your work, don’t despair.  This doesn’t mean you have to quit your job to go find one that will.  You can probably figure out how to use your strengths right where you are.

For example, when I find myself in a meeting that’s not completely productive, using my strengths of “Forgiveness and Mercy” and “Capacity to Love and Be Loved” helps me to remember that not all meetings go as the facilitator planned.  It brings me patience to get through.

When I’m in a training session and I think I’ve heard it all before, bringing my strength of “Love of Learning” helps me dig deeper for a nugget of information I didn’t know before.

And using my strength of “Curiosity and Interest in the World” is something that I can use in every interaction that I have with another person, regardless of what I’m doing.

[Note: These are my top Character Strengths from the VIA Survey.  If you’ve completed a different strengths survey, these terms may sound different to you.]

Of course, to do all this it sometimes takes a very conscious decision to do so.  And when I work to keep my strengths top-of-mind, I am able to make it happen.

So no, you don’t have to quit your job.  Simply figure out how to bring your highest strengths to everything that you do.  You’ll be happier when you do.

To take the strengths survey mentioned above, navigate to www.authentichappiness.org and register for a free account. Once registered, check out the questionnaires and find the VIA Survey of Character Strengths (there’s a lot of other great stuff there, too). 

Strengths In Our Children

Fostering strengths in our children can be one of the most important, most difficult endeavors those of us who are parents can do.  Marcus Buckingham tells a story about his reaction to finding out that his son wasn’t a master at drawing and how he – even as someone who has devoted his life to encouraging strengths – was immediately compelled to find a way to help his son improve his weakness in this area.  As parents, we see room for improvement and sometimes get a little crazy with all we can do to “help” – tutors, lessons, camps, drills, and so on.

Newsflash: our children cannot be the best at everything.

We know this, right?  Yet we want to see them produce straight As, become a sports captain, play the cello, and show perfect manners, too.

If you have more than one child, you probably have noticed that they are pretty different from one another.  In our family, this couldn’t be truer.  I’ll spare them the embarrassment of their mother publicly listing their strengths and weaknesses, but will tell you that one of them has bit of an entrepreneurial spirit.  It’s because of this that the video below really struck a chord with me – and with him as we watched it together.

In the beginning of Cameron Herold’s TEDx talk, he describes how he won a speech contest in 2nd grade and wasn’t given any support to reinforce that strength – though he did go on to become a highly rated lecturer at MIT.  Conversely, when he “sucked at” French, he was given a tutor.  And now, as an entrepreneur, he hires out what he isn’t good at so he can focus on what his strengths are.

Maybe your child won’t be an entrepreneur, or a lawyer for that matter.  Whatever they become, it will be as a result of what was encouraged, nurtured and allowed to grow.  It will also be the result of what was discouraged and squashed.  We, along with other significant adults in their lives, are the people who will do that for them, to them.  In any event, our children will be better served if we find ways to help them discover their own strengths so that they can feel strong in what they choose for a career path.

Even if it means that they won’t go to college, or take over the family business, or be whatever it is that you do as a profession.  It’s got to be their dream, not yours.

I hope you enjoy the video.

Find Your Strengths

Most of you think that focusing on your weaknesses and improving them is the path to improved performance.  The data show that about 60% of Americans believe this and it’s even higher in a few other countries.  To be fair, there are areas of weakness I’ve worked to improve – and still work to improve – which has helped me become a better coach, leader and friend.  You can probably think of a few areas where you’ve done this, too.

If we’re lucky, when we improve our weaknesses we’ll neutralize them.  Turn the former area of weakness into “good enough.”

Do you want to be good enough or do you want to be amazing?

I think most of us would rather have amazing than good enough.  Not simply because we’d look better to others but because we FEEL better when we are amazing.  We are happier.

When we use our strengths to meet our biggest challenges, we enter into what psychologists refer to as “flow.”  You’ve been there before: those times when you’re so engrossed in what you are doing that time slips away.  You feel strong in those moments and are using your strengths.

Beyond allowing us to feel amazing, positive psychology studies show that using our signature strengths is a key component to being happy.  The work of Gallup and Marcus Buckingham shows that using our strengths is how to be successful at work and how we find balance in our lives.  If you’d like to more than take my word for it, I encourage you to check out any or all of the works below.

Finally, if you’d like to take a quick survey to find your signature strengths, navigate to www.authentichappiness.org and register for a free account. Once registered, check out the questionnaires and find the VIA Survey of Character Strengths (there’s a lot of other great stuff there, too).  You also can begin on your own by completing this sentence that Marcus Buckingham uses in his workshops: “I feel strong when I…”

However you do it, discover your strengths.

What Strengthens You?

Preparing for a presentation last week, I was reminded again how important it is for each of us to use our strengths in all that we do.  It’s also surprising to me that I’ve only posted about doing so a handful of times.  I’ve never devoted a week to the topic.  It’s about time.

Before we get too far in, it’s important that we’re all on the same page when it comes to defining “strengths.”

Here’s the thing… what you are good at is not necessarily the same as your strengths.

What?

That means that every time you were asked about your strengths in job interviews and you rattled off everything you are good at, you were probably answering a different question than the one that was asked. Your skills do not equal your strengths.

Strengths strengthen you. If you do something well and you hate it, it demotivates you, and it leaves you weary, then it is definitely not one of your strengths. You can also think of these as “burnout skills,” a good perspective when thinking about how what we do well can actually fry our spirits.

Quoting from Marcus Buckingham, a leader in strengths-based leadership: “You can be good at something – even really good at something – and still hate doing it. If that’s the case, then you definitely should not consider that activity a strength, because doing it will leave you feeling drained, weakened and depleted. Building your career around that kind of activity is not a recipe for long-term success.”

So what strengthens you? What, when you are done, leaves you feeling like you haven’t really worked at all? This is your gift, your genius work. You’ll hear it referred to many ways but really, it’s all the same thing. These are your strengths.

And doing what strengthens you not only makes you stronger, it also makes you happier and your life more balanced.

Stay tuned to learn more…

What’s Changed?

Remember a time when you were excited to get to work in the morning?  Remember the anticipation of learning something new?  Remember when you looked forward to the next challenge?

Been a while?

Most of us can recall a time when we were engaged in something that truly tapped into our passion. Perhaps a few of you are there right now.  Amazing, isn’t it?  It’s really phenomenal when we are able to lose ourselves in our work, our learning, our volunteer activity.  When we find “flow.”

So, what changed?  Where did that passion go?  How can you find it again?

Figure out what changed and find it again.

Up Your Game

I routinely have the pleasure of working with people who have decided to up their game.  Either they’ve noticed they aren’t the star performer they once were, or their strengths aren’t being fully utilized in their current profession, or they simply got lazy and want to make a change.

The instructor on the workout DVDs I use reminds me to push myself to maximize my effort.  Use heavier weights.  Lift my leg two inches higher.  Finish all the reps.  Jump higher.  It’s a great point.  If I’ve bothered to do something, be something, create something,what would keep me from bringing all that I have to the situation.

Set aside 45 minutes to exercise?  The time has already been committed, burn as many calories as you can.

Paid for a conference?  Put your phone away and attend every minute you are able.

Taking a class?  This is the one opportunity you have to learn what’s being presented, pay attention.

Have a good job that you like?  Show up every day with all your energy.  Only sort of like your job but really need it?  Same goes for you.

If you’ve bothered to put on your exercise clothes, bothered to commit your valuable time to training, bothered to find a job… make the most of what you are doing.  Bring your best.  Push yourself to do more.  Up your game.

Coaching: Burnout

At last, it’s Friday again! Time to be a little introspective with some online coaching. This week’s topic of burnout has struck home for many readers and it’s for those that these questions are for. You who are happy in your work, congratulations! For the rest of you, as always, I invite you to really think about and write down your answers.

Here we go…

Could you identify with the accounts of burnout written about and linked to this week? The most important question to answer is: are you ready to do something about it?

Once you’ve decided it’s time to take control of the situation, what will be your first move? Assessing your circumstance, how can identifying your strengths help you move forward? What strength can you start using more of in your work? How soon can you start doing that?

Perhaps you’ve already tried using your strengths at work and it’s your environment that needs to change. What can you ask your employer to change for you? Your workload? The rewards? Do you need more control? What if you ask for changes and the request goes unheeded? What are your criteria for staying? What are your criteria for your next role should you decide to move on?

Burnout can be very stressful. Finding a way out can be liberating.

Burnout Recovery

We began this week focusing on burnout and, after diverging into a discussion on strengths as a potential remedy; I’d like to return to the topic. Because burnout is complex and often cannot be altered by focusing on strengths alone, many factors come into play when recovering from a burned out place.

For example, according to Psychology Today, statistical analysis concludes, “burnout is not a problem of people but mostly of the places in which they work. When the workplace does not recognize the human side of work or demands superhuman efforts, people feel overloaded, frustrated and well, burned out. Self-improvement alone will not beat it.”

Within the article, advice is given regarding the steps that can be taken to work within an environment causing a person to burn out. That said, sometimes issues can’t be overcome and the best choice might be to walk out the door.

It is then that resilience must be called upon. We’ve talked about resilience here as one of the pieces in the puzzle to happiness and well-being. Additionally, the American Psychological Association offers a very complete guide on resilience that includes the following 10 ways to build resilience – all points that can also help in a burnout situation:

Make connections.
Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
Accept that change is part of living.
Move toward your goals.
Take decisive actions.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
Nurture a positive view of yourself.
Keep things in perspective.
Maintain a hopeful outlook.
Take care of yourself.

Discovering your strengths crosses several of these buckets: self-discovery, moving toward goals, taking decisive action, and likely more.

Burnout is, as stated above, a complex state. If you are there, you’ve likely been grappling with exactly how to pull yourself back to a place where you feel healthy and whole. The good news is: healthy and whole is achievable.

Identifying Strengths

Now that we’ve established that strengths strengthen you and are not simply what you are good at, I want to take it to a more personal level.

As I mentioned in the posts about the transition out of my corporate life and into my coaching life, digging deep and understanding my own strengths was a very important part of the process. My first introduction to finding my strengths was by taking the Clifton Strengths Finder. Over the years I tried to match my work with my strengths – some times more successfully than others.

Marcus Buckingham lead the early work that went into the Clifton Strengths Finder and I had the opportunity to both hear him lecture and go through his Strengths Essentials workshop this past year. His “strengths make us stronger” focus centers simply around completing the sentence, “I feel strong when I ____________.” [While the concept is simple, the workshop dives much deeper into understanding strengths and is definitely worth the investment, in my opinion.]

Finally, as part of my coursework at the University of Texas – Dallas, I was introduced to the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. Turns out that the same strengths that completed the Buckingham question for me also utilized my top five character strengths from the VIA. Ah ha! That’s why those activities make me feel strong…

You’ve had the opportunity to read about my transition already and so I want to leave you with a convincing example of someone for whom this same concept had a significant outcome. While her coach described these as Burnout Skills and Motivation Skills, the concept is the same and her story, powerful.

Learn more from Claire as you read her story here.

Burnout and Strengths

Yesterday I ended the post saying that I thought finding a way to use our strengths is one of the best ways to find balance and to move away from a burned out state. No doubt some of you read this and thought, “But I’m good at what I do and I still feel burned out.”

Here’s the thing… what you are good at is not necessarily the same as your strengths.

What?

That means that every time you were asked about your strengths in job interviews and you rattled off everything you are good at, you were probably answering a different question than the one that was asked. Your skills do not equal your strengths.

Strengths strengthen you. If you do something well and you hate it, it demotivates you, and it leaves you weary, then it is definitely not one of your strengths. I’ve recently heard these referred to as “burnout skills,” also a great way to think about how what we do well can actually fry our spirits.

Quoting from Marcus Buckingham: “You can be good at something – even really good at something – and still hate doing it. If that’s the case, then you definitely should not consider that activity a strength, because doing it will leave you feeling drained, weakened and depleted. Building your career around that kind of activity is not a recipe for long-term success.”

So what strengthens you? What, when you are done, leaves you feeling like you haven’t really worked at all? This is your gift, your genius work. You’ll hear it referred to many ways but really, it’s all the same thing. These are your strengths.

And doing what strengthens you not only makes you stronger, it also makes you happier.

Bonus.

Thanks for reading! Now head on over to Facebook and join me there!

Change Your Act

Change regularly receives bad reviews because memories of unplanned change so often take center stage. Lay-offs, death and natural disasters cause change that is difficult to deal with because these tragedies often drop into lives without enough of an announcement. However, change that is planned can result in an exciting new act in your personal drama (or comedy, as the case may be).

Too frequently we see the scene around us as set; something we cannot change. The fact is that you are the director and this is your production. Whatever you see can be changed because you are writing the play. You are the star as well, of course! Amazing You!

So what do you see in this current act that you’d like to change? Is the scene messier than you’d like? Is the main character a little heavier, more harsh or a little more scared than you’d like him or her to be? Are there too many people trying to take charge of the production? Is it time to draw the curtain on this act and move to the next one?

“All the word’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” ~William Shakespeare

Set the stage. Invite the right actors. Rehearse. Enjoy the show.

Another Meeting Full of Love

I’m still hidden away, taking time to think, rest and refresh.  In the meantime, I’ve combed through past posts to find one to share with you again while I’m gone.  Not so easy to do!

This is a topic I like because it’s a bit provocative and yet makes sense.  Why shouldn’t we be more loving to one another – even at work?

A Meeting Full of Love ~ Originally posted on February 15, 2011

What if we brought love to the workplace? Sound a little crazy? Let’s explore…

One of my top values is my faith. When taking the Strength Finder assessment I uncovered that one of my top five strengths is Belief. A former coach of mine challenged me to bring that strength to work. I just couldn’t see how that would work out…

Until now.

Last week I finished reading Extreme Facilitation by Suzanne Ghais and Chapter 11 – The Spiritual Capacity: Helping Groups Transcend Their Limitations – has really stuck in my brain and spent some time spinning there. Ghais asserts that most of us share a moral compass that includes a foundation in love – people from every major religion as well as agnostics and atheists, too. So what if we brought love to the workplace?

I’ve been thinking about that. And the more I think about it, the more I think I actually do bring love to the workplace, as well as many other places that I go. What does that mean? For me, I’m seeing it this way right now:

Come into meetings assuming that we are all there with good intentions.

Greet people warmly and sincerely with a smile.

Listen when people speak and make every effort to not talk over them or interrupt.

Don’t argue; seek to understand.

Follow through on commitments.

Be trusting and trustworthy.

This list could go on and on, now that I’ve started to create it. Feels a little less like a crazy idea and more like a meeting you might want to attend, doesn’t it?

That Which Strengthens Me

Wow! Lots of hits on yesterday’s post – thank you for reading!

Given the topic of transition, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. USA Today recently reported that “Fed-up workers are seeking greener professional pastures: Slightly more than one in three hope to find a new job in the next 12 months, according to [a] MetLife survey, conducted late last year.” With about one-third of you thinking about transitioning too, this could be a pretty timely topic.

Continuing my story…

After some soul-searching I figured out a couple of things. First, I love facilitating and hosting groups, events, workshops, etc. I even carry this into my personal life when I host guests at our home or our lake cabin. I really enjoy making people feel welcome and like seeing them having a good time. If they can learn something too, even better! Next, I reminded myself how much I have enjoyed working toward personal career and learning goals with my teams over the years. Every meeting I’ve had that has revolved around “what should I do next?” has been completely energizing – and then watching as an individual takes on the goal and achieves it? Amazing!

Turns out the things that I enjoy use my top five strengths. There’s a reason I like to do them; they strengthen me. Now you have an idea why I’m such a believer in putting strengths to work.

In part I was quite lucky. Facilitating has been a big part of my job over the last couple of years and coaching opportunities have come up frequently as well. I couldn’t do them full-time within the structure of my organization, though. Right or wrong, I also didn’t feel totally equipped to do them full-time.

And that’s where tomorrow’s part of the tale will pick up…

Related Posts:
Transitioning
Use Those Strengths
Discover Your Strengths

Use Those Strengths!

There’s no possible way to cover “applying your strengths” – another happiness booster outlined in Creating Your Best Life – in a single blog. As you may remember from the Discover Your Strengths post, strengths strengthen us and as a bonus, using them makes us happier.

One outcome of working within the area of your strengths is that you experience flow. Flow was first recognized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and is described as “the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.” (Wikipedia) You know it if you’ve been there. Maybe it happened when you were working on something and then – POW – suddenly it was dark out and you had no idea what the time was. That’s flow. And it makes you feel good.

Haven’t paid much attention to what your strengths are? Didn’t run right out and buy the books I recommended in the Discover Your Strengths post? OK, here’s another chance.

I’ve recently learned about the VIA Survey of Character Strengths survey; a simple and fairly quick assessment of strengths. Here’s how you can take it for yourself – for FREE! Navigate to www.authentichappiness.org and register for a free account. Once registered, check out the questionnaires and find the VIA Survey of Character Strengths (there’s a lot of other great stuff there, too). Answer the questions and there, you’re done.

Now that you have your top five strength areas, here’s a little exercise you can do that Caroline Adams Miller had us do as a part of our class. Think about a time when you used them all at once. For some people, this is a sort-of “mountain top” experience. For me, all of my strengths are used when I facilitate. Everyone’s assessment will, of course, be unique.

I know it’s not Friday but the coach in me just has to ask one more question! How can you get more use out of your strengths?

Think about it and let’s meet back here tomorrow…

Find me on Facebook: Coach Carolyn

Discover Your Strengths

I notice a trend that my favorite books are from quite a few years back. As such, I hesitated to post about this one. But to leave it off would be completely disingenuous as it truly made a significant impact on the way I approach self-development.

A decade after the release of Now, Discover Your Strengths it turns out that there are still some of you who are focusing on weaknesses to improve instead of strengths you can build on. This means that this book – or later iterations on the same theme found in StrengthsFinder 2.0, Strengths-Based Leadership, Go Put Your Strengths to Work and others – are still highly relevant today.

Improving on a weakness can only get me to mediocrity. Chances are very, very good that I will not improve to the point to make a former weakness a strength. Over time and with a lot of work maybe… but probably not.

When I have taken the time to unearth and understand my strengths and then nurtured and applied them to my work, the benefits have been boundless. What I’m good at turns into what I’m great at. I enjoy what I’m doing. Others see the results. It’s good all around.

I don’t remember it being in the book so I want to add here an additional point that Marcus Buckingham made when I had the opportunity to see him speak a few months ago. Paraphrasing perhaps, he said that our strengths strengthen us; our weaknesses weaken us. That means I can do something well and it can still be a weakness if it depletes me. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? We all have those things that we do well and hate. That, dear reader, is not a strength.

So get the book, take the assessment, discover your strengths. You’ll be glad you did.

NOTE: Do not buy these books used. Each of them comes with a code to take the StrengthsFinder Assessment. If you get it used, the code will not work for you.

Find me on Facebook: Coach Carolyn

A Meeting Full of Love

What if we brought love to the workplace? Sound a little crazy? Let’s explore…

One of my top values is my faith. When taking the Strength Finder assessment I uncovered that one of my top five strengths is Belief. A former coach of mine challenged me to bring that strength to work. I just couldn’t see how that would work out…

Until now.

Last week I finished reading Extreme Facilitation by Suzanne Ghais and Chapter 11 – The Spiritual Capacity: Helping Groups Transcend Their Limitations – has really stuck in my brain and spent some time spinning there. Ghais asserts that most of us share a moral compass that includes a foundation in love – people from every major religion as well as agnostics and atheists, too. So what if we brought love to the workplace?

I’ve been thinking about that. And the more I think about it, the more I think I actually do bring love to the workplace, as well as many other places that I go. What does that mean? For me, I’m seeing it this way right now:

Come into meetings assuming that we are all there with good intentions.

Greet people warmly and sincerely with a smile.

Listen when people speak and make every effort to not talk over them or interrupt.

Don’t argue; seek to understand.

Follow through on commitments.

Be trusting and trustworthy.

This list could go on and on, now that I’ve started to create it. Feels a little less like a crazy idea and more like a meeting you might want to attend, doesn’t it?