These words from Ryan Niemiec and Robert McGrath’s latest collaboration, The Power of Character Strengths, ring in my head following last week’s attack on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.
Honesty is a globally valued trait, and yet it seems woefully missing in many places. Omissions, half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies poison our society. At one time or another, most of us have fallen into these patterns with consequences ranging from mild to serious.
It’s easy to point fingers at leaders and others who don’t seem concerned about facts, scientific data, or the opinions of experts. However, every one of us plays a role in living into truth.
At a time like this, we owe it to ourselves, our families, teams, communities, and country to value and demonstrate honesty. One thing we can all do is pause to check in on our own levels of truth, honesty, and integrity. The practice below will help you do this and spread honesty in different settings.
Honest people do what they commit to do. For instance, I am committed to creating relevant content as life unfolds. This time of year, I’d normally write about starting the year strong, replacing an uninspiring resolution with an energizing daily practice, and sharing other topics that move you toward the things you want more of in life.
I wasn’t planning to write about honesty this week, but I couldn’t simply go about “business as usual” after the recent events. This change in my writing schedule caused a delay in connecting with you, yet this topic of truth feels urgent and relevant right now. My marketing professional and I both committed to pursuing this more authentic pathway, so here we are. Pursuing what seems right isn’t always easy, even in a basic example like this.
You’re probably already aware that honesty helps build trust and strong relationships, but perhaps you didn’t think about how it helps you correct errors in judgment, navigate decisions between what’s easy and what’s right, honor your commitments, and own your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Perhaps most importantly:
“…freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
To connect the dots: honesty cultivates truth, which leads to freedom. Doesn’t that sound about right?
In the scientific Character Strengths and Virtues framework, honesty is one of 4 character strengths within the courage virtue. Indeed, the simple act of being honest and speaking the truth is often one of the most difficult and courageous things you can do. Like when speaking out against injustice or standing up to a leader or unpopular opinion.
One challenging thing about honesty is it seems there are degrees of it and no clear guidelines around when it’s acceptable to shade the truth. For instance, do you need to be so direct when doing so would deeply hurt someone’s feelings without providing any benefit? Perhaps not, depending on the situation.
This week’s practice focuses on checking in with yourself and your own levels of honesty, integrity, and authenticity. Experiment with the prompts below to identify where you’re satisfied and where you’re not. Then, take a step that enables you to spread honesty.
On a scale of 1-5, where 1 = virtually never and 5 = virtually always, how often do you:
Speak the truth to power?
Model honesty to others?
Refrain from fibbing, even when it suits your purposes to shade the truth?
Focus on the question with the highest score. How or with whom can you speak truth to power, model honesty, or refrain from fibbing even more often? Keep the spread of honesty going.
Focus on the question with the lowest score and answer the following:
When, with whom, and in which situations do you struggle to express more honesty? Consider that your answer might vary in different situations involving your boss, subordinate, or team; a parent or family member; a sibling or friend.
Name one thing you can do to boost authenticity, honesty, or integrity in the situation you described above, and go out and try it. Perhaps you would speak more freely to your boss about the status of a project, demonstrate to your child a difficult but honest choice, or simply catch yourself being on the “wrong side” of the truth.
Valuing and demonstrating honesty more often might _____________________.
What might it change or improve? Perhaps a project, a partnership, or even the relationship you have with yourself.
With everything going on in the US and around the world, one thing has become crystal clear to me: our character strengths are more essential than ever before.
Can you imagine what daily life might be like if each of us, including world leaders and politicians, consistently elevated his or her signature strengths? Especially in the most contentious of times? Based on decades of research, I can realistically imagine creative problem solving, collaboration, more physical and mental health, meaning, and joy – the things many of us need more of right now.
The practice below focuses on one slice of this big, complex pie. It highlights a recent article by strengths experts Tayyab Rashid and Robert E. McGrath. It describes at length how character strengths can enhance our ability to feel good and function well, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This article is an important resource for you as a leader, parent, or strengths enthusiast because it offers 101 actionable practices you can easily integrate into your daily routines and share with your team or family. The post below provides the context you need to focus on strengths and build well-being each day. All you have to do is carve out a few minutes daily to experiment and share.
Public health measures such as face coverings and physical distancing aren’t the only measures that can help us navigate this prolonged pandemic. Focusing on character strengths can help soften intense emotions, like the fear and anger that often accompany this unnatural state of physical distance. It helps us reframe challenges using a positive lens of strengths. This not only allows us to shift away from what isn’t working, but it provides the tools that allow us to build what works – systems and practices that help us through the crises we face.
Integrating your character strengths in small doses, in things you’re already doing, can help you right now through hardships brought about by political, economic, and daily life challenges. Whether you’re a parent confronted with your kids’ remote learning challenges, a business leader struggling to keep your doors open, or an unemployed or underemployed individual seeking income, applying your character strengths even in small doses daily can help you cope with stress, reframe challenges, boost your mental and physical health, connect meaningfully with others, and build hopeful and positive futures.
I love to experiment with character strengths and encourage my clients to do the same. Here are 101 actions you can immediately experiment with, beginning on page 127 of the article. They’re categorized based on the results you desire; whether you’re seeking to manage stress, stay healthy, or grow personally (see below for examples).
Manage Stress Try #97. Spending so much time at home will inevitably present a simple problem you suddenly find difficult to solve. Check in with your feelings. If you’re feeling anxious, take a break if the problem isn’t urgent. Do something to generate positive emotions – take a movement break, call a friend, put a few pieces in the puzzle. Then return to the problem with a fresh perspective and greater likelihood of solving the problem (social intelligence and judgment).
Stay Healthy Try #43. Fight cabin fever by getting into action. Run, hike, climb, do a few yoga poses. (zest, creativity,self-regulation). Or #44 – one of my favorites. Stop eating before you are full, especially with the holidays approaching. (self-regulation, prudence)
Grow Personally #17 Practice compassion. At least once daily, set your intention to refrain from doing harm to others in your thoughts, words, and actions. (kindness, self-regulation).
If you haven’t identified your unique blend of character strengths, or if you wish to update your results, take the free character strengths survey to discover where your strengths currently reside. Make sure to keep your results handy when you attempt this practice!
Experiment on your own or with your family, team, or a group of friends. The steps below will guide you.
Each day for the next week, decide whether you wish to: manage your stress, boost your health, grow or build skills, boost a connection, or support a social cause. Why did you choose this goal?
Next, choose one of the practices and put it into action. Feel free to choose different practices each day or stay with one. However you feel moved.
Complete this reflection to gain some perspective.
I chose this activity because ________. As I completed it, I noticed that ________.
Did you realize or learn something? Feel a sense of pride or accomplishment? Take a brave step toward something meaningful?
May you feel confident returning to your strengths again and again, no matter what is happening around or within you.
“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the reflection will come even more effective action.”
This quote is attributed to Peter Drucker, esteemed management guru and champion for building personal and organizational strengths, even up to his passing in 2005. My interpretation of this quote is that sometimes we have to slow down to speed up.
If we wish to make a difference in our work and life, we need to lead with strengths; and that starts with awareness. Reflection helps us slow down and generate awareness around which strengths are needed in any given moment.
Try the practice below to help you reflect and lead with your strengths.
Today’s pace of change can be dizzying. Basic routines like caring for our health, educating the kids, working, socializing, and others are constantly evolving.
One practice that can help us take a breath, reset, and lead with strengths is reflection. We know from research that reflection is essential to effective leadership for both “Big L” leadership, conveyed through a title or position in an organization, and “little l” leadership, the character strength of leadership.
In “Big L” leadership, reflection can generate self-awareness around important matters like how a leader is helping or hindering the progress of her team. Or when he felt highly effective, or ineffective, and the contributing factors to each. This type of reflection can help reveal not only what to avoid, but what to embrace to achieve important goals.
However, not everyone has a title or professional position. Everyday “little l” leadership is just as important because it leads to connected communities by building what’s strong in families, neighborhoods, and social groups.
In the realm of character strengths, a healthy majority of us don’t have a meaningful awareness of our strengths, according to this strengths book excerpt from Alex Linley’s book Average to A+: Realising Strengths In Yourself and Others. A meaningful awareness means being able to deliberately apply one’s strengths to benefit ourselves and others. To feel engaged and vital. To function at a high level, tackle hard challenges, and move forward from adversity.
In his recent blog post, Robert Quinn, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations, mentioned a great practice from his favorite author. I found it clever and useful, so I decided to share it below. Note that I modified it by applying a lens of character strengths.
In this series, I typically offer a practice followed by a reflection question. However, in the activity below, the reflection is the practice.
The Reflective Practice
Open your calendar and find 5-10 short, empty time slots over the next two weeks.
Block those times out for reflection.
During each reflection time, reflect on one of the prompts below, or create your own. Then go about your day feeling refreshed and prepared to lead with strengths.
Reflection 1 – The Mindful Pause
Take a Mindful Pause. After the pause, ask yourself: Which of my strengths do I need to lead with right now? Why? Perhaps you need to elevate humility to admit you don’t have all the answers. Or teamwork to generate cooperation and collaboration. Then put that strength into action.
Reflection 2 – Be Intentional with Your Strengths
Reflect on the following: Which strength have I been actively living into today? In what ways has this benefited my well-being, work, or relationships? Perhaps you actively engaged fairness and that helped you outline an agreement all parties are thrilled about. Or humor, and that raised your team’s spirits so they could move through a challenge. Think of a situation later today that can benefit from this strength, then deliberately put it into action.
Reflection 3 – Balance Your Strengths Use
Reflect on the following: Which of my top signature strengths have I overused or underused today? If you’re not sure of your signature strengths, take the free assessment. Choose 1 signature strength and reflect: How did this misuse affect my work, a relationship, or my well-being? Perhaps appreciation of beauty and excellence slipped into overdrive, raising your expectations of yourself to impossibly high levels. Or underuse of zest is keeping you feeling lethargic or sedentary. Make sure you choose another strength to help balance this under or overuse, then put it into action!
For helpful tips on using each character strength in a new way, click here.
New situations arise every day, so feel free to re-use these prompts when necessary. As you become more comfortable in this practice, create your own reflection prompts, or contact me for more options.
May you lead with your strengths to fuel growth and creation, Jane
As humans, we have a fundamental need to feel like we belong. We rely on others, and they rely on us. We all need positive, human connections to feel seen and understood.
However, the world is struggling to navigate the harmful effects stemming from a lack of civility, disengagement from work, and more. We’ve landed in a space where we may not even be able to hug loved ones safely if they’re outside our ‘bubble.’ Not only are these experiences unpleasant, but they drain us of energy and can lead to burnout.
The quality of our connections matters. In communities of families, friends, and neighbors, people who enjoy positive relationships live longer, happier lives. In organizations, rewarding connections among employees, customers, vendors, and staff foster well-being, performance, and psychological safety.
If you’re feeling lonely, disengaged, or weary try the practice below to energize your connections.
You don’t need to be in a long-term relationship to enjoy positive connections each day. Jane E. Dutton, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations and professor at the University of Michigan researches the conditions that create flourishing individuals and teams in organizations. Some of her most fascinating research focuses on what she calls ‘high quality connections.’ She describes them as short, everyday interactions that light us up, fill us with positive regard and energy, and have a sense of mutuality.
You can have high quality connections within close relationships and everyday acquaintances alike. Her work shows that even momentary experiences of feeling seen and known can not only soften the hard edges of life’s daily struggles but lead us to live better lives.
Your character strengths can serve as key pathways to high quality connections. Of course, the humanity strengths of love, kindness, and social intelligence are obvious pathways because they’re inherently about building and sustaining positive relationships. Beyond that, however, each strength can contribute to growing your connections.
It’s probably already clear how strengths like fairness or honesty could lead to high quality connections. But what about an internally focused strength like self-regulation? Even the strengths you might not intuitively think of can help.
Self-regulation is about being disciplined and able to regulate your attention, emotions, habits, even your appetite. Self-regulation helps us take charge of our emotions. The next time you feel frustrated by your nosy co-worker or fussy child, use your self-regulation to take a step back and cool off rather than react angrily in the moment. Count to ten slowly before you respond. Notice how this helps you respond with objectivity rather than anger, which expands your ability to understand and connect authentically.
If self-regulation is an obvious choice, pick another one. How about love of learning? You can use your love of learning to dig into a special relationship and understand more about what you have or don’t have, in common. Or connect with someone with whom you have a mutual interest like cooking, hiking, or traveling, and pursue the activity together.
The activity I chose for this week’s practice is about expressing the character strength gratitude to someone in your life. The essence of gratitude is appreciating and valuing the blessings in your life. In this practice, you will focus on a person.
Is there someone you’ve taken for granted lately? It’s easy to do in these times. Is there someone with whom you haven’t connected in a while? This practice will help you deepen your connection with a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. The practice below is adapted from this practice.
Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. Pick someone who could meet you virtually or face-to-face in the next week. Perhaps select a person you haven’t thought about for a while. For this practice, don’t choose someone with whom you have a chronically difficult relationship.
Write a letter to this person, guided by the following steps:
Write as though you’re addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”).
Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (about 300 words).
If possible, deliver your letter in person or virtually, following these steps:
Plan a visit with the recipient. Let that person know you’d like to see him or her and have something special to share, but don’t reveal the exact purpose of the meeting.
When you meet, let the person know that you are grateful to them and would like to read a letter expressing your gratitude; ask that he or she refrain from interrupting until you’re done.
Take your time while reading the letter. While you read, pay attention to his or her reaction as well as your own.
After you have read the letter, be receptive to his or her reaction, and discuss your feelings together.
Remember to give, email, or mail the letter to the person afterward.
“My experience of sharing gratitude with the person I chose was _______________.”
What was it like? What insights about yourself or this other person did you gain? How has your connection grown or shifted? What will you remember from this experience? What do you think he or she will remember?
Feel free to journal about this reflection in an unstructured way, without regard to grammar or punctuation. Just let your reflection flow. Or share your reflection with a trusted friend or professional.
May you “SEA” a new perspective as you practice strengths-spotting today!
If you’ve been around awhile, like I have, you’ll probably remember Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 award-winning hit song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It’s also known among younger generations. Bobby McFerrin is famous for his a cappella songs. He gave a popular TED talk at the World Science Festival in 2009 in which he turned the whole audience into his musical accompaniment using just their voices.
The TED talk offers a clear example of someone in “the strengths zone” doing what he does best and being his most authentic. I sometimes use it in presentations to introduce strengths-spotting. Strengths-spotting is a powerful practice that helps us focus on the good and see ourselves and others through a lens of what’s strong, rather than blame or what’s wrong.
One of the best gifts you can give throughout the day is strengths-spotting. It’s easy and intuitive to do. Find out why and how below, then practice strengths-spotting in your own work or life.
Strengths-spotting is a gift we all deserve to receive more often, especially when confronted with times of high anxiety. This practice is about naming and valuing character strengths in each other, elevating who we are and what we do best. When someone else notices and values you for these qualities, you get the added bonus of feeling seen and understood for who you are. It’s like looking through a magnifying glass, where the image on the other side suddenly becomes clear and true to its nature.
Participants consistently highlight strengths-spotting as a practice that changed their lives the most. They cited improvements in difficult relationships, boosting teamwork, and elevating confidence.
You can practice strengths-spotting each day, no matter the circumstances. You can apply this practice in a family, work, or social setting. You can also practice it with acquaintances and people you just met, like the cashier at the grocery store, or your favorite movie or book characters. You can even practice it with that person that constantly rubs you the wrong way.
To easily learn and practice strengths-spotting, Dr. Ryan Niemiec, education director at the VIA Institute on Character, suggests using the SEA approach (spot, explain, appreciate).
First, pause to notice and name the strengths you see. In other words, spot them in action. This can be within yourself or others around you – your kids who picked up their toys without being asked (kindness) or your co-worker who supported your idea even though others didn’t (bravery).
Next, explain the details or context in which you spotted the strengths in action. What was the person doing? Who were they with? What was happening?
Last, describe the impression this person’s strengths left on the situation at hand, on others, or you. Why did you appreciate the use of these strengths? How did this person’s strengths create a positive result or affect you personally?
It’s always nice to have someone recognize you for a positive contribution you’ve made. For example “Jane, that blog post was really creative.” But it’s a richer experience when put into context and made personal.
“Jane, your creative blog post on The Mindful Pause gave me an easy but powerful tool I’ve shared with clients and friends. I also use it throughout the day to reduce anxiety. It helps me face what’s next with clarity.” It feels so good to hear about the impact I had on someone using my top strength creativity in my work!
Most people find spotting other people’s strengths to be quite intuitive. Naming our own strengths, however, is a bit more difficult. Many of us don’t feel comfortable describing ourselves in positive ways. Others don’t have the language to describe our positive traits. For some, the discomfort is grounded in cultural norms. This requires a deeper discussion, but I’ve helped clients successfully integrate strengths practices into groups of people with cultural sensitivities.
Another challenge arises when someone in your life constantly tests your patience – that relative who gossips about family members or the co-worker who never seems prepared for the Zoom calls. Guess what? They have character strengths, too! Can you acknowledge them for their strengths?
Remember that strengths-spotting is a practice that can be practiced. Over time, you will become more effective and comfortable strengths-spotting yourself and others. Are you ready to practice? Follow the simple SEA approach below.
Write down all the character strengths you see in Bobby, the gentlemen behind him, or the audience before him. Try to spot all 24. Below is an aid to remind you of the 24 character strengths. Practice with your family or team if you like. Up the ante, and create a reward for the person who spots the most strengths.
Use the SEA approach to spot, explain, and appreciate the strengths.
Next, apply the SEA approach to a personal situation in which you are interacting with your team, family, or others as you are out and about in your day.
As I practiced strengths-spotting, I noticed that _____________________________.
What did you notice about shifts within yourself – what you were thinking, feeling, or doing? What did you notice about others or how the situation shifted?
Feel free to record your thoughts in a journal, allowing them to flow freely without editing or evaluating, or speak with a trusted friend or colleague to debrief your reflection.
May you “SEA” a new perspective as you practice strengths-spotting today!
Courage helps us choose new pathways during times of stress and difficulty. These days, we need courage to complete even the most basic tasks, like sending the kids to school or shopping for groceries, because they carry higher risks than before.
There are many ways to demonstrate everyday courage. You can stand up for yourself. Take a step in a new direction. Give a voice to the voiceless. The benefits of doing so are often memorable. When you act courageously, you might inspire others, feel a sense of accomplishment, or advance a meaningful endeavor.
Deliberately engaging these strengths can be especially helpful when you feel discouraged, lack confidence, or don’t know what to do next. The practice below will help you identify a difficult situation and apply one of these strengths to help you move forward.
Courage typically begins with fear or anxiety, but a courageous person recognizes that getting to the other side is worth the risks. They do feel the fear, but it doesn’t prevent them from taking action.
Many of us think we’re either born courageous or not, but courage can be developed. Check out each of the strengths below to see how.
Courage is an approach to life, but bravery is about taking action. Brave actions can help you overcome fears like opening up in relationships, shifting away from work that feels stagnant, and accomplishing other daunting goals.
For instance, one of my coaching clients is creating an aspirational vision of her work and life. Like many of us, she can easily identify what she wants less of but struggles to imagine what she wants more of. She was concerned that difficulties in past relationships or situations might repeat and thwart her efforts to move forward.
A turning point in our work was when she was able to admit that she deserved the life she envisioned. Facing a feeling of unworthiness was possibly one of the bravest moments I’ve seen lately. It allows her to genuinely believe that her vision is possible to achieve. This, in turn, energizes her to keep going and feel confident she can navigate concerns that arise.
What brave action might you consider taking right now?
Perseverance is about finishing what you started, even when things get difficult or you feel like giving up. Persistent people tend to be dependable and trustworthy. They are the “go-to” people for getting things done. They build skills, resources, confidence, and achievements along the way.
Instead, I blocked out short periods of time in my daily schedule to establish a writing habit. I wrote most, but not all, days. It took a while, but I stuck with it. It wasn’t a perfect practice, but I was striving to finish my book, not have a perfect practice. Seeing my progress each week motivated me to continue.
My book is now published because I persevered. People around the world are now applying their character strengths in new ways in their personal and professional lives.
What helps you get things done when you feel like giving up?
Honesty is about truth and authenticity. Honest people act with integrity and own up to their feelings and actions to gain control of their lives. Honesty builds close relationships.
Another coaching client engaged honesty to own up to the unfair or unkind ways she treats herself, even as she is known for her kindness to others. This underuse of kindness to herself sapped her energy and kept her stuck in patterns that didn’t serve her well. This insight was eye-opening to her.
Ironically, kindness is one of her signature strengths. She has strong personal and professional relationships because of this kindness. She wanted to be kinder to herself, but it seemed selfish to do that. Being kind to herself became an act of bravery, one that she now allows herself regularly. As a result, she feels more confident and in control.
When does a lack of honesty hold you back in relationships or within yourself?
Zest is the vital energy and enthusiasm needed to get through stressful times. Zest allows you to live into your aspirations and provide the energy to step up or persist at something harder and longer. It is also linked with more happiness.
I love being around zesty people. They know how to make life engaging and meaningful for themselves and those around them. Their positive energy is contagious. One of the zestiest people I know is a caring mental health provider, a brilliant teacher, and an engaged parent and grandparent. Her zesty living inspires others to live more fully as they see her expressing all parts of herself.
When does zest help you create positive outcomes?
Where do you need to act courageously in your life?
Think of an upcoming situation that you feel discouraged about, lack confidence in, or wish to avoid. This should be a situation in which you believe an added dose of courage could change how you approach it.
Choose one of the courage strengths – bravery, perseverance, honesty, or zest – and identify one way to apply it as an act of courage. Perhaps acknowledging your feelings about something and elevating honesty will help get you on the right track. Perhaps it’s time to stand up and be brave publicly for something you believe in.
Put this action into play. Be sure to notice the effects and how you feel.
When I responded to a difficult situation with courage, I noticed that _____________ and felt _______________.
Perhaps you noticed that the situation turned out much better than you thought it would, and you were elated. If not, perhaps you noticed why it didn’t or what you could do differently next time.
Feel free to journal about this reflection, letting your thoughts flow freely and without judgment. Or talk it through with someone you trust.