By Michael Kline
In our last column, you had some homework to do. Thank you for those who emailed it in to me, and while it does earn extra credit, it isn’t really necessary. In case you missed it, you were to identify your top five character strengths, so that today, we could talk about applying them to your success. Don’t panic if you didn’t do your homework. I’m guessing it’s not the first time, and it probably won’t be the last. Simply go to www.authentichappiness.com and take the “VIA Survey of Character Strengths”. Invest 15 minutes and get some answers that could take days of self-reflection to realize and admit on your own. While you’re at the site, feel free to play with some of the happiness surveys as well, but be sure to write down your top five character strengths.
In a recent local goals workshop, my students overwhelmingly agreed this exercise was very helpful to them. Let’s start with an easy example. If your top strengths include creativity, energy and wisdom, imagine how limited you might feel at work on an assembly line. If you can’t change jobs, you might benefit from finding very expressive and creative activities as hobbies, volunteer work or with your family. If work is a big part of your life, you might feel completely unfulfilled, even depressed and hopeless. On the other hand, if other strengths like self-discipline and humility figure into the equation, you might appreciate the routine work as almost meditational in nature. The point is, to know ourselves is critical before we start working on ourselves or our businesses.
When writing a job description before hiring someone, you decide what qualities you want in a successful candidate. You might even use adjectives to describe personality traits such as attention to detail, outgoing, etc. Have you written your own job description? Have you evaluated yourself against the expectations your work should require? Honestly, most of us are not well-rounded enough to be entrepreneurs. Who could live up to the expectations of work that requires every strength to be at the top of the list at all times?! To be creative and optimistic is critical, but so is self-discipline and being industrious. The need for humor helps, but so does high energy, honesty, humility, bravery and caution at the same time! No, most of us rely on a partner, a spouse, a key employee or outsourced professional to do our bookkeeping, our marketing, our organizing, our selling, or whatever area we dislike or consider a weakness or distraction from our primary work. This allows us to focus on the things at which we excel and it compensates for our so-called weaknesses.
Let’s consider the stereotypical entrepreneur – if your zest for saying yes to everything has you overcommitted, ask yourself how you can use your creativity to learn to manage your time. Can you learn enough self-discipline to focus on one project until it’s successful before you invent new sets of problems? (yes, you can). Are there some things you should learn to avoid altogether? Of course. Get to know yourself, and then consider how to manage yourself. The good news is I want you to focus on your top strengths; you don’t necessarily need to consider your lower-rated strengths as weaknesses. It is valuable to be aware of them however.
If, on the survey of strengths, you read your complete report, you probably feel pretty good about having 24 strengths and no weaknesses. It is a very different way of looking at things. Consider applying the same logic to your employees, partner, spouse or children. They too, have a lot of strengths, on which you would do well to focus. Yes, everyone needs to be able to function in life and work, at a minimum level in all required areas, but they do not need
to excel in every area. What we normally call “areas for improvement”, or “weakness” might be better done by someone else who processes that talent as their strength. This approach to life and management is easier to understand and apply if you understand Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habits #4,5&6 cover thinking win/win, understanding then being understood and synergy. If you still haven’t read this all-time best-ever life and business book, that’s this week’s homework. If you have read it, consider that knowing something is not the same as doing something. Think about ways to apply the lessons to real life and enjoy!