Develop your character strengths to deliver the outcomes you want
How important are character strengths and personality traits in creating professional success and building positive relationships at home and work?
Your character - what makes you who you are - has been of interest to philosophers, politicians and marketing people for years the latter of whom want something from you. But did you know that, in the last twenty years, a new science has emerged around understanding human characteristics better?
In this article, I explore the importance of character strengths and personality traits in professional success and building positive relationships at home and work.
The science of character strengths
The focus of the VIA Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) personality assessment test (formerly the "Values in Action Inventory") is accurately mapping out individuals' character strength profiles.
Participants taking the test receive a list of their personality traits from the most positive ("signature") strengths to the traits requiring the most improvement work. Users then work on different characteristics to make a better life for themselves and those around them.
24 traits, six virtues, five groupings
Test creators Peterson and Seligman first identified 24 innate areas of human character. They decided upon them following intense study into what the pair called the "most widely influential traditions of thoughts in human history" - ancient and modern texts on psychology, psychiatry, youth development, organisational studies, philosophy and religion.
They grouped the 24 strengths into the following six core virtues and five "Humanity Justice Temperance Transcendence" groupings (shown in brackets) :
- Justice (social & community strengths) - teamwork, fairness, leadership
- Temperance (protective strengths) - forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
- Humanity (social & community strengths) - love, kindness, social intelligence
- Transcendence (spiritual strengths) - appreciating beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality
- Wisdom and Knowledge (cognitive strengths) - creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective
- Courage (emotional strengths) - bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest
The VIA-IS versus psychologists
Positive Psychology is the study of individual and societal well-being whose main focus is on what makes life worth living. The Positive Psychology movement, founded 6 years prior to the VIA-IS, coalesced around much of Peterson and Seligman's approach.
Traditional psychologists were not as keen on VIA-IS, however. They believe improvement comes from fixing what is "wrong" with someone rather than focusing on the identification and improvement of pre-existing positive traits.
In essence, the entry into VIA-IS is voluntary while the entry into traditional psychology is normally through medical referral.
Defining what character strengths are
Most people would define their character strengths as the positive personality traits they have. They're the parts of their personality that make them a good character.
If a person knows their character strengths and applies them on a daily basis, they're more likely to achieve their ambitions and goals. Academically and health-wise, they'll be better off. Their job performance will be (way) above average. In tight spots, they keep their self-discipline. They're the type of people who walk the world with self-confidence and never seem to break, no matter how much pressure they're under.
The VIA versus introspection
The VIA-IS has its flaws but it's better than endless introspection.
Introspection has its place but if Mother Teresa spent too long navel-gazing, she would find all sorts of demons with her. Introspection should be practiced in moderation as it can distort self-awareness.
What I like about VIA-IS is that its focus is on your positives rather than your faults and shortcomings.
Building up your wall of human strengths
Don't overload yourself though. Taking the deliberate action of reflecting on personality traits and how best to apply your strengths at the same time is too difficult and confusing. Look at the high impact/high usage ones first and go from there.
So thats the approach, build your overall character strength by taking it a few steps at a time.
You'll have to work harder on some traits than others. There is a spectrum between weak and strong and you'll sit somewhere on that spectrum for all 24 traits. So there'll be some deeper work required for some more than others.
Focus on a small number of your 24 character strengths at any given time
As an example let's say that, in the past, you have been a little economic with the actualite, even to people you enjoy close relationships with. You regret that it has led over time to negative effects like people doubting your word.
You want to turn people's perceptions on their heads. From now on, you want them to know that you're honest and that you'll be taken at your word.
First, break down what being honest means.
To most people, it means you're accountable, authentic, truthful and demonstrate integrity in your actions and words. So now, every time you get the chance to show that you're accountable, authentic, truthful and have integrity, take it. Reflect each time you do this consciously and you will start to see real consistency, a habit being formed and changes in the outcome that match your ambition.
Over time, making these focused positive changes and doing good deeds will improve the esteem others hold you. This also improves your character strength (consistency and congruence) and increase your self-worth.
How I build clients' character strengths through business coaching
I coach business owners who want hyper-growth in a short space of time. They're keen (if often unfocused) to reach the next step of their personal and professional goals. In other words, I come across people working at the busiest times of their lives.
They're often moving at one million miles an hour and feel they need to know as much as possible so that they can make better decisions. They rarely have the time they need to reflect upon themselves and their core values and that's the problem.
The biggest challenge facing many clients
When someone is running their life or their business in a way that is inconsistent with their inner strengths and values, they make worse professional and personal decisions. If this goes unchecked for long enough, it can lead to disaster.
But why is acting in accordance with your character strengths and personality traits so important?
Returning to the theme of honesty explored above, misalignments result in actions and decisions less true to yourself. People find you harder to read, understand and empathise with. It's tough to really be on your side when you're like this.
Grow the positive
Our positive character strengths imbue us with spiritual, social, emotional, physiological and physical benefits greater alignment to our true purpose which helps see what we need clearer and open ourselves up to lasting change.
Strength of character leads to better mental health, achievement of goals, additional meaning in life, healthy relationships, more natural engagement with others and a brighter outlook on life.
That strength spills over into other positive aspects of lives. You approach the world with increased resilience and you bring more passion at home and work. You make faster, more consistent progress towards your goals. You can handle things much better on your own too when the need arises. And you don't get thrown you off even when things don't work out quite the way you want them to.
You know people like this - they're the ones that seem so at ease with themselves. They solve problems. People are attracted to them. People approach them for help because they believe in them.
With the right attitude and support, you can be that person.
Reframe the negative
Positivity is a part of enlightened self-awareness. You might now feel negative when you think about things that didn't go to plan. Things that made you lose confidence or even worse - lose a partner, a friend or a business in the past.
Don't think of them as burdens. You can learn from them. Thinking about them occasionally can motivate you to make sure the same thing never happens to you again. Memory of them provides you with warning signs telling you that, if we don't change path, the same might happen again.
The negative does not define a positive person. That which turned out sub-optimal in our lives is actually a path of learning, a roadmap of events, decisions and consequences we can draw strength and guidance from.
Those who can reframe the negative suffer from less depression and less workplace friction. They're less stressed and better able to manage problems as they arrive.
How your character strengths have defined you to date and how they can influence tomorrow
Your character strengths deliver those parts of your life you currently enjoy.
Turning everything you've learned into a positive leads to a fun and meaning-filled life. You can never start this journey too soon - children and young people benefit the most from this type of approach to building character strength.
You're 9 times more likely to flourish in life if you have an active awareness of your character strengths.
Get in touch with me. Click on "Contact Me" at the bottom of the page and fill in the form letting me know about yourself and what you need to do to take control of everyday life, be true to your core virtues, build up your own strengths, and accomplish goals you've set yourself. I look forward to hearing from you.
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