Greatest Strength/Greatest Weakness: A Lesson From Donald J. Trump

Observing the political or cinematic stage is so fascinating because it provides a common framework for us to discover insights into our shared humanity.   The current political theater that is delighting the pundits also illustrates how we use our strengths for success or failure.

Many psychologists, real and armchair, have analyzed Trump’s psychological profile and fitness for the highest office. As an applied positive psychology practitioner, I observe Trump through the lens of his strengths. Two of his most obvious Gallup strengths are Competition (self-explanatory) and Significance (needing to be seen as important in the eyes of others). Trump loves to win.  He also loves the accolades and applause of his followers. When we are using our strengths well, it’s exhilarating and satisfying. The degree to which these strengths fuel his motivation to run for the country’s highest office could only be known by Trump himself.

Like all strengths, Competition and/or Significance can bring individuals to unimaginable success. The desire to win and to be better than a competitor can help one raise their game, or their team’s game, to the next level. The need to be seen as important can motivate achievement and accomplishment. Trump’s stunning successes in the Republican primary is a case study of skillful use of these strengths.

However, strengths can also be overused and misused. Some pundits are hypothesizing that Trump neither expected to win, nor wants the Presidency. If so, Trump may be competing for the sake of competition without consideration for what’s best for the country. He may also be willing to win at all costs, as he ramps up the rhetoric to arguably dangerous levels.    Significance can also be misused if one uses verbal abuse and bullying to feel more important, powerful, and better than others.

The rise and fall of Trump’s popularity is a lesson to us all. We develop our world-view and strategies based on early lessons and information. We often use those lessons as a frame of reference going forward as we create strategies for the future. Early successes with our strengths may teach us that using our favorite strengths is a good strategy. More is always better, right? Failure to re-evaluate our strategies combined with poor self-awareness can result in overuse and misuse; our strengths become our liabilities. Trump’s troubles are not the result of misfortune or a stellar opponent, as Clinton is as flawed in her own way as he is. Rather, he’s his own worst enemy.

Trump’s political tale beautifully reflects our shared human journey to find wisdom in our changing world and circumstances. The strategies that worked in one job, in another decade, with other people, may not work now. Trump’s opportunity now is go inside to understand his internal stage, as it is for us all.   Failure to do so will likely result in a tragic downfall.

8 Tools For Thriving During Change

fish escape concept

Embrace change!  Photo credit

The only constant is change, yet we often fear, dread, or fight change. It’s a natural tendency since, as a species, we tend to be wary of threats to our wellbeing, and change is just as likely to bring challenge as opportunity.

In addition, we have a certain change style, where our affinity and comfort with change ranges from low to high. Conservers prefer to take a measured and incremental approach to change, whereas Originators like rapid and broad change. In the middle are Pragmatists who prefer change that is practical and effective. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages; respect for and understanding of our own and others’ change styles can help change occur more smoothly and effectively.

We do not always have the luxury of the pace and extent of change matching our change style.   Often change is faster or slower, broader or narrower, than our comfort would dictate. When change is not under our control, it will feel challenging.   As with any challenge, I use my main Go To Tools to help turn that challenge into an opportunity:

  • Be mindful and present – Plan for the future but don’t dwell on it. Worrying about the future creates anxiety. The present moment elicits neither sadness, regret, nor anxiety.
  • Take care of yourself first – Rest, exercise, a healthy diet, and time for play are good antidotes to stress.
  • Reflect – Change is scary. Acknowledge your fear, anxiety, distress, or sadness. Feel it. Put a name to it. Feel it some more. Then let it dissipate.
  • Identify and challenge your belief or schema – What is the belief that is causing your emotion? If it’s a negative emotion, then name and challenge your belief or schema.   Introduce doubt into that belief. If it’s a positive emotion, then savor and amplify your optimism.
  • Identify the downside of the status quo – What’s bad about maintaining the current situation? What opportunities will pass you by if you resist change? What damage can occur by failing to grow?
  • Find a positive perspective – Your negative feelings result from focusing on the worst-case scenario. Instead, consider what is the best possible outcome.   Imagine it in full detail. What does it look like? How does it feel? What did you learn? How did you grow? What is the pathway to this outcome?   What challenges might you encounter, and how would you surmount them? What would your future self, who is enjoying this positive outcome, say to your current self?  Say it to yourself. Repeat as necessary.
  • Identify your strengths – Given this ideal outcome, identify what strengths (either StrengthsFinders or VIA) that you can use to achieve this outcome and surmount those obstacles. Make a plan.
  • Identify your support – Who can help you on this journey? Maybe you need a sounding board, a sage, a playmate, a home team, a cheerleader. Enlist their support, and be specific about what you need from them. Continue to communicate with them so they understand what their roles are as the situation evolves.

Now, go get ‘em! You have a positive future, go create it!

Five Big Ways to Develop the ‘Right Brain’

Now that I’ve committed to this topic, I feel some ambivalence about writing about how I have been working to develop my ‘right brain.’ It’s not the literal right side of my brain because the neuroanatomy is actually much more complicated than that – beyond my knowledge. ‘Right brain’ is shorthand for the noncognitive side of me.

My ambivalence is not around my lack of enthusiasm for but rather the vastness of the topic. I’m not sure I can do it justice in the space of approximately 500 words but will give it a try:

  • Being present – I don’t feel this area is over-rated and worth every bit of effort I’ve ever committed to it. Being present means that the constant chatter in my head is quiet most of the day and I can really pay attention to what matters. I also am not wasting energy on counterproductive or destructive thoughts so I have more energy for positive and generative activities.
  • Examining and challenging my beliefs and assumptions – My beliefs and assumptions are the primary source of the negative chatter in my head that then creates a cascade of stress, negative emotion, and conflict. I’ve been learning to own my reactions but not let them own me, which leaves me feeling more peaceful.
  • Positive emotion – When the chatter in my head is diminished, I can attend to how I feel. I’m still not fantastic at being aware of my deepest feelings, but my internal radar is more sensitive than it used to be. I can acknowledge my negative emotions, and then intentionally foster the positive.
  • Being aware – I’m trying to be more in touch with how my body feels underneath the emotion. Usually I take the sensation of my body for granted. Now I try to more often savor the sensation of being alive, open, and relaxed. It totally affects how I feel walking on Earth!
  • A sense of connection – Feeling open and more present allows me to connect to the whole. Not only is this a source of awe and inspiration, but it also provides a sense of comfort.   The sense that my purpose on earth is connected to something bigger than me also motivates and excites me. This is the spiritual journey I have been on for several years.

Many of my right brain activities have me using and developing my VIA strengths. My top strengths are gratitude, forgiveness, perspective, ability to love and be loved, and perseverance.  Additionally, I have been developing spirituality and continue to work on leadership. I use my curiosity to explore my world with openness. I pursue these endeavors with a sense of honesty/authenticity, honoring what is right for me and what works for me, rather than trying to impress or please someone else. You can do a free VIA strengths assessment at viacharacter.org to identify your best tools for developing your right brain.

There. I guess that wasn’t so hard. I used self-regulation to just sit down and do it, and perspective to reign in the scope to a manageable size. Add a sense of accomplishment and gratitude to my right brain for all its help.

Left_Vs_Right_Brain

 

Evolving the Misfit Into A Hero

"Queensland Lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri)"

“Queensland Lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri)”

Every office has one. You know, that person that just doesn’t fit in. They always seem to have their head in the clouds, or they’re off on their own. Folks have pretty much given up trying to understand where they’re coming from.   They march to their own drummer and no one seems to know how to get them in line. To make matters worse, that poor misfit consequently is often the subject of jokes and snide comments. Maybe occasionally you’ve even participated in that gossip.

I have observed a number of these misfits over the years. In one setting, they may be unproductive and/or misunderstood and/or difficult to get along with; an enigma. But funny thing is if you take that Fish Out of Water (FOW) and put them in, well, water, then they can really sparkle.

Organizational culture is a strong but unseen force that we old-timers tend to take for granted. This is how things are, except they are not that way everywhere. New employees may have a tough time transitioning to a new organization, especially if it has a strong culture and orientation and onboarding are minimal. Even with a strong orientation, some just may never feel at home in an organization if the priorities, values, and tendencies are afar from their own. For example, I will probably never feel at home at a financial institution since money is the last thing I want to think about.

Tendencies are also important in a culture. The Gallup organizations defines our strengths are our natural patterns of thought, feeling or behavior. Like-minded people tend to have similar strengths. Therefore, having an office with many like-minded individuals tends to result in smooth interpersonal dynamics. Using the Meyers-Briggs personality as an example, an office full of introverts will make the sole extravert feel out of place, and visa versa. Introverts gain energy from being alone; extraverts gain energy from interacting with others. One is not better than the other. They’re just different.

While personality homogeneity may tend to create a smooth cultural dynamic, the potential downside is group-think and over-relying on a narrow range of skills. In contrast, a successful team accesses a wide range of strengths and uses them effectively. For instance, the office may need an office advocate. That FOW extrovert may be a good choice for this social role since they will be energized by meetings with others.   The extrovert will also be saving the rest of the team from doing a task that is effortful for them.

Now who’s the office hero?

In sum, the FOW actually represents an opportunity to make your team stronger and round out the team skill set.   Else, the FOW just quits in disgust, leaving the others in their group-think mode. Managers have a responsibility to help the FOW find the tasks and roles that best suit their skills and tendencies, and to value the unique role they play in the group setting the example by role modeling.

Remember, we’re all genius at something. Focusing on the shortcomings and struggles of another is not only unfair and unkind, but also unproductive. Challenge yourself to discover the genius and glory of the person you don’t understand. Seeing them in a new light may also help you to see yourself differently. You’re a gazelle, have you ever felt like you were suddenly under water?

It may also be true that the FOW may need to find a pond, and the gazelle a dry stretch of land.  But in the meantime, we’re a delicate ecosystem that is full of God’s creatures that are all interdependent. Help that FOW find a little water, and you may find that she can evolve and grow lungs.

Bliss Switch

I first heard the term “follow your bliss” in the mid-90’s when a girlfriend of mine was taking courses from a liberal arts program. Topic from one course was on books/media-something-something-something. Whatever it was, it sounded fascinating but alien to me. She explained the concept of the Hero’s Journey and Campell’s advise to “follow your bliss.”

I didn’t really understand what that meant. What bliss? When am I in bliss except for when sinking my teeth into a See’s Scotchmallow chocolate? Am I supposed to eat chocolate or perfectly ripe, sun-kissed peaches all day?

I know what it means now. The thing is, once you identify your bliss, you can hardly stand not to do it. It feels as natural as breathing and waaay more fun. Maybe better than Scotchmallows even.

Here’s the bliss formula (according to Susanna):

Bliss = Flow + Impact

I’ve talked about flow before. Flow is when you are so absorbed in an activity that you lose track of time and are not conscious of yourself. Time flies by and you’ve done some of your best work. People tend to be in flow when using their strengths (StrengthsFinders or character strengths) and/or doing something they love.   Therefore, it’s important to notice when you’ve been in flow, what you were doing, and what strengths you were employing.

In other words, flow tends to lead to productivity and your best work.   Sounds like a good employee, right?

You might be coasting along in flow at work a lot, but it may not be your passion. What takes it to the next level is impact. Imagine that you spend all day absorbed in your activity, but what you do doesn’t really impact people’s lives.

Now imagine that your work helps others in a way that is meaningful to you.

Wow.

Do you think that would be your bliss?

Campbell describes this pursuit of bliss with the attendant impact as the Hero’s Journey. It’s a journey that we’re all meant to undertake. The journey is not easy, otherwise it would have little meaning or value to us.  It’s man’s fate, and the theme that plays out repeatedly in movies, stories, tales, legends, and fables from across time and culture.

Know your bliss.  Pursue it.  Be the hero of your own journey.

Discovering the Treasure Trove Within

Intelligence quotient (IQ) has long been the ticket into selective academic programs, either in higher or even K-12 education. The top 3% of the IQ curve is what was defined as ‘gifted’ back in the day when the boys were in school. Top 4%? Too bad.

More recently, Angela Duckworth has shown that grit, or perseverance towards a goal, seems to be a better predictor of academic performance. As an educator for the past 21 years, however, I also know that the ability to do well on an exam predicts, well, the ability to do well on an exam. Thankfully for many of us, we have precious few exams after we graduate.

I have been saying for a while that we are all genius at something, and I believe it more than ever. You’ve read (ad nauseum, probably) about our 34 strengths (Clifton StrengthsFinders, CSF), our VIA Character Strengths and also about Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Another interesting assessment is Holland’s Vocational Model that includes 6 types of vocational interests. I was wondering about the overlap between these 4 ways to measure strengths and talents, and came up with the following table.

You can see that there are some strengths that convey across all 4 assessments, such as what is most closely related to the traditional IQ.   The other talent that spans all 4 has to do with relationships or social intelligence.

What is possibly even more interesting is what does NOT replicate with other assessments. For example, kinesthetic intelligence and courage do not appear in the other 3. This list is not even comprehensive, since I only listed the domains of CSF and VIA, not every one of the 34 and 24 respective strengths (only parenthetically when one matched a Holland or Gardner strength).

This is important because it means that there are so many different ways to be smart and talented, and our schools largely focus on one of them. That observation leads one to question the perhaps over-emphasis of our schools on IQ and book smart, a question a la Ken Robinson.

 

Holland Vocational Interests

(6 total)

Gardner Intelligences (9 total)

 

Clifton StrengthsFinders (34 total sorted into 4 domains) VIA Character Strengths (24 total sorted into 6 domains)
Realistic – Doers Executing Domain (perseverance)
Investigative- Thinkers Logical -Mathematical Strategic Domain Wisdom and Knowledge
Artistic – Creators Executing Domain (ideation) (creativity)
Social – Helpers Interpersonal Relationship Domain Humanity

Justice

Enterprising- Persuaders Influencing Domain
Conventional- Organizers Executing Domain (arranger)

(harmony)

Visual-Spatial
Bodily-kinesthetic
Musical
Intrapersonal
Linguistic (communication)
Existential (connectedness) Transcendence
Naturalistic
Moral (consistency) Justice
Courage
Temperance

 

But for each of us as individuals, it means that we can question our own conception of how we are or are not smart.

I’m frequently in awe of those folks that discover in their golden years some da Vinci-like talent. Perhaps they’re more talented than us mere mortals. Or perhaps they are more willing to explore their range of intelligences. In other words, maybe we shouldn’t wait until we retire to explore what our innate and undiscovered talents are and that we should be open to all the different types of talents that may emerge. I’m not quite in my golden years (though that may be arguable) and I’ve only recently discovered my intrapersonal intelligence. Who knew that was a talent (well, Gardner, for starters)?

So cultivate your courage strength: explore and be open to the weird human tricks you can do with ease and excellence. Develop it. See where it takes you. Maybe it’s just something you can do for enjoyment. You might discover you want to spend more time with the hidden you.

The Amazing, Wonderful You

I’ve always had the gift of being able to see the best in others. Call me too trusting, naïve, whatever. I don’t care. I love this talent of mine.

Since becoming a StrengthsFinders coach, I realize now that this talent is developed in me even more. Now, instead of just noticing, I can actually use my training to help people develop those assets.

Sure, that’s fun and gratifying. More importantly, this ability to see the best of others really, truly inspires awe in me.

  • I see so much kindness and compassion. Not just from loved ones, but from stranger to stranger.   A kind word. A helping hand. A joke to break up a tense moment.
  • I see so much talent and excellence. People who naturally do the impossible with ease, and oftentimes unknowingly. The results can range from a perfect serve to the tiny wonders of technology like our cell phones.
  • I see so much love. Not only the sacrifices we make for those we love, but the deep connections we can form with each other, even if we don’t know each other.
  • I see so much faith. Faith in the goodness of others, in the connection we share, and our ability to make positive change in the world.
  • I see so much generosity. Those who give their money, yes, but also those who give of their time, their wisdom, their talent, their spirit.

I know that every single one of us has one or more of these awe-inspiring qualities. It’s our challenge, and thus our opportunity, to discover these qualities in ourselves and each other regardless of our pre-existing beliefs, biases and stereotypes.   It’s worth the effort: imagine walking through the world literally surrounded by one phenomenal person after another. Imagine.

The Value of Introspection

I know some of you out there just hate to be introspective. You don’t want to look inside: there’s no need. You’re fine as you are.

You are fine as you are. You’re better than fine as you are. You’re spectacular.

However, I’m going to make the case that it’s still worth being introspective on occasion, fabulous self not withstanding. Introspection is like exploring the proverbial deep, messy closet. Perhaps some of us do not wish to go digging in there because we might find… old sandwiches? Smelly shoes? The bill you claimed you never got? Terrible man-eating, tentacled creatures?   Your other sock?

Or you might find a can-opener you never knew you had? Your lost ring? The fallen button? Some cash? Old photos?

I know, right? Pretty awful stuff. Not worth digging at all, or too risky even.   After all that Bogey man might really do some damage.

Right.

You’re not going to find anything in there you can’t handle. Any demons are really just like the Bogey man – not real. A fantasy of our own construction. A story that we’ve been telling ourselves for years.

Even better, you might find some treasure. You know, those blind spots go both ways into both the good and bad spectra. The whole point of StrengthsFinders and other self-assessments are to uncover your blind spots, but in a good way. Learning about a strength you weren’t even aware of can help you turn that talent into something useful and productive. It’s the equivalent of finding the Cuisinart that you thought Aunt Mabel never returned and a $100 bill in your closet. Now you’re cookin’!

I know you don’t want any of that stuff, so don’t worry about it. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Flow, My Favorite Non-Feeling

Flow. It’s not just a character on a sitcom called Alice. It refers to the sense of getting totally absorbed and losing yourself in an activity.

It’s a great feeling to be in flow, but you’re strangely absent of emotion. Rather, you become one with your task. Make sense?

I’m not sure it makes great sense to me. It feels great, but I have no emotion. It’s not a physical sensation per se, but the physical is included because usually I’m energized while in flow.

Perhaps the emotion that might best describe being in flow is connection or engagement. I’m connected to my task in such a way that all my cylinders are firing and all of my attention is engaged in what I’m doing. Likely I’m using my strengths while in flow, and so probably I’m doing a great job as well.  That accomplishment feels good, but maybe only after the fact. Kind of like that tree falling in the forest – you may only see the after-effects of a dead tree.

I think there are degrees of flow too. For example, I love to write, but it’s a solitary activity and my communication strength is only moderate. So though I become absorbed in writing, and I love to write, I wouldn’t say that it’s where I necessarily do my best work.

In contrast, when I’m training or coaching, then I’m using most of my top strengths including my relational ones. Not only am I performing at my (relative) best, but I’m so energized, I feel like I’m buzzing. I’m using my strengths, so I know that even when I’m tired or not at my best, I will be able to do a good, if not respectable, job.

Energy. Accomplishment. Engagement. Losing track of time. Just because you’re not feeling them, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t notice them. These are the paths to your bliss. Follow them. Create them. Grow them. Pursue every opportunity to be at your best, and you’ll become even better. Imagine!

Blind Spots, In A Good Way

It’s been delayed gratification all semester.  We’ve been discussing the VIA character strengths probably since September, but have gotten precious little in-depth information or training on the subject.  As a Gallup Strengths Coach, this is like putting home baked cookies in front of a three-year old but telling her she can’t have any.  Ever.

Today we had the privilege of having Ryan Niemiec from the VIA Institute come teach us about character strengths.  VIA strengths differ from the Clifton StrengthsFinders in that there are 24 character strengths that comprise human virtues.  The strengths fall into six core themes:  wisdom, courage, temperance, humanity, transcendence and justice.  Like the CSF strengths, building character strengths promotes engagement and satisfaction at work; using strengths is fulfilling and satisfying.   Empirical research also shows that using our highest character strengths, or our signature strengths, improve well-being, life satisfaction and symptoms of depression.

And the test is free.  Go to authentichappiness.org and take the test!  How cool is that?

Finding new ways to improve upon our signature strengths was easier for some strengths than others. We asked others to rate what they thought our signature strengths were.  Where strengths list coincide, we’re using our strengths well and transparently.  Where strengths are going unnoticed, we can work to improve their use so they are more apparent to others.  For example, I learned, though high in gratitude, if I mix-up the ways I express my gratitude, I could be more effective in sharing this life satisfaction-inducing strength with others.

But what I found most interesting was my character strength blind spots.  In this case, my classmates pointed out strengths that I was unaware of.   My classmates indicated that they thought I was high on self-regulation and leadership, whereas I ranked myself fairly low.  I guess I could reflect upon the reason for the discrepancy, or even better, just focus on trying to enhance and optimize those strengths.   Given I have a self-regulation strength it should be fairly easy for me to integrate and adopt those changes.

Now, isn’t it nice to learn new ways you are appreciated and ways in which you can improve, simultaneously?