Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why I Write About Personal Strengths

Forty-five years ago, when I was a young lieutenant, I attended three months of training at the Army Ranger School, where I learned a lot of difficult combat skills. I learned how to navigate for miles in cold rain at night through dense underbrush up and down mountains in order to reach a distant objective before dawn. I learned how to lead an infantry attack while coordinating medical evacuations, artillery fire and air strikes—all at the same time. You get the picture.

I got good at it. And when I arrived in Vietnam, I was glad I had these skills. But I learned something important. Performing in combat is so adverse that none of these combat skills are worth much if you can’t be bold, keep your cool, manage your awareness, be flexible, give maximum effort, exercise judgment and yes, even show compassion. The biggest challenge was exercising these personal strengths, not the combat skills.

I’ve been intensely interested in these core strengths ever since. In April 1999 I published an article in Performance Improvement, "Strengths of Character: A New Dimension of Human Performance." The paradigm in the human resource development world at the time held that competence consisted of skills and knowledge. I made a case that a third element, which at the time I referred to as "character strength," was also a factor.

You know I’m right about this. You can have abundant knowledge, a high level of skill and strong motivation. But what if conditions turn against you? What if you encounter opposition? What if things go wrong? What if the stakes are raised and the cost of failure is multiplied? What if you’re getting pressure from stakeholders? What if office politics gets in your way? What if customers are angry about problems? What if the competition has introduced something new and powerful? What if three members of your team have left for other opportunities? What if your child is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer?

The answer is, you’ll have to do some hard things. And what you actually do will be a manifestation of who you are, at the core.

To capitalize on their personal strengths, I recommend that people do two things.
  1. Consider which personal strengths are your strongest, and look for ways to use these more often in your life and work.
  2. Work on making the weak areas stronger, one personal strength at a time.
I admit that even though doing these two things is crucial to personal success, following this advice is more difficult that it sounds. That's the real reason my company spent 10 years developing ProStar Coach, an online virtual coaching system to help success-oriented people work on personal strengths and people skills. It makes the behavior change process a lot like working out in a gym. But instead of building physical strength, over time people get stronger at the core of who they are. In ProStar, they do the reps! And they get behavior models, coaching, encouragement, feedback and accountability. If you're interested, right now the website is letting people try out ProStar Coach free.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Hafter Holtic said...

Boldness is the beginning of all genius. You are absolutely right! Thank you.