I mentioned before, I adapted this from a whole body of work call Values in Action Inventory of Character Strengths and Virtues.
In a manner similar to using flash cards for one of 300 English sight words to begin learning conversational English, the Game of Strengths teaches you how to spot six virtues and 24-character strengths in action.
You start playing the Game of Strengths by observing how you express a particular character strength, then accept and use it with deliberate intent.
Later, you can expand the Game of Strengths to seeing how others express their particular strengths and begin interacting with them, from your strengths to their individual or set of strengths.
When I started by making it a fun game to spot strengths in others around me, everything changed.
As I now see a character strength in action, the internal critic who finds fault in everyone and everything, just fades into the background.
I’ve even incorporated strengths-spotting in my Evening Journal of Gratitude, expressing gratitude for an interaction with someone and their expression of three or so their strengths as gifts given to me that day by a particular person.
As employees and managers become more comfortable, they level up their Game of Strengths when brainstorming an issue or problem … usually a Key Result from the preceding week with which the employee (or manager) has struggled.
I encourage that the use of the Needed Improvement Protocol that acknowledges the symptoms, feelings, and judgements associated with the problem, framing with the essential question,
“What is the something better
that wants to emerge here?”
As an employee and manager examine a problem in this light, some really great things will result.
First, they can flip the narrative as a complaint and powerlessness to opportunity and agency, asking questions about what can we do, who can assist, how a new accountability, system or protocol could preempt this from happening again.
That’s a huge step forward, flipping the narrative of complaint to agency and action.
Second, the examination of an issue can energize a positive conflict, within one or both individuals; positive in that we already framed in as something better wants to emerge, now with the focus on how can we assist in making that happen.
With your both of Character Strengths displayed on a Relational Strengths Placement, you can begin looking at the issue as an opportunity to invoke an underused Character Strength.
So as an employee who disagrees with my manager, I might prompt my manager to look at my side of things from his or her Character Strength of Curiosity, wondering what else is related to the issue, or Judgement, asking her to consider others perspectives and blending two or more in a more inclusive view.
Third, another great thing to come from the Game of Strengths is a greater level of thoughtful feedback about the job performance of the individual, working in this kind of organization, and career development and personal growth.
I believe that when you combine thoughtful feedback with structured weekly check-in’s and other Gratitude Protocols for the Workplace, your company will progress to greater levels of disclosure, consideration, and alignment without a lot of bruises and hurt feelings.
However, those Premier League levels of play usually start with the cofounders who model that level of brutal honesty and then recruit, select, and retain workers who adhere to that standard. And, very few young entrepreneurs start at that level, with the possible exception of Navy SEALS, Rangers, Green Berets or Special Forces.
I mean you have to coach Little Leaguers different than you would high school ball players and, then again, different with Division One college players and Major Leaguers.
Most startups with young first-time cofounders fall somewhere between Bad News Bears and a League of Their Own. And I love that. Can’t think of a better place for me to grow, prototype and perfect Gratitude Protocols for the Workplace.
I want Gratitude Protocols for the Workplace to support and enable weekly micro-progressions to higher and higher levels of performance and stakes, using regular inspection, agreed upon protocols, and thoughtful feedback as inducers of systemic positive change.
Fourth, weekly check-ins following the Gratitude Protocols for the Workplace provide a good foundation for well-being, resilience, and personal growth.
Gratitude Protocols for the Workplace line up with the operationalized theory of well-being from Dr. Martin Seligman.
Dr. Seligman is the founder of the School of Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where his team created psychological fitness program for the entire US Armed Forces.
Summarized in his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, he explains the PERMA model comprising
- Positive Emotion from the intentional focus on being more self-accepting, optimistic, and happy
- Engagement from intentional habits of concentration, deep work, and flow
- Relationships of authentic, positive and meaningful interaction
- Meaning from a sense of purpose, advancing action, and belonging
- Achievement from goals, inspired action, and accomplishment
I think that I mentioned it before. Dr. Seligman and team also created the Values in Action or VIA Character Strengths assessment.
Fifth, this form of Gratitude in the Workplace reduces the need for covert manipulation and deceit.
Because you’re both playing the same game, by the same rules, there’s no manipulation in the traditional icky sense.
This starts when employee and manager signed their Position Agreements that outlines a set of company Values, Behaviors, and Protocols.
Both employee and manager agreed to play by one gameboard by set of well-reasoned rules of engagement.
This includes role-specific Objectives and Key Results, prototyping needed business capabilities, weekly inspections of advancing actions, the shared recognition of Character Strengths, and mutual ratings with session scorecards.
That means you have a self-reinforcing system for the strong adherence to social norms of high performance, thoughtful feedback and pervasive gratitude – foundational elements of your Culture Compass.
And this self-reinforcing system cuts off the nutrients for the toxic molds of deceit and fear that will grow in the dark cracks and corners of a startup or ongoing concern.
Sixth, it speeds the integration of team best practices, mastered at Google, to the core to your organization, based on
- Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
- Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
- Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
- Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
- Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
I believe that Gratitude Protocols for the Workplace will create the fertile soil for team best practices to germinate, grow strong roots, and bear a fruitful bounty.
I just read the book by Patty McCord, Powerful, an utterly brilliant and practical manifesto for all firms, especially for high growth-potential or blitzscaling startups. As co-founder and Chief HR Officer of Netflix, she made the singular case,
“Business leader’s job is to create great teams that do amazing work on time.”
In significant part, this means building teams that focus and amplify each team member’s Character Strengths.
Seventh and last, strengths-based management can become a coaching superpower for the manager and the future manager, the employee.
So instead of a manager trying to get an employee to do something in a particular way, you know, the way the manager thinks how he or she would do it, the manager can ask the employee how he or she could use their curiosity, creativity, or other strengths to solve a problem or innovate a need business capability.
And when combined with the Needed Improvement Protocol, you jump to a whole new level of play that, in startups, I call value that scales with increasing efficiency.
That is, you can turn most problems into a game of prototyping a new business capability with documented accountabilities, workflows, and systems.
This new capability would enable future production of higher quality outputs with greater value-added to customers with less waste, cost, and effort, and less friction in scaling growth.
Discovering and Using Your Superpowers
Over time, strengths-based management enables both employee and manager develop a deep, non-verbal awareness and understanding of each other, which will extend to other co-workers, team members, and leaders.
As the positive benefits of weekly check-ins begin to cascade throughout the organization, it supercharges how you get things done.
It not only becomes a company-wide game worth playing, it infuses the entire organization with a sense of freedom, accountability, and membership.
And that amplifies the expression of an individual’s super powers within teams and business processes.
Let me give you an example of that.
In a recent session, I worked with a young, ambitious, smart and powerful woman.
We have prototyped her position agreement with role-based OKRs and weekly inspections of progress and brainstorming how to get even more done with less time and unwanted stress.
I had introduced to Character Strengths to her entire startup team who had them taken the free assessment.
Upon seeing her top seven signature strengths for the first time, she had a rather negative response.
In descending order, her top seven Character Strengths were,
- Humor I laugh with appreciation at sudden incongruities in myself and others. I excel at expressing the lighter side of things.
- Honesty I know and speak the truth in ways that others can understand. I present myself with sincerity, transparency, and thoughtfulness.
- Kindness I take pleasure in doing favors for others and being gentle with myself. I have a sense of plenty and appreciation.
- Social Intelligence I sense, feel, or intuit the motives, wants, fears, and values of others and myself. I know what, when, and how others and myself fit into a given situation.
- Spirituality I make choices every day from set of coherent, evolving beliefs AND subjective fact-patterns about the Unity of Purpose and my place in the Universe.
- Forgiveness I am able to release within me any sense of trespass, insult, or resentment that others may have evoked in me or others.
- Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence I notice and appreciate within and throughout particular expressions of Beauty, Excellence or Skillful Performance by others or myself.
She saw several of her Character Strengths as professional weaknesses. And I could see how you could connect those dots in that way.
Yet, I shared my experience of working with her over several months.
I showed how she consistently used Humor to disarm people and de-escalate situations.
In the process, she always positioned herself as a friend or ally, or worse case, not an obstacle or adversary.
I then recounted how she would share her perceptions and thoughts in a wholly genuine and sincere way, you know, using her second highest strength of Honesty.
We both started to laugh when it became apparent that she always tempered her blunt honesty with lots of Kindness and an intuitive sense of how to fit this within a specific social situation, her strength of Social Intelligence.
I shared that in all my experience in working with execs and entrepreneurs, just the combination of those four strengths puts her into a pretty elite group of high-performers.
We concluded on a new frame: she uses her character strengths to express, in her own unique way, her creativity, core values, power, and care for others.
And that she had blended traditionally masculine and feminine ways of expressing truth, love, and energy in a way that is not only unique, but in a way that the market will compensate her as an elite performer.
I then shared with her my particular Character Strengths:
- Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence I notice and appreciate within and throughout expressions of Beauty, Excellence or Skillful Performance by others or myself.
- Curiosity I hold an abiding interest in knowing or experiencing first-hand something novel or that varies from the expected, even for no other purpose than experiencing it.
- Love of Learning I explore, practice and master a new skill, knowledge, or ways of being, in unstructured or formal ways, simply for the joy of it.
- Perspective I provide others with insights, patterns, and suggested actions. I have a good sense of knowing when to do so.
- Love I experience receiving and giving love with others. I strive to experience others with unconditional positive regard.
- Gratitude I sense-feel a deep sense of Presence in others and appreciation for the good things that happen. I take the time to acknowledge others and their gifts, genius, and talents.
I am now editing a set of Relational Strengths Placemats for my coaching clients to use in our sessions.
Relational Strengths Placemats
Relational Strengths Placemats display the Character Strengths of both the employee and manager in side-by-side fashion.
These placemats will feature the top seven “signature” strengths of both employee and manager and come with short declarative sentence that conveys a sense of a character strength in action.
In the process of using one or more of your seven signature strengths, you begin re-programming your brain’s neurocircuitry in a ways that increase your overall sense of well-being, productivity, and satisfaction.
So, when the manager and employee see each other’s top seven character strengths, on the placemat in front of them, and use them to guide the weekly meeting, they began playing what will belong a lifelong Games of Strengths.