By Dan Coughlin
People go to work to make money and to make a difference.
Money is important. It’s very important.
Working to make a difference is also important. It’s very, very important.
Trying to make a significant difference is how you fuel yourself over the long term. Everyone wants to make money. That’s not a differentiator. Working to make a significant difference is what can help you to constantly improve and innovate and try new things.
I believe there are five assets every person has to draw on to make a significant difference in his or her organization that are far more important than the person’s title, income, race, gender, height, size, or personality type. They are his or her character strengths, talents, passions, beliefs, and thinking traits. In this article, I will focus on character strengths.
Character is What You Really Are
John Wooden, the enormously successful basketball coach at UCLA, used to say, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Character is what you really are. A great deal of your capacity to make a significant difference in your organization will come down to your character. This requires digging into understanding your character and identifying what it is about you that you can really rely on.
I’ve narrowed the characteristics of a person’s character down to ten words. They are integrity, resilience, caring, collaboration, poise, appreciation, curiosity, perspective, spirituality, and humor. What follows is a brief explanation of what I mean by each of these words along with other words that I associate with them. After you read these explanations, spend some time reflecting on your own character and rank these ten characteristics from strongest to weakest for yourself. This will help you to understand what characteristics of your character you will be able to rely on the most to make a significant difference in your organization.
Caring means that you focus on the quality of your relationships and the quality of your work. It’s one of your strongest characteristics when you go to extraordinary lengths to make sure the other person feels understood and that the details of a project are executed well. Words I associate with caring are fairness, justice, empathy, forgiveness, kindness, quality, humanity, and love.
Collaboration means to share your ideas on a topic, listen to another person’s ideas, and work together to build even more effective ideas both before moving into action and as the work unfolds. It’s one of your strongest characteristics when you refuse to make a decision before discussing it thoroughly with the members of your team. Words I associate with collaboration are open-mindedness, teamwork, loyalty, learning from others, discussions, co-creating, multiplying, enhancing, and brainstorming.
Poise means to maintain calmness even when the chaos and drama in the room are rising. It’s one of your strongest characteristics when you can stay calm in even the most hostile environments. Words I associate with poise are calmness, confidence, relaxed, humility, modesty, maturity, self-control, patience, and flexibility.
Integrity means doing what you think is the right thing to do. It’s one of your strongest characteristics when you refuse to do anything that you don’t think is the right thing to do. Words I associate with integrity are honesty, courage, genuineness, conscientiousness, authenticity, prudence, true to your beliefs, sincerity, duty, citizenship, and reliability.
Appreciation means to identify what you are thankful for in any situation. It’s one of your strongest characteristics when you can find something to be thankful for in even the most difficult situations. Words I associate with appreciation are gratitude, thankfulness, zest, and focus on different types of excellence.
Curiosity means to search for insights and understanding in a given situation. It’s one of your strongest characteristics when you search for insights from even the most mundane situations and the ones that seem to have no connection to your work. Words I associate with curiosity are innovation, creativity, mastery, future-minded, quantum leaps, breakthrough insights, love of learning, and obscure details.
Resilience means persevering through pain, difficulty, and long-term challenges in order to pursue your desired outcome. It’s one of your strongest characteristics when you refuse to give up regardless of what you are facing. Words I associate with resilience are grit, determination, perseverance, competitive drive, focus, concentration, relentlessness, courage, valor, bravery, industriousness, stick-to-itiveness, discipline, and greatness.
Perspective means to see a situation from multiple points of view. It’s one of your strongest characteristics when you look at any topic from multiple points of view and are able to articulate in a meaningful way how different types of people might see and feel about the topic. Words I associate with perspective are wisdom, knowledge, insight, judgment, social intelligence, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking.
Spirituality means believing you are part of something bigger than just yourself. It’s one of your strongest characteristics when your decisions are based on something larger than your own personal well-being. Words I associate with spirituality are purposefulness, sustained enthusiasm, reflection, quiet still voice, discernment, faith in a larger cause, and conscience.
Humor means to see the lighter side of any situation. It’s one of your strongest characteristics when you never take yourself too seriously no matter how serious the situation becomes. Words I associate with humor are playfulness, fun, funny, laughing, jokester, smiling, enjoying, joy, and lightening things up.
Now take out a sheet of paper. Here are the ten characteristics of your character I want you to focus on:
Try to rank these ten characteristics from strongest to weakest for your character. As you do this exercise you will start to see yourself with fresh eyes. Remember that strongest doesn’t mean best in the world. It just means of all these characteristics which one is strongest for you. As you sort through and reflect on these ten words, I think you will start to examine yourself at a deeper level and you will come to a better understanding of who you are today and what you have going for you to make a significant difference in your organization.
Your character is what you are right now. That doesn’t mean you can’t improve these characteristics. We can all get better in each of these areas. Understand where you are at so you can see what you have to use to make a significant difference right now. However, always work to strengthen your character. That will increase your chances for making a meaningful contribution going forward. Start with your three strongest characteristics and make them stronger. Don’t try to be great in all ten areas. Just take your three strongest characteristics and make them better.
If you would like to get a more psychological profile of your character strengths, I encourage you to visit Dr. Martin Seligman’s website: www.authentichappiness.org and go to the Questionnaires tab and select VIA Survey of Character Strengths. It’s free, and you might very well learn something about yourself. Before you do that, I do encourage you to do the self-reflective exercise in this article, and then you can compare where you landed with these words with the computer-generated answers you will receive from Seligman’s website.
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About Dan Coughlin
As a business keynote speaker, executive coach, and management consultant, Dan Coughlin teaches The Any Person Mindset, which is a practical management approach for improving individual, group, and organizational performance in a sustainable way. It is based on his belief that any person can make a significant difference in an organization, but no one is born with the traits necessary to make a significant difference. These are learned thinking traits. Visit his free Business Leadership Idea Center at www.thecoughlincompany.com.