Guest Blog by Stacy Kehren Idema
Stacy’s entire life has been about business. As the daughter of two small business owners and the former wife to a generational business owner, she understands what it’s like to live, breathe and worry about the success of your business. After 26 years of working with executives and entrepreneurs, she transformed her life long love of people and business into a calling.
As an Executive Communication and Business coach, Stacy helps entrepreneurs and business owners return to humanism. She serves as a trusted advisor, asking the hard questions that help her clients identify and communicate their needs and boundaries more effectively so that they may positively impact their life - from the boardroom to the bedroom.
How to Maximize Your Effectiveness in Business (and Life!) Using Your Character Strengths
I used to believe improving my weaknesses was required to be the best business woman, more effective employee, and a better partner, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. In fact, external forces reinforced it every day, pushing and shaping me into the person I thought I had to be... because that’s what they told me I had to do.
Truth is, I wasn’t yet comfortable with myself: who I was, how I wanted to show up, and what it would mean to step into my values and strengths as a human. In fact, it most often felt uncomfortable and awkward because the external forces were constantly pushing me in a different direction than the one I desired.
As my career advanced, even the profiles and assessments affirmed that I behaved in a way that wasn’t what others wanted or expected of me. Worse yet, the disparity grew between how I felt inside and how I was awkwardly showing up, year after year.
And then I met VIA Character Strengths.
It was a lightbulb moment. In fact, my life finally made sense. This might be my one and only life changing “A-Ha” revelation!
Suddenly, I had permission to live externally as the person I always felt like internally. It was like someone finally opened the right deck of cards, pulled out mine and said: “Here you go - it’s OK to live this way because this card says you can and should.”
So what are "Character Strengths?
According to the VIA Institute on Character:
“Character strengths are the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave. Character strengths are different than your other personal strengths, such as your unique skills, talents, interests and resources, because they reflect the 'real' you—who you are at your core.”
Scientists have identified 24 character strengths that all humans have the capacity to express. Every one of these strengths are present within us, but there are generally a handful that rise to the top.
The VIA Character Strengths Survey identifies our unique character profile, and can be a helpful resource to draw from when thinking about life satisfaction and the kind of work, activities, and relationships that will be most meaningful to you.
All of the research shows that consistently drawing from your top 5 character strengths leads to the development of deeper authenticity, connection, and contentment in life.
Character Strengths are morally valued, internal strengths that contribute to the good life for ourselves and others. When we are in touch with our unique constellation of strengths, it allows us to set priorities and make decisions from the inside-out, rather than the outside-in.
These 24 Character strengths are organized into 6 virtues:
Coaching to Character Strengths
As I often tell my clients, if you took one or more of your top strengths away… you would not feel like yourself.
When I structured the foundation of my business, character strengths led the charge.
Here’s why. My clients work in chaotic environments. They are most often in the masculine energy of decision making, information gathering, fact finding, and constant progress forward. There is little time to slow down, reflect, and align their core values with the world they live in.
If they’re not aligned with their values and strengths, the decisions they make will have more negative outcomes, both professionally and personally. Outcomes such as uninformed business decisions that cost them hundreds of thousands, and repeatedly poor communication with a spouse that creates friction, or worse, divorce.
Why is this so important? Simple. How you act in one place is how you act everywhere... and if you don’t, you’re not being honest about who you really are as a human. Here’s just one way it plays out: a lack of inner and outer congruence can impact how clearly and effectively a leader communicates business needs and goals with their team.
Working with my clients, we first identify their top 10 strengths, then narrow in on the Top 5 to better understand how they use their strengths (and may even overuse them).
For example: A client who’s top strength is kindness may also be a “Yes Man."
This person may ask the tough questions, but in the end always say YES. Only to see half of those decisions come back with more problems and issues than he ever expected.
In this situation, he is more worried about disappointing others than making an informed business decision. Said another way, he lacks healthy boundaries and the personal authority to take a stand for what he already knows will not be a good situation.
Understanding how these scenarios play out and where he has used (or overused) his strengths provides more information on how he functions as a human, and where he might be able to use other strengths to return those he overuses back to center.
In doing this work with my clients, the end goal is always to understand their stance on where they are, and what they want the future to look like in an ideal state.
Using strengths is one way to help bridge the disparity and move them back to a place where they feel comfortable, effective, and human.
Another common situation I see in my practice is the underuse of gratitude.
When a person underplays the value of gratitude, there can be a sense of entitlement around all of the good things that come to them. Often what’s actually lacking are the emotional or social skills to express gratitude.
This is often a self-defense mechanism for someone who believes they have had to work harder and longer to achieve their goals. In fact, they may have even bullied their way to the top. Common responses from others to this behavior is fear. Usually, another person is left picking up the trail of tears that the ungrateful person has left behind.
For someone who desires to improve a weakness like this one, we always start with a strength.
We begin by exploring how a client uses their strengths, and where they might fit in other activities that allow them to practice working on a weakness while inside a strength.
Using the VIA With Clients
Incorporating strengths into your coaching practice requires access to the VIA Character Strengths Survey, passion for the strengths, and a basic knowledge of each of the 24 strengths.
If you’re interested in incorporating Character Strengths into your coaching practice, the first step is to take the VIA Survey yourself if you’ve not already done so. Get clear on your own top 10 strengths, where and how you use (or overuse) them in your business and personal life.
Next, introduce Character Strengths at the beginning of your relationship with new clients. They too can access and complete the assessment for free, share their Top 10 strengths with you, and further identify how and where they use (or overuse) their strengths today.
While I choose to go deep with my clients into this framework, it can also be used by coaches to simply understand the core strengths for your clients.
As one tool in your coaching toolkit, the VIA assesment can help you both get clarity on how everything is working for them as they use their strengths in day to day life. This knowledge can also help inform where it might be productive to tap into their strengths in order to achieve the goals your client has set for themselves in coaching.
Awareness of our strengths is exceptionally helpful for anyone who is interested in making shifts toward better aligning their actions with who they really are inside - just like I did in my own life and work. Using this approach, we are more likely to stick to the work of continuous personal development because it feels more natural and easy than grinding away at “improving my weaknesses”.
Give it a try!
Apply YOUR Strengths as a Life Coach!
One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our coaches like Stacy ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and leave your mark on the world, check out Lumia Life Coach Training - a program that's every bit as unique as you are.
Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, business instruction to prepare you for liftoff as an entrepreneur, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.