“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.” - John Wooden was an American basketball player and head coach at the University of California at Los Angeles
I appreciate being asked by Leon to write about the word “character.” As a voracious learner, I enjoy a wide range of topics and sources for reading. Both Eastern and Western philosophies have looked at ways to promote discussion about character that is global in nature. IT is also global; it has no borders and we use its services without leaving the comfort of our businesses and homes. The IT profession has become, with international business and the move to the cloud, also more global in nature.
I went in search of a way to discuss character that was universally human, and wish this discussion to focus on the more global perspective of character. World-wide philosophers have addressed character development as both an individual and cultural challenge. I discovered Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman 1. Over a three year period they collaborated to review philosophers and religious thinkers throughout myriad histories and cultures. The result of this research suggests one’s character is a permutation of character strengths. They called it the Values In Action (VIA) Classification and Inventory of Strengths.
Each character strength needed to:
- be fulfilling, morally valued, and not diminishing to others;
- have inappropriate opposites;
- be a distinguishing feature of human nature (trait-like);
- be distinctive from other strengths;
- have a person or thing regarded as a model of excellence of it;
- have prodigies, wunderkind or wonder child;
- selective absence of it in some situations;
- Have institutions/rituals to celebrate or express it 1.
These character strengths get categorized into six virtues:
- Courage consists of the emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal.
- Humanity is the interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others.
- Justice groups the civic strengths that underlie healthy community life.
- Strengths protecting against excess belong to Temperance.
- Strengths forging connections to the larger universe and provide meaning lie in Transcendence.
- The cognitive strengths entailing the acquisition and use of knowledge make up Wisdom1.
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.” - Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist.
In the brief exposure I had to this work, and some of the reports on its 10+ years of use in psychology and sociology, I found much that was familiar to me from my readings of Confucius, Aristotle, Plato, and others. Philosophers discuss the application of strengths in the context of a given situation. The same character strength applied in the work place might not work well when it comes to an intimate relationship. Different occupations will also require the use various combinations of character strengths. The goal is to understand your character profile, then develop skills to enhance and combine character strengths to achieve success, happiness, and fulfillment.
It is like being a chef, and not just knowing all the ingredients and cooking methods, but how to combine them to make a fabulous dish or banquet. Or an author who knows all the words and the stories, and has the skill to put them into an amazing novel. Or the composer who knows the notes, and the instruments, and puts them together to create a symphony that stirs the soul. As Aristotle discussed in Nichomachen Ethics 2 the right combination of strengths, expressed to the right amount, and in the right circumstance, is the golden mean of strengths use. The knowledge of your own character strengths can help you make your own masterpieces.
- There is a strong connection between well-being and the use of signature strengths, because strengths helps us make progress towards our goals and meet our basic needs for independence, relationship, and competence 3
- The use of signature strengths elevates individuals’ harmonious passion (i.e., doing activities that are freely chosen without constraints, are highly important, and part of the individual’s identity). This then leads to higher well-being4
- A strengths training intervention (involving noticing when, where, and how top strengths are used and writing about this) was found to be effective in boosting life satisfaction in the short-run and long-run in the Chinese education context. The placebo effect was ruled out by having some participants informed of the purpose of the study, and some not, and finding that this had no long-term effect on life satisfaction5
“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer and statesman.
If Goethe hadn’t lived over a hundred years ago, you might think he was talking about that smug, corporate computer guy, Nick Burns (played by Jimmy Fallon) that shouts “MOVE!” to his customers to get them out of their chairs. Nick certainly seems to exhibit judgement and zest, but not kindness or humility. Okay, then what is the right combination of character strengths for an IT professional?
- A military leader’s with the character strength of humor predicted their followers’ trust. While followers’ with a character strength of perspective earned their leaders’ trust6
- Seeing one’s work as a source of meaningful fulfillment is predicted by the character strength of zest7
- Most mismatches require individuals to suppress this strength in some way. The expression of gratitude, humility, kindness, playfulness, spirituality, citizenship and hope for example suggest that many of the human and community-based virtues are suppressed in the workplace. The rhetoric of a workplace in which community and meaning are valued seems to be exactly this: more of a rhetoric than a reality”8
I’ve observed that humor, perspective, and perseverance seem to be recurring traits in the IT professionals, that I have known and respect. Perseverance to complete tasks and projects, despite the high change rate in technology and priorities. Perspective to step back and see how this new technology fits into existing processes, or to push the organization to develop new ones. Humor - well, because if you can’t laugh at others, yourself, or the situation in the highly stressed circumstances, something is going to snap. When you can laugh - it puts people at ease, can be a gateway to change, and moves the process forward.
I am curious to know what character strengths you think make for successful IT professionals?
P.S. You can take a survey to discover your character strength profile at The VIA Institute on Character
For those of you that have met me you will not be surprised that my top strength is currently Humor.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Aristotle. (2000) Nicomachean ethics, translated and edited by Roger Crisp, St. Anne’s College, Oxford: Cambridge University Press
Linley, P. A., Nielsen, K. M., Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Using signature strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5 (1), 6-15.
Forest, J., Mageau, G. V. A., Crevier-Braud, L., Bergeron, L., Dubreuil, P., & Lavigne, G. V. L. (2012). Harmonious passion as an explanation of the relation between signature strengths’ use and well-being at work: Test of an intervention program. Human Relations, 65 (9), 1233-1252.
Duan, W., Ho, S. M. Y., Tang, X., Li, T., & Zhang, Y. (2013). Character strength-based intervention to promote satisfaction with life in the Chinese university context. Journal of Happiness Studies. DOI 10.1007/s10902-013-9479-y.
Sweeney, P. Hannah, S.T., Park, N., Peterson, C. Matthews, M. & Brazil, D. (2009). Character strengths, adaptation, and trust. Paper presented at the International Positive Psychology Association conference on June 19, 2009.
Peterson, C., Park, N., Hall, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2009). Zest and work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 161-172.
Money, K., Hillenbrand, C. & Da Camara, N. (2009). Putting Positive Psychology to Work. Journal of General Management, Vol. 34, No. 3, UK: Braybrooke. (PDF Download Available). Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274698850_Money_K_Hillenbrand_C_Da_Camara_N_2009_Putting_Positive_Psychology_to_Work_Journal_of_General_Management_Vol_34_No_3_UK_Braybrooke.