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Day 17 - Character

“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:

  1. be fulfilling, morally valued, and not diminishing to others;
  2. have inappropriate opposites;
  3. be a distinguishing feature of human nature (trait-like);
  4. be distinctive from other strengths;
  5. have a person or thing regarded as a model of excellence of it;
  6. have prodigies, wunderkind or wonder child;
  7. selective absence of it in some situations;
  8. Have institutions/rituals to celebrate or express it 1.

These character strengths get categorized into six virtues:

  1. Courage consists of the emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal.
  2. Humanity is the interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others.
  3. Justice groups the civic strengths that underlie healthy community life.
  4. Strengths protecting against excess belong to Temperance.
  5. Strengths forging connections to the larger universe and provide meaning lie in Transcendence.
  6. The cognitive strengths entailing the acquisition and use of knowledge make up Wisdom1.

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“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.

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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.

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Endnotes

1

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.

2

Aristotle. (2000) Nicomachean ethics, translated and edited by Roger Crisp, St. Anne’s College, Oxford: Cambridge University Press

3

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.

4

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.

5

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.

6

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.

7

Peterson, C., Park, N., Hall, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2009). Zest and work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 161-172.

8

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_Po....

67 Comments

Wow.  As Wayne & Garth said:  "We're not worthy!"

Level 11

Do you need to be a character to succeed? What kind of character? I am in the position of a possible promotion to management and there are two of us going for the same position. I have worked hard and proven myself but I have not been very noticed. I just go to work get my stuff done UN-noticed. It is not in my character to be outgoing and in the spot light. On the other hand the other guy has been very outgoing but has not brought as much to the game as I have. I have the feeling that he has the upper hand on me and is it because of his character?  Do I need to put myself more out there and get noticed more often or will my work do that for me. When I do try I feel uncomfortable and our of character.

Level 11

Character is something that you cannot hide because in the end, it always shows up. Your character says a lot about who you are and determines your friends or your enemies. It also plays a part in your success or your failure. Your character is the sum of all you are.

Also, I took the survey and discovered that my top character strength is appreciation of beauty and excellence.

Did you get an A on this college paper? 😉

When discussing character one would be remiss not to remember MLK's poignant quote:

    "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

As a civilized society this is what we strive toward, and how we define equality. In the business world character is valued but abilities/skills are valued more (If you don't believe me consider how we interview candidates). However, equality in the workplace has become a priority over all. So in the real world we can judge a person on their character, but in the business world we often overlook it. Cue the confusion.

There are many of us who refuse to comprise their principles just because they are in the business world and instead maintain a strong character throughout.  Those are the ones who can look themselves in the mirror. That is who I want to be.

Level 14

Wow... wow and wow!

There is no comment I could make that would even be in the same universe sir... outstanding job tomiannelli

Level 10

Level 15

stopped by to speak about how it’s interesting to me that character is oftentimes overloo as something that needs continual work for improvement. sometimes we forget it’s a journey, not a destination.

but also, Dilbert. http://dilbert.com/strip/2004-12-27

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Level 14

One of the key characteristics needed for an IT support person is the strength of character NOT to kill really stupid users.  It's working for now but .......

Level 12

Your character defines you as a person and who you are.

MVP
MVP

Character is what makes us and what makes the world a better place. If we do not define oneself (self) how would we make it a better place for others to live in...................................

MVP
MVP

Very well written post.

Following on from your list of personality traits, I'd also include creativity and curiosity. Curiosity for continued interest in new technologies and to further your knowledge, and creativity for coming up with solutions to weird problems. I agree with your comments on humour - at the recent MVP meetup, the use of humour and being able to laugh at/with each other put people at ease and made the entire experience a lot more enjoyable.

And admittedly, my first thought when I saw the topic was D&D character sheets
Character Sheets | Dungeons & Dragons 

Level 10

My first thought was of a D&D character sheet, and true to the metaphor of how sometimes you can slip and a disaster occurs, despite normally being great at it.

I did take the survey, and I don't agree with my result. Part of that is the adjustments made by answering the survey for each question, and part of that is not acknowledging the aspects that I don't think about. But by reading the questions it does hold a mirror up to aspects of life that I just don't think about, and the ones that stick out most are perhaps the ones that I need to focus on most.

Level 10

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power............ Abraham Lincoln

MVP
MVP

Great post tomiannelli

I am a soccer fan and in every post match interview of players and managers, it is pretty much a certainty that someone from a team that has come back to draw or win a game from being behind will make a statement similar to "my players showed great character to get us those points".

While I agree with this in that context, I sadly believe the hero's our children grow up idolising will not pass the character test in your article. Is this because of the requirements to be a professional sportsman or and I believe it does not take much to agree with this, the money and treatment these people receive warp the characteristics needed to be a person of good character.

I have always heard Character is who you are when the carp hits the fan.

I have always heard Character is who you are when no one else would know any different.

I have always heard Character counts.

Level 9

Building on yesterday's work backbone.  Character is built on backbone.  Character is who you are and that starts with backbone and your true believe and ethics center.

Thank you rschroeder​ for the kind words.

Level 10

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EBeach​ being a character makes me think of someone who's actions personify a stereotype. Not always in a bad way mind you, but there is just something in their behavior that seems more like they are acting a part, rather than being true to themselves. To be a person of good character is something very different than being a character, at least for me. Should your work stand for itself, sure. If you don't own it in public then it will go unnoticed. That is not to say you need to boast about it all the time. You just need to bring up what your accomplishments were for that week or month when you report to your bosses. Don't leave things out because you thought they were not worth mentioning.

I have never worked for a place where people were promoted solely based on the merit of their work.(If you define work as the tasks on a list and getting them finished.) Your personality and character do count. But it is based on the context of the business culture where you work. How do you interact with people junior to you, your peers, and superiors? Can you be social with them? Do you treat them with respect? These are demonstrations of soft skills. In different situations it can be a demonstration of your character. At an office party are you the one getting drunk, or drinking responsibly? Are you raising yourself up by putting others down? It is important to demonstrate aspects of humanity and temperance to those who are looking at you for promotion from within your organization, this is in addition to doing good work.

In seeking a promotion you are already stretching yourself outside of your comfort zone a little. I would assume that unless this is a team leadership position that moving into management will mean more responsibility for people, budget, and process, than things. So when you feel uncomfortable what is behind that feeling - fear, uncertainty, doubt? I don't mean that in a big paralyzing way, but enough so you notice you are uncomfortable. Without knowing much more it would be difficult to make specific suggestions. For me finding one thing that you love, not work related, and adopting that as your hook. If you like science fiction, acting, literature, sports, or cooking share your passion with people. In little ways at first. Let them identify you with your passion. It can act as a great lead in and conversation starter. I love bocce ball, I built a court in my backyard, that leads to things Italian: food, art, culture, world travel, politics, and on and on.

If you think that being a character is putting on a false face, then no, I don't recommend it. If it means exercising a character strength you have not before in order to stretch yourself into a new epoch in your life, then go for it. Best of luck to you.

I often try to think about character in terms of who i am.   to me good character is knowing what the right thing to do is and doing it when no one knows, is around you, and or will ever find out.   That is a good character.   I think we do have to know who we are and not worry about what other thing of us and or how we are viewed.   If you make good choices, do the right thing even when its the hard way, everything else will fall in to place.  

honorable mentions:

Character in a novel, movie, play, comic, cartoon, or on the keyboard. 

Level 9

Sadly, there is no lack of evidence in the news that lack of character can take you far in life!

Level 12

My character is all on me, my choices, my actions all will influence the type of man that I am. I want that to reflect something that I would be proud of, that others would be proud of and that my God, my Creator would be proud of.

Level 12

Character is an individual trait or nature. Good or Bad.

miseri Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence - nice! I sometimes wonder how strong this is with me. My wife is an artist and sometimes a piece that speaks loudly to her, and others, I just don't get. I can not see it. It isn't that I find it off putting I just do not appreciate it. However, I know people who can look at something like the Aurora and not see the beauty and wonder in it simply because they understand how it works. The understanding of the mechanism that came from science has removed for them the beauty of the thing itself. I feel sad for them honestly. My sense of appreciation is only enhanced because of my understanding, not diminished.

Level 9

All of our characters will come into question for the next few years, if its not already.  If you want change, be that "character"  to make those changes.

tinmann0715​ Naw, I wrote this from scratch after a lot of reading. The references and examples came out of a number of sources, but I only referenced the source of the text.

I liked that Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, it just didn't work with the voice of the piece for me.

As for the business discussion, in reading I found it interesting that time and again your statement is correct. There is a discord between ability and skills versus character and ethics. It comes from, in my opinion, the belief in the "objective" perspective of "it is just business." Increase profits, follow the process, be more productive at less cost, increase dividends to the shareholders, and on and on. While this drives GDP it can cause great discord between one's character and work persona. I believe zackm and others have disgust this in previous #word-a-day-2017​ comments. It can cause stress and depression. Exercising the strengths in the virtues of Wisdom and Courage can  certainly go a long way to allowing us to continue to look ourselves in the mirror.

gsutherland@sharoncu.com Thank you sir for the kind words.

Nice shout out to Patch Adams and the Red Nose Day organization.

petergwilson​ While I can appreciate the urge is strong to go over to the dark side, [oh it is SOOOOO tempting to just change someone's switch port to 10/Half ! ] working on the characters strengths under Humanity and temperance can be like 1000 push-ups to an IT support person. Be strong!

Level 9

Reputation is what you are in Daylight, Character is what you are at Night.

Nelson Mandela

Level 14

Just my sense of humour.  However, having just had a user complain that we should have been more proactive in dealing with her problem doesn't help.  She sent 186,000 e-mails in one hit then went home on Thursday, killing the e-mail system.  Myself and a colleague spent two hours clearing up the mess (and missing our departmental Christmas party) for no extra money and she complained.  Funny how she has now had all IT privileges suspended.  Don't worry, senior people authorised it.

Level 9

I took the survey and my top characteristic was fairness.  I like to think that a person's character is a work in progress, the key being work.  It's not always easy to do the "right" thing.

Level 10

When push comes to shove, is when your character will be revealed. Do you lend a hand, sit back and complain, or not even show up.

shuth​ Yes, that gathering was intimidating. But it sure was a lot of fun and a pleasure to meet everyone in person. Curiosity is very important to me. Even in this job, I have had to learn so many new vendor technologies. Creativity is important, especially as you become more senior, because you will be given a blank piece of paper and asked to come up with a solution to a problem.

As for the D&D reference that was one of the five choices I looked at when trying to find a voice for this piece. I brainstormed them all with my wife and we landed on the piece you see above.

Specifically to address the humor trait and how it can help with esprit-de-corps. At my last job we had training in the Fish Philosophy:

The Four Practices of The FISH! Philosophy

Be There

Be emotionally present for people. It’s a powerful message of respect that improves communication and strengthens relationships.

Play

Tap into your natural way of being creative, enthusiastic and having fun. Play is the spirit that drives the curious mind, as in “Let’s play with that idea!” You can bring this mindset to everything you do.

Make Their Day

Find simple ways to serve or delight people in a meaningful, memorable way. It’s about contributing to someone else’s life—not because you want something, but because that’s the person you want to be.

Choose Your Attitude

Take responsibility for how you respond to what life throws at you. Your choice affects others. Ask yourself: “Is my attitude helping my team or my customers? Is it helping me to be the person I want to be?

The business unit I was part of really put this into practice. It made the 100+ people feel like a big family. This picture is of the Vice President, my boss the Technical Director, and the Director of Product Development. We were celebrating a really big contract with a major automotive manufacturer for us. At that time it was one of the largest single contracts the company had ever received. The flag was our unofficial symbol. We were so successful as a team and integrating this into our BU culture that folks outside our group wanted to be members of our crew. At a senior executive meeting the CEO came up to our VP, draped a flag over his shoulders, and told him he had never seen such a successful internal marketing campaign.

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Yet, because we could play and laugh together, we also supported each other intensely thru tough times both professionally and personally. That sense of play and the use of humor truly made it a unique work experience. I hope someday to experience and participate in it again.

But humor can go too far. I had an employee who was fired because he pushed it too far. He didn't know where to stop and he was weak on kindness. Most folks had put it off to "That is just how ____ is." But when he did it to an employee of a vendor at their facility they filed formal complaints. He self eliminated. My point is each of these character strengths can have a down side if it is not used in combination with others and in the appropriate context.

sierra1011​ I hope it gave you insight into things you want to work on. My take away from reading the materials is the idea is that they are all strengths of a person's character. Some are stronger in you than others, but by understanding your strengths profile and exercising the weaker ones you can achieve a more fulfilling life. Good luck in your journey of discovery.

Level 11

Yes tomiannelli I think the fact that our perception of things differ does not mean there is something missing, it may just mean that life and our way of interpreting all that we come in contact with vary and what is variety but the spice of life.   Just as you mentioned, your wife as an artist will view an art piece differently because it connects to her inwardly and it's what she's passionate about. What we are passionate about determines our character too.

m_roberts​ Thank you for your kind words. I too wonder about the warping of character not just in sports but in all areas where the outstanding people receive over-the-top preferential treatment. As in the quote provided by femiodejide​ it makes me wonder if one does not have a strong character to begin with, then being elevated like these players only exacerbates the weaknesses. They stand out to the rest of society because of the positions they hold. If you look hard enough you can see examples of those who exhibit a strong character, they seem almost humble given the position they hold. Yet there is a strength about them.

In reading the Essays on Character and Opportunity​ from the Brookings Institute there was a comment that stuck out to me, which I kind of knew it myself but to see it in writing was different. I am paraphrasing it here, That it is just as likely to have people of good character in both rich and poor as to have people of questionable character in both rich and poor. Hence should we be surprised that in those that achieve a high level of recognition we should find those who lack strong character and virtues?

bsciencefiction.tv​ In my undergraduate program we had an Honor Code for students and faculty. It was taken very seriously and had real consequences if violated. The example that stuck in my mind from the indoctrination was "An honorable person stops at the red light or stop sign in the middle of the night, even though there is no one around, because that is what one should do." To put into action the strengths of Honesty, Fairness, and Judgement can be perceived as having a sense of honor.

pcollins07​ You could look at each character strength as inter-vertebral discs between the vertebral bodies. Their strength and weakness has a lot to do with the pain and suffering in one's life. They can also contribute to how tall one stands when walking thru the world.

Level 10

First thing that comes to mind, is using character to describe a person who has a oddball persona. As in, that person is a real character.

I feel your pain. Had a user get infected and then his machine encrypted all his network mounted shares. When we called him, he literally said, "I am going to lunch now, you'll have it all fixed when I get back." Then hung up the phone.

Level 12

I highly suggest taking the survey to everyone.

The way I answered the questions was true to myself.

The way I read the results, while generally on point, did not look true to myself in a few key areas.

I feel introspection would be a healthier response than to question the accuracy of the test.

Way too true jehicks, I mean look at Darth Vader.

cpotridge​ Agreed it is no always easy to do the right thing [see petergwilson​ conversation above ] As I understand the research and the purpose of the survey, is to give you a snap shot of your character profile today! It is not just whats on top, but perhaps what is in your top five that probably drives our default behavior with others. Stuff we do as if it were a reflex. The work comes in exploring how to use the in all the contexts of ones life. Then to see where you might benefit by putting into action some of the weaker ones in your profile. The ultimate goal is to lead a more fulfilled life, whatever that means to you! Best of luck in your exploration and journey.

For others reading this "If Fairness is your top strength, treating people fairly is one of your abiding principles. You do...

Level 9

People can try to put on a mask and hide who they are, but in the end their true character will always be revealed.

zdavid​ Your statement is true. That is why it is so important to work on your character. If you strengthen it during times of leisure then in stressful times it can come thru strong and without thought. Similar to what I have heard say about baseball players at bat. Literally the time it takes for most professional pitches to leave the mound and cross the plate is shorter than it takes the bio-electrical systems to respond to swing the bat and hit the ball. Yet practicing trains the mind to become much better at predicting where that ball might be when it crosses the plate. It has to be more like a well honed reflex. So to I think ones character needs to be honed.

magicpercy​ This would be a person of a specified kind (usually of many eccentricities). When I think of using the word like this it is because an individual's eccentricities are highlighting stereotypes that I hold to be true, for good or ill.

jokerfest​ I looked at taking the survey similar to the DiSC profiles, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and numerous other self awareness tools. It provides a windows into one's self based upon a large area of research and results. You can do with it what you will, but it can help one to better navigate the world.

Level 12

Character. This one is big for me. I play a lot of video games, always have and always will. When it comes time to selecting your class or character, i usually gravitate to caster types, usually in the role of support or manipulation. I think this is because of my personality and my character as a person. This is also likely the reason I ended up in IT. I have always had an inate will to hep people as well as how things work on the back end.

Level 17

A true depiction of one's character is defined by 'What you do when no one is watching.' Strive to let your actions be the same regardless.

Then as you trek your journey, and change with Life, Time and Experience continue to try to keep these two sides in sync.

A lot of very insightful comments, great stuff.

I think I relate personalities to affect how outspoken someone is, not quite character. If it is not your personality to seek recognition and be cheered then don't let the public praise of others turn you green and change your behavior. I often make mistakes when I try to go outside myself or act/perform in a way that I know I am unable or should not at the moment. So be true to you, as it would be a stark change in character to all of a sudden start telling constant stories of some accolades or fishing the cheers. Character can change, but overall Character dictates the changes that we do make in our own lives.

Personally for me, it is a Great Feeling when the boss man is wowed and asks me about something he just saw, that I did a month or more ago. One stint I had enough of these in the first 6 months that allowed me to work on what I considered the highest priority (from The Monitoring Perspective), unless the boss man had dreamed up something specific he wanted to see.

About the Author
More than 30 years experience with IT in a variety of industries. 15 years of managing information technology personnel from interns to senior level network engineers and consultants. Emphasis on management of hardware and software, user education and training, and customer problem resolution ranging from desktop to data centers. Innovative problem solver enjoys challenges utilizing solid technical expertise. Cooperative, and responsive to customer needs. Accountable budget planner, with prudent monthly oversight of actual expenditures. Skilled communicator, excellent listener and effective writer. Specialties: Building High Performance Teams • Effective Interpersonal Communications • Personnel and Customer Management Skills • Creative Problem Solving and Decision Making • Process Development, Assessment, and Improvement • Million-Dollar Budget Management • Technical Operations Management • PC, Workstation, LAN, WAN Administration