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“You’re A Good Packer.” Name a Strength and Make a Difference.

By on August 2, 2008 – 11:36 pm  21 Comments

David J. Pollay, MAPP '06, is a co-founder of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). David has an Economics degree from Yale University and has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, MasterCard, Global Payments and AIESEC. He is an Executive Coach who specializes in business relationships. He is also an author and keynote speaker known for his best-selling books, The Law of the Garbage Truck (how to navigate negativity) and The 3 Promises (how to create personal fulfillment every day). David's articles are here. For permission to reprint David's articles, please contact him.

Packed Car Trunk

Packed Car Trunk

Show me the trunk of your car. Hand me your luggage. Step back. I’ll find a way to fit it all in. I’m a good packer.


No car, no mini-van, no SUV scares me. I can squeeze anything in no matter the vehicle. You can call my trunk-packing a sort of strength; I can do it consistently well, and I enjoy doing it. Over the years I’ve volunteered to pack the family trunk thousands of times. And I’ve been called in for the most difficult of jobs. I’m the “go-to” guy of trunk-packing.

There’s a beginning to all success stories. Here’s mine. One day my Dad was having trouble finding a place in the trunk for one last bag. As he stepped back to take a better look, I stepped forward, adjusted three bags, and slipped the final bag into place. It was like laying down the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. My Dad turned to me with a big smile and said, “David, you’re a good packer.” I swelled with pride. I was nine years old.

Martin Seligman, co-founder of Positive Psychology, and Christopher Peterson, an expert on strengths and virtues in people, found in their research that by simply naming a strength in someone you amplify it. My dad named my strength over three decades ago. And he did more than that. Like a good leader, like a good father, my dad turned that experience into a story and told everyone. And he made sure that I could hear him telling it.

Ask your employees. Ask your children. Ask them how many times they remember that you named a strength of theirs. Ask them how often they heard you telling others about their strengths. Ask them those questions.

The best leaders know that their belief in their employees’ strengths has a positive impact on their performance. It also affects the goals their employees set. Stanford Psychology Professor Albert Bandura found in his research that “the goals held for others convey to them a belief in their capability to fulfill them.”

So the next time you notice your employees, your spouse, or your children doing something very well, consider naming the strengths you see. Watch them light up, and watch how much more they use their strengths. They’ll use it often and they’ll use it with pride. You’ll have made a difference.

Recently I stepped out of my car in the Toys R Us parking lot and saw a young boy, his mother, and his grandmother trying to squeeze his new bicycle into the family car. I stopped and offered my help. Why? Because I’m a good packer.

For ten minutes the boy and I struggled to find a way to get the bike in the car. We came close many times. Finally, the mother called the boy’s father and said that they might not be able to bring the bike home. But I wouldn’t give up. Why? Because I’m a good packer.

A few minutes later, I paused and thought we might not actually be able to get the bike in the car. I stepped back and the little boy saw my face and said, “Wait.” He reached in, grabbed the front tire, moved it ever so slightly and said to me, “Push.” And the bike slipped right into place.

I saw him light up with pride. I smiled, walked over to him, put my hand on his shoulder, and said, “You’re a good packer.”



packing up courtesy of MissMessie


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  • Kirsten Cronlund says:


    I love this article. It really gives me food for thought about what I say to my kids. I have always shied away from labeling their talents (or even srengths) in a global way because I didn’t want to put pressure on them. So if I were your father I probably would have said, “You really helped me out by shifting that bag. You could see something that I couldn’t.” I’ve always thought that if I said, “You’re a good packer,” my kids may have felt like that somehow set them up. What if they didn’t feel like a good packer themselves? Or what if they didn’t want to be a good packer, but that somehow being “a good packer” meant that they were always called in for the packing jobs… But hearing your story makes me think that it’s not either/or. I suppose if I suddenly started going around labeling all of my kids’ behaviors (You’re a good sandwich-maker, you’re a good scooter-rider, etc.) it would be too much, but your experience helps me see the beauty in a well-timed, authentic acknowledgment of my kids’ talents and strengths.

    By the way, you’re a good writer. 🙂

    Kirsten Cronlund

  • Sherri says:

    Hi, David!
    Hope you are having a great summer and that it has given you many opportunities to use your strength of packing!

    As a learning specialist who is MAPP trained as well, I would be interested in how you think about good packing, or whether it is so automatic/transparent to you that it “just happens”. In the bike example, you did not give up and worked with the boy to find success.

    Do you think optimism helped you? Is it the recognition and praise that has stuck with you for years and the fact that it came from someone you loved and wanted to please? It seems as if having someone else naming your strengths has relational value and that may help, too.

    I am also a good packer and have stopped to help a family get a bike in a car, so your story made me smile, savoring a strengths moment.

    Great post!

    🙂 Sherri

  • Dave Shearon says:

    David, as always, thanks!

    My Mom wasn’t short on praise either, but the thing I remember most is how she was always careful to share with us the comments and praise she heard about us from others. She was explicit about her reasons for doing this, saying that we needed to know when others saw good qualities and behaviors in us. She realized it’s sometimes easy to discount the naming of strengths from those who are close to us.

    As Kirsten points out, some judgment and moderation may be necessary when naming the strengths of our loved ones if we are to be believed. But passing on what others say that’s affirming about our family members, co-workerrs, employees, and colleagues — that carries it’s on special blessings also! And being the person who says such things — as you were with the young boy and the bicycle — now that’s a great role!

  • Bobby A says:

    Hello David,
    This is one of those great stories that stays with you well after reading it for the first time. The message within your story offers us all a wonderful reminder that it does not always have to be the “big things” in life that justify praise and recognition,(With kids or adults). It can be the everyday little things we all experience with one another that can be celebrated….if we have our eyes and ears open! Your story reminds me of the times when I tell my younger son, Nicholas, what a great “bed maker” he is. The pride he shows in making sure the covers are all straight and pillows in line – how simple it is to inject confidence in our kids. Thank you for making me more aware of the impact these moments can have on our kids…and each other. Keep up the great work!

  • mikey says:

    Hello my Brother,
    I have always loved this story. Dad was always that supportive. And to this day he lets us both know how smart, innovative, caring and loving we are at every opportunity in everything we do. I am thankful for your ablity to share this strength with us by letting us all know that we are also “good packers” and potentially good leaders. Keep up the great work and as Kirsten said you are a great writer and a great mentor.

  • Alberto says:

    Hello David
    Thanks for sharing this story. I can see how doing this 2X-3X more a day can increase the overall capacity of our colleagues, employees, and people that sorround us. Thanks again for this artcile,

  • Lil says:

    Hi David, I am a mother and a grandmother and I have experienced the joy of watching my children and grandchildren light up when I praise them(naming a strength is the new way of saying it). I love this article and I love the way you write. You are an inspiration to me and my family. “YOU ARE A GREAT WRITER!” Lil

  • Max says:

    Thanks David for this wonderful article. If only my father had this strenght within him, it would have turned my youth completely around for anything I thought I had done well he would say, “ok,but.” With my family I have tried my best not to follow my father’s “ok,buts.” Max

  • As usual, very good article David!
    You really have a talent for making scientific concepts vivid, simple and memorable! That’s for sure another strength of yours!!! Your article will stick with me for a long time – thank you for making a well-known concept even easier to apply!

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Kirsten,

    Thank you for the great post! The conclusion you drew at the end of your post is right on. And the beauty of Dad’s recognition was that it captured how proud he was of me and how much he loves me. Moments like the one I described in the story have stayed with me all of my life. And thanks for making me smile when you wrote, “you’re a good writer.”

    Best to you,

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Sherri,

    Hello fellow good packer! You and I will have to go on the road together!

    Sherri, you’re on the mark when you talk about the power of someone you love naming your strengths; the “love” tie has a special impact. And my belief that I can always find the solution to a packing problem plays an important role (based on hundreds, if not thousands, of attempts). Packing is a challenge I have enjoyed over the years. And as we both know, it is a useful ability to have in a family!

    Big hugs,


  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Dave,

    Your mom was great with you guys. She did two things at once: She named your strengths as she was highlighting someone else’s praise of your good work and behavior. And I love your point about passing along the positive comments of others.

    Thanks for the post Dave!

    Best to you,

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi BobbyA,

    I can just see Nicholas making his bed and being so proud! You hit it on the head: We have many opportunities to influence our children (following big events or small).

    Best to you,

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Mikey,

    Thanks hermano. We are lucky to have a great dad. And I appreciate your love and support too. I look forward to trunk packing when I see you this weekend!


  • Hi Dave
    Great piece!
    A year ago taking my step-daughter to University we packed the car up to its limits (including roof rack) and to get the bike in I took off the front wheel, packed it separately and safely put the nuts, bolts spanners and all in a padded envelope.
    24 hours later as we unpacked it all I could see with complete clarity in my mind the nuts, bolts and spanners we then needed lying 400 miles away on the kitchen table.
    No there is no allegorical point to this, just you reminded me, and even when we screw-up there is still love and sometimes laughter.
    Best aye

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Alberto,

    Thanks for the post! We say so many things to our children, it’s great when we can make some of them focused on amplifying their strengths. And as you say, the same goes for our employees and colleagues.

    Best to you,

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Lil,

    Thanks for your post! Your children and grandchildren are very lucky. And thanks so much for your kind words.

    Best to you,

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Max,

    Thanks Max for the post. Your family is lucky that you broke the “okay, but” cycle; your strengths naming is a gift that clearly has created a new cycle of support in your family.

    Best to you,

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Marie-Josee,

    Thanks MarieJ! I appreciate your support as always.

    Best to you,

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Angus,

    What a story! Your gift of humor must have really come into play when you realized that part of your packing job was left on the kitchen table! And I think it is cool that you now have a funny memory to remind you both of something even more important: You took your daughter to her university. That’s meaningful.

    Best to you,


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