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.
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