LIFT & SMART Strengths – A Powerful Leadership Combo

Lift: Becoming a Positive Force in Any Situatioby management professors Ryan and Robert Quinn provides a simple but not simplistic approach to personal leadership that is

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applicable all the way from school superintendents and board members through administrators, principals, teachers and to students as young as the fifth grade. This well-written book gives four questions to ask, answer, and act on when facing a difficulty or challenge. These questions pull from both a broad research base in both positive psychology and positive organizational studies to create a carefully crafted framework to guide action in sensitive and emotionally charged situations. The authors provide multiple stories to demonstrate the use of each question and how the questions interact to open new ways of responding to challenging situations. What would happen if your school, system, family or team were regularly asking, answering and acting on these questions in a SMART Strengths environment?

A Brief Overview of LIFT

LIFT suggests that anyone willing to ask, honestly answer, and live by the answers to four questions can become positive force in any situation:

  1. What result do I want to create?
  2. What would my story be if I were living the values I expect of others?
  3. How do others feel about the situation?
  4. What are three (or four or five) strategies I could use to accomplish my purpose for the situation?

Together, the process of asking and answering these questions moves us toward the “authentic state of leadership”, a psychological state that allows powerful leadership regardless of positional authority. Asking, answering, and living by these questions moves us to an internal state where we are

  • focused on our priorities rather than having our focus set for us by others or circumstances,
  • increasingly aligned and acting congruently with our values,
  • emotionally intelligent and sensitive to the feelings, motivations, and strengths of those affected by the situation, and
  • open to try new approaches, learn, and grow based on external feedback.

Each of these questions addresses a different and competing value orientation, and the values operate not only at the individual level, but also at the level of organizations – schools and school systems. By asking each question, individuals can find a way to be a positive force – to provide “lift” – in situations that matter.
We will not go into all of the ways in which these questions are carefully structured to produce the most productive reflection and how they are solidly grounded in significant bodies of research. We highly recommend the book for that! However, in a series of post, we do want to look at how the SMART Strengths skills can help in productively asking, answering, and acting upon these questions. We’ll start with the first one:

“What result do I want to create?”

By focusing on the results we want to create, this question moves us away from focusing on problems or on our own comfort. We become focused on our purpose and move toward it, resolving “problems” naturally along the way and doing what is uncomfortable willingly. Let’s see how SMART Strengths contributes to asking, answering, and acting on the question, “What result do I want to create?”


  • The regular practices of seeing strengths in ourselves and others and using strengths in new ways (Chapters 1-5) reinforce our values, especially for the Character Strengths in the VIA. This habit of mind causes us to create more positive, pro-social goals.
  • When we maintain a positive emotional balance (Chapter 6), we are both more likely to notice when anger, anxiety, sadness, or shame signal a situation where LIFT is needed. “Tense” emotions are one of the signals of the need for LIFT. Positive emotional balance also makes us more creative, collaborative, and pro-social in defining our purpose in any situation.
  • Regular goal setting creates comfort and fluidity in defining purpose in a situation that aligns with our values and other goals, is approach oriented, and is specific and measurable enough to let us notice progress.


  • Flexible and accurate thinkers with growth mindsets (Chapters 7 & 8) see the causes of the situation as short-term and specific, notice where they have control, and see themselves as capable of achieving higher levels of performance that will allow them to enact their purpose.
  • Advocating:
  • • The SMART Strengths savvy individual will be better able to talk about the situation in ways others can accept because he or she will be more aware of strengths, better able to imagine thoughts others might have and what emotions and reactions would flow from those thoughts.


  • When Appreciative Questions (Chapter 10) are a habit, framing one’s purpose in a challenging situation in positive, affirming ways that will call to others becomes much easier.
  • High-Quality Connections (Chapter 10) provide the relational structure within which one acts in a SMART Strengths environment.


  • A training orientation naturally leads to purposes that factor in both the expectation that others will grow and approaches and actions that will facilitate growth. This orientation helps produce positive, powerful, and pro-social purposes that can sustain effort to achieve transformational objectives in challenging situations.

Try the LIFT questions out! Use what you’ve learned from SMART Strengths and apply the questions to a situation where you want to be a positive force and see if they open up new awareness, attitudes, and actions!

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