SMART Strengths & LIFT – Question 2

This is the second in a series of posts about combining SMART Strengths and Lift: Becoming a Positive Force in Any Situation by Ryan and Robert Quinn. LIFT offers four questions that, if asked and answered conscientiously can help us become a positive force in any situation. The four questions are:

  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?

In the first post in this series, we looked at the first question, which helps us become focused on our purpose in the situation. This question helps us achieve our priorities, rather than having them set of circumstances or others.

The second question challenges us to notice the gaps between our values and our behavior in the situation. It protects us from the forces, both external and internal, that tend to drive our actions in ways that may not align with the values we would choose to serve if we thought deeply about the situation. This question promotes that deep thinking.

Meet Michael

Let’s use an example to explore how this second question might be used, and also to think a bit about how the SMART Strengths skills would apply:

Michael is in his ninth year teaching middle school science at an inner-city, high-poverty school. His days are overwhelmingly filled with frustration and disappointment. He

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is frustrated and disappointed that his students do not demonstrate the interest, effort, or discipline necessary to learn the material, that many of them are inadequately prepared to do grade-level work. He is frustrated and disappointed that the pressure to show improvement on test scores forces him to turn to “drill and kill” approaches to try and achieve some semblance of learning. And, he is frustrated and disappointed that none of his superiors, up to and including the superintendent and the school board, will stand up to the insanity of test-based accountability and advocate for better learning experiences for students. Michael has read both Lift and SMART Strengths, and decides to apply what he learned to this situation.

In answering the first question, which we looked at in the earlier post, Michael realizes that the result he would like to achieve is to feel happy and engaged at school, and to see his students engaged in activities through which they come to appreciate both the scientific principles and the scientific process that has created so much of the modern world in which they live.

What do I expect of others?

However, in turning to the second question, it gets a bit harder. “What would my story be if I were living the values I expect of others?” First he thinks about his students. He recognizes that what he wants most from them is just to try. He thinks that if they would just give it an effort, he would certainly meet them more than halfway. He recognizes that they have substantial challenges to overcome in order to engage in class and do any work outside of it, but he thinks that if they would just give it an effort, he could help to make progress. He thinks about his peers, his fellow teachers, and realizes his wishes for most of them are fairly similar. He recognizes the challenges they face; he faces them also! But sometimes it feels like they let their negative emotions flow so freely that they contaminate both the students and other teachers. He also thinks that many of them have given up and are either making excuses for the students or putting challenges they cannot meet in front of them that they cannot handle, then blaming the students when they fail. Finally, he thinks about his superiors, his principal, and the leadership above this principal in the system. He knows that they cannot simply do away with the test-based accountability system in the state, but he wishes they would acknowledge that learning and engagement are what is important, not test scores, and help enable teachers to focus on learning and engagement without a relentless drumbeat about test scores in the background.

As Michael looks back over the values he wishes others were living in the situation, he realizes he is asking them to live out some VIA Character Strengths – not surprising since VIA stands for Values in Action:

Perseverance – a willingness to engage a sustained effort despite challenges and even in the face of a risk of failure.

Integrity – recognizing that they know what is the best thing to do in this situation though it may not be the easiest and safest.

Courage – doing what they know is right even in the face of opposition, criticism, and possibly personal risk.

Michael realizes that these are character strengths, so he pulls out his VIA strengths list to see where those strengths are for him. He knows they are not at the top – he has his top or “signature” strengths memorized: Creativity, Curiosity, Love of Learning, Judgment, and Forgiveness. Further, as he looks down the list he finds that, although Courage is 7th on his list, Integrity and Perseverance are both down near the bottom. However, Michael believes, based on past experience, that he can persevere when he is convinced something really matters, and that once his Curiosity and Judgment that cause him to see so many sides to any issue are satisfied and he settles on a point of view, he has the Integrity to stick with it. He also starts to realize that he has not been bringing even his own top strengths to the situation. He has let his focus on all the difficulties and obstacles cause him to quit being Curious and Creative in his lesson planning. He has even let slide some things he knows have worked in the past just because they weren’t the total answer (there’s that low perseverance!).

What would my story be?

Michael writes out his story if he were living his strengths – and maybe some of those he expects of others:

“If I were living the values I expect of others, and my own Signature Strengths, I would not settle for a ‘drill and kill’ approach; I don’t even really believe that works well for getting high test scores, and I know it doesn’t help students learn the way I want them to. I would bring my curiosity and creativity to the task of designing new lessons, constantly striving to find better ways to engage students. I would let my love of learning inspire both me and them, and I would forgive them, my fellow teachers, and the leadership in the system for the times when they, like me, have not lived up to their highest values in the face of all the challenges in our schools. In fact, I would be working with those faculty members and leaders with whom I have close relationships to sustain each other in this effort.”

Michael feels both energized and anxious. The vision he has just written is one of him working at his best, and it caused him. However, he also recognizes the risks and obstacles that may accompany any effort to live out that vision. His answers the first question has made his purpose clear. Now, by answering the second question, he has tied his path to achieving that purpose to his deepest values and the Signature Character Strengths that make him who he is at his very best.

Michael has combined the questions from Lift with his understanding of SMART Strengths to generate authentic and powerful answers to the first two Lift questions. He still has two questions to go, but he is starting to sense how he might become a more positive force in his situation. Our next two posts in this series will follow Michael as he answers the remaining two Lift questions.

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