I’m increasingly interested in the role of character strengths in high-performance. Setting expectations of performance is a cornerstone of establishing and maintaining a high-performance culture in any organisation. In The Score Takes Care of Itself, the late, great and sorely missed Bill Walsh outlined his expectations as a leader:

  1. Work hard and look to improve
  2. Respect others
  3. Commit to learning
  4. Pay attention to detail
  5. Self-control
  6. Be positive
  7. Loyalty
  8. Recognise the contribution of individuals to a team
  9. Seek humility
  10. Communicate openly and substantively
  11. Seek poise
  12. Leaders eat last
  13. High concentration and focus
  14. Sacrifice and commitment

Character Strengths and Performance Expectations

That’s quite a list. I wondered how to interpret this from the perspective of positive leadership, and to help leaders better develop these skills. I redefined the list against the VIA Character Strengths classification, and made the following matches:

  1. Work hard and look to improve – a love of learning; perseverance
  2. Respect others – social intelligence
  3. Commit to learning – a love of learning
  4. Pay attention to detail – self-regulation
  5. Self-control – self-regulation
  6. Be positive – zest
  7. Loyalty – love
  8. Recognise the contribution of individuals to a team – gratitude, teamwork
  9. Seek humility – humility & modesty
  10. Communicate openly and substantively – honesty
  11. Seek poise – humility
  12. Leaders eat last – leadership
  13. High concentration and focus – self-regulation
  14. Sacrifice and commitment – kindness

Character Strengths in High Performance

Consequently, organised under virtues, character strengths in high-performance and a high performance culture are:

  1. Wisdom
    1. A love of learning means mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether formally or informally
  2. Transcendence
    1. Gratitude is being aware and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks
  3. Courage
    1. Perseverance means finishing what you start or persisting with a course of action in spite of obstacles
    2. Honesty requires speaking the truth; living genuinely and authentically
    3. Zest is about approaching life with excitement and energy; feeling alive and activated
  4. Humanity
    1. Love means valuing close relations with others, particularly those that reciprocate sharing and caring
    2. Kindness is about being kind and generous to others or enjoying doing good deeds for others.
    3. Social intelligence means being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and yourself, as well as fitting in well in social situations
  5. Justice
    1. Teamwork requires working well as a member of a group or team or being loyal to a group
    2. Leadership means encouraging a group of which you are a member to get things done, and maintaining positive relationships within a group
  6. Temperance
    1. Humility & modesty is about letting your accomplishments speak for themselves, not seeking the spotlight, or not viewing yourself as special
    2. Self-regulation requires regulating what you feel and do, being disciplined, or controlling your appetites and emotions

Translating Bill Walsh’s expected standards of performance in these terms enables us to access a rich body of psychologically supported tools and techniques to promote their adoption in organisations. It gives us a strong basis for coaching character strengths in high-performance.