»MANAGING YOURSELFYou may have more to gain by developing your giftsand leveraging your natural skills than by trying to repairyour weaknesses. Here is a systematic way to discoverwho you are at your very best.ost feedback accentuates the negative. Duringformal employee evaluations, discussions invariably focuson "opportunities for improvement," even if the overallevaluation is laudatory. Informally, the sting of criticismlasts longer than the balm of praise. Multiple studies haveshown that people pay keen attention to negative information. For example, when asked to recall important emotional events, people remember four negative memoriesfor every positive one. No wonder most executives giveand receive performance reviews with all the enthusiasmof a child on the way to the dentist.Traditional, corrective feedback has its place, of course;every organization must filter out failing employees andensure that everyone performs at an expected level ofby Laura Morgan Roberts, Gretchen Spreitzer, Jane Dutton,Robert Quinn, Emily Heapby, and Brianna BarkerJANUARY 200575

»MANAGING YOURSELFcompetence. Unfortunately, feedback that ferrets outflaws can lead otherwise talented managers to overinvestin shoring up or papering over their perceived weaknesses, or forcing themselves onto an ill-fitting template.Ironically, such a focus on problem areas prevents companies from reaping the best performance from its people. After all, it's a rare baseball player who is equallygood at every position. Why should a natural third baseman labor to develop his skills as a right fielder?The alternative, as the Gallup Organization researchersMarcus Buckingham, Donald Clifton, and others havesuggested, is to foster excellence in the third baseman byidentifying and harnessing hisunique strengths. It is a paradox of human psychology thatwhile people remember criticism, they respond to praise.The former makes them defensive and therefore unlikelyto change, while the latter produces confidence and thedesire to perform better. Managers who build up theirstrengths can reach their highest potential. This positiveapproach does not pretend to ignore or deny the problems that traditional feedback mechanisms identify.Rather, it offers a separate and unique feedback experience that counterbalances negative input. It allows managers to tap into strengths they may or may not be awareof and so contribute more to their organizations.designed to stroke your ego; its purpose is to assist you indeveloping a plan for more effective action. (Withoutsuch a plan, you'll keep running in place.) Second, thelessons generated from the RBS exercise can elude you ifyou don't pay sincere attention to them. If you are tooburdened by time pressures and job demands, you mayjust file the information away and forget about it. To be effective, the exercise requires commitment, diligence, andfollow-through. It may even be helpful to have a coachkeep you on task. Third, it's important to conduct the RBSexercise at a different time of year than the traditional»Why should a natural third basemanlabor to develop his skillsas a right fielder?During the past few years, we have developed a powerful tool to help people understand and leverage theirindividual talents. Called the Refiected Best Self (RBS)exercise, our method allows managers to develop a senseof their "personal best" in order to increase their futurepotential. The RBS exercise is but one example of newapproaches springing from an area of research called positive organizational scholarship (POS). Just as psychologists know that people respond better to praise than tocriticism, organizational behavior scholars are findingthat when companies focus on positive attributes such asresilience and trust, they can reap impressive bottom-linereturns. (For more on this research, see the sidebar "ThePositive Organization.") Thousands of executives, as wellas tomorrow's leaders enrolled in business schools aroundthe world, have completed the RBS exercise.In the pages that follow, we will walk you through theRBS exercise step-by-step and describe the insights andresults it can yield. Before we proceed, however, a fewcaveats are in order. First, understand that the tool is notperformance review so that negative feedback from traditional mechanisms doesn't interfere with the results ofthe exercise.Used correctly, the RBS exercise can help you tap intounrecognized and unexplored areas of potential. Armedwith a constructive, systematic process for gathering andanalyzing data about your best self, you can burnish yourperformance at work.StepIdentify Respondents andAsk for FeedbackThe first task in the exercise is to collect feedback from avariety of people inside and outside work. By gatheringinput from a variety of sources-family members, past andpresent colleagues, friends, teachers, and so on-you candevelop a much broader and richer understanding of yourself than you can from a standard performance evaluation.As we describe the process of the Reflected Best Self exercise, we will highlight the experience of Robert Duggan(not his real name), whose self-discovery process is typicalof the managers we've observed. Having retired from asuccessful career in the military at a fairly young age andearned an MBA from a top business school, Robert accepted a midlevel management position at an IT servicesfirm. Despite strong credentials and leadership experience,Robert remained stuck in the same position year afteryear. His performance evaluations were generally goodLaura Morgan Roberts ([email protected]) is an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Harvard Business Schoolin Boston. Gretchen Spreitzer ([email protected]), Jane Button ([email protected]), and Robert Quinn (requinn are professors of management and organization at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University ofMichigan in Ann Arbor. Emily Heaphy ([email protected]) is a PhD candidate in management and organization at theRoss School of Business, and Brianna Barker ([email protected]) is a PhD candidate in organizational psychology atthe University of Michigan.76HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

H o w t o Play t o Y o u r S t r e n g t h sbut not strong enough to put him on the high-potentialtrack. Disengaged, frustrated, and disheartened, Robertgrew increasingly stressed and disillusioned with his company. His workday felt more and more like an episode ofSurvivor.Seeking to improve his performance, Robert enrolledin an executive education program and took the RBS exercise. As part of the exercise, Robert gathered feedbackfrom n individuals from his past and present who knewhim well. He selected a diverse but balanced group-hiswife and two other family members, two friends fromhis MBA program, two colleagues from his time in thearmy, and four current colleagues.Robert then asked these individuals to provide information about his strengths, accompanied by specific ex-amples of moments when Robert used those strengths inways that were meaningful to them, to their families orteams, or to their organizations. Many people- Robertamong them -feel uncomfortable asking for exclusivelypositive feedback, particularly from colleagues. Accustomed to hearing about their strengths and weaknessessimultaneously, many executives imagine any positivefeedback will be unrealistic, even false. Some also worrythat respondents might construe the request as presumptuous or egotistical. But once managers accept that theexercise will help them improve their performance, theytend to dive in.Within ten days, Robert received e-mail responsesfrom all n people describing specific instances when hehad made important contributions - including pushingfor high quality under a tight deadline,being inclusive in communicating with adiverse group, and digging for critical information. The answers he received surprised him. As a military veteran and aA critical step in the Reflected Best Self exercise involves solicitingtechnical person holding an MBA, Robertfeedbackfromfamily, friends, teachers, and colleagues. E-mail is anrarely yielded to his emotions. But in readeffective way of doing this, not only because it's comfortable and fasting story after story from his respondents,Robert found himself deeply moved-as ifbut also because it's easy to cut and paste responses into an analysishe were listening to appreciative speechestable such as the one on page a party thrown in his honor. The storiesBetow is the feedback Robert, a manager we observed, receivedwere also surprisingly convincing. He hadfrom a current colleague and from a former coworker in the army.more strengths than he knew. (For moreonStep 1, refer to the exhibit "GatheringFrom: Amy ChenFeedback.")To: Robert Duggan»Gathering FeerihackS u b j e c t : Re: Request f o r feedbackDear Robert,One of the greatest ways that you add value is that you stand fordoing the right thing. For example, I think ofthe time that we werebehind on a project for a major client and quality began to slip. Youcalled a meeting and suggested that we had a choice: We could either pull a C by satisfying the basic requirements, or we could pullan A by doing excellent work. You reminded us that we could contribute to a better outcome. In the end, we met our deadline, andthe client was very happy with the result.From: Mi ke BrunoTo: Robert DugganS u b j e c t : Re: Request f o r feedbackOne ofthe greatest ways you add value is that you persist in the faceof adversity. I remember the time that we were both leading troopsunder tight security. We were getting conflicting information fromthe ground and from headquarters. You pushed to get the groundand HQ folks to talk to each other despite the tight time pressure.That information saved all of our lives. You never lost your calm, andyou never stopped expecting or demanding the best from everyoneinvolved.JANUARY 2005Recognize PatternsIn this step, Robert searched for commonthemes among the feedback, adding to theexamples with observations of his own,then organizing all the input into a table.(To view parts of Robert's table, see the exhibit "Finding Common Themes."} Likemany who participate in the RBS exercise,Robert expected that, given the diversityof respondents, the comments he receivedwould be inconsistent or even competing.Instead, he was struck by their uniformity.The comments from his wife and familymembers were similar to those from hisarmy buddies and work colleagues. Everyone took note of Robert's courage underpressure, high ethical standards, perseverance, curiosity, adaptability, respect for diversity, and team-building skills. Robertsuddenly realized that even his small,unconscious behaviors had made a huge77

»MANAGING YOURSELFimpression on others. In many cases, he had forgottenabout the specific examples cited until he read the feedback, because his behavior in those situations had felt likesecond nature to him.The RBS exercise confirmed Robert's sense of himself,but for those who are unaware of their strengths, the exercise can be truly illuminating. Edward, for example, wasa recently minted MBA executive in an automotive firm.His colleagues and subordinates were older and more experienced than he, and he felt uncomfortable disagreeingwith them. But he learned through the RBS exercise thathis peers appreciated his candid alternative views and respected the diplomatic and respectful manner with whichhe made his assertions. As a result, Edward grew bolder inmaking the case for his ideas, knowing that his boss andcolleagues listened to him, learned from him, and appreciated what he had to say.For naturally analytical people, the analysis portion ofthe exercise serves both to integrate the feedback and develop a larger picture of their capabilities, janet, an engineer, thought she could study her feedback as she woulda technical drawing of a suspension bridge. She saw her"refiected best self" as something to interrogate and improve. But as she read the remarks from family, friends,and colleagues, she saw herself in a broader and morehuman context. Over time, the stories she read about herenthusiasm and love of design helped her rethink hercareer path toward more managerial roles in which shemight lead and motivate others.Other times, the RBS exercise sheds a more nuancedlight on the skills one takes for granted. Beth, for example,was a lawyer who negotiated on behalf of nonprofit organizations. Throughout her life, Beth had been told shewas a good listener, but her exercise respondents notedthat the interactive, empathetic, and insightful manner inwhich she listened made her particularly effective. Thespecificity of the feedback encouraged Beth to take thelead in future negotiations that required delicate anddiplomatic communications.The next step is to write a description of yourself thatsummarizes and distills the accumulated information.The description should weave themes from the feedbacktogether with your self-observations into a composite ofwho you are at your best. The self-portrait is not designedto be a complete psychological and cognitive profile.Rather, it should be an insightful image that you can useas a reminder of your previous contributions and as aguide for future action. The portrait itself should not bea set of bullet points but rather a prose composition be-StepCompose Your Self-Portrait»Finding Common ThemesCreating a table helps you make sense of the feedback you collect. By clusteringexamples, you can more easily compare responses and identify common themes.Common themeExamples givenPossible interpretationEthics, values,and courage I take a stand when superiors and peers crossthe boundaries of ethical behavior. I am at my best when I choose the harder rightoverthe easier wrong. I derive even more satisfaction when I am able to teach others. I amprofessionally courageous. I am not afraid to stand up for what I believein. I confront people who litter or who yeli attheir kids in public.Curiosity andperseverance' I gave up a promising career in the militaryto get my MBA.I iike meeting new challenges. I take risks andpersevere despite obstacles. I investigated and solved a security breachthough an innovative approach.Ability to buildteams In high schooi, I assembled a team of studentsthat helped improve the school's academicstandards.thrive when working closely with others. I am flexible and willing to learn from others,and I give credit where credit is due.78HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

How to Play to Your Strengthsginning with the phrase,"When I am at my best,I."Theprocess of writing out a two- to four-paragraph narrativecements the image of your best self in your consciousness.The narrative form also helps you draw connections between the themes in your life that may previously haveseemed disjointed or unrelated. Composing the portraittakes time and demands careful consideration, but at theend of this process, you should come away with a rejuvenated image of who you are.In developing his self-portrait, Robert drew on the actual words that others used to describe him, rounding outthe picture with his own sense of himself at his best Heexcised competencies that felt off the mark. This didn'tmean he discounted them, but he wanted to assure thatthe overall portrait felt authentic and powerful. "WhenI am at my best," Robert wrote,I stand by my values and can get others to understandwhy doing so is important. I choose the harder right overthe easier wrong, I enjoy setting an example. When I amin learning mode and am curious and passionate abouta project, I can work intensely and untiringly. I enjoytaking things on that others might be afraid of or see astoo difficult. I'm able to setlimits and find alternativeswhen a current approachis not working, I don't always assume that I amright or know best, whichengenders respect fromothers. I try to empowerand give credit to others.I am tolerant and open todifferences.As Robert developed hisportrait, he began to understand why he hadn't performed his best at work: Helacked a sense of mission.In the army, he drew satisfaction from the knowledgethat the safety of the menand women he led, as wellas the nation he served, depended on the quality of hiswork. He enjoyed the senseof teamwork and variety ofproblems to be solved. Butas an IT manager in charge of routine maintenance onnew hardware products, he felt bored and isolated fromother people.The portrait-writing process also helped Robert createa more vivid and elaborate sense of what psychologistswould call his "possible self "-not just the person he is inhis day-to-day job but the person he might be in completely different contexts. Organizational researchersJANUARY 2005have shown that when we develop a sense of our bestpossible self, we are better able make positive changes inour lives.StepRedesign Your JobHaving pinpointed his strengths, Robert's next step wasto redesign his personal job description to build on whathe was good at. Given the fact that routine maintenancework left him cold, Robert's challenge was to create a better fit between his work and his best self. Like most RBSparticipants, Robert found that the strengths the exerciseidentified could be put into play in his current position.This involved making small changes in the way he worked,in the composition of his team, and in the way he spenthis time. (Most jobs have degrees of freedom in al! threeof these areas; the trick is operating within thefixedconstraints of your job to redesign work at the margins, allowing you to better play to your strengths.)Robert began by scheduling meetings with systemsdesigners and engineers whotold him they were havingtrouble getting timely information fiowing between theirgroups and Robert's maintenance team. If communication improved, Robert believed, new products wouldnot continue to be saddledwith the serious and costlymaintenance issues seen inthe past. Armed with a carefully documented history ofthose maintenance problemsas well as a new understanding of his naturally analyticaland creative team-buildingskills, Robert began meetingregularly with the designersand engineers to brainstormbetter ways to prevent problems with new products. Themeetings satisfied two of Robert's deepest best-self needs:He was interacting with morepeople at work, and he was actively learning about systems design and engineering.Robert's efforts did not go unnoticed. Key executivesremarked on his initiative and his ability to collaborateacross functions, as well as on the critical role he playedin making new products more reliable. They also sawhow he gave credit to others. In less than nine months,Robert's hard work paid off, and he was promoted to79

»MANAGING YOURSELF»The Positive OrganizationPositive organizational scholarship (POS) is an area of organizationalbehavior research that focuses on the positive dynamics (such asstrength, resilience, vitality, trust, and so on) that lead to positive effects(like improved productivity and performance) in individuals and organizations. The word "positive" refers to the discipline's affirmative bias,"organizational"focuseson the processes and conditions that occur ingroup contexts, and "scholarship" reflects the rigor, theory, scientific procedures, and precise definition in which the approach is grounded.The premise of POS research is that by understanding the drivers ofpositive behavior in the workplace, organizations can rise to new levelsof achievement. For example, research by Marcial Losada and EmilyHeaphy at the University of Michigan suggests that when individuals orteams hear five positive comments to every negative one, they unleasha level of positive energy that fuels higher levels of individual and groupperformance. Kim Cameron, a POS researcher, has demonstrated howthis positive approach has helped the workers at Rocky Fiats, a nuclearsite in Colorado, tackle difficult and dangerous work in record time.Begun im99S and estimated to take 70 years and 36 billion, the RockyFlats cleanup project is now slated for completion in ten years, with aprice tag of less than 57 billion. Kaiser-Hill, the company in charge ofthecleanup, replaced a culture of denial with one that fostered employeeflexibility and celebrated achievements. The result was that employeesdeveloped new procedures that were fast, smart, and safe.current job. Not long after he did theexercise, he quit his high-stress positionand started his own successful company.Other times, the findings help managers aim for undreamed-of positionsin their own organizations. Sarah, ahigh-level administrator at a university,shared her best-self portrait with keycolleagues, asking them to help her identify ways to better exploit her strengthsand talents. They suggested that shewould be an ideal candidate for a newexecutive position. Previously, she wouidnever have considered applying for thejob, believing herself unqualified. Toher surprise, she handily beat out theother candidates.Beyond Good EnoughWe have noted that while people remember criticism, awareness of faultsdoesn't necessarily translate into better performance. Based on that understanding, the RBS exercise helps you remember your strengths-and constructa plan to build on them. Knowing yourstrengths also offers you a better unPOS does not adopt one particular theory or framework but drawsderstanding of how to deal with yourfrom the full spectrum of organizational theories to explain and preweaknesses - and helps you gain thedict high performance. To that end, a core part ofthe POS missionconfidence you need to address them. Itis to create cases, tools, and assessments that can help organizationsallows you to say,"rm great at leadingimprove their practices. The Reflected Best Self exercise is just onebut lousy at numbers. So rather thanexample ofthe kinds of practice tools available from POS. (For moreteach me remedial math, get me a goodinformation about POS, see the University of Michigan's Website atfinance partner." It also allows you clearer in addressing your areas ofweakness as a manager. When Tim, afinancial services executive, receivedfeedback that he was a great listenerand coach, he also became more aware that he had a tenprogram manager. In addition to receiving more pay anddency to spend too much time being a cheerleader andhigher visibility, Robert enjoyed his work more. His pastoo little time keeping his employees to task. Susan, a sesion was reignited; he felt intensely alive and authentic.nior advertising executive, had the opposite problem:Whenever he felt down or lacking in energy, he reread theWhile her feedback lauded her results-oriented manageoriginal e-mail feedback he had received. In difficult situment approach, she wanted to be stire that she hadn'tations, the e-mail messages helped him feel more resilient.missed opportunities to give her employees the space toRobert was able to leverage his strengths to performlearn and make mistakes.better, but there are cases in which RBS findings conflictwith the realities of a person's job. This was true for James,In the end, the strength-based orientation ofthe RBS exa sales executive who told us he was "in a world of hurt"ercise helps you get past the "good enough" bar. Once youover his work situation. Unable to meet his ambitiousdiscover who you are at the top of your game, you can usesales goals, tired of flying around the globe to fight fires,your strengths to better shape the positions you choose tohis family life on the verge of collapse, James had sufferedplay-both now and in the next phase of your career. enough. The RBS exercise revealed that James was at hisbest when managing people and leading change, but theseReprint R0501Gnatural skills did not and could not come into play in hisTo order, see page 119.80HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

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his MBA program, two colleagues from his time in the army, and four current colleagues. Robert then asked these individuals to provide infor-mation about his strengths, accompanied by specific ex-»Gathering Feerihack A critical step in the Reflected Best Self exercise involves soliciti