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What has a swan rescue got to do with finding your strengths?

 

Research in the field of Positive Psychology indicates that using your strengths at work increases your engagement at work. But how do you know what your strengths are?

 

Strength Profiles

One way of identifying your strengths is to take one of a  number of online strengths profiles that will produce a list of your strengths.  One free profile is the VIA Character Strengths that lists 24 value-based strengths and has been well validated.  Another well-researched profile, and one of the most detailed, is the aptly named Strengths Profile that provides a report of your strengths categorised into four areas:  realised strengths (good at, do often & enjoy), unrealised strengths (good at, enjoy, but don’t do often), learned behaviours (good at, do often but don’t enjoy) and weaknesses (not good at) – which at £30+VAT is good value (if you are interested in a strength-based workshop, or a team profile do get in touch).

I particularly like the nuance in the Strength Profile of things you are good at, do often but don’t enjoy – these can be things you have enjoyed in the past but fallen out of love with as you have done them too often; or if you’re like me, things you need to do, such as the accounts and paperwork where the attention for detail is necessary, but they don’t fire you up.

 

Strength Spotting and Swans

If you don’t want to take a “test” then you can simply ask someone, or a few people, who know you well, what they see as your strengths.  Or keep an eye out yourself on what you do well, and enjoy doing.

Sometimes strengths come to the fore in adversity or they may be something that you were good at as a child, but had forgotten about. Or something you never realised you were good at until a certain event occurs.

 

Swan rescue

Taking a firm hold! (click to play video)

Last Tuesday was such an occasion.  I had just finished a meeting in Cambridge and exited onto Mill Lane,  one of the streets that leads down to the river.  As I walked towards where I had left my bicycle, I noticed a number of passers-by had stopped and were photographing a swan which was sitting forlornly in the middle of the road.  Some of the Scudamores punting staff were there too, wondering what on earth to do with the swan – was it hurt? lost? confused?  As traffic started to build up, it was obvious something had to be done.  Shoo-ing the swan had had no effect except to make the swan even more confused.

By now a van was  blocking the swan’s path back to the river.  So I took off my coat and gave it to one of the Scudamores’ staff with instructions to throw it over the swan’s back while I took hold of the swan.  As he was somewhat astonished at my instructions I explained that it was to stop the swan flapping its wings, and that I would gather up the swan and take it back to the river.  So I swiftly picked up the swan, and ignoring her hiss of protest, carried her back to the river where, with a quick shake of her tail feathers, she happily swam away.

 

Teenage Kate with geese she reared (not a swan!)

Teenage Kate with geese

This short video was taken by another member of Scudamores’ staff.

 

By the way, did I mention that I used to rear geese as a teenager?

 

PS: don’t try this at home!  Not all swans are as docile!

 

What does psychology have to say about leadership?

I recently spoke on Positive Leadership to a group of professionals in Cambridge and asked them whether the would like to be a more positive leader.  90% said yes!  I wonder about the few who didn’t… perhaps their reluctance to answer yes was because they didn’t see themselves as leaders, or perhaps they knew something else.

But when I asked a follow up question, “would you like a leader who is positive?”  the answer was surprising!

Check out this video following my recent workshop to find out more…

 

For further details about workshops or keynote talks on Positive Leadership, the Imposter Syndrome and other topics covered by Kate Atkin, please do get in touch.

Anxiety and the Impostor

Many people will experience levels of anxiety, some more so than others, and for some people the levels are so stressful they impair their ability to function well, both at work and at home. October 10th is World Mental Health day, with mental health at work being the key focus for 2017.

World Mental Health day

This September 2017 saw the start of my 18th year in business I have decided to formalise my fundraising efforts. Some of you reading this will be aware of my husband’s 2,500 mile walk around England in 2011-2012, with our springer spaniel Poppy, and his subsequent walk along the Welsh Coastal Path in 2013, both raising awareness of mental health and some valuable funds for two charities SANE and Anxiety UK. during my business year from September 2017-September 2018 I will be fundraising for Anxiety UK – a small national charity that provides much needed support for people who experience anxiety, be it phobias, work-related stress, or other causes.

The Impostor Syndrome

I am now also researching and giving talks on the Impostor Syndrome, which for some people also causes high levels of anxiety.   Called, “Behind the Mask” these talks uncover some of the causes and effects of the impostor syndrome and also provide some strategies to help people cope, or strategies to help people manage and support others, who experience impostor feelings.

Anxiety? Or is it imposter syndrome?

During the course of the next five years I will be working towards a PhD, focussing on the impostor feelings in the work place — so will have much more to share through these pages and also through my irregular newsletter (you can sign up on the right, or via the home page). If you would like to support me in my charity endeavours you can donate below, and do get in touch if you would like me to speak to your group, organisation or at your conference. kate@kateatkin.com or call me on 07779 646 976

Kate’s Fundraising Page for Anxiety UK:

Donate to Anxiety UK

 

 

Photo credit: Helena G Anderson

Impostor syndrome

Who is the fraud?

Who am I to write a guest blog for the Oxford English Dictionary on the Impostor Syndrome?

I have now given several talks on the subject of the Impostor Syndrome – more correctly termed Impostor Phenomenon – chaired a panel discussion for the General Assembly on the subject, been interviewed by the Telegraph and Cambridge TV on it, as well as receiving a distinction for my research into it when doing my Masters Degree a couple of years ago.  So why did I still think, “what me?  Really? can I do this?” when contacted by the Oxford English Dictionary to be a guest blogger on their new entry “Impostor Syndrome“.

The answer, as you may have guessed, is that I am one of the 70% who experience ‘imposter’ feelings.

Of course I said yes, and then set about controlling my internal chatter to be able to write a comprehensive piece.  The resulting OED Blog post is here

Then I spot a completely incorrect use of the term in the Times today.  A fraudster does NOT experience the impostor syndrome or phenomenon.  Those who set out to deliberately deceive others are actual impostors, as defined by the OED.

Please, it’s hard enough to experience the feelings without being confused with with real fraudsters.  So, a plea to all journalists, please don’t muddle the use of impostor syndrome with real impostors.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was recently quoted on Inc. as saying that successful people learn to take feedback well. What it seems she was actually referring to was “constructive feedback” or what is sometimes thinly disguised criticism. While it is true we all need to learn from our mistakes, whether pointed out to us in the form of “feedback” or ones we spot ourselves, why, oh why, when we refer to “feedback” do we automatically mean the negative?

From my studies in positive psychology, of course I know the answer… Human beings are predisposed to look for the negative first; that has been our natural survival instinct. But being wired to see the negative is very different from actively encouraging it at work.

Of course managers need to address poor performance, point out mistakes and help correct behaviour. But they also need to let people know what they are doing right. And people do things right far more often than the frequency of positive feedback would lead us to believe.

 

Employ the 5:1 ratio

There is a growing body of research on couples, begun by John Gottman, which indicates that the ratio of positive and negative feedback needs to be more than balanced for healthy relationships. In fact, Gottmann found that the ideal ratio is 5:1 – yes that is five pieces of genuine positive feedback, or positive interaction, for every one piece of constructive/developmental/negative/howeveryouwanttophraseit feedback. This is now being studied in the workplace too.

Other research indicates that the positive feedback will only be effective if the feedback giver is held in esteem by the receiver. For instance relentless praise quickly becomes meaningless, it is the 5:1 balance of positive and negative that works.

 

In the Workplace

Is it little wonder that engagement at work in the UK is low, when we don’t train managers on how to give positive feedback?

So what can be done? One way tip to give a boost to the morale of your staff is simply to identify something they have done well and let them know. Too many things are saved for the annual review, and too little is said during the course of every day. Meetings focus on problems to be addressed, but why not start them by celebrating one thing that has gone well? That will, as positive psychologist Barbara Fredrikson discovered, encourage greater problem solving skills and generate more innovative ideas. Fredrikson coined the term “broaden & build” for this effect.

Looking back to when I was the manager of an international banking team, I now realise I could have done this better myself; but back then nobody had trained me in the importance of positive feedback.  So if you do manage a team, please start your meetings on a positive note, catch people doing things right and let them know… and remember the 5:1 ratio.

 

Laura Trott - Olympic Champion

Laura Trott – Olympic Champion

The Olympics have been quite something again this year and team GB are doing their country proud. As I watch with astonishment at the achievements and see Laura Trott crying with joy at being the most successful female Olympian of all time, I am reminded how it is such a short time that women have even been able to participate.

Women did not compete in the Olympics until 1900 when we were allowed to participate in Lawn Tennis and golf. It was 1928 that we first competed in track and field events but then so many fainted after the 800 meters that we were not allowed to compete in this again until 1960.

Just sixteen years ago women first took part in weightlifting and it was only in London 2012 that women’s boxing took place.

London 2012 also saw for the first time women competitors from Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia meaning that every national Olympic committee have now sent women.

For some, this will be shocking that actually equality still isn’t 100% there, some may still have the opinion that women should not be involved and others will just feel proud.

I sit in the feeling proud arena with hope that more women will feel empowered to go for gold.