Are you happy? An approach to strength-based leadership


“Are you happy?”  Whether it is in the workplace, home, school, or some other social setting, that simple question can open up the doors to the essence of where you, a friend or a colleague are right now.  “Yes, but…,” “I will be when,” or any answer different from “yes,” opens up the door to realize that something has to change.  In it’s most simple form, an individual needs to do one of two things:

  1. Change the situation, or
  2. Change their thoughts around that situation.

If you are not happy with where you are right now, you must change either the situation or your thoughts around that situation.

“Why?” is the second question in follow-up to “are you happy” that is essential in getting to the core root of the answer.  With that, reality can literally change for a direct report, friend, colleague, or yourself.  The “why” around “yes, I am happy” strengthens and reconfirms a positive and fulfilling reality.  The “why” around “no” starts to peel back the layers like an onion.  As a society, we spend too much time either answering “not yet,” or being so busy that we do not take the opportunity to create enough space to reflect on life, what we are doing with it, and our thoughts and emotions around it. Life can end for anyone of us at any moment.  Life is too short and too fragile not to truly live and enjoy the time we have today.

You will never be truly happy, until you decide show up as yourself.

Over the years leading teams of people, and being a member of a large blended family, has taught me that those who are most fulfilled within their professional, student, or personal endeavors are those who spend a majority of their time focused on strengths that light a passion and fire inside an individual.

There is a lot of instruction and detail around “how to” accomplish great things in life.  It can range from having success in sales, optimal parenting, or getting the job offer at the end of an interview process.  Although there are important tips and “how to” applications that are important, the most important component that is often not stressed is to be authentic to who you are.

I have hired people with very different personalities and strengths that have been tremendously successful in the same position.  At the same time, I have hired individuals that demonstrate core competencies important to the job, but that have never surpassed mediocre performance. The special sauce that separates an average performer with one that shines, has been awareness of strengths, deficits and being true to that knowledge.

You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are. – Strengths Finder 2.0

Take my two oldest boys, for example.  My second oldest son could practice hours on end trying to emulate the grace and competency his older brother has at pole vaulting, without ever coming close to what my oldest can accomplish. Yet on the range shooting clay pigeons, my 14-year old has served as the shooting coach for both his older brother and me, having fine-tuned his natural strengths to a level that is superior to both of us.  This is despite him having less time to perfect his craft than either his older brother or myself.

 I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion – Billie Jean King

Emotional Intelligence has been shown to be a better predictor of success than IQ.  Self-Awareness is the cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence. In order to develop a greater level of self-awareness, and thus focus on what drives you as an individual, both experience and awareness of the present and reflection are essential.  What are the activities or situations that drive you? What components of a job, hobby, school, or social setting generate pleasure and excitement? I competed in hurdling as a teenager and then had the opportunity to coach a younger runner to break the school records I had held for that event.  Like many parents do, I pushed my oldest son to practice and compete in my event.  Not until pole-vault tryouts came, and his willingness to be uncomfortable in trying something new, did my son find his passion in track, instead of just following the path his father had laid before him.

If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s – Joseph Campbell

On a recent Netflix binge, while watching the move Peaceful Warrior, I heard a quote and resonated with me.  “True courage is only absolute vulnerability.” Authenticity and true self is only realized at a deep level when an individual has the courage to experience and try new things.  When new things are being experienced, being fully present and taking the time to reflect on thoughts, emotions, motivation, and passions, while also creating space to further reflect on that experience, strengthens your self-awareness.

Individual strengths may also be present despite great failure.

In high school I dropped my debate class after feeling my face flush red and stumbling on words as my mind went blank in the middle of a speech.  The outside world may have said, “this is not a strength for Travis,” yet I felt something inside pull me in that direction.  Years later, I have loved being on stage at both corporate and social gatherings.

Developing self-awareness takes courage in being vulnerable to experience new things, time to reflect on thoughts, feelings and emotions around what is being experienced, and courage to follow your heart, regardless of what others say or failure that occurred while navigating your own path.

In a business environment, Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath is a resource I have leveraged with my team on multiple occasions to put structure to individual strengths, the advantage of each unique strength, as well as the pitfalls that each strength can carry with it. Outside of the professional environment, Krav Maga (Israeli street and military self-defense) is an interest of mine.  What attracts me so much to this type of self-defense is that it takes the action that generally comes natural to a situation requiring self-defense and fine tunes and strengthens that action for greater impact.  Because of this, people studying this form of martial art can more quickly become effective at defending themselves, as compared to studying a martial art that is counter-intuitive to what comes natural.

Consider the book by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, stating that 10,000 hours are required to become world-class in any field.  Not to discount the time spent with deliberate practice having impact on overall competency, but consider, what if your strengths are identified first, then practice is tailored around those specific strengths?  How much more quickly will competencies be developed?  In my experience, it is dramatic.

Strength-based leadership is taking what comes natural to individuals and fine-tuning those strengths for exceptional performance.

As an individual, implementing a strength-based approach will put a person on the path to answer, “yes,” to the question, “are you happy?” As a leader in the workforce, social, or family setting, recognizing and focusing primarily on the strengths of others for further development will improve performance.  It will also generate greater personal fulfillment for those you lead.

Travis N. Jensen

Contributor to

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