Character Counts When It Comes to Career Success

The cover of the New York Times Magazine on September 18, 2011 had a psychedelic look – pink with white letters – and asked the question “What if the secret to success is failure?”  That caught my attention because I often offer the following career advice — you fail only when you don’t learn something from a less than successful experience.

A piece inside the magazine entitled “The Character Test” described how Dominic Randolph, Headmaster of the prestigious Riverdale Country School in New York and David Levin, cofounder of the KIPP network of charter schools are trying to teach character building, not just academics in their schools.

They are using a model of character developed by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher Peterson of the University of Michigan.  Their book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification identified 24 character traits, grouped into six strengths.  I found this book to be a kind of 21st century I Ching.

I spent $55 to download it to my Kindle.  I am reading it now – it’s 800 pages.  I also did some research on the web and found a great synopsis of the character classification system on line. Check it out…

Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge: Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge.

1. Creativity [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things.
2. Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; exploring and discovering.
3. Open-mindedness [judgment, critical thinking]: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; weighing all evidence fairly.
4. Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally.
5. Perspective [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people.

Strengths of Courage: Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external and internal.

6. Bravery [valor]: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; acting on convictions even if unpopular.
7. Persistence [perseverance, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles.
8. Integrity [authenticity, honesty]: Presenting oneself in a genuine way; taking responsibility for one’s feeling and actions.
9. Vitality [zest, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; feeling alive and activated.

Strengths of Humanity: interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others.

10. Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated.
11. Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, “niceness”]: Doing favors and good deeds for others.
12. Social intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself.

Strengths of Justice: civic strengths that underlie healthy community life.

13. Citizenship [social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork]: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group.
14. Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others.
15. Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same maintain time good relations within the group.

Strengths of Temperance: strengths that protect against excess.

16. Forgiveness and mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.
17. Humility / Modesty: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves; not regarding oneself as more special than one is.
18. Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.
19. Self-regulation [self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions.

Strengths of Transcendence: strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning.

20. Appreciation of beauty and excellence [awe, wonder, elevation]: Appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life.
21. Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful of the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.
22. Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it.
23. Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side.
24. Spirituality [religiousness, faith, purpose]: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose, the meaning of life, and the meaning of the universe.

The article in the Times Magazine said…

“In most societies these strengths are considered to have a moral valence.  In many cases they overlap with religious laws and strictures.  But their true importance did not come from their relationships to any system of ethics or moral laws but from their practical benefit: cultivating these strengths represented a reliable path to ‘the good life,’ a life that was no just happy, but also meaningful and fulfilling.”

To put into the language I employ in this career success blog, the six strengths and 24 character traits identified by Drs. Seligman and Peterson are a common sense roadmap for creating your life and career success.

I begin most of my career success talks by saying that “Good performance is not enough.  While you have to be an outstanding performer to create the life and career success you want and deserve, good performance alone will not get you there.”

In addition to outstanding performance, I offer six other keys to life and career success:

  • Clarity of purpose and direction for your life and career.
  • Commitment to taking personal responsibility for your life and career success.
  • Unshakeable self confidence.
  • The ability to create positive personal impact.
  • Dynamic communication skills.
  • Relationship building skills.

Drs. Seligman and Peterson’s six strengths and 24 character traits touch on each of these six career success factors in one way or another.  And they are directly related to your ability to create positive personal impact.

Creating and nurturing your unique personal brand is the first step in creating positive personal impact.  Tweet 62 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “Your personal brand should be uniquely you, but built on integrity.  Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.”

In my opinion, embodying all of the six strengths and character traits identified by Drs. Seligman and Peterson, not just number 8, will brand you as a person of integrity.

I like these strengths and character traits.  I believe that by working hard to develop them you will be creating the career success you deserve.  I will be blogging more about them in the days and weeks ahead.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense. Character counts when it comes to creating your life and career success.  To paraphrase Angela Duckworth an educator quoted in the article in the Times Magazine;  Creating your life and career success is hard.  It can be fun, exhilarating and gratifying – but it is also daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging.  Character is as important , if not more important, as high performance when it ocmes to life and career success.  I urge you to really think about the ideas in this post.  I realize that six strengths and 24 character traits are a lot to think about at one time.  That’s why I will be blogging more about them.  However, as a start, I suggest you do a little exercise.  Take out a sheet of paper.  Create three columns.  List the character traits in the left column.  Label the center column “A real strength for me;” Label the third column, “I need to work on this.”  Then think about each character trait and put an X in column that most describes you.  This takes courage, but I guarantee that it will be a valuable exercise if you’re serious about creating the life and career success you want and deserve.  I am going to do this exercise.  I’ll post my answers in a future blog post.

That’s the career advice I took from reading about Drs. Seligman and Petersons’s six strengths and 24 character traits.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily thoughts on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, please download a free copy of my popular career advice book Success Tweets and its companion piece Success Tweets Explained.  The first is 140 bits of career advice, all in 140 characters or less.  The other is a whopping 390 + pages of common sense explaining each of the career advice in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: I opened a membership site on September 1.  It’s called My Corporate Climb and is devoted to helping people create career success inside large corporations.  To celebrate the grand opening, I’m giving away a new career advice book I’ve written called I Want YOU…To Succeed in Your Corporate Climb.  You can find out about the membership site and get the career advice in I Want YOU… for free by going to http://www.mycorporateclimb.


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