Why Being Unvarnished Matters

Being unvarnished in this sense is not the same as being blunt or rough around the edges. It means you’re presenting yourself without a false front or unnecessary embellishment, not shoehorning yourself into a persona or temperament simply because that’s what’s expected of you.

And it’s not always easy. It might even be risky.
That’s because peer pressure is not reserved for teenagers. You might feel obligated to bend your personal ethics for your employer, who insists you fit into a corporate culture of aggressive sales. Or you might feel intimidated by your in-laws, who are less than subtle about their expectation that you will adopt their version of professional success. Or you could feel bullied by a friend whose strong convictions about lifestyle and money turn into an oblique critique of the way you’re living your life.

But the challenges (and perhaps even short-term sacrifices) you face when being unvarnished pale in comparison to the personal and professional rewards.

Being Unvarnished Reveals the Breadth and Depth of Your Best-of-Self Traits

Your best-of-self traits are the spectacular constellation of skills and strengths, experiences and quirks that make you a little (or a lot) different from the rest of the crowd. They point to what inspires you and what you stand for. They are the source of strength you need in order to experience the world in a deep and multifaceted way.

When you’re a varnished, veneered version of yourself, your best-of-self traits are hazy, if not fully obscured. Living with that false front plays out in one of three ways: 1) you can’t identify or use your best-of-self traits, 2) you overuse your best-of-self traits or 3) you underuse your best-of-self traits. All of which leave you feeling heavy, stale and drained.

But when you’re living unvarnished, your best-of-self traits are visible, revealing who you are and what you have to offer: your character and temperament, the skills and the competencies you’ve developed over time. You feel clean and solid, even when there’s risk involved.

The bonus? Your best-of-self traits offer you (and others) a glimpse into your best-of-self potential, showing how you will apply your character, experience and skills in new situations; revealing which traits will develop naturally over time; and guiding the purposeful development of traits you want to strengthen.
And a double bonus: A powerful cycle of growth, courage and strength begins to emerge. The more unvarnished you are, the greater your capacity to develop your best-of-self traits. And the more developed your best-of-self traits, the easier and more rewarding it is to be unvarnished. One fortifies the other.

How to Practice the Art of Stripping Away Your Varnish

You can begin to practice the art of being unvarnished by getting crystal clear about what your best-of-self traits are and then use them in a purposeful way. Because this can be difficult to do on your own, I developed 5 steps to help you strip away the varnish of actions and thoughts that do not fit with who you are at your best.
1) Ask yourself these 2 questions, writing down your response to each.

  • What do people consistently say you do well or compliment you about?
  • What aspect of your personality can get you into trouble?

2) As you read what you have written, highlight or circle the words and phrases that feel solid and true. Do the same with any other words or phrases that stand out because they are surprising, uncomfortable or disrupt the way you think about yourself.

3a) Cluster the words and phrases that seem related. The clusters reflect your best-of-self traits. Perhaps you see a knowledge cluster (perspective, curiosity, creativity) or a relationship cluster (generosity, teamwork, kindness).

3b) Ask yourself these 2 questions, writing down your response to each.

  • Which cluster of best-of-self traits do you hesitate to use or refrain from using?
  • What underlying thoughts or beliefs do you need to strip away in order to use your best-of-self traits?

4) Once you know the thoughts or beliefs you need to strip away, give yourself permission to do so. Then brainstorm 3 ways you can use the best-of-self traits you previously hesitated to use or refrained from using.

5) This week, commit to taking action on 1 of the 3 ideas from your brainstorm session. Don’t worry about creating a plan or a schedule, just start by taking one step. Remember: It doesn’t matter if your step is small or big, a quick sure stride or a tiptoe. What matters is that you take the step.


Your People Skills Matter More than Your Smarts


My friend Kay has superb people skills. She knows just what to do to make people feel at ease. She instinctively reads the “currents” of power and rules in a room full of folks. And she knows herself too. Kay pays attention to what she’s feeling in the moment and recognizes the connection between her feelings to what she’s thinking, doing and saying.

Kay has social and emotional intelligence. In fact it’s her number one signature strength. Aside from being a nice attribute is significant part of why she is successful. That’s not just my opinion. Research backs it up.

Smarts Matter, But Not As Much As You Think

Some researchers, including Laura Belsten, PhD founder of the Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence©, believe that your success in work and life is driven more by your social and emotional intelligence than by your smarts (IQ), or your technical abilities, like “strategic thinking” or being able to write an impressive quarterly report.

Unfortunately you most often see social and emotional intelligence when it is missing.

  • The micromanaging supervisor you used to work for (or maybe still do)
  • A friend who can’t handle stress or accept feedback
  • Your co-worker whom no one trusts

Their lack of social and emotional Intelligence limits their degree of success

Here is the good news.

People Skills Lead to Meaningful Results

Cultivating social and emotional Intelligence is a smart thing for anyone to do, and it’s vital if you’re a solo entrepreneur, a corporate team leader, a business owner with employees or an individual who wants to . . .

  • Manage emotional responses more effectively in the moment, shaping them to be productive (versus operating from knee-jerk reactions unlikely to get your desired results)
  • Develop more rewarding relationships personally and professionally
  • Enhance your ability to have the difficult conversations in life
  • Operate from a mindset of success, not fear of failure
  • Stay composed and positive even in trying times

Social and emotional intelligence encompasses 26 skills including interpersonal communication skills, stress management, intentionality, powerful influencing skills, teamwork, trust building and many more. Social and emotional intelligence skills can be learned and strengthened throughout your life.

Effectively Operate in Today’s Workplace

The more robust your social and emotional intelligence is the better able you are to effectively operate in today’s workplace.

“Cultivating a culture where leaders have high social and emotional intelligence creates proven results in increased productivity, increased sales and profits, reduced healthcare costs, increased employee satisfaction and improved employee engagement to name a few,” says Belsten.

She goes on to say, “Managers with high scores in the relevant relationship management competencies of communication, building bonds, building trust, and inspirational leadership, are better equipped to manage their employees in a manner that brings out the best in individuals and teams.”

Cultivate Your People Skills

I’m pleased to announce I recently completed an intensive certification program in coaching social and emotional intelligence, and am now a Social + Emotional Intelligence Certified Coach ® through the Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence®. What this means is that I’ve added new services to my portfolio including Social and Emotional Intelligence Assessment, Coaching and Training. You can read about them here ((Insert link)). I have an array of tools and materials available for you that are designed to help all of us be more successful in work and in life.

I’d love to share more information with you about Social and Emotional Intelligence, just email me and we will connect.

Do Fewer Things This Summer

Phew! Do you feel like you’ve been running at top speed over the past few weeks?

May was a busy month here too. My husband and I both celebrated birthdays and a big wedding anniversary, ten years is a milestone. He wrapped up the Spring Semester and participated in five graduation ceremonies at the college.

I completed an intensive certification program in social and emotional intelligence, and I am now a Social + Emotional Intelligence Certified Coach® (more on that soon).

And I started as co-chair of a Leadership program (more about that in the future too).

Summer is for Simplifying
So when a colleague of mine remarked “The gift of summer is to take time to simplify what you are doing.” struck a chord. Well, it was more like a gong.

Think of this as streamlining what you are doing so that you can keep a steady gentle momentum while building up energy and ideas for the busy times that come in the fall.

I know when I simplify I get more done. And what I do is better in every sense of the word: focused, productive, a pleasure, interesting, satisfying. At least one of those descriptors apply.

Try This
My colleague, Isabel, posed two questions that get at the heart of deciding where to start simplifying.

  1. What small change could I make in my work to be able to focus more on what I most enjoy or am most interested in?
  2. What small change could I make in my personal life to be able to focus more on what I most enjoy or restores me?

Yes, you might have total control over what you do at work or at home, but you do some amount of control. And there is something small you can do. Maybe you decide to stop spending an extra 20 throughout the day minute gossiping at the coffee machine so that you can leave the office on time.

I’ve got some ideas on what I could do to simply. How about you? I’d love to hear your ideas,just put them in the comment section.

Be Yourself and You Might Save Someone’s Life: A True Story

A few weeks ago after an Unleash Your Best-of-Self Traits Workshop, two of the participants shared this story with me. I keep thinking about it, specifically how the ordinary can become exceptional.

Susan and Beth had worked together 12 years ago. Susan was hired as a supervisor at social service organization and Beth was a current employee at the organization.

With the exception of Beth, the other staff resented Susan because she was an outsider “there tell them what to do.” Beth, instead of getting swept up in the group grumble, acted on her natural friendly instincts and reached out to Susan. As a result they worked together well and got along.

One day they were talking about skin care and Beth recommended a dermatologist to Susan. Susan later went to the doctor to have her spider veins looked at. Within a year Susan and Beth each moved on to other positions and they lost touch.

The next year at Susan’s annual dermatology appointment stage-4 skin cancer was discovered. “I never would have gone to a dermatologist in the first place if Beth hadn’t suggested it. And if I had not done that I don’t think a year later I would have gotten treatment. Now I am just fine. I’ve been looking for Beth for the past 11 years to say thank you.”

Now”, Beth said, “I can see how my social intelligence and kindness, me just being friendly and wanting people to feel welcome, is really valuable. I knew it was nice to be like this, but I never thought something like this could happen.”

Amazing, huh?

Honestly it was delightful to hear them talking with such joy and energy. Almost talking over each other in their excitement to tell me their story. It was beautiful.

And I was honored they wanted to share it with me.

Actually I whelped up a little and was glad that allergy season meant that I had a tissue handy.

What you may take for granted as just the way you are can have a profound impact on the people around you.

So today if you are true to who you are, you might send out a ripple of goodness that has an exponential impact. And I hope you do.

Love and Work Do Mix

What comes to mind when someone asks you about your strengths? Typically, people think of the skills they developed at school and work such as teamwork, budgeting or using social media. But do you think about your character traits as strengths?

A character trait is a distinctive feature influencing how you relate to the world and is expressed in thoughts, actions and feelings. Research by psychologists including Martin Seligman, Chris Peterson and others shows that people share the same 24 character traits—each of us has our own mix of top, middle and lower traits that make us individuals. These traits include love, fairness, perseverance, leadership,
kindness and more.

I work with people to leverage their character traits in their professional lives. Often, my clients think of love as only an intense feeling of deep, passionate, tender affection for someone, such as parent to child or between dear friends, or as a romantic or sexual attachment to someone such as a spouse. Drawing on love in their work gives them pause—it’s unexpected and complicated.

What is Love Anyway
As a character trait, Seligman defines love as the ability to give and receive love. Love’s hallmark is a mutual sharing of comfort, acceptance and warmth. A crush, hero worship or unrequited affection—no matter how powerful—is not love in this regard.

The VIA Institute on Character reports that love is one of the top five traits for the more than one-third of people who value close relationships with others in all areas of their lives, family, friends, community, and work, above and beyond other qualities. Top-level traits are the three to five innate traits you use so effortlessly that you may take them for granted as personality traits, not the high-level character strengths they truly are.

The Benefits of Love are Better Than a Box of Valentine Chocolates
When a person is at her or his best at expressing love, there’s a flow of positive emotions to and from others that cultivates closeness and emotional support. The benefits of love as a strength include:
• Increased life satisfaction
• Secure loving relationships are strongly linked to good health and longevity
• Facilitating empathy, forgiveness and tolerance in relationships
• A sense of meaning and purpose in life
(source: “Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology)

You may believe that love has no role in some places such as work, but love is not just romance. Love is affection for those you depend on and who depend on you, like colleagues. A 2013 Gallup poll showed that people who regularly use their strengths at work are six times more like to be engaged with work. If love is a top trait for some, it makes sense to find appropriate ways to express that strength through their work.
Using Love at Work (yes it can be done)
You can use love as a character trait in the workplace by helping others. Consider the strengths of the person or people you want to help, and then design your help accordingly.

You may find it hard to offer love to yourself, but it is vital. Cultivating love for oneself is linked to increased feelings of social connection, optimism and mindfulness in general. One of my clients over-extended love to others and squirmed at the idea of people reciprocating because it was “greedy.” By doing things like calmly saying no to an employee’s unreasonable customer request and not acquiescing to do it herself, she supported her staff and herself. It was easier for her to let other staff members take on one project while she worked on a second project, showing trust in her staff and not over-extending herself. She focused on what most needed her time and attention, and her staff was further invested in what they do, too.

Try This
If loving yourself is difficult, try this: Three times this week, reflect on what you can give yourself credit for, and what value that has for you.

Like any character trait, love is a wonderful attribute that can be over or underused—but when used well, love is a tremendous asset.

Confession: My 3 Top Strengths Used to Be My 3 Worst Enemies

I was living in one of my favorite cities, working as the assistant director of a multistate project, growing a national profile and pulling down a rock-solid salary and great benefits.

I had it made.

And I was miserable.

  • Do you feel like you have to squeeze into someone else’s idea of who you should be?
  • Do you struggle to trust your own judgment?
  • Do you hold yourself to unrealistically high standards?

I sure did.

I was perpetually sprinting from one deadline to the next. I couldn’t slow down to notice what was working well or what was great in my staff. I struggled to have my ideas heard and my approaches valued, especially when they differed from those of a smart and forceful project director who put in 14-hour days and expected everyone on staff to be just like her.

  • I was pressured to be someone I wasn’t.
  • I was made to wonder if my ideas and decisions were sound.
  • I was told my absolute best efforts were only average at best.

While at a coaching workshop for clinicians, I began to see how I might move my career in a more rewarding, better-fitting direction. I enrolled in a coach-training course that introduced me to character strengths.

As I explored my own strengths, I noticed I was overusing and underusing 3 of my top traits – honesty, judgment (critical thinking) and appreciation of beauty and excellence.

And then it struck me. Oh, my gosh . . . I wanted to strike out on my own, and I knew that my 3 top strengths were also my 3 top enemies. I needed to turn that around.

Overusing Critical Thinking: From Overthinking to Clearly Seeing

When making a big I-could-fail decision, I would agonize over all the possibilities. Once I finally did make a decision, like starting my own business, I’d second-guess myself. If things didn’t go absolutely perfectly, my interpretation was that I had utterly failed, not just at the task at hand, but as a person too. It was heavy and scary.

Trusting that I’d put my critical thinking to good use was a leap of faith that propelled me from thinking about leaving my safe, full-time, fancy-title position to taking on the risky adventure of starting my own business. When the freak-out, I-don’t-have-a-business-background-how-am-I-going-to-strike-out-on-my-own thoughts came, I took a deep breath, wrote down all the smart decisions I had made in the past and the results, reinforcing my gut instinct that I was doing the right thing – just not easy thing.

Underusing Honesty: From Should Be to Just Be

I cared a lot about doing the right thing and following the correct formula. And I cared deeply about what people might think of me. So sometimes I minimized who I was, and I felt fake and needy and embarrassed that I cared so dang much. And deep down I knew these were deal-breakers for becoming the coach I wanted to be.

I realized that as sincere and earnest as I was to get it right, there was no integrity in forcing myself into shoes made for someone else. Heck, I’m not a supernova of rah-rah, or a meditative poet-healer or a tough-love tough talker. I am a constant, compassionate – and as one client put it, “charmingly forceful” – champion, guide and thinking partner. What a liberating relief to let go of what I should be and just be.

Overusing Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence: From A++ to A-OK

My entire life I was (or tried to be) an A student. I wanted to be smart in school, and that meant getting an A, better yet an A+, with a few extra credit points for good measure. When I was a young professional and a report came back with suggested edits, I’d feel a hiccup of shame and frustration well-up. I couldn’t clearly see the best in myself, yet I could always point out to direct reports, colleagues and friends what they were doing well when they had “self-perception blinders” on.

I learned to lower my personal standards, from “perfection is the only acceptable measure” to “reasonable works,” by moving forward with a project when it was “good enough” and finding that it was better than I thought. This helped me take on new challenges without getting trapped by performance anxiety. I was able to stop worrying about making exactly the right decision by shifting to making the best decision I could with what I knew in that moment. Plus I stopped taking it personally if someone didn’t respond to my ideas. Steadily I grew confident and am now infinitely more relaxed than I used to be.

Find Out More about Making the Most of Your Strengths

Get Your Free 30-Minute Podcast Now

Visit WithIn Radio and listen as I talk with Diantha Harris about how to identify and make the most of your character strengths. You can listen online now or download and listen later.

One more option: If sitting down and reading is more your style, download your free copy of the transcript.

Do You Need to Stop This Trust-Breaking Pattern?

Are you a nice boss?

Maybe too nice?

Does this sound remotely familiar? Ninety-five percent of the time you show your confidence in your team’s judgment and initiative by giving them a lot of latitude. You know most people chafe at being micromanaged, and you swore you’d never be that kind of boss.

But you also notice that the rules get bent a little too far a little too often.

You feel disrespected, and despite your best efforts to stay true to your anti-micromanager philosophy, you find yourself at a breaking point. You’re resentful. Maybe a little passive-aggressive. Or you might be the boomerang-blowup type, putting your now-cowering team into lockdown. And then everybody feels discouraged, agitated and undermined.

Worse, you feel ineffective and you worry your team no longer trusts you, or likes you. So you cycle back into leniency, and after a couple of awkward days, things start to normalize.

Until the rule-bending, foot-dragging and frustration starts up again.

What if you could forever change your trust-breaking pattern of extremes?

James, a manager at an accounting firm, did just that when he signed up for my new Unleash Your Strengths Jump-Start Session.

  • an in-depth 30-minute online assessment
  • a professional review of assessment results
  • a private 75-minute phone session to develop effective strategies to begin using immediately

In less than 2 hours, James understood how his well-intended flexibility was tying him in knots of niceness, and thanks to his Jump-Start Session, he walked away with a practical and thoughtful strategy for untangling the knots.

How James Used His Strengths to Nix Trust-Breaking Patterns &
Build an Accountable, Respectful Team

James saw that his boss’s unrelenting focus on the bottom line led to staff burnout and disengagement because they felt like replaceable cogs in a machine. James’s antidote was to compensate by doing everything he could to be the opposite, to be the nice boss.

But he was the too nice boss.

  • He had a perpetually open door.
  • He bought lunch for the office.
  • He corrected people’s work for them.
  • He approved multiple requests for flex-time.
  • He looked the other way when deadlines were missed.

Sooner or later, James would begin to feel taken advantage of, and when he switched gears and tried to enforce the rules, his staff ignored him and refused to do what he asked. He was left with disappointment and a nagging worry that his staff would quit because they didn’t like him.

In his Jump-Start Session, James and I discovered that two of his best-of-self strengths, kindness and love of learning, were the keys to creating a new approach to his leadership.

Now James uses his innate kindness constructively.

  • He holds staff members accountable for deadlines.
  • He points out when the quality of their work needs improvement.
  • He takes time to guide staff members as they learn new skills.
  • He gives recognition to people’s best efforts when he meets with them.

James is building up the reserves of trust in his staff – and they in him.

To keep his own momentum moving forward, every day at the close of business, he asks, “What I am learning about how I am leading now? How can I use this tomorrow?”

Start Writing Your Success Story
By Scheduling Your Unleash Your Strengths Jump-Start Session Today

Stop trust-breaking patterns. Anchor your leadership in your strengths. Lead with confidence.

Sign up in the next 20 days to get my special pricing of $147 (a $250 value).

Jump in now! Scheduling for my Jump-Start Sessions ends March 31 and won’t be offered again until midsummer.

schedule my session button

Here’s to the best in you,


PS: Here’s what James says about his new approach: “I now understand how my strengths interrelate and I found a way to use my two key strengths. Creating opportunities for my staff to be accountable shows I believe in and value them, and that makes things better for everyone.” James C.

PPS: Next week I’ll share my own story of how using best-of-self strengths transformed my career and birthed a business