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April 2013


VIA Surveys, available online at the VIA Institute on Character


What are the big take-aways?


“VIA” stands for “values in action.”  The free VIA Me! online survey (offered in exchange for some demographic information that supports the Institute’s research), identifies your top strengths from among 24 positive character traits, and produces a personalized report that ranks all 24 of them for you.  Examples of character strengths include “leadership,” “fairness,” “bravery,” “creativity,” kindness,” “perseverance,” “honesty,” “gratitude,” “judgment,” “hope” “appreciation of beauty and excellence,” and “teamwork.”


According to the VIA Me! Survey website, “[R]esearch shows that knowing and using your character strengths can help you:


  • Increase your happiness at home and at work.
  • Improve your relationships.
  • Discover balance with your health.
  • Increase your performance at work and at school.
  • Achieve your life goals.


This recently scientifically-validated shorter form of an earlier assessment tool is comprised of 120 brief statements, which you score in terms of how much “like me” they are (i.e., how accurately you think the statements describe you).  It only took me about 15 minutes to complete the survey.  I moved fairly briskly through the questions so that I would be most likely to capture my first, instinctive response and not over-think my answers.


Why do I like it?


It’s versatile; it can be used by anyone for any growth- or learning-oriented purpose.  The VIA Survey is – if nothing else – a positive “FYI,” and the free results profile (generated immediately upon your completion of the survey) provides provocative food for thought.  Also, for a very reasonable fee ($20) you can purchase a more comprehensive, in-depth version of your character strengths profile.  There is a new VIA Survey for youth aged 10-17, as well.


A believer in positive psychology and a fan of Appreciative Inquiry theory and practice, I like this tool’s focus on strengths.  For many people, it’s not always easy to remain focused on one’s strengths in certain situations.  Two particularly common instances of this that I see in my leadership coaching practice are: (1) when a leader takes his strengths for granted by assuming they are not unique traits and talents, thereby down-playing or under-utilizing them, or (2) when a leader’s attention is currently being drawn away from her strengths and being re-oriented toward her challenges or areas for growth, and she doesn’t pause to consider how she can actually leverage her strengths to address the challenges.


In what situations would this be useful?


Again, the VIA Survey can be used by anyone for any growth- or learning-oriented purpose.  For leaders, I think it is especially useful to know your character strengths so you can bring them more intentionally into your self-awareness and behavior, and therefore lead with more authenticity and energy.  The VIA Survey results can also offer a great gut-check: it’s interesting to see how closely your self-perceptions match up with your profile report.


As an affiliate member of the Institute of Coaching Professional Association at McLean Hospital (a Harvard Medical School affiliate), I have access to teleclasses offered by the ICPA that I can use for continuing education credits.  Yesterday, I enjoyed a teleclass on “Character Strengths in Action: Improving Mindfulness, Well-Being, Leadership and Teamwork,” in which I learned new information from my colleagues about how leaders are using the VIA Survey to get more fulfillment out of their personal and professional lives, build on different team members’ strengths in order to enhance overall team performance, and even resolve interpersonal conflict.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


If you’re looking for something to “do” with your VIA results, I can recommend a couple of workbooks – especially for folks in a period of questioning, or transition – such as Finding Your True North by authenticity guru Bill George (previously reviewed in the Leadership Library) or Finding Your Purpose by Barbara J. Braham (Axzo Press, 2003).  Braham’s is a thoughtful and nonjudgmental resource for inquiring into your life’s purpose in order to achieve personal fulfillment; one nice feature of this workbook is that it asks you to take into account what stage of life you are at (reaching adulthood in your 20’s, considering a career change in your 30’s, experiencing a mid-life transition in your 40’s or 50’s, or leaving a legacy in your 60’s and beyond).


If you’re interested in more information on the intersections between the work being done by the VIA Institute on Character Strengths, and the other two strengths-based approaches I mentioned above, I would start by checking out the websites of the Positive Psychology Center (University of Pennsylvania) and the Appreciative Inquiry Commons (Case Western Reserve University).


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