"All of us have inner strengths that can often disguise themselves as 'loose change'"
As I sat by the Popo Agie River outside of Lander, Wyoming, and watch my dog play in the water, I realized a few things. Did she just roll in a month-old deer carcass? Yes. Is she unknowingly washing it off while searching for sticks in the river? Also, yes. Although she displayed problem-oriented behavior in her strange attempt to soak up the scent of a dead animal, she also washed herself clean (almost). This may be a bit of luck, especially since I didn’t drive the truck and would like to protect my car from the stench, but at this moment it is inner strength. De Groot (2016) writes that all of us have inner strengths that can often disguise themselves as loose change – we don’t know it is there until we really look for it. In both social work and outdoor experiential education, we find ourselves putting out fires so often that philosophical and theoretical approaches seem not as crucial as emergency response. I have been this person. Being a strengths-based leader is not a relaxed task when a student is being a bully or being disrespectful to an instructor. We’ve all been in that moment. Do we reprimand to teach accountability or show compassion and be seen as a pushover? I implore us to consider a fourth option: use context to display the strengths of both parties. Today there are so many buzz words in both outdoor education and social work it is difficult to keep track – trauma-informed, inclusivity, diversity – take your pick. While these are all important for the development of programs, these terms have sometimes become training to check off the list. Instead, I feel that It is our duty as leaders – which every human is – to undertake the messy and sometimes complicated task of being strengths-based. Does this mean that if an employee or participant knowingly goes against policy we should only concentrate on their fortes? Absolutely not. Instead, we should consider their internal and external strengths in the conversation. There is loose change in everyone, everywhere, and it is our duty to continue the everyday patience to look for them.
Many organizations will say “well that sounds great and all, but we don’t have time to get into that ‘fluffy’ stuff.” I would argue that the ‘fluffy’ stuff keeps employees working late, excited to come back for another season, and encourages new employees to act by the same strengths-based principles. Burnout exists in every profession, but with effective strengths-based leadership being displayed from every instructor, employee, and supervisor there will be an opportunity for every active member to feel honored of their work.
The ending, simple suggestion: why don’t you try to fit in a strengths-based approach in organizational leadership and see what happens?