The Beauty of Excellence in Teamwork


I go to a great nail salon. I really love it not only because they do a great job, but also because it is an amazing place for me to observe teamwork. The shop is busy, full of hustle and bustle, and the core staff of about ten women of Vietnamese descent have worked together for a long time. Most patrons busy themselves with cell phones or magazines while the talented technicians file, trim, massage, and apply lacquers and gels, but I observe. I observe because I love watching how humans, when they understand the goal and expectations, organize themselves according to their strengths, naturally developing patterns of functioning that streamline productivity and efficiency. I always knew that observing a job well done was something I was drawn to. My hometown puts on a big 4th of July parade followed by a bonfire and concert. I don’t know for sure how many people flock to this tiny seaside town for this event, but I’d have to guess it is in the tens of thousands. I love the festivities, but even more so I am awed that by 7:00 a.m. the next morning, the town is once again spotless. You won’t see a shred of evidence: no spent firecrackers, discarded popcorn boxes, or red, white, and blue streamers are to be found. I brag endlessly to friends from out of town not about the giant bonfire or the bands in the parade but about the flawless execution of the massive clean up.

I thought these characteristics of mine indicated something odd about my nature until I learned about the VIA Institute on Character, which actually has a name for this peculiarity of mine: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. The VIA refers to it as a strength and says that if Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is one of your top strengths, you notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.

Who knew? But now in hindsight and given my success in the work I do helping organizations retool so they can increase efficiency, teamwork, and achieve their goals, it makes total sense.

Now I can feel more peaceful about my love of observing at the nail salon. What makes the nail salon an even more perfect setting for my observation of team dynamics is that unless they are speaking with a client directly, all their communication is in hushed Vietnamese—which I don’t understand at all. So the body language and behaviors that make up the flow and processes they’ve adopted over time are where I direct my attention.

I’ve noticed that one of the technicians in particular notices everything. She appears to be completely focused on her client and yet if you really watch her, you see she is also tracking who comes in the door, who is ready to pay and, as in my case one time, if a client is being charged incorrectly for services. I notice that others go over and check in with her when they have questions or concerns. It is clear that they depend on her, even though she has no actual authority or any identified role as leader.

I know this because I asked her one time, “Are you the boss?” She laughed and said, “No. But everyone depends on me to take the lead, so I do.” My guess would be that out of the 24 Character Strengths identified by VIA, she would rank high in Leadership.  VIA describes leaders as someone compelled to take the lead and influence others; a leader is the person people look to for direction.

I’ve yet to figure out who is the actual “boss” at my nail salon. I’ve been there now at least twelve times, and each time I come up with a different theory. I don’t want to ask because I fear it will take the fun out of my observation. A high-performing team in which it is difficult to identify the leader is, in my opinion, a beautiful thing to see.

When I explored my character traits with VIA, I was surprised that out of 24 character strengths, leadership came in as number 19 for me. When I learned more about the instrument I discovered that the middle strengths, which is where number 19 falls, are the strengths that serve the Signature Strengths. My Signature Strengths include humor, gratitude, social intelligence, appreciation of beauty and excellence, perspective, judgment, and creativity.

Unlike many assessments, VIA focuses on only the positive strengths. This fits in with the strengths-based philosophy that I use in all of my coaching, consulting, and training work. The strengths-based approach assumes that we all have innate talents and strengths to share and that the best investment is on building inherent strengths versus trying to remediate weaknesses. A strengths-based approach to leadership is a collective process where leadership and followership shifts depending on situation. A leader who subscribes to a strengths-based approach is always striving to understand, build, and utilize the inherent strengths of their team members.

I am a firm believer that when teams understand goals, expectations, and their strengths, they will organize and self-manage in ways that will move the organization forward. I believe that when a leader is communicative with and committed to empowering their team, the life of the leader becomes more balanced and easeful, and staff becomes more accountable and satisfied in their jobs.

If you would like to increase your own awareness and ability to utilize your strengths, or if you’d like to empower your team, call me today, and let’s get started!