Career Development: Getting to a Personal Vision Part 1

By Dr. Tom N. Tavantzis


Over the years, I have looked at how to strengthen an already powerful program. Our Personal Strategic Planning Seminar (PSPS), as it was originally called, has been a core program since the beginning of Highlands, and it still shapes many of our shorter programs (my own Invest In Yourself, and The Highlands Company’s Team Program and Paths to Success etc.). Yet I constantly search for new ways to strengthen this remarkably successful program.take the highlands ability battery

Each year I offer a modified version of the PSPS to my graduate students as an Advanced Career Development Program. Graduate students in our program are typically are working adults between the ages of 26-60. The summer program is usually held over three weeks (three sessions on Tuesday and Thursday from 6-9 and two on Saturday from 8-4). Much to my delight the course gets rave reviews and is much sought after as a result of the great word-of-mouth among the students. Each year I work to keep the number of students to 15. Over the past two years I have experimented with an additional assessment tool and with exercises to add and strengthen the PSPS (see, My Best Self Exercise in my Paths To Success manual). After using these in different courses and seeing their success, I incorporated them this year into the SJU Advanced Graduate Career Course.


EI and then positive psychology caught my attention in the mid-’90’s. As they added emphasis on Positive Organizational Scholarship, I incorporated the readings, etc., into my graduate courses and client workshops. We were already in the Strength-based movement with the THAB and our workshop approaches.

Another influencing thread in my work – and one that at the same time plagues me – is the 360 multi-rater feedback tool. The use of feedback from everyone around you has its value, and I have used 360’s for years (even in the past experimenting with the Highlands short-lived 360!) but 360’s appear to me to be hampered often by distortions in reputation, and/or organizational climates that favor middle-of-the-road ratings or overly positive ones, regardless of the person being analyzed. Additionally, since it is pre-arranged usually with reference to the company’s competencies and a fairly iron-clad response requirement (1-5 point scale) one can miss the more qualitative elements of the analysis. But again I want to emphasize that I use 360’s and find them useful, though I really don’t see them as a worthwhile tool for searching for strengths.

I was left searching for a 360-like tool that also offers a strength-based approach. In my meanderings for materials on positive organizational scholarship, my own visits to the University of Michigan in support of my past counter-terrorism work, and the text-books for my graduate courses, I found the U. of Michigan’s Ross School Business Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship (


The teaching tool I came across is the Reflected Best Self Exercise (Quinn, Dutton, Spreitzer, 2003). Here is the description from their website:

The Reflected Best Self (RBS) exercise enables people to identify their unique strengths and talents, making it an excellent tool for personal development. Each participant requests positive feedback from significant people in his or her life and then synthesizes it all into a cumulative portrait of his or her “best self.” (It costs $6 person to download the materials.)

Here is briefly how it works: Your clients compose an email that asks people (10-20 in all) who have known them over the course of their lives to write three brief stories, with examples they recall, that show your clients at their best.

Once all the emails are returned, the client’s job is to analyze and organize the data into themes and then finally write an interpretive paragraph, a Best Reflected Self Portrait. In my classes and workshops I ask folks to read the statements out loud to the entire group.

Part II Looking at the Results