Discovering and working with our personal strengths is one of the most fun, engaging and energising way to approach personal and professional development. It helps us discover our superpowers, and find new ways to create energy, add value and gain the results we desire.
What are "personal strengths"?
Firstly, let’s clarify that I’m not talking about physical strength. It’s nothing to do with muscles, tendons and ligaments! Instead, I’m talking about “character strengths” or “personal strengths”. They are qualities and competencies that each individual has in varying combinations.
The common definition of a strength is “something someone is good at”. While this definition seems logical, it misses several key components. And those components are vital for helping us get the most out of our personal strengths.
These components are:
- the way in which using our strengths energise us,
- how frequently we use our personal strengths, and
- the benefits to ourselves and others when we use our strengths
Strengths Profile: “…we define a strength as consisting of Performance;… Energy;… [and] Use”
Ryan M Niemiec: “…positive traits/capacities that are personally fulfilling, do not diminsh others, ubiquitous and valued across cultures, and aligned with numerous positive outcomes for oneself and others”
VIA Institute: “…positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave.”
Daria Williamson: “things you are great at and that light you up”
Why focus on my personal strengths? What about my weaknesses?
There are some pretty common questions that come up when I start talking about personal strengths. They include:
- Why shouldn’t I focus on my weaknesses? After all, it’s all my boss talks about!
- Shouldn’t I try to improve my weaknesses?
- Does focusing on my strengths mean ignoring my weaknesses?
- Isn’t it more important to fix my weaknesses than develop my strengths?
Our work and social cultures excel in shaming us for our weaknesses. As a result, most of us are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of claiming, and developing, our strengths. And we’ve come to believe that the only worthwhile pursuit is trying really, really hard to “fix” those weaknesses.
Does that sound like an energising, fun and productive way to be? Is working really hard on things we aren’t good at a good investment of our time and energy, compared to honing what we’re already good at? Absolutely not!
The downsides of focusing on weaknesses
It’s almost heretical to say it, but focusing on our weaknesses is a waste of our time and energy. A weakness focus increases employee disengagement and turnover and decreases performance.
So can we ignore our weaknesses?
Obviously, it’s not helpful to totally ignore our weaknesses. We aren’t ostriches! It makes sense to focus on weaknesses in two main ways:
- Understanding our personal weaknesses and their effects
- Taking smart action on any personal weaknesses that create problems
Some weaknesses cause enough trouble that we need to bring them up to a basic level of competence. But there’s no scenario in which trying to develop a weakness into a strength is advisable!
The upsides of focusing on personal strengths
Strengths-focused teams and organisations have significantly higher levels of engagement, productivity, customer service ratings and organisational citizenship behaviours, and lower staff turnover.
People who use their strengths regularly are happier, have higher self-esteem and self-efficacy, are more resilience, learn faster and achieve more goals Regular use of strengths is associated with lower reported levels of stress, and lower turnover.
Imagine how good it would feel to understand, use, and hone your strengths, and help others do the same!
How do I know what my personal strengths are?
There are many ways to identify your personal strengths. There’s no one right way to do it. Most people like to use a couple of approaches. I’ve created a table that covers the four most effective ways that I have come across. Click on the image to download a PDF of the table.
I developed The Strengths Deck to give my clients a tangible way to think about and play with their strengths. There’s something about picking out cards, moving them around, pairing them up, and seeing them all laid out which helps the thinking and creative processes.
The deck has over 70 different strengths, and room for you to add your own. I use it in face-to-face workshops and coaching, and am in the process of adapting it to the online environment (there’s nothing like a little global pandemic to encourage diversification!)
My clients tell me that they enjoy being able to “take charge” of their strengths, instead of relying on a computer programme to give them an answer. It’s a much more powerful and engaging experience to be sorting and choosing the cards for yourself.
The Strengths Deck is great for teams and individuals who want to get up-close-and-personal with their strengths, and to learn new approaches to weave their strengths into their life and work.
The Strengths Profile
The Strengths Profile is one of the most accurate, insightful and useful online assessment tools I have found for identifying personal strengths. It is also really valuable for helping us develop smart strategies to use our strengths for greater energy, engagement and results.
Knowing and using our personal strengths is linked to:
- Increased vitality and motivation
- Better relationships
- Reduced stress
- Higher life satisfaction
- Greater self-confidence
- Increased likelihood of achieving goals
- Enhanced health and wellbeing
- Increased engagement and productivity
Find out more about the Strengths Profile, and how I can help you gain its benefits, on my dedicated Strengths Profile page.
How can I use my personal strengths?
Researchers have found hundreds of methods for increasing the use of personal strengths. Here are a few simple ideas:
- Pick one strength to practice more consciously for the week
- Use a key strength in a new way (for example, bringing a “home” strength to work)
- Pay it forward – use one of your strengths to help a friend, family member or colleague
For a more thorough approach, I recommend one of my Strengths Profile plans. You’ll take the personal strengths assessment, then we’ll work together to help you find smart ways to use your personal strengths to achieve great results. We’ll also identify strategies to use your personal strengths to support your learned behaviours (things you’re good at but find draining) and weaknesses (things you aren’t good at and find draining).
Strengths coaching, facilitation and training
- Driving engagement by focusing on strengths – Gallup.com
- Measuring and managing employee work engagement: A review of the research and business literature – Mark Attridge (download)
- Personal Strengths & Weaknesses Defined – PositivePsychology.com
- Strengths Research – The Positive Psychology People
- Ten reasons to focus on your strengths – Psychology Today
- Character Strengths Interventions (book) – Ryan M Niemiec