What are strengths?
Academics and consultants differ in their definitions. Some see it as the application of innate talent – naturally recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Others see it as values (what we hold dear) playing out through our actions.
Gallup Strengthsfinder is one of the longest established strengths based assessments around. As such it has one of the largest databases. Gallup find a lot of stability across the strengths when individuals retest their strengths. Whilst some strengths may drop out of their top 5 down to 6 or 7, they rarely drop away to the bottom (out of a total of 34 strengths). This suggests there is something enduring and innate about strengths.
Can they be developed?
Nevertheless, whilst strengths are seen as something we may have a natural predisposition for, there is general agreement that we can develop them. According to Dr Shane Lopez, who works with Gallup, strengths can be developed to a large extent and certainly there is more value in undertaking strengths development than trying to develop your weaknesses.
Why are they important?
People who are aware of their strengths and get to use them on a daily basis at work are more satisfied and engaged at work. As they feel more ‘in tune’ and authentic in what they do, they are also less likely to experience burnout.
Dr Claudia Harzer, who researches strengths in the workplace, says that playing to strengths is more likely to lead to task accomplishment and that, in turn, makes people feel more satisfied about work, themselves and those around them.
What gets in the way of using our strengths?
1. Ignorance of what our strengths are.
If you are interested in learning what your strengths take a self report questionnaire such as:
2. Humility: individuals may know what their strengths are but feel embarrassed to talk about them. However, acknowledging that you are a creative individual, for instance, does not necessarily equate to you being better than others.
Give yourself permission to acknowledge your strengths – afterall everyone has them.
3. Because they are more innate, we have a tendency to take them for granted and not value them in the same way as we value other people’s strengths.
Think back over your own history and identify when you applied a strength to great effect.
4. We can overplay our strengths or use them in the wrong place at the wrong time. Feedback on this can make us feel doubly ineffective and lead us to question the value of strengths
5. Finally, the environment in which you work may not enable you to put your strengths into operation. This might be because of organisational constraints, job design or even cultural norms which don’t particularly value those strengths which are high on your list.
Are some strengths better than others?
In short, not particularly.
However, according to Dr Harzer some strengths are more important than others in different settings.
For task accomplishment, strengths such as perseverance, honesty, self regulation, teamwork and prudence are particularly relevant to getting the job done.
In terms of enjoying the job or experiencing more motivation in the job, bravery (trying out new things), curiosity (being open) and love of learning are key.
And for building strong relationships with others, fairness, kindness, leadership and teamwork are critical.
How can individuals learn to do more with their strengths?
- Become aware of our own strengths by undertaking a strengths based assessment.
- Identify opportunities within existing job to play to your strengths. Create if:then scenarios by identifying opportunities to apply your strengths in a new or different way.
- Find a strength buddy and coach each other. Pal up with another individual so you can give each other strengths based feedback and who will help you explore opportunities for you to use your strengths in a new way.
What can organisations do to build strengths?
- Champion use of strengths through strengths based tools throughout all leadership development exercises.
- Use strengths based language to describe performance.
- Turn the 80/20 rule on its head: spend 80% of the time talking about capitalising on strengths and 20% of the time on weaknesses – not the other way around which is most typically the case.
- Use strengths for graduate recruitment in particular gradually changing the lexicon of the organisation, bottom up.
- Actively engage and support job crafting exercises.
Want to learn more? Contact Pam Kennett.