You may have heard that if you want to thrive at work and in life you should focus on your strengths, your innate talents, what comes to you naturally. But you may be thinking this can’t be true, seems too easy and probably is an excuse used by those who don’t want to do the hard work. One has to work on weaknesses, after all aren’t they potential career derailers?
So what’s the truth? What is an effective strategy to help you flourish at work and in life?
Research from the field of positive psychology shows that focusing on strengths provides many benefits –it makes you happier, more productive, more successful, even healthier.
“Successful people don’t try to improve what they’re bad at. They capitalize on what they’re good at. You won’t accomplish anything until you stop worrying about your weaknesses and start using your strengths!” says Daniel H. Pink.
“At work we can find mental wealth” says Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec, VIA’s Education Director, and author of several books including: Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing. He explains that research on strengths at work is showing that the use of signature strengths (employees’ highest strengths) is connected with greater work satisfaction, work engagement, work as a calling in life, more positive experiences at work, and greater productivity
Using your strengths is also good for stress reduction and increases overall happiness. According to research by Gallup, people who use their strengths daily are six times more likely to be engaged on the job, are less likely to experience stress or anxiety, and are also happier.
Still a focus on strengths doesn’t mean that you should ignore your shortcomings. There is a need for balance as you don’t want your weaknesses to undermine your strengths. Adopting such a balanced strategy is effective as it achieves a double objective.
First, you give priority to using and developing your strengths. This maximizes your impact for the time and energy spent as you have an advantage and will progress faster at anything that requires your natural talents.
Second, by monitoring your weaknesses you protect and support the impact of your strengths. Having this awareness allows you to develop ways to manage or neutralize your shortcomings and make sure that they don’t get in the way of your career. This two prong approach creates a balance and a synergy between both sides.
What Are Strengths?
There are different types of strengths. There are character strengths, which are viewed as “who you are”, they are part of your core identity. And then, there are are also strengths or natural talents that allow you to do certain things well and with less effort than things in which you don’t excel. It’s the “what you do well” perspective. These natural talents can also be amplified by related competencies and skills, developed over time. The more you use them the stronger they become.
When you use your strengths you feel energized and you are at your best. You may get in a state of flow, immersed in what you’re doing and loosing track of time. You feel great and act at your best.
How to Identify Your Strengths?
So how do you identify and articulate your strengths so that that you know exactly what are the behaviors and patterns that serve you well?
You may take your strengths for granted and as a result you don’t necessarily appreciate them. For this reason it is helpful to have a framework that helps you reflect and articulate what you’re best at.
One tool is the VIA Character Strengths Questionaire. Its focus is on “who you are” as a person. It was developed by two of the founders of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Chris Peterson.
It is a free assessment. Answer the questions as you really are, not how you think you should be. Once you’ve completed it you’ll get a short feedback report showing the rank order of your 5 top VIA character strengths.
Another tool is Gallup’s StrengthsFinder https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com. Its focus is on “what you do well” and it is the best framework to identify and apply your talents at work. Gallup is a research based performance-management consulting. The book Strengths Finder 2.0. by Gallup’s executive Tom Rath published in 2007 has been a best seller for many years and if you buy the book you get a code to take the assessment online for free.
The two assessments above are self-reports, meaning the results are based on how you answer their questions. But if you’re concerned about your objectivity or about unintentionally overestimating or underestimating some areas you may want to assess your strengths using feedback from others.
The Reflected Best Self Exercise helps you do that. After you gather feedback from significant people in your life, the RBSE guides you through the process of creating a portrait of your best self.
Among these three tools you can choose one or all three if you wish. Each of them will give you a framework and valuable feedback that will help you move on to the next step – using your strengths.
How To Use Your Strengths?
Once you have your assessment results how do you use that information in real life? Developing your self-awareness about your strengths is the first step. Once you have that clarity you can select what behaviors you want to expand in your everyday life. It is helpful to create an action plan to ensure that you use your strengths and chosen behaviors more often and consistently.
Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- How do I use my strengths already?
- In what areas of my life do I use my strengths?
- What are other areas where I could use my strengths?
- How can I apply my strengths to the goals I want to achieve?
- If I am dealing with a challenge, what strengths would be most helpful to manage the situation?
Use your answers to the above questions to get ideas on how to use each strength more frequently, how to use each strength in different areas of your life and to how find new ways to apply your strengths at work. Focus on one strength for one week and then repeat the same process the following week with another strength.
And watch yourself get more satisfaction and fulfilment each day!
I always love to hear your comments or questions, please feel free to share them below.