Over the past decade the number of employees who believe that building their strengths, rather than fixing their weaknesses, would help them to be more successful at work has almost doubled. But just what do our strengths really look like?
Two Views of StrengthsThe father of strengths-based psychology, Dr. Donald Clifton, defined strengths as, “The consistent near perfect performance in an activity that led to high levels of achievement.” He believed that they key to building our strengths was to identify our dominant talents and then to amplify them through our investment time spent acquiring more factual knowledge, reflecting on real-life experience, and building skills.
Valued for the tangible experiences they create, talents generally relate more to “what” we like to do, and can be identified by completing Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment. You can get a key to take this online assessment by buying a copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0. For example, people with the Analytical talent like to search for reasons and causes; people with the Communications talent easily put their thoughts into words; and people with the Relator talent enjoy close relationships with others.
After many healthy discussions with Clifton about what comprises a strength, Professor Martin Seligman and the late Professor Christopher Peterson proposed that a fulfilling life required more than just mere achievement and broadened the definition of strengths from talent to character. They defined character strengths as the psychological ingredients, processes, or mechanisms that define morally valued virtues. They believed that with enough practice, persistence, good teaching, and dedication, any of character strength could be developed. For example, while Love and Be Loved initially rated as one of my lesser character strengths, consistent investment in acts of love over the last eight years has made this one of my top strengths.
Morally valued in their own right, character strengths generally relate more to how we like to be in the world, and can be identified by completing the free VIA Survey.
Making Sense of the Two Views
So which should you focus on when it comes to being more successful at work?
To date a comparative study of the two approaches is yet to be completed, but I found it particularly helpful to use an approach I learned from Dr. Tal Ben Shahar. Here’s Dr. Shahar’s approach, which fuses these two views of strengths.
- Complete the Gallup Strengths Finder survey to uncover your top five talents. List these inside a circle with the heading “What I Like To Do.” For example I would list my top five talents as Strategic, Learner, Maximizer, Achiever, and Activator.
- Then, complete the free VIA Survey to uncover your top five character strengths and list these in an overlapping circle with the heading “How I Like To Work”. For example I would list my top five character strengths of: Zest, Gratitude, Hope, Curiosity, and Creativity.
- Finally, think about when these strengths have overlapped to unleash your best moments at works. For example I found that when my talent of Learner and my character strength of Curiosity come together to discover tested ways to improve our work, not only do I become completely absorbed in what I’m doing, but I add great value to teams I’m working with. And when my talent of Maximizer (which loves to take something that’s good and make it great) is combined with my character strength of Creativity then I find that it’s easy for me to get in the zone and deliver innovative solutions that get results.
I realized that this intersection between my talents and character strengths is where my moments of greatness at work are consistently found. It’s when I feel more confident to show up, to truly shine in the projects I’m undertaking and to succeed by delivering my very best work. As I demonstrate in a Huffington Post article, more than a decade of research suggests these results are not unique to me.
So where might your zone of greatness lie between what you like to do and how you like to work when you’re at your very best? If you’d like to learn more about how to map your talents and your character strengths at work then join me for a free one hour webinar on this topic on March Tuesday 1st March 2016 at 8.00pm EST (or get the recording) by clicking here.
Editor’s Note: This article is labeled “Sponsored” because we have an affiliate relationship with Michelle McQuaid’s Show Up and Shine program. For anyone who uses our link to sign up for her free webinar and then signs up for the subsequent Show Up and Shine class, Positive Psychology News will receive an affiliate fee, which we can then use to support the site. We believe this article is useful for all, but some may get additional benefit from listening to Michelle speak on Tuesday March 1 at 8PM Eastern Time (Wednesday March 2 at noon Sydney Time). The webinar title is Are You Underplaying Or Overplaying Your Strengths? The 3 simple steps to doing what you do best.
Ben Shahar, T. (2009). Positive leadership. Presentation at PricewatehouseCoopers. Melbourne, Australia.
Buckingham, M. & Clifton, D.O. (2001). Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: The Free Press.
McQuaid, M. & Lawns, E. (2014). Your Strengths Blueprint: How to be Engaged, Energized, and Happy at Work.
McQuaid, M. (2015). Ten reasons to focus on your strengths — No matter what your job description says. Huffington Post. Includes many links to research from the last 10 years about the impact of focusing on strengths.
McQuaid, M. and VIA Institute (2015) The 2015 Strengths @ Work Survey.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: Gallup Press.