If you want to thrive, you won't get there by only trying to fix your weaknesses. You also need to leverage your strengths. As the field of positive psychology has focused more on looking at what works instead of what doesn't, increased attention is being paid to the benefits of strengths identification and development. Research on strengths at work shows that the use of strengths is connected to greater work satisfaction, engagement, and greater productivity.
What Are Strengths?
We intuitively understand that strengths are something we're good at, something that takes less effort than things in which we don't excel. Strengths, however, are more than what we do well. Strengths also energize us. Did you ever notice yourself involved in something where you lost track of time because you were so engaged? That's an indication that you were using one or more of your strengths. Strengths that are energizing align with your values. One person whose strength is courage might decide to climb Mt. Everest but another might demonstrate their courage by standing up for a colleague they think is being treated unfairly. Both are demonstrating courage but in very different ways.
"Your interests in life drive your character strengths and vice versa. Bring the two together and you have a recipe for success in life. Interests and character strengths are two natural energy resources within us," says Dr. Ryan Niemiec, psychologist and author of Mindfulness and Character-Strengths A Practical Guide to Flourishing.
What the Research Shows
Did you know that people who use their strengths daily are six times more likely to be engaged on the job, according to research by Gallup and are less likely to experience stress or anxiety? It's no wonder that much research has looked at the impact of strengths in organizations. The results of this research strongly indicate that people who regularly use their strengths are more engaged and happier at work. Similar studies have found the additional benefit of lower employee turnover.
How to Identify Your Strengths
As much as we think we know our strengths, we tend to overestimate ourselves in some areas and underestimate in others. One reason is that strengths are not fixed; when, how and how much we use them is situational. Millions of people have taken strengths assessments such as Gallup's StrengthsFinder or the Values in Action (VIA) Survey. The difficulty with these assessments is that they don't provide an outside perspective.
One way of getting a handle on your capabilities is by using the Reflected Best Self Exercise, an intervention developed by faculty at the University of Michigan Ross Business School. The idea is this:
Choose 10 or more people who know you well from different walks of life. Ask them to write a story about a time you were at your best, being as specific as possible about what you did and why it made an impression on them.
Look for common themes that appear in these stories and list them.
Create a profile of who you are when you're at your best.
Ask yourself the following questions:
• How can I apply my strengths to the goals I want to achieve?
• How can I use my strengths to live my values?
• How can I adjust my job to incorporate more of my strengths?
• How are my strengths visible in ways they are not in others?
In the words of Adam Grant, professor at Wharton: "When it comes to assessing our talents, we're full of blind spots. If you can see yourself through the eyes of others, your vision will become less blurry. And by giving other people feedback about their talents, you might help their vision become clearer too."