Often what leads someone to coaching is a sense of feeling stuck and wanting to address a barrier to progression. Whilst it’s true that sometimes we need to address a barrier head on, in my coaching work with clients sooner or later our discussions turn to their strengths. And that’s when the biggest breakthroughs are made.
First, how do we define what is a ‘strength’? Professor Alex Linley (Founder of Capp, the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology) describes it as: ‘a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance’.
In other words, a strength is part and parcel of who we are, it fires us up and it helps us perform at our best.
Below are ten reasons for focussing on your strengths, and those of your team members. And some questions and exercises to help get you thinking!
- It makes you happier
People who use their strengths more, are happier and more fulfilled, and they achieve their goals more effectively too[i]. They’re pretty good reasons just for starters!
Q: To what extent are you using your strengths in your work right now?
Q: If that’s ‘not much’ or ‘not enough’, what would using them more look like?
Q: If you don’t see a place for doing this in your current role/organisation, how would you like to use your strengths elsewhere?
- It’s practical.
Let’s face it, not every task on our ‘to do’ list is something we love! But when we use our strengths to complete a task, we become energised, and we are constantly topping up our reserves rather than just drawing them down. By understanding the psychology of a strengths-based approach:
– We can bring a different skill to bear to get something done e.g., personally I use my ability to ‘Persist’ to help me complete admin tasks where my Detail focus might otherwise let me down!
– And we can break up ‘unloved’ tasks into more manageable chunks and intersperse them with ones that use our energising strengths.
- It’s insightful
What we think of, or what others may describe as a weakness e.g., being workaholic/unable to switch off, mightn’t be a weakness in the sense of an absence of a skill or quality, but rather it is a strength (in this case of ‘Drive’) missing a volume control![ii]. By adjusting the ‘volume’ on our strengths according to the needs of each situation, we increase our effectiveness and turn them into major assets.
Q: What strength do you tend to overplay (or underplay)?
T: Ask a trusted friend, family member or colleague who will give you honest supportive feedback, ‘what should I do less of?’ (‘or more of?’).
- It can help reduce stress
Research indicates that when we deploy our strengths in a mindful way, we strengthen our overall mindfulness. And as a consequence we manage problems more effectively and improve our relationships with others too.[iii]
- It helps communicate USPs
Understanding and being clear with others about your unique strengths has multiple benefits:
– In interview situations, it allows you to show a potential employer what you could contribute to the role which increase the chances of securing a job.
– In the early-mid stages of your career, it helps you develop your personal brand and influence key decision makers about where you can add value; in turn that increases the chances of you being offered development opportunities that are in line with your career aims.
- It’s part of developing a strong personal brand
When you are clear on your strengths and values and, critically, you act in line with them consistently, you will be building the foundations of a strong personal brand which will help differentiate you from and build relationships of trust with others.
- It’s a way to help minimise weaknesses
Everyone has weaknesses – areas we aren’t and never will be strong in. But by using our strengths strategically – e.g. shaping our role to use our strengths more and our weaknesses less, or teaming up with others whose strengths complement ours – we can make our weaknesses less relevant. [iv]
- It boosts development and growth
Research by Gallup[v] has shown that when we focus on developing our strengths, we and the organisations we work for, achieve greater improvements than when we concentrate on trying to ‘fix’ our weaknesses.
- It’s key to becoming an authentic leader
Knowing and being comfortable with yourself – strengths and weaknesses included – is key to becoming a confident and authentic leader. Recent research by the Institute of Leadership and Management[vi] shows just how closely leaders are observed by those around them and how inauthentic behaviours cannot be hidden.
And for those of you with people management responsibilities….
- It improves the engagement of your team
Gallup research shows[vii] that by focussing on the strengths of your employees you will create the strongest levels of engagement. And teams with higher engagement levels have significantly higher productivity and profitability than workgroups with lower engagement levels.
[i] Govindji R. & Linley P.A., (2007). Strengths use, self-concordance and well-being: Implications for strengths coaching and coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2(2), 143-153
[ii] Kaplan, B., & Kaiser, R., (2007). Adjusting Your Leadership Volume. Leader to Leader, 43, 13-18 (2007)
[iii] Niemic, R.M., & Lissing, J., (2016). Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) for Enhancing Well-Being, Managing Problems, and Boosting Positive Relationships. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298351645_Mindfulness-Based_Strengths_Practice_MBSP_for_Enhancing_Well-Being_Managing_Problems_and_Boosting_Positive_Relationships
[iv] Linley P., Woolston L. & Biswas-Diener R., (2009). Strengths coaching with leaders. International Coaching Psychology Review, 4(1), 37-48
[v] Gallup, (2015). Strengths Meta-Analysis Report https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/269615/strengths-meta-analysis-2015.aspx
[vi] Institute of Leadership & Management, (2022). How do we understand authentic leadership? https://www.institutelm.com/resourceLibrary/how-do-we-understand-authentic-leadership.html
[vii] Gallup Business Journal, (November 12, 2009). Driving Engagement by Focussing on Strengths https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/124214/driving-engagement-focusing-strengths.aspx