Gone are the days when “leader” generally meant a guy in a grey suit with a briefcase. These days a leader might be a jeans and tennis shoe wearing 20...
Discovering and Using Your Strengths
Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
Strengths are personal characteristics that cause us to feel energized and perform at our personal best. Understanding and using our strengths is simply about doing more of the things that we’re naturally good at and enjoy doing. Studies have shown that using our strengths at work can make us happier, allow us to be more engaged in what we’re doing, increase our level of satisfaction with life, boost productivity and improve customer satisfaction.
Positive Psychologist Martin Seligman found that people who tried using their strengths in new ways each day for a week were happier and less depressed six months later.  On the flip side, a recent poll highlighted in Strengths Finder 2.0 showed that people who have few opportunities to use their strengths are also not emotionally engaged in their work.
Additional research has shown that those who feel they are using their strengths have more positive emotion, greater vitality, and self-esteem when compared with people who do not feel they use theirs.
Of course, it’s unreasonable to expect that any of us could work ourselves into a situation requiring only our strengths. Mitigating weaknesses will always be an important component to success. It’s really a matter of emphasis. Focusing on our strengths simply means doing all we can to ensure that the bulk of our day is spent using and developing those characteristics that come most naturally to us and that make us feel engaged and satisfied with our work. It means that we can say, with confidence, “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”
So how do we accomplish this?
Discover Your Strengths
First things first. Having a clear understanding of your strengths is, of course, the first step towards using them more. You may feel you already have a clear understanding of your strengths; however, because our strengths are things that come most naturally to us, they are easy to overlook and sometimes even more difficult to articulate.
Business guru Peter Drucker articulates the crux of the matter, “Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong… And yet, a person can perform only from strengths.”
For this reason, it can be instructive to take an assessment, or at least spend some time getting to know the main categories of strengths that have been identified by Positive Psychologists.
Strengths Finder 2.0
The book (and included assessment) in Strengths Finder 2.0 can not only help you discover your strengths, but also provide you with an Action-Planning Guide for applying your strengths in the next week, month and year. The assessment will help you identify your main “themes of talent” – 34 in all – and give you ideas for action within each of your main themes.
The VIA Me!
The VIA Me! offers a range of tools to help individuals identify their strengths. Profiles and reports are based on responses to the VIA Inventory of Strengths Survey. The VIA Inventory of Strengths is a 120 item assessment tool developed to scientifically measure a person’s character strengths.
The assessment takes about 10-15 minutes to complete, however, you can start the survey and complete it at a different time. Your responses will be saved. Even better, the VIA Inventory of Strengths Surveys are currently available for free.
Once you have a clear understanding of your personal strengths…
- Is this a characteristic that I feel naturally drawn to?
- Do I feel excited or energized by the idea of using these characteristics more?
- How much do I currently use these characteristics – in my job, at home, in hobbies, etc.?
- Would those who know me best agree that these are my strengths? (Consider asking them!)
Then, select just one of your top strengths and consider how much you are currently using this characteristic in each area of your life. Ask yourself if there are ways you might be able to use it more. Take a week to focus on incorporating that particular strength more fully into every area of your life. The following week, repeat the exercise with another of your top strengths.
Too many people go through their entire lives without uncovering their greatest talents and potential. As leaders, it’s important that we not only discover and develop our own strengths, but help those around us build on their natural talents as well. Doing so will produce greater personal success and satisfaction and help us to generate a positive impact on the world around us.
Every human being has talents that are just waiting to be uncovered!
 Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.