In my work with managers on developing their capacity and confidence to lead, the theme of strengths has come to the forefront over the past 5 years, to the extent that we now define our business as strength-based. There is something profoundly attractive about the idea of delivering excellence with ease, building on your own authentic talents and showcasing your best self while being more fulfilled.
While the notion of authentic leadership has been gaining ground, implementing it was always a challenging idea. How do you develop yourself, learn from role models, mitigate your weaknesses while remaining authentic? The answer lies in identifying and harnessing your strengths.
Character strengths are defined by the VIA Institute as “the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave and are the keys to you being your best self”. Applying your strengths will come easily to you and is energising though may need practice or development.
The newly established disciplines of positive psychology and positive organisational scholarship have focused on creating an evidence-based and scientific understanding of what it takes for people, teams and organisations to flourish. Although some of it may seem self-explanatory, it is important to note that this ever-growing body of peer-reviewed academic studies demonstrates that strengths are not part of the latest self-help fad. Rather, the positive impact of strengths is underpinned by scientific research:
Using Strengths is good for your wellbeing, happiness and stress levels
Where you are able to use your strengths as part of your work, this has a beneficial effect. Those of us who use our strengths more, experience less stress and feel more positive and contented, with some people also reporting more energy (1). Other researchers found that using your strengths in a new and unique way could be linked to increased subjective wellbeing – what we commonly think of as happiness – for up to 6 months (2).
As an example, if you already apply your strength of curiosity when following world affairs or watching documentaries, you could benefit from approaching reactions to a proposed change at work from a perspective of curiosity: setting out to really understand the position and concerns of each stakeholder, whether colleague or customer.
It is argued that this strong connection between well-being and the use of strengths exists because strengths help us make progress on our goals and meet our needs for feeling independent and capable (3).
Using strengths is good for your performance
As mentioned above, the increase in happiness is in part generated by the positive impact on work performance generated by a strengths-based approach. Researchers have found that using our strengths is linked greater work satisfaction, subjective wellbeing and a sense of meaning (4). These soft outcomes have a real benefit – applying strengths in your daily work leads to a 44% higher probability of success on measures of customer loyalty and employee retention and 36% on productivity (5).
Using strengths gives greater personal growth
With the limited time and resources available for learning and development, it is worth considering that for comparable effort, people can achieve greater growth in an area of their strength than of weakness or deficit (6).
Using strengths as a manager improves your team performance
Perhaps unsurprisingly, on the basis of the research that using strengths makes teams happier and more productive, it was found that the probability of success was 86% greater for managers who took a strength-based approach (7).
As well as the increased productivity and wellbeing, use of strengths leads to a more stable team – awareness of strengths correlates with engagement and decreased staff turnover (8).
How you can harness strengths
Having been persuaded by the research, you may be wondering how you can harness your strengths and those of your team.
Firstly, you can identify your strengths – less than a third of respondents in one study were aware of their strengths (9). You can use methods such as reflection, 360-degree feedback, but for the most reliable results, use a psychometric tool. We recommend the VIA Survey of Character Strengths and Realise2 from Capp & Co.
Next, set out to identify a strength in yourself and also in a colleague over the coming week. Then consider the benefits that harnessing these strengths could bring to your team or the organisation.
Eszter Molnar Mills is a strength-based leadership and organisation development specialist and the founder of Formium Development. An accomplished facilitator and qualified executive and team coach, Eszter helps leaders and organisations reach enhanced performance by reflecting on what works, and developing skills and strategies for improvement. If you would like to know more about how she helps managers identify and utilise strengths, including delivering team analysis and debriefing of VIA or Realise2 surveys for you or your team, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Park & Peterson, 2009, Park, Peterson & Seligman, 2004, Peterson and Peterson, 2008, Proyer et al, 2013, Rust, Diessner and Reade, 2009, Wood et al, 2010.
- Seligman, Steen, Park, Peterson, 2005.
- Linley et al, 2010.
- Littman-Ovadia and Davidovitch, 2010; Littman-Ovadia and Steger, 2010.
- Harter, Schmidt and Hayes, 2002.
- Asplund et al 2007; Clifton and Harter, 2003.
- Gallup Organization, 2002
- Asplund et al, 2007
- Linley, 2008