In our last blog, I talked about how to identify and focus on different kinds of strengths that fall under the categories of personality, character, values, talents/skills, and interests/passions. Familiarity with these aspects of yourself is paramount to self-awareness and understanding. Then, taking action to develop and blend your strengths can accelerate the journey toward reaching your highest potential.
Consider your unique collection of strengths –– whether you are well aware of them already or you discover them through a tool such as the VIA Character Strengths Assessment or The Strengths Profile. Create a list of the strengths you want to cultivate, noting the reason why investing in each is important to you. Then, pick one to start with. It can be the strength that is most important to you, or perhaps the one that you feel will naturally lead to developing the others on your list.
Once you’ve identified your starting place, reflect more deeply on that strength. How do you use it today, professionally and personally? How have you used it successfully in the past? Brainstorm unique ways to use your strength based on what’s happening in your life right now. Most strengths reports, including the ones above, include recommendations for cultivating specific strengths –– review those for additional ideas.
Another way to develop your strengths is to connect them to your work. Start with your longer list of strengths from above. Then, for each of your key projects or work responsibilities, examine what success looks like from the perspectives of multiple people or groups –– the organization, your client/customer, your team and peers, your manager, and yourself. Now, consider where you can leverage your strengths to meaningfully contribute. Take a few moments to consider each strength instead of just focusing on what first pops into your mind.
Remember that the connections between your strengths and your work may not be obvious. If you find yourself struggling to find connections –– even after reflection -–– consider a dialogue with your manager, a trusted colleague, your HR professional, or a leadership coach.
Sometimes, the strength that resonates most is not a single strength, but rather a combination. Think of this as a strengths recipe or formula –– a mix of ingredients that creates something extraordinary.
These combinations may be apparent immediately; if so, fantastic! If not, don’t worry. Start by thinking of some moments where you felt your absolute best –– times when you were contributing meaningfully and achieving important outcomes. Close your eyes and think back on each of these “highlights” in as much detail as possible. Write down everything you can remember doing, feeling, and thinking. These are all clues that help you see how your strengths combine.
Once you’ve documented a few of these highlights, look for themes. What stands out across the board? Is it your willingness to jump in quickly in the face of injustice, even when standing up may be unpopular or difficult? This could be a combination of your proactive personality combined with the VIA Character Strengths of Bravery and Fairness.
Maybe it’s your ability to take a tense team situation and not only diffuse the situation, but get the entire team moving forward in alignment. This could be a combination of the VIA Character Strengths of Social Intelligence and Perspective combined with the personality strength of Conscientiousness (from the OCEAN model). If you are having difficulty, ask a trusted colleague or coach for their take on your recent highlights to help you get started.
Now, consider how these themes come to life for you. Are you using them as much as you’d like? If not, where can you use them more? Are there other combinations of your strengths that could be blended to help you achieve your goals and make a difference?
The next step is to take action and bring your ideas to life. Both commitment and intention are important here. Consider a commitment to using your strength differently every day for the next week.
Create strategic moments to pause and set your specific intentions. One way to do that is to take a few moments each morning to think about your agenda for the day and note one or two meetings or activities where you can purposely lean into the strength you are cultivating.
For example, if you are cultivating your strength in Judgment (from the VIA character strengths assessment), consider where it can be best leveraged to provide value, particularly across the stakeholder groups mentioned earlier. If you don’t see the meeting as the best way to speak up, consider other options and approaches such as connecting with key decision-makers offline or sending your perspectives ahead of the meeting.
Keep a record of your progress. It can be as simple as jotting down a few notes at the beginning or end of each day about what you did and your reflection on it. Note how it made you feel when you used your strength in a different way, paying special attention to what gives you the most energy and excitement. You’ll refer back to both of these notes many times, so keep them visible –– a series of post-it notes on your monitor or desk or a journal dedicated to these thoughts would suffice.
Consider turning the practice of cultivating your strengths into a habit. Michelle McQuaid outlines how to cultivate your strengths in just 11 minutes a day using your own habits as an anchor.
If you are still not sure how to take action, try recognizing strengths in others. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to identify the strengths you saw represented from each of the individuals you interacted with.
When we focus on our strengths, apply them regularly, and blend them whenever possible, we can reach incredible levels of achievement, fulfillment, and joy, all derived from mixing what you’re good at with what you care about.