Knowing and Growing Your Strengths

I’m very influenced by the powerful work that’s being done by the positive psychology movement.  I love how Martin Seligman (noted as “the father of positive psychology”) talks about how psychology as a practice needs to take mental health more seriously by focusing on what makes people resilient, strong, and powerful.  He’s curious to learn the answers to questions like:  What does it look like when we are at our best?  When have we been most resilient?  What are our strengths and how do we use them on a daily basis? And when we do, what’s the impact?  For some this approach to living comes very easily.  Seligman himself says he’s not one of those people – he has to work at it.  That’s where coaching comes in.  I’ve immersed myself in the literature of positive psychology as well as attended conferences sponsored by Harvard Medical School and The Mind Body Institute on Resiliency to learn more about how I can use my coaching to help clients more consistently be their best selves both professionally and personally.

One of the things I like to do with my clients is help them identify their strengths.  The strengths movement, an outgrowth of positive psychology, is built on the premise that we’re most effective, successful and fulfilled when we’re working in areas that play to our strengths and give us opportunities to grow our strengths.  It debunks the myth that we’ll succeed when we turn our weaknesses into strengths.  They suggest instead that weaknesses are “managed”, either by getting them up to speed (good enough), or partnering with others for whom your weakness is their strength.  But the chances that a weakness will become a strength is not likely.  Based on 40 years of Gallup research studying 2 million people researchers identified 34 key themes that when multiplied by the amount of time and energy invested in them equals a strength. You can find your top 5 strengths by taking an on-line assessment on the Gallup website which you’ll have access to once you purchase the book Strengths Finder 2.0  by Tom Rath.   There is another on-line strengths assessment created by Dr. Martin Seligman of UPenn’s team called the VIA (Values In Action) Signature Strengths Questionnaire.  One of the findings that Gallup cites is that  practicing your strengths has also been proven to increase optimism and positivity.  Research has shown that people who focus on strengths every day are 6 times more likely to be engaged in their work and 3 times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general!

I use these strengths throughout the coaching as touchstones, reminding clients that they can use them to navigate their way toward richer and more meaningful lives.  I’ve also encouraged clients who work with teams to have the whole team complete the survey as a way of leveraging the strengths of each person on the team toward common goals.  Here, the work of Tom Rath and Barry Conchie in Strengths Based Leadership is extraordinarily useful.

While these assessments were originally designed for adults, executives and teams, I have found them very accessible and beneficial for teens and young adults as well. It’s been particularly exciting for teens who feel “they’re not good at anything” to see what their strengths are and then look at the 10 suggestions given to strengthen each one.  You might even do this as a family and try to guess each other’s themes/strengths. Though you’ll likely not get them all right, it will be even better because then your teen will not only know his/her top 5 strengths but learn that you thought he/she had other ones as well!  That gives you, and others in the family, the opportunity to specifically describe for your child the many things he/she does really well. This is another wonderful way to celebrate your child’s uniqueness.

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