“What are your personal strengths?” I asked a client during a coaching conversation a few years ago. He mentioned that he is very analytical, a good communicator and a relationship builder. Working as a technical director in a large company, he was a consistent achiever with a solid track record. However, he felt that there was something missing in his job and it was not fulfilling. Let’s explore the concept of strengths as the situation unfolds.
The personal strengths question are often ask during an interview or coaching session. Organisation can then maximize the employees potential if they can identify those strengths. We call these strengths as Competency Strengths. They are our talent, abilities and skills. For example, an accountant would usually be strong in analytical skills besides being detailed.
There is one other strength category that we often forget or may not be aware of i.e. Character Strengths. These are qualities that are natural to a person’s core character. It gives the person a unique character profile. The VIA Institute of Character, which is a non-profit organisation, has identified 24 character strengths that every individual possess. Some of these character strengths are Creativity, Honesty, Kindness, Gratitude, Hope and Humor. A full list of the 24 character strengths are listed in the VIA Classification List.
Character strengths define what are best about who we are. On the other hand, Competency Strengths describe what’s best about what we do at work or in school. Every one of us has all 24 character strengths in varying degree. Typically, the top five strengths are our signature strengths. These are strengths that one feels authentic when used and they energizes the person.
Under-use and Over-use of Strengths
As coaches, we do not refer to the strengths at the bottom of the Character Strengths list as weaknesses. We are simply under-using those strengths. Likewise, when we over-use our strengths, it can become a problem. For example, Honesty is about being authentic and speaking the truth. When an individual over-use his Honesty and under-use his Social Intelligence strength, he might offend others by being too direct or some would say, brutally honest.
Discovering Your Personal Strengths
As for my client, I encouraged him to take the VIA Character Survey to help him gain more insights. The survey results indicated that his top 5 strengths were Creativity, Curiosity, Love of Learning, Hope and Kindness. Subsequently, he became more aware about his situation during our coaching conversations. His existing role did not allow him to maximize his signature strengths. In fact, his manager was a conservative leader and was not open to new ideas. His manager had turned down many of his innovative proposals. When he retrenched some employees during a company restructuring exercise, his hope and kindness were affected . Hence, he was not energized as he was not playing to his signature strengths. In short, there was no alignment of his character strengths with his other strengths.
Consequently after some soul searching, he decided to quit his job. It was a difficult decision given his lucrative salary and the credibility that he had built. Eventually, he started his own business – a chain of bubble tea stores. Leveraging on his strengths of creativity, curiosity, love of learning and hope, he innovated with new equipment and business models. He was able to build a good team through his kindness and leadership skills. Today, his business is thriving and he continues to exude his strengths and passion into his business.
Maximizing Personal Strengths
As leaders, we need to discover the character strengths of our team members besides their competency strengths. You can use the VIA Character Survey tool to assist you. Alternatively, listen for their strengths. Ask them to relate a story of their past successes and identify their character strengths. Ultimately, when you are able to assign them roles that maximize their personal strengths, their motivation will automatically increase.
A gifted footballer with speed and agility needs character strengths of perseverance and teamwork to become a world-class player. In conclusion, if you can maximize both your employee’s competency and character strengths, you are closer to building a high performance team.
Laurence Tan, Director, Leadership Coach & Trainer