It’s tempting to focus on bridging gaps and improving weaknesses when we want to guide people to succeed at work or in life. Yet we do so at the expense of making full use of their strengths.
If you are a manager, coach or people development leader, focusing on strengths is one of the greatest differences you can make to get the best from people and organisations.
Strengths are at the heart of engagement — that elusive workplace concept that enhances employee contribution, leading to increased productivity, higher profits, greater commitment and retention.
Research shows that when people use their strengths they perform better, achieve results faster and feel more satisfied, energised and engaged. They are motivated and able to go above and beyond because they are doing what they love and do best. They get a buzz from what they do that adds to their confidence and competence.
It should be no surprise then that the most engaged employees are the ones who use their strengths at work most of the time.
In fact, a global study by the Corporate Leadership Council of almost 20,000 people across multiple organisations, industries and countries found that when people were encouraged by their managers to focus on their strengths, their performance rose a massive 36%.
When they focused on their weaknesses, performance dropped by 27%.
By putting aside strengths to slog away trying to improve the things they weren’t naturally good at, they likely worked a lot harder for diminishing results, feeling increasingly dispirited and disengaged. They may also have felt their manager didn’t recognise and appreciate them for who they are as a person and the strengths they yearn to contribute in their role.
This does not mean ignoring people’s weaknesses—after all, we all have them.
What it does mean is being aware of what we don’t do so well and creating realistic strategies to minimise them, if they pose a risk in the person’s role. Not all weaknesses really need to be improved.
Strategies to engage people’s strengths
As a manager or coach you can help people minimise weaknesses and maximise strengths with some of the following questions:
- Can they partner with team members who have complementary strengths?
- Can they spend more time on projects that play to their strengths?
- Which can they draw on to achieve the same goals and really excel?
- Which energise them most? How can they apply them to stay engaged and performing at their best every day?
- Which strengths, if they develop them, hint at untapped potential that may propel them in the next stage of their career?
- For those who tend to overplay or overuse certain strengths, how can they be more mindful about how they use them?
Strengths are a powerful tool; to get the best results we often need to dial a strength up or down to meet the demands of the situation. For example, a leader who habitually overplays drive and competiveness may need to dial up compassion to sustain his team’s engagement when they show signs of burnout.
There are many ways to discover and develop people’s strengths, from spotting strengths to formal assessment and coaching.
I recommend the Strengths Profile (previously known as Realise2), a workplace tool developed by Alex Linley and his UK-based team that draws on the latest positive psychology research. Strengths Profile measures how well people perform their strengths, how often they use them and how energised they feel when using them. This enables people and their managers to access the energy that fuels strengths—a key ingredient in engagement—and create strategies to optimise their performance and potential.
Download your free eBook on ‘Harnessing Strengths at Work’ to learn some of the most practical and research-backed ways to realise strengths in yourself and others to achieve better performance, satisfaction and fulfilment at work.