Strengths-Based Personal Development

05.12.2019, Lesezeit: ~5min

Companies today operate in dynamic markets, which are characterized by steady progress and structural changes. This work structure is more flexible and job security decreases. Moreover, the tasks of the employees become more complex and the pressure to adapt to new requirements grows.

Personal development today faces challenges. Qualifications should serve the company´s competitiveness as well as the employees; provide them skills that are also attractive outside the company.

Research has proven that the best way to develop people is to identify the ways in which they most naturally think, feel and behave as unique individuals and build on it.

One of the cornerstones of the positive psychology is the strength-based personal development. What is it? What is the difference between strength and talent? How can we build strengths? What is its practical use for Leaders and/or of positive psychology? What is the strategy of managing weaknesses?

What is Strengths-Based Personal Development? (SBD)

Strengths-based development (SBD) has its roots in positive psychology and forms a new, dynamic approach to personnel development that targets the achievement of exceptional individual and organizational outcomes by a process of identifying and valuing employee talents, developing them into applicable strengths and putting these strengths into practice.

“People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough” (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999, p. 57).

Gallup asked the following question around the world: “Which would help you be more successful in your life: knowing what your weaknesses are and attempting to improve your weaknesses, or knowing what your strengths are and attempting to build on your strengths?” Those who choose to focus on their strengths and manage around their weaknesses were a minority in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Japan, and China - every country in Gallup’s study.

What are Strengths and Talents?

To begin, it’s important to define terms associated with strengths-based development, strength and talent.

Linley and Harrington (2006a) defined strength as “a natural capacity for behaving, thinking, or feeling in a particular way that allows optimal functioning and performance in the pursuit of valued outcomes” (p.88). Furthermore, Buckingham and Clifton (2001) clarified that strengths are not innate but must be built by combining the natural talents possessed by an individual with knowledge and skills. Once strengths are built, they energize individuals, motivate them, and give them a sense of authenticity (Govindji & Linley, 2007).

Talent x Application (Knowledge & Skill) = STRENGTH

Talent is defined as naturally occurring. Roughly, between the ages of 3 and 15, the human brain organizes itself by strengthening the synaptic connections used often, while infrequently used connections weaken over time. After about age 15, an individual’s unique network of synaptic connections does not change significantly. While this doesn’t imply that people cannot change, it does provide scientific backup for the notion that their talents, or recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior – don’t significantly change over time. Individuals can develop a heightened self-awareness, they can stabilize their values and beliefs, and they can add knowledge and skills on the way to developing their talents into strengths. Still, it seems that their greatest return on their investment into development comes from focusing on the synaptic connections that are already strong.

Less scientifically, we can say, that many people think about talents as an ominous thing that only other people possess. Maybe that’s because talent is a word with strong associations, but a talent is simply a characteristic that constantly influences how you feel, think or behave.

How to build strengths?

At the individual level, strengths-based development involves three stages:

  1. The first stage is the identification of individual talents; a process, which can be promoted in work, related situations by line managers as well as by colleagues. Both can inspire an individual to think about things he likes to do and things he is good at and can point out to possible talents.
  2. In the integration phase, individuals are more able to explain the behaviors that take place as a result of their top talents. They begin to define who they are in terms of their talents.
  3. Finally, in the behavior change phase, individuals tie their successes back to their themes of talent. Further, they report increases in satisfaction, productivity, and other outcomes as a result of their focus on what they do best

How to lead with your strength?

  1. Understand what strengths are. Strengths have recently been defined as activities that make you feel strong. Everyone has certain talents, knowledge, and skills that make them feel successful and unique.
  2. Find your strengths. Strength-based leadership requires you to be aware of your own strengths. Realize that some strength play more to leadership than others do. Try to focus on those. There are several ways you can identify your strengths.
  3. Write strength statements. These statements capture, in one sentence, what it is that makes you feel strong. Try to identify three areas of strength to focus on. Be as specific as possible
  4. Use your strengths at the workplace. Keep your strength statements in a place where you can see them as you work
  5. Create a strong leadership team. Choose people who both complement your strengths and help fill in the gaps.
  6. Build relationships with those on your team. Followers need to know that you care about them, not necessarily, that you can recite the mission or vision of the organization. The most influential leaders create an environment of trust, compassion, stability, and hope. Use your strengths to communicate and connect with your followers.
  7. Lead others in identifying and using their strengths. As a leader, you can help your employees take similar steps to find and use their strengths at work.
  8. Plan around your weaknesses. In strengths-based leadership, you need to focus your time and energy on the things you do well. Therefore, it is important to find the necessary tools to help you deal with your weaknesses.

Strategies for managing weakness

When we identify a weakness, we have two options:

  1. try to improve it
  2. leave it and work around it

Most people tend to focus on strategy 1. However, this strategy is the least effective one. When something is not our talent, then no matter how much we try to improve on it, we will always stay average. Without an underlying talent for that activity, we will never be able to become outstanding on a consistent basis. Hence, purely focusing on improving our weaknesses is never a path to glory.

In some cases becoming average is essential and worth spending time and effort on. For example, Tiger Woods simply cannot ignore working on his putting skills in order to be a great golfer. So sometimes, we have to improve our weaknesses if they are too much of an obstacle. However, the main focus should always be on focusing and developing our talents and strengths. That’s our unique advantage that we have to use.


Focusing on Strengths Increases:

• Confidence

• Individual growth

• Career satisfaction

• Engagement in work

• Staff retention

• Organizational growth

• Productivity

Focusing on Weaknesses Decreases:

• Confidence

• Engagement in work

• Productivity

• Creativity

I truly believe that living a strength and talent based life means living a more content, happy and successful life. Our society doesn’t teach us to focus on our individual talents and develop them, so we have to take responsibility for ourselves.

Strengths-based development has a potential that is just started to be realized. There is clearly a need to educate the world about positive psychology in practice and the importance of understanding and focusing on strengths.

Anita T. Németh

Human Resources

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