What Are Your Signature Strengths?

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

If you’re like most people (myself included), then you have work to do in terms of understanding your strengths. Survey research has found that most people (up to two-thirds) do not have a meaningful awareness of their strengths. What’s more, it’s all-too-common for people to underuse their strengths.

Signature strengths are the strongest or most prominent in your own strengths profile (take the free VIA Survey to get your strengths profile). Ultimately, they are likely to be the strengths that matter most to you, that are most central to your personal identity. Three key features are common in signature strengths called the 3 E's:

  • Essential: the strength feels essential to who you are as a person.
  • Effortless: when you enact the strength you feel natural and effortless.
  • Energizing: using the strength uplifts you and leaves you feeling happy, in balance and ready to take on more.

We forget to take notice of our best strengths and find ways to let them loose in our lives.

Spotting Signature Strengths

Here are some examples of how people use their signature strengths without even realizing it!

Take Bill, for instance. Bill was surprised to learn that curiosity is a strength of character and moreover, that it is his #1 strength!

Then it hit him: He asks lots of questions, is interested in a many topics, always wants to try new foods, and constantly has the “travel bug” to see new places. Of course, this was his curiosity strength edging at him from within, eager to find a way out.

Since curiosity is a signature strength for Bill, it is very easy for him to be curious in any situation – next to someone on a airplane, with the waiter at a restaurant, or in talking with a new employee. What’s more, it is energizing and uplifting for him to be curious. In short, curiosity is how Bill connects with others.

Janet is another interesting example. Janet discovered her highest strength is prudence. Prudence gets a bad rap. It is often lumped with being a “prude” or someone who doesn’t have fun. In reality, prudence can be seen as “cautious wisdom,” thinking before one speaks, and being careful about one’s choices.

All her life, Janet had beat herself up for not being enough of a risk-taker, not living life fully, and always holding back when new situations arose. But, when viewed as her signature strength, it turns out prudence has served her well. Janet is a successful businesswoman and project manager and sees how this naturally-occurring prudence strength has helped her become who she is today. She is conscientious, goal-oriented, and is well-organized – all common characteristics of a prudent person.

Janet realized that she actually had been living life fully and did take risks, but her approach was to give pause to reflect a bit before taking action. Seeing this, her appreciation for herself deepened.

How about you….what are your signature strengths? The exercise below will help you!

It's Time For Action

  1. Review the strengths below. Identify which strengths best describe who you are at your core. Which are most energizing, natural for you to use, and widely expressed in your life?

  2. Take the full VIA Survey for free and see how accurate you were at identifying your strengths.

VIA Classification of Character Strengths

The Virtue of Wisdom

  • Creativity: Original; adaptive; ingenuity
  • Curiosity: Interest; novelty-seeking; exploration; openness to experience
  • Judgment: Critical thinking; thinking things through; open-minded
  • Love of Learning: Mastering new skills & topics; systematically adding to knowledge
  • Perspective: Wisdom; providing wise counsel; taking the big picture view

The Virtue of Courage

  • Bravery: Valor; not shrinking from fear; speaking up for what’s right
  • Perseverance: Persistence; industry; finishing what one starts
  • Honesty: Authenticity; integrity
  • Zest: Vitality; enthusiasm; vigor; energy; feeling alive and activated

The Virtue of Humanity

  • Love: Both loving and being loved; valuing close relations with others
  • Kindness: Generosity; nurturance; care; compassion; altruism; “niceness”
  • Social Intelligence: Aware of the motives/feelings of oneself & others

The Virtue of Justice

  • Teamwork: Citizenship; social responsibility; loyalty
  • Fairness: Just; not letting feelings bias decisions about others
  • Leadership: Organizing group activities; encouraging a group to get things done

The Virtue of Temperance

  • Forgiveness: Mercy; accepting others’ shortcomings; giving people a second chance
  • Humility: Modesty; letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves
  • Prudence: Careful; cautious; not taking undue risks
  • Self-Regulation: Self-control; disciplined; managing impulses & emotions

The Virtue of Transcendence

  • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence: Awe; wonder; elevation
  • Gratitude: Thankful for the good; expressing thanks; feeling blessed
  • Hope: Optimism; future-mindedness; future orientation
  • Humor: Playfulness; bringing smiles to others; lighthearted
  • Spirituality: Religiousness; faith; purpose; meaning

Discover the power in all of the strengths in your profile:

In The Power of Character Strengths: Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality, you’ll be expertly guided by leading authorities through the 24 strengths of character. You’ll soon see all the ways these strengths are your best-kept secret for boosting your well-being.

Available now on Amazon!

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