Several years ago, I completed my first VIA Character Strengths Survey. It was invigorating to think only about my strengths – what I contribute easily, skillfully, and energetically – rather than all the things I can improve upon.
Today, strengths work is a powerful and motivating force in my life and with those around me, as we dig deeper to enhance our work, relationships, and health. Below are 3 insights that have had a real impact along the way.
Insight #1 – Focusing on strengths creates an entirely different conversation and outcome than focusing on weaknesses.
Our tendency as human beings is to focus on weaknesses and what’s not going well at work, school, and home. Just ask someone to tell you about his day, and I can almost guarantee he will launch into a litany of complaints and stressors! It’s natural. But we need to give at least equal time to strengths and what’s going well.
To demonstrate the real difference between a strengths and weakness focus, I like to think of a car with a leaky tire. I can keep driving the car for awhile, but I can’t ignore the leak because the tire will eventually flatten. If I do nothing, I could be stranded, miss an important meeting, or worse.
The leaky tire is like a weakness, and this weakness needs my attention. If I ignore it, I may experience unintended or undesirable consequences. So I replace the tire with the spare, a necessary fix.
But my car still isn’t moving forward. For that, I need the accelerator. The accelerator delivers the fuel I need to get going, propelling me forward. Strengths are like the accelerator, delivering the fuel I need to get to my destination.
The conversation and the outcomes are completely different. On the one hand, I’m fixing something to avoid unintended or even harmful outcomes. On the other hand, I’m delivering fuel, gaining momentum, and moving towards my destination.
The difference is not trivial.
Insight #2 – The character strengths at the bottom of the list are NOT weaknesses.
We naturally jump to the conclusion that the bottom of the Character Strengths Survey reflects weaknesses. For example, when I saw my results for the first time, Leadership was in the bottom third. Thinking that Leadership must be one of my weaknesses, I felt surprised and confused, as I’ve been recognized for Leadership in professional and personal settings.
After learning more about the survey scoring, I realized that numerical differences in the rankings can be quite small. And although I rated Leadership as “like me,” I happened to score it slightly lower than other strengths.
The strengths towards the bottom are still strengths, not weaknesses. I can call on them when needed to reach an important goal, solve a problem or build stronger relationships.
Insight # 3 – The strengths we see in ourselves aren’t necessarily the strengths others see in us.
I recently asked colleagues, family members and friends who know me well to do an exercise where they ranked the character strengths they perceive in me.
According to their replies, my #1 character strength is Kindness, followed by Creativity at #2. According to my own survey, my #1 character strength is Creativity, and Kindness is much lower. The difference in Kindness is a form of strengths blindness on my part, since others perceive it in me more than I do.
In reflecting on the differences, I realized I was judging Creativity as more “acceptable” than Kindness to describe me at my best. So to temper that judgment and embrace the Kindness others see in me, I wondered what being a Kind Creative might be like.
As a Kind Creative I can still challenge the status quo, using Creativity to generate positive change in unique ways. I can also increase my effectiveness and influence by directing more Kindness and understanding to those who are part of that system. Removing the blinders excites me and ignites Curiosity, another top strength, to explore how I can be a Kind Creative more often.
These insights have helped me dig deeper, challenge myself to focus on strengths more often, and use my character strengths in new ways. What might you find if you dig a little deeper?