Cultivating Strengths At Work: 10+ Examples and Ideas

how to cultivate strengths at workLove? That was not what I expected.

According to the results of the Character Strength test for my profile page, my top five strengths are:

  1. Love
  2. Curiosity
  3. Love of learning
  4. Fairness, and
  5. Appreciation of beauty and excellence.

I understand why ‘curiosity’ and ‘love of learning’ are near the top of my list—after all, I relish learning deeply about the world—but I hadn’t expected ‘love’ as my number one.

And yet, you can’t choose your strengths, can you?

Well, that’s partly true. According to research, your strengths do change, and you can grow them. Being able to cultivate your strengths in the workplace can make the difference between a career of mediocrity or excelling in your chosen profession.

In life and especially in work, we all too often ignore our strengths and focus on our weaknesses. By doing that, we are missing out on an opportunity. A chance to be energized in what we do, find meaning in our lives, and be our very best self.

In this article, we will explore signature strengths, how we can improve them, and perhaps most importantly, what we should do with them to improve our workplace.

Workplace Strengths Defined

Character is the part of your personality that other people tend to admire, respect, and cherish,” says Ryan Niemiec & Robert McGrath, researchers in the field of character strengths. (Niemiec & McGrath, 2019)

Such strengths form the essential elements of who we are. And, when we express ourselves using them (both in thoughts and actions), we feel happier, more connected, and are more productive in what we are doing.

Unlike our interests, passions, and skills, they are central to who we are and how we think of ourselves.

According to the popular Values in Action Inventory (VIA), character strengths are the paths to broader categories, known as virtues, that persist across time and cultures (Niemiec & McGrath, 2019).

The 24 VIA central character strengths, grouped into six virtues, are represented in the table below (modified from Miglianico, Dubreuil, Miquelon, Bakker, & Martin-Krumm, 2019):

Virtue Associated Strengths
Wisdom 1. Creativity
2. Curiosity
3. Judgment
4. Love of Learning
5. Perspective
Courage 1. Bravery
2. Honesty
3. Perseverance
4. Zest
Humanity 1. Kindness
2. Love
3. Social Intelligence
Justice 1. Fairness
2. Leadership
3. Teamwork
Temperance 1. Forgiveness
2. Humility
3. Prudence
4. Self-regulation
Transcendence 1. Appreciation of beauty and excellence
2. Gratitude
3. Hope
4. Humor
5. Spirituality

 

We are best characterized by between three and seven of the 24-character strengths, known as our signature strengths (Pang & Ruch, 2019).

My top three, according to the strength finding test—love, curiosity, and love of learning—fall under humanity and wisdom. And they are important, as they represent the very best of me. They are the positive parts of my character—my personality—and they make me who I am.

 

But do my strengths really matter?

Well, yes.

Recent research, performed at the University of Zurich, recognized character strengths as being crucial in our personal life and beyond. From a workplace perspective, they affect (Pang & Ruch, 2019):

  • Employee health
  • Wellbeing
  • Job performance
  • Productivity
  • Staff turnover
  • Work-satisfaction

It turns out our character strengths and their ranking have a significant impact on our lives.

For example, when someone is high in ‘zest’ (under the virtue of courage), they are likely to see their work as a calling rather than something to pay the bills. In the right job, they are high in job satisfaction, take fewer sick days, and are reluctant to retire.

And, when we display our signature strengths, we are invigorated and excited about what we are doing; we are passionate rather than apathetic and exhausted.

Indeed, the more signature strengths we use at work, the more positive the experience (Harzer & Ruch, 2016).

 

Are they static?

No, character strengths are not fixed; they can change over time.

And this gives us an opportunity (Miglianico et al., 2019).

 

Are There Weaknesses At Work?

strengths at workWe are not all the same – thankfully. It would be a less rich world if we were.

According to evolutionary psychology, the human species has survived as a consequence of our personality differences (Buss, 2009). After all, tackling novel, and often extreme, situations require a range of talents, knowledge, and strengths.

It is good to be different.

And yet, most organizations believe that we should improve what we are not very good at and ignore our strengths. Instead, organizations should be asking the question, “are we using the strengths our employees have?”

Unless you want all your staff to have the same abilities—to tackle the same challenges in the same way—then this approach is fundamentally flawed.

Staff must be given opportunities to use their natural strengths. When work is a good fit, it will energize and empower them while increasing their productivity.

 

Focusing on the Positives

Knowing our character strengths helps us identify the good in us, and others, and to move our focus from negatives to positives (Niemiec & McGrath, 2019).

Indeed, building our strengths has a profound effect. It not only improves wellbeing, engagement, and productivity; it also results in increased happiness and meaning in our lives. Staff is more effective and less absent; they find increased flow, passion, engagement, vitality, employee satisfaction, and commitment in the workplace (Miglianico et al., 2019).

 

3 Real-Life Examples

People have the power to use their signature strengths, individually or in groups, to make real differences in business and elsewhere.

The question we must ask ourselves is, how do we use our signature strengths to make the world better?

 

Kindness

In 2018, the community-run bookstore October Books had to relocate 150 meters further down the street in Southampton, UK.

The premises they were moving to were part-funded by local investors, with its first floor offering long-term living space to the homeless.

The well-loved, but cash-strapped business needed a way of transporting tens of thousands of books the short distance to its new location. After an appeal for help, 250 people turned up to make a human chain, moving the books to their new destination.

Community support and kindness can run deep and offer help in unlikely situations.

 

Creativity

Employee number 107, Chade-Meng Tan, left Google to start the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.

His motivation—having helped countless Googlers to find inner peace and clear their minds of stress—was to spread a message of happiness, meditation, and peace across the world.

Chade-Meng has creatively transformed mindful-based tradition into a business and personal-development program to make a difference in people’s lives.

 

Leadership

In 2004, Lego—the well-known children’s’ toymaker—was failing. It had become irrelevant in a world where ever-evolving technology and superhero franchises were top of most Christmas lists. In October that year, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp took over as CEO and changed both its culture and started a new journey that has since seen profits rise by over 40%.

In the years since, the company has introduced Lego kits for Star Wars, Toy Story, and Pirates of the Caribbean, and has released a series of successful movies based around Lego characters.

Excellent leadership and bold changes have changed the company into something with a future.

 

3 Important Strengths For Teamwork

Strengths for teamworkResearch suggests that some strengths are especially beneficial in team environments, for example (Ruch, Gander, Platt, & Hofmann, 2016):

  • Zest promotes excitement for, and engagement in, new business challenges.
  • Teamwork directs team members to help colleagues feel part of the project.
  • Leadership helps the team reach its goals.

By ensuring a balance of the above strengths—and even lesser ones, such as social kindness, fairness, and judgment—the team is likely to work well as a cohesive unit, have an energetic approach, and remain positive about the outcomes.

 

How To Assess Workplace Strengths: 3 Tools

Within this article, we focus on the VIA model, but there are others.

What follows is a brief introduction to three of the most popular models—including VIA—for defining, classifying, and characterizing strengths (Miglianico et al., 2019):

 

StrengthsFinder

The Gallup Institute was among the first to identify the talents that form the basis for exceptional performance.

Don Clifton and his research team identified hundreds of themes before settling on 34 major ones.

By using the electronic Strengthsfinder questionnaire—now called the CliftonStrengths assessment— it is possible to identify and develop your most essential talents.

 

Values in Action Inventory (VIA)

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman followed on from Clifton’s original research, performing an extensive exploration and analysis of writings from around the world.

They arrived at 24-character strengths, grouped under six virtues: justice, wisdom, courage, humanity, temperance, and transcendence.

These character strengths are the central ingredients of who we are, our moral virtues. And while stable and ongoing, they can develop over time, and are impacted by setting, other strengths, and personal interests.

Take the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) survey for free.

 

Center of Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP)

The third approach came from Alex Linley and the Center of Applied Positive Psychology, which he formed.

Their research identified that strengths—a “pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling”—enable an individual to be authentic and perform optimally (Linley, 2008).

Linley’s view was that an individual must know what strengths they have to make the best use of them.

As a result, their research led to the development of Realise2 later renamed the Strengths Profile to record and assess 60 strengths over three dimensions: performance, energy, and frequency.

Once assessed, a Strengths profile report classifies the results into:

  1. realized and
  2. unrealized strengths,
  3. learned behaviors, and
  4. weaknesses.

 

4+ Ways To Build Workplace Strengths

how to use workplace strengthsIgnite your Strengths

In The Power of Character Strengths, Niemiec & McGrath offer ways to “ignite” each of your strengths:

  • Reflect on what the character strength means to you and others.
  • Observe a character strength in those around you. Seeing the strength in others, especially those we respect, helps to reinforce its value.
  • Identify and implement strategies to use each character strength daily.
  • Learn to use each strength, without over, or under, using it —learn to find the balance.
  • When you use your strengths, they may not always be well-received, or even successful, so be objective and review the outcomes.
  • Visualize what it might be like to use the strengths successfully.

Using this approach, we look at how to grow two of the character strengths: love and curiosity.

They are representative of the remaining 22 character strengths defined in the VIA survey (modified from Niemiec & McGrath, 2019).

 

Building the Virtue of Humanity

The Love Signature Strength

What – Love is a character strength in the VIA inventory, not an emotion. Your focus is on how much you value close relationships with other people. “Love involves strong positive feelings, commitment, and often, sacrifices” (Niemiec & McGrath, 2019).

Why – Love facilitates tolerance and is linked to longer life expectancy and life satisfaction while providing a sense of meaning.

Build love through the following actions:

  • Reflecting
    • Reflect on the strength of your love, for example, ask yourself:
      • Which people are most important in your life? E.g., friends, family, colleagues.
      • How do you show your love?
      • Are you frightened of giving or receiving love?

  • Spotting the strength
    • Watch out for and appreciate the love shown to you and others.
    • Recognize how vital close relationships are.

  • Taking action
    • Consider how much you express love in your relationships.
    • Find time for quality, close relationships.
    • Show more genuine interest in colleagues and customers.
    • Turn some of the warm care given to others to yourself.

  • Finding balance
    • At times we are all scared of showing love to others and ourselves, and yet we must ensure that we can handle both.
    • The intensity of love must be appropriate.

 

Building the Virtue of Wisdom

The Curiosity Signature Strength

What – In the VIA inventory, curiosity is related to openness to new experiences and to enjoy them for their own sake.

Why – The curiosity signature strength is linked to satisfaction, finding greater meaning in life, and personal goals aimed at self-improvement.

Build curiosity through the following actions:

  • Reflecting – Reflect on your curiosity, for example, ask yourself:
    • What are you curious about?
    • When are you most free to be curious?
    • What gets in the way of your curiosity?
    • How does curiosity work out in your education, workplace, and at home?

  • Spotting the strength
    • Identify the times and places when you are curious.
    • Identify when you see others reflecting the power of your curiosity.

  • Taking action
    • Be more curious at work, at home, and in education.
    • Try asking ‘why’ more often.
    • Each day try something new to eat or drink or a different way of working and traveling.

  • Finding balance
    • Think about when you showed too little or too much curiosity. Perhaps you looked, or gave the impression of, being bored, or you were too curious, too intrusive?

 

Mindfulness and Signature Strengths

Research suggests that mindfulness training can benefit our character strengths.

Indeed, combining mindfulness and strength training results increases wellbeing, job satisfaction, and task performance (Pang & Ruch, 2019).

Use a simple Body Scan Meditation and imagine the opportunities you have to:

  • Give and receive love
    Visualize support, help, kind words, time, gratitude, and fairness.

  • To learn
    Talking to someone and learning about their interests, their life, their passions.
    Imagine asking questions and listening intently to what they have to say.

 

Useful Tools

Individual Character Strengths

Complete the free online VIA test and generate a ranked list of your character strengths and virtues to understand your cognitive, emotional, social, and community profile.

 

Team Character Strengths

Make use of team reports to combine VIA character strength profiles from multiple team members.

Explore the team from more than one perspective to understand their strengths and the value each member brings.

 

Read more about VIA

Once you have completed the VIA assessment, check out The power of character strengths: Appreciate and ignite your positive personality book by Ryan Niemiec and Robert McGrath on Amazon.

Use the Strengths Builder as a way of developing your signature strengths.

Create a life in which you thrive, function at your best, and make the best of opportunities as they arise.

 

PositivePsychology.com Strengths Resources

We have many resources at PositivePsychology.com that will help you to build your strengths.

Strength journaling provides a way of attending to and exploring your strengths. Use the worksheet provided to celebrate your positive qualities.

Learn to focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses by Identifying Limiting Beliefs About Personal Strengths.

What strengths protect your family? Recognize and grow these strengths using the Family Tree of Strengths worksheet.

Exploring Character Strengths guides you in identifying and reflecting on character strengths.

Finally, the Maximizing Strengths Masterclass© is the ultimate tool in helping yourself and others identify and develop their strengths. This coaching package is just what you need to become a strengths-based practitioner and help clients reach their potential.

 

A Take-Home Message

Knowing yourself means understanding your strengths. As Socrates stated:

To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.

Don’t take signature strengths for granted, especially when it comes to your career. You can use them in many ways—even if they appear small—and they will have, over time, a significant impact on your ability to succeed and your overall well-being.

Rather than focus on your flaws at work, take your strengths, and use them to overcome the difficulties you face. Use them like choosing paints for a canvas. Select the right ones to paint a picture of the person you want to be and the life you wish to lead.

Growing your strengths can help you become a more authentic, productive, and increasingly energized professional. Focusing on your top strengths will help to ensure your behavior is more natural and effortless while you become a better version of yourself.

Use the tools we have shared to identify your strengths, find opportunities to grow them, and make use of them whenever possible. After all, they are an integral part of who you are and how you behave in the workplace.

If, like my surprise discovery, love is your superpower, then accept it, embrace it, and use it. Your strengths define who you are, and the person to whom others are drawn.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you wish to learn more about your and other’s strengths, don’t forget to check out our Maximizing Strengths Masterclass©.

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About the Author

Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.

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