Sohini Petrie firstname.lastname@example.org
Leaning into your Strengths (Part 1)
What might you find if you took this forced interruption to normal life, as an opportunity? How might you respond to the uncertainty and widespread anxiety, if you learned to look at yourself and others through an appreciative lens?
It is precisely in complex and challenging situations like the current COVID-19 global crisis, that we have to pause and pay attention to how we are showing up and meeting the hardship we are faced with. When times are tough and we feel helpless, one way to feel centred and in control is to intentionally focus on bringing our strengths to the fore. Ask yourself “How can I be my best resilient self in this moment?” “What are the strengths in me that are being called into action?”
I offer you a quick introduction to strengths here in Part 1. A peek into how you can identify them in yourself and how you can spot them in others. The intention is that you learn to flex your appreciative muscles to help you stay positive in dark times, and that you build the capacity to lean in to your strengths.
Strengths are much more than ‘something you’re good at’
Have you found that you’re good at something that you really dislike doing? You might even be praised and recognised for these ‘things that you’re are really good at’, but find them unenjoyable and draining. These skills or resources are valuable to you, but they are not strengths. Alex Linley, a leading strengths researcher and psychologist, defines a strength as a
“pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance” (2008, p. 9).
There are 3 different elements that define a strength: 1. How well you perform the skill 2. How often you use the skill and 3. The most critical element – how energised you feel when you use this skill. Simply put, if you want to identify your strengths, observe what you do most easily, with the greatest joy.
Energy is the defining quality of a strength
When you are using a strength, you are energized. You feel pumped! It’s like your authentic self is shining and buzzing. You could go on all day immersed in a task that uses your strengths. It’s those activities that will get you jumping out of bed, singing on your way…or if you are like me, keep you going till well into the night. It is a sense of “this is what I was born to do”. Strengths are deeply fulfilling. They are an expression of our authentic selves, what we love to do and who we are at our best.
Strengths are not binary
A common misconception is that strengths are binary, for example – you are either creative or you aren’t. In fact, strengths are on a continuum where your top strengths are those that you employ optimally, with the greatest joy.
Then you have those strengths that energise you, but you don’t get enough opportunities to use them. These are your unrealised strengths. They represent the depth of potential within you. Unrealised strengths are a great place to start when you are looking to grow or develop your abilities in say, a new role or during a life transition or crisis.
The skills that you use often but don’t energise you, are called learned behaviours. Planner is one of my learned behaviours. I’ve had to learn to prepare and be systematic in my approach for work and in parenting. It’s tiring sometimes, but I have found ways to inject creativity and fun into the process, and despite being an energy sucker, planning gives me a sense of accomplishment. So learned behaviours give you performance but not energy. It can be confusing when you are good at something and you get positive reinforcement for it, but it leaves you feeling exhausted. These activities are often associated with burnout as they are de-energising.
Lastly, we come to weaknesses – which are really the things that you find hard and don’t enjoy. When your weaknesses are used, you feel negative, disengaged, and unmotivated.
Working on weaknesses is a common mistake
People grow, learn, and develop best in the areas of their strengths. Think of any of the great musicians, athletes, or any other specialist you know of. These greats became brilliant at their skill by using it more, honing it, dedicating their lives to working on those talents that give them joy and energy. Making their weaknesses irrelevant. And yet for some of us, we spend our whole lives trying not to suck at certain things, and we miss out on the opportunity to become great at things we’re good at and makes us happy.
In my leadership coaching practice, I always start with strengths. Not with what’s wrong, or what needs fixing, or what are you struggling with. But the simple question of what do you do most easily, that brings you the greatest joy?
In Part 2, I will share why starting with strengths builds resilience, among other desired outcomes. I invite you to start observing from this moment what strengths are being summoned to the fore now. What do you notice about tuning in to your strengths? Now is the time for us all to lead with purpose and strength in our homes, communities, and organisations.
References and further reading