A Practical Look At Strengths
If you stick me in a room with at least one other person, there is a small chance that I will start talking about my latest ‘favorite’ book (or two). Earlier this week, I played golf with an old friend when I started talking about several books that I had recently read. I like sharing what I learn. After hearing me talk myself blue in the face, my buddy innocently asked, “Doug, how many books do you read in a month?” (I think the question was more of a statement, actually – “Please stop talking about books and just play golf!”)
In any event, it made me think about the time that I invest in learning and what makes me recommend a book. I want to be able to put the concepts from a book to good use in my work and/or personal life. If I take the time to read something (and scribble a set of unintelligible notes in the margins), I would like it to have a lasting, positive effect for me. The trouble, however, is that most personal and professional development books are long on theory but short on practical application. The Strengths Book, written by Alex Linley, Janet Willars, and Robert Biswas-Diener, does a masterful job of combining the latest research in positive psychology with straightforward tips that are easy to implement.
Most books on this subject give sound advice – spend more time working on your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. The Strengths Book realizes that this approach is too simple. All of our behaviors and thought patterns cannot possibly fall into two neat little buckets (strengths or weaknesses). The conversation about strengths needs to expand and the authors have done well by giving us more to work with in our pursuit of higher levels of productivity and engagement.
First, they introduce the concept of “unrealized strengths.” They define these as “…things at which you perform well, find energizing, but don’t do very much.” They are our greatest area for growth and improvement. By
finding new ways to apply these hidden strengths, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and ways of thinking.
Second, the authors tell us to identify our “learned behaviors.” These are defined as “…things at which you perform well, but which you find de-energizing or draining. Over time, they will lead to burn-out if not used in moderation.” Keeping in mind that performance is one-part energy, knowledge of your “learned behaviors” is critical. They are reinforced because 1) we do them well and 2) our managers praise us for the results. In the end, however, we need to find ways to “moderate” these behaviors before it’s too late.
Finally, The Strengths Book talks about another dirty little secret – over-using strengths can get us in trouble, too. There really can be too much of a good thing. The use of a strength needs to be applied in the right context and in the right amount. While it is easier said than done, just imagine someone who thanks you endlessly (eg; exercising the strength of “Gratitude”) to convince you of the merits of the new, complex software program when she should have been using the strength “Explainer” to help simplify the team’s approach.
In the end, Gallup and others have concluded that working in one’s strengths is the fastest, most effective way to develop an individual and an organization. It improves productivity and engagement all while serving as a ‘back door’ to resilience. The Strengths Book takes the existing research (and some of their own) and packages it in an easy-to-read, practical handbook. A must read for those in the business of professional development or just interested in personal improvement.