Recently, I have talked about strengths with a lot of different people, and I have noticed that we all have our own definition of what strengths are. Some of us consider strengths to be our job-related skills, some consider them to be our knowledge and experience, and some see strengths as our personality traits.
So what is the right definition? Well, actually they are all right, according to researchers and practitioners in this area. But since there are so many different ways of seeing this, I decided to delve into this topic and discuss the different kinds of strengths that we can have.
What can be considered as a strength?
There are probably many different ways to define different types of strengths, but I am basing this blog on the same categories as Dr. Ryan Niemiec (2018), one of the most renowned strengths researchers:
Talents are those things that we are naturally good at. A talent could be for example having a good ear for music. It is a great talent, but we all know that just having that ability, does not mean that the person would know how to play the piano really well or that they would be a world-class opera singer. In addition to talent, we need practice and knowledge to develop a strength. This is what the well-known CliftonStrengths (or Gallup, or StrengthsFinder) are based on. Their strength formula is talent x investment = strength. The CliftonStrengths and the founder Dr. Donald Clifton have had a crucial role in bringing strengths-based thinking into workplaces.
A skill is something that we learn to do with practice, such as the skills that we need in order to do our jobs. A skill can also be a talent that we have developed further with practice and knowledge. Both skills and talents are typically externally motivating, meaning that we use them in hopes of achieving a reward, such as a promotion at work.
Interests are activities that we are drawn to. They are things we are passionate about and enjoy doing for the sake of the activity, not for an external reward. They can be hobbies, such as knitting, cooking, or boxing, and they can also be topics that we don’t get tired of talking about. Interests can change over the course of our lives.
Resources can be the knowledge and experience that you have gathered, the networks that you have built, and the relationships you have with other people. Resources are external to us and they support us and our goals. Resources can help us to turn a talent into a skill, for example.
Values can also be seen as a type of strength. While resources are something external to us, values are the opposite: they are our internal beliefs. They live in our thoughts and feelings. They are things that we consider important and meaningful to us.
If you have read my blog before, you know that I have talked about character strengths in the past (see for example here and here). Character strengths are Positive Psychology’s way to measure what is best about people. The classification of 24 character strengths is based on research that Professors Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson started in the early 2000s, and that still continues to date. Character strengths are positive personality traits that are an integral part of who we are. They are internally motivating, meaning that we don’t need an external reward to use them.
How THE Different Strengths Types work together
It is useful to learn to recognize the different types of strengths, as they can all help us become the best versions of ourselves. The different types of strengths are also not separate, but rather work together in many ways. We already saw how talents can become skills with practice and resources. One way of seeing the connection between the different strengths types is what Dr. Ryan Niemiec calls “the driving force”.
Dr. Niemiec describes character strengths as “the driving force” behind other types of strengths. In order to develop our talents and to learn new skills, we need to use our character strengths, such as Love of Learning, Curiosity, or Perseverance. Our interests are often an expression of our character strengths. For example, I have a passion for knitting lace patterns on socks and giving these to my friends as surprise gifts. This hobby allows me to express three of my top character strengths: Love of Learning (new patterns), Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence (beautiful socks), and Love (giving the socks to my friends). We also use our character strengths to build external resources. For example, Kindness and Social Intelligence help us build networks, and Love of Learning helps us expand our knowledge. Finally, character strengths are what makes our values visible. In fact, the character strengths are also called VIA Character Strengths, where VIA stands for Values In Action. Without character strengths, our values would be just nice thoughts.
The beauty of the science of character strengths is that we all already have these strengths in us. We just need to become aware of them and learn how to cultivate them at work and other areas of our lives. Would you like to learn how to harness “the driving force” of your team? My workshops help you and your team to unleash your potential for engagement and productivity. Learn more here, or reach out to set up a free consultation call.