Help your team exercise their strengths so they can thrive at work

Steve Kimmens Career goals, Career Wellbeing, engagement, leadership, psychology Leave a Comment

Exercising strengths helps people to thrive driving engagement, wellbeing and performance

Research has shown that exercising your strengths helps people to thrive. Leaders can help their people by:

  1. Identifying their strengths (don’t fall into the trap of telling them what they are)
  2. Work on a plan to use these strengths
  3. Remind them when they are using their strengths (and making progress)


1. Identifying strengths

Team exercise

As a leader you can sit with your people and ask them what their strengths are. The challenge can be that people find it difficult to articulate their strengths. One way of creating space for identifying strengths is to ask the team to think about the strengths of their peers and to share those strengths with each other.

Another way of identifying strengths is to use different strengths assessment tools. These could be used to inform the team exercise or as an input to a one-on-one discussion.


Values in Action Character Strengths Survey

There is a free tool you can use with your people called the Values in Action Survey that provides analysis across 24 character strengths and grouped under 6 virtues.

The VIA research indicates that displaying your signature character strengths is a powerful way to drive positive mental health, wellbeing and engagement.

Virtues and character strengths:

  • Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective
  • Courage: bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest
  • Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
  • Justice: teamwork, fairness, leadership
  • Temperance: forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
  • Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality


The benefit of the character approach is it something people do not readily think of when they think of their strengths and it can be applied to any role. The opportunity is identifying how these strengths could be applied in the role.

Be aware that the free version of the tool lists your character strengths, it does not provide further details or suggestions. A paid verson provides suggestions. Alternatively, the information for each character strength is available on their website.


Clifton Strengths Finder (The Gallup Strength Centre)

The Clifton Strengths Finder is one tool. The basic report costs US $19.99 and focuses on skills in the workplace.


2. Work on a plan to use these strengths

Once the strengths are identified the leader should help the team or individual work on a plan to use these strengths.

The key is using the strengths to get the benefits with engagement, wellbeing and performance.


“Using one’s signature strengths in a new and unique way is an effective intervention: it increased happiness and decreased depression for 6 months”

Martin Seligman et al, Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 2005


The VIA survey is based on the Martin Seligman work with happiness and depression. They emphasise using signature strengths in a new and unique way every day. This approach creates a positive feedback loop and builds confidence.


“Strengths led to a “virtuous circle” in which the strengths use helped them overcome obstacles that had impeded strengths use.”

Elston & Boniwell, A grounded theory study of the value derived by women in financial services through a coaching intervention to help them identify their strengths and practice using them in the workplace. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2011


3. Remind people when they are using their strengths


The power of being the leader is bringing an outside perspective to your team. This perspective is particularly helpful when pulling people out of their detail and helping them to see the bigger picture.


“Great managers… know that their job is not to arm each employee with a dispassionately accurate understanding of the limits of her strengths and the liabilities of her weaknesses but to reinforce her self-assurance. That’s why great managers focus on strengths.”

What Great Managers Do, Marcus Buckingham, Harvard Business Review March 2005


Progress is one of the most motivating aspects of any job or activity. However, we can get lost in detail and fail to notice our progress.

A leader can provide the outside perspective and remind us of the progress we’ve made.


“12,000 diary entries, shows that making progress in one’s work — even incremental progress — is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event.”

Teresa Amabile et al, The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work, 2011



What makes you different could be your greatest strength

Is there someone in your team with an unusual strength? Maybe you lead a finance team and you have someone who likes to facilitate, or you lead a team of trainers and you have someone who likes to make detailed plans.

You will want to encourage them to deploy that strength. Not only are there benefits for you and the team- it’s a skill that the rest of the team probably doesn’t have. It also has a big benefit for the person using that unusual strength.

If a worker in a given occupation scored higher on a less typical strength of character within that occupation, then he or she was more likely to be satisfied with work. Perhaps such an individual brings to bear strengths that are especially needed at work. Or perhaps such an individual feels distinct from his or her co-worker.”

Peterson, Christopher, et al. “Strengths of character and work.” Oxford handbook of positive psychology and work (2010)


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