“Strengths based” is a popular industry buzzword, but what does it actually mean?
Like many buzzwords, “Strengths-based” can be interpreted numerous ways, which puts it at risk of turning into a platitude with little practical meaning. But it turns out, developing and leveraging our personal strengths may be more important than we ever imagined.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, and research indicates that the more time each day we spend using our strengths to do what we do best, the less likely we are to experience worry, stress, anger, sadness and even physical pain. Using our strengths also results in higher productivity and altruism. In other words, the strengths-based approach is good for business and good for life.
Unfortunately, fewer than half of American adults report being able to use their strengths to do what they do best throughout the day. Less-educated and lower-income Americans are the least likely to report using their strengths.
I can’t think of an industry that fails to utilize human strengths more than the long-term care industry. Where else are employees prohibited from tapping into their greatest personal strengths — compassion, love, understanding — when those strengths are exactly what the people they are caring for need? And it’s not just the employees — institutions also strip elders of the opportunity and freedom to grow and exercise their strengths.
What I love about this study is that Gallup, who has spent more than 50 years collecting data on human strengths, has taken a decidedly “strengths-based” approach to their findings. They see this waste of personal strengths as an untapped reservoir with great potential for positive growth:
The majority of Americans do not maximize their strengths on a daily basis, suggesting a possible avenue for improvement in important life and work outcomes. This opportunity is even greater among those in the least-educated and lowest-income households.
Considering the value — in terms of wellbeing and productivity — that using one’s strengths creates, if more Americans learn about their own strengths and put them to use, it could create a positive economic impact in the U.S. for businesses, communities, and individuals.
I’ll inject my two cents as well. I believe the biggest reserve of untapped strengths lies among our elders and soon-to-be elders (I’m looking at you Post War generation). I recently had the honor and privilege to be part of an all-star team working with AARP to develop a set of tools to help folks rediscover their passion and purpose as they enter the second half of life. The project is called Life Reimagined and it’s currently in the Beta testing phase. Coincidentally, the core purpose of this project is to help folks discover and use their personal strengths and gifts.
You all are among the first to take a look at this. Let me know what you think.