Strengths-based Approach to Development

by Stephanie Walters


This topic is about turning personal development on its head and focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses when building personal development plans. The strengths approach does not ignore weaknesses or problems, but it helps managers and their teams to tackle those areas from a position of strength.

One of the primary benefits of this approach is that it can help you to become aware of your strengths so that you can use them more effectively at work. Our tendency to focus on problems and weaknesses when building personal development plans means that strengths can often be overlooked and underestimated, which can be very demotivating and limiting for those wanting to develop. The strengths approach has been proven to be a far more engaging, motivating and effective approach to development, whether you want to overcome a problem, or are working towards the next promotion, or are looking for ways to improve the performance of your team.

Furthermore, an important aspect of the strengths approach is that it enables you to be yourself more at work, rather than trying to be fundamentally different to who you are. This enables employers to play to the strengths of their teams and ensure the right people are doing specific jobs while creating a more motivated workforce.

A strengths approach has been proved to build your confidence and resilience in times of difficulty and change, and it also enables you to achieve more during the good times too. This means that you and your teams are not only continually developing, but are also more motivated and engaged with the company you work for and in the work you are doing.

The strengths approach was born out of a movement called positive psychology. Positive psychology is the scientific study of what goes right in life and what we can learn and apply from this to our daily lives.

Martin Seligman is often cited as the originator of this approach. In the mid-1990s, when the President of the American Association of Psychologists, he suggested that research in the field of psychology had up until that point only studied deficit, disease and disorder, but had not investigated success, vitality and optimal performance. He provoked the start of a new body of research that explores how focusing on the positive aspects of life, including our strengths, can enable us to achieve more than we ever expected of ourselves.

This research has informed a number of tools and techniques that are now being used in many FTSE 100 companies across the world.

If we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average.

Shawn Achor – Leading researcher and author in positive psychology