THE BLOG
09/15/2014 11:47 am ET Updated Nov 15, 2014

Are Your Strengths Undermining Your Success?

Have your strengths -- those things you like doing and are good at -- ever gotten you into trouble at work? It sounds counter-intuitive but new research suggests while many workplaces have started to advocate the use of your strengths, there is a real potential for what you do best to become a career-limiting weakness.

After enthusiastically embracing the idea of using my strengths each day at work to make what I was doing more engaging, energizing and enjoyable, I quickly discovered just "using" my strengths could be a path fraught with danger.

After my team took the free VIA Survey so we could share our strengths with each other, my colleagues were at times frustrated I wasn't volunteering the use of my strengths like "curiosity" more readily on every project. At other times, when I was really excited about a new project it was clear my strength of "zest" was overwhelming others, as I raced off implementing ideas before they were ready to get started. And then, there was my boss with whom my strength of "hope" and her strength of "critical thinking" were clearly colliding and making our relationship hugely frustrating.

But these strength development challenges are not unique.

You see when it comes to developing our strengths at work researchers' believe, it's not enough to simply "use" them. Rather, we need to discover how to draw on the right strengths, in the right amount, in the right situations to create the outcomes we want.

So how can you develop your strengths at work so you're getting them "just right"?

"The best way to think about each of your character strengths is that they operate along a continuum," explained Ryan Niemiec, Education Director at the VIA Institute when I interviewed him recently. " At one end you underplay your strengths. At the other end you overplay your strengths. But in the middle you'll find the 'golden mean' of your strengths where you're able to apply them effectively in different situations to create your desired results."

(Click here for the full interview)

So before you rush out and simply start using your strengths more at work, this continuum means there are three important nuances you should be aware of:

  • Underplaying Your Strengths. Many of us suffer from a deep level of strengths blindness and as a result we tend to underuse our strengths at work. Make sure you can name your top five strengths by taking the free, ten-minute VIA Survey here.

    When you've got your results, you can discover how your unique strengths are valued at work by thinking back on the high-point moments in your career. Those times when you've been really engaged, energized and enjoying what you were doing. This will help you bring the generic strength descriptions to life and see how a strength like "love" is valued and can be successfully applied in your organisation.

  • Overplaying Your Strengths. We're prone to overplaying our strengths when we're passionate and excited about using them in our work. For example, when we overplay a strength like hope we can see so many opportunities to make great things happen and ways to achieve this that we tend to over-extend and over-commit ourselves. Be mindful of where your strengths are creating difficulties for you at work and start to explore ways you can dial them up or dial them down in different situations to create the outcomes you want.
  • Colliding With Others. Your strengths may sometimes collide with the strengths of your colleagues. For example, someone who is high in creativity and always coming up with new ideas and ways to move forward, may find it challenging working with a colleague who is high in prudence and excels at being conscientious and sticking with the plan to deliver short and long-term goals.When you're struggling in your work relationships, take a step back and see if you can spot the other persons' strengths - those times where they're really engaged, energized and enjoying their work. Could their strengths be colliding with yours? Can you have a conversation about how to work together better to bring out the best in each of you?

Finding ways to develop my strengths at work turned jobs I loathed into jobs I enjoyed, earned me promotions and pay rises I never asked for and gave me the energy and confidence to eventually start my own business. What turned an interesting tool, into an intelligent and effective tool to deliver these results however, was the understanding and application of these three strength development nuances each day.

And I'm not alone. A growing body of research is finding that developing your character strengths has been found to help you feel happier, more engaged, have a greater sense of meaning and higher levels of productivity at work.

So how could putting your strengths to work each day unleash new possibilities in your career? To help you get started grab a copy of my free e-book which includes a detailed listing of all 24 character strengths, how they look when you underplay or overplay them at work, and more than 70 different ways you can effectively develop them no matter what your job description says.

*This article first appeared here.