Can You Bring Out The Strengths In Others?

05/09/2016 12:52 pm ET Updated May 10, 2017

Have you ever tried to motivate someone to realize their potential at work? How did it go? Did they magically start listening to your words of wisdom and behaving differently? Or did your insights and advice end up sitting on the "maybe one day" shelf?

Let's face it helping people to realize their potential can be hard work. The truth is most of us lack the knowledge and skills to support someone in making lasting changes when it comes to the way they think, feel or act at work. And yet management guru Peter Drucker suggests, "Leadership is lifting a person's vision to higher sights, the raising of a person's performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations."

So how can we consistently bring out the best in others at work?

"Strengths coaching affirms our untapped potential rather than the limits of what we can do. The job of a strengths coach is to amplify, reflect and facilitate strengths, while generating strategies and solutions for the person being coached," explains Fatima Doman, executive coach and author of Authentic Strengths: How To Maximize Your Happiness, Performance & Success with Positive Psychology Coaching.

"When we help people to discover what's strong, rather than just what's wrong, researchers find people are often less stressed, and more engaged, energized and resilient in their work," she said. "By helping people to explore how their character strengths have enabled success, empowering them to set strong goals and encouraging them to engage their strengths on a weekly basis - all while honoring the strengths in others - I've witnessed people make astonishing transformations."

Of course this doesn't mean when we coach someone to realize their potential we simply tell them to use their strengths more. Researchers suggest this blunt approach can give us a false sense of competence, result in over-used strengths becoming toxic and ignores our weaknesses at our own risk. Rather Fatima suggests that when we coach someone around their VIA Survey character strengths results we help them to explore:

  • Their signature strengths - their highest rated character strengths (usually the top four to six) that represent their most authentic self. These are the strengths that come naturally to us and leave us feeling energized and satisfied when expressed. And when others see them in us, we feel understood in an important way.

  • The underuse or overuse of strengths - when we underuse or overuse our strengths, it's often due to loss of awareness and/or perspective. For example we may be unaware until we're given feedback that a strength we readily use at home, like kindness, is missing from our interactions at work. Or our reliance on our signature strengths may cause us to lose perspective and fail to recognize when we're applying them to the wrong situations or with too much intensity. For example, a person high in prudence can earn a reputation for being a naysayer or difficult because of their cautious approach.

  • Their situational strengths - while people generally don't feel the same need to express their middle rated strengths (usually ranked six or seven through to twenty on the VIA Survey results), it doesn't mean that these strengths can't be called upon when a situation requires them. For example, someone who has perseverance as a middle strength can absolutely call upon this to get a project over the finish line when needed.
  • Strength combinations - strengths rarely exist alone, and in the right combinations they can amplify the individual strengths, making them function even better. For example, humor applied with too little social intelligence can be offensive (i.e., telling a joke about the deceased at the funeral). Yet, when humor and social intelligence exist together, that combination becomes endearing and helps to create strong relationships.
  • How can you bring out the best in people by exploring these different dimensions of strengths?

    In her new book Authentic Strengths, Fatima recommends the following approaches:

    • A Strengths Life Sketch - After taking the VIA Survey have people create a "Life Sketch" which visually depicts the peaks and valleys in their life or their career, noting the times when a person felt they were thriving (expressing strengths), withering (suppressing strengths) or facing a life challenge that reignited a forgotten or untapped strength helped them to grow. This makes it easier to see patterns that have enabled prior successes and considering how to recreate those conditions. It's also possible to find potential strengths overuse, collisions, or hot buttons.

  • Creating STRONG goals - Help people to create STRONG goals that are focused on: the strengths that will help them accomplish the goal; ensuring they are timed with clearly defined milestones and defined timeframes; making them relevant by infusing them with meaning and purpose; exploring different options and their potential rewards and costs; tapping into their networks to support them and provide resources; and reflecting and recalibrating their progress as needed to ensure growth.
  • Practicing the 3Rs - Encourage people to engage in weekly positive practices to develop their strengths and help them train for greatness. For example, at the end of each week use the 3Rs (reflect, reveal and recalibrate) to reflect on progress made, reveal any valuable insights gained that they can leverage going forward, and recalibrate future actions accordingly.
  • Which strengths tool could you draw upon to make bringing out the best in others easier at work?