Do You Have A Strength Development Plan?

by Michelle McQuaid. Michelle McQuaid is a best-selling author and workplace wellbeing teacher. With more than a decade of senior leadership experience in large organizations around the world, she's passionate about translating cutting-edge research from positive psychology and neuroscience, into practical strategies for health, happiness, and business success. An honorary fellow at Melbourne University's Graduate School of Education, Michelle holds a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently completing her PhD in Appreciative Inquiry under the supervision of David Cooperrider.

Have you taken a strengths assessment– like StrengthsFinder, the VIA Survey or Realise2 - only to be left wondering what’s next? Just how are you going to use a talent like woo (your ability to win others over), a character strength like love (your desire to develop and foster strong relationships with others), or a realized strength like resolver (your enjoyment of solving problems)?

Of course it’s great to discover what you’re good at and actually enjoy doing at work. For most of us it’s even easy to start imagining what our strengths-fuelled future might start to look like. But while 89 percent of us believe tomorrow will be better than today, only 50 percent of us actually think we make it so.

So what are the tested ways you can turn your hopes for a strengths-fuelled future into a reality?

The truth is when it comes to developing your strengths more at work hope is like oxygen; you can’t get very far without it. As Martin Luther King once observed, “Everything that is done in the world, is done by hope.”

The work of your head and your heart hope happens when your rational self meets your emotional self with:

  • Clear “want-to” goals that fill your mind with pictures of the future,
  • The formulation of multiple pathways to carry you forward and navigate the obstacles you might encounter, and
  • The drive to make things happen and take responsibility for moving toward your goal.

Each of these parts works as a continuous feedback loop, setting the next part in motion and forming a cycle that enhances your hope to make your strengths-fuelled future a reality.

Studies have found that in the sweet spot of this cycle, you listen to your desires and dreams because they tell you who you are, and you notice the strengths you have that others might miss. You believe in your ability to make the future better than the present, while at the same time you recognize the limits of your control. You devote time and effort to the strengths you need to develop, and understand the difference between negativity—which creates doubt and saps your energy—and helpful critiques.

So how can you use these hopes to create a clear map that makes it easy to develop your strengths?

Firstly, you’ll need a clear “want-to” goal.

Good goals are like looking through a pair of binoculars, they make fuzzy distant objects much clearer. To help select the first goal on your journey, imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to ten at the top. The top of the ladder represents the strengths-fuelled future you want. The bottom of the ladder represents a life in which your strengths are not drawn on at all.

On which step of the ladder would you say you stand at this time? Now on which step would you be excited to stand twelve months from now? What clear, specific, additive goal does this suggest you should set yourself?

For example, while “I want to stop doing work I don’t enjoy” is clear enough, it’s negative focus will make it hard for you to find the energy to keep taking action. Instead try something like, “I want to connect a network of credible, inspiring, and collaborative people to explore new ways we can go to market” so it’s clear what it will add to your life.

Secondly, when it comes to moving from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow, research recommends that it’s worth having a plan A, B, and even C. That way, even if you encounter insurmountable obstacles on the path, it doesn’t mean you have to forego the goal you’re trying to reach.

If you’re struggling to find pathways forward try to quickly write down at least six endings – or as many as you can think of – to this sentence: “I could use my strengths to get five percent closer to the goal I’ve set by ….” Don’t judge what comes to mind, just write it down and then when you’re done go back and evaluate your answers and chose the pathways you’re most energized and excited about and have a reasonable degree of control over.

Finally, while it helps to monitor your goals and celebrate your progress using online and smartphone apps like GoalsOnTrack, Lift, and Strides, sticking to your pathways will also be much easier with the support of others.

Studies have found that people who make New Year’s resolutions are much more likely to persevere for at least two years if they have social support. If you can, find someone to share your strengths development journey. Your colleagues, boss, friends, and family can help motivate you, offer positive feedback, and appreciate the efforts you're making.

Ready to turn your hopes for a strengths-fuelled future into reality? You’ll find a play sheet here to help you map your strength development hopes onto a page if you’d like more guidance from my book Your Strengths Blueprint.