What is a strength? When we think of a positive quality that makes us more effective, we think of things like physical strength or certain mental abilities, such as the ability to solve problems.
We’re naturally trained to look at physical or mental abilities that are learned or acquired through education or experience. They tend to be quantifiable, measurable, and specific. Finally, we might think of a different kind of skill, the soft skills, such as our ability to lead or persuade. But because they’re not measurable, we tend to think less about them. After all, what is leadership?
Any about our ability to appreciate beauty, our ability to love, or our ability to forgive? Are these strengths?
We can’t count on our weaknesses to make us better. And yet, we are trained to search for what we lack. Martin Seligman’s 1999 theory of positive psychology says that people develop by identifying and building on their strengths and setting meaningful goals. Positive psychology focuses on the study of positive emotions and character strengths, rather than focusing on what is wrong.
People have three basic psychological needs. To feel positive emotions, to engage in activities that give meaning to life, and to have positive relationships with others. Related to these are finding meaning in what we do and enjoying our accomplishments.
These are measures of well-being. Thus, he suggested that individuals have the capacity to develop their character strengths to increase their well-being and happiness.
The PERMA model breaks down psychological well-being into five key elements: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. It is a framework for improving understanding, with all these elements interrelated.
There are 24 of these character strengths, grouped into six categories: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.
Wisdom represents the ability to acquire knowledge and use it in creative and useful ways. Courage is the ability to achieve goals in the face of opposition. Humanity represents the ability to care for and befriend others. Justice emphasizes the importance of a healthy community. Temperance is the strength that protects against the excesses of life. And transcendence provides the search for meaning, purpose, and understanding.
All these traits make us unique, but more importantly, they allow us to better understand how to build on them to improve certain situations or outcomes.
Many of these qualities we don’t even think of as strengths. Should we broaden our perspective? Probably.
The world is changing. Adding these traits to the list of things we value can help us appreciate the contributions of the people on our teams and create an environment where it’s not just the most common skills that are valued. And that’s important because, as I’ve discussed before, diversity is probably the key to finding answers to many of the problems we face today.