The Strengths Movement

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"Our real problem, then, is not our strength today; it is rather the vital necessity of action today to ensure our strength tomorrow." — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Are you a part of the strengths movement?  The strengths movement is a shift from focusing on weaknesses to focusing on strengths.  The idea is that you’ll gain more by improving your strengths than improving your weaknesses.

In Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, Marcus Buckingham traces the source of the strengths movement.

Key Take Aways
Here are my key take aways:

  • Focus on strengths.  Strengths are the key.  Focus on strengths over weaknesses.
  • Strengths are building momentum.  The strengths movement has built momentum over time.
  • It’s everywhere.  Universities, corporations, psychiatry, law, and sports are all part of the strengths movement.

Effective Executives Build on Strengths
According to Buckingham, Peter Drucker wrote that effective executives focused on strengths.

Buckingham writes:

“Some will identify Peter Drucker, citing his seminal 1966 book, The Effective Executive, in which he wrote: ‘The effective executive builds on strengths – their own strengths, the strengths of superiors, colleagues, subordinates; and on the strengths of the situation.’”

Psychology was Literally Half-Baked
According to Buckingham, Dr. Martin Seligman said that psychology is half-baked since it focused on what’s wrong with us, instead of what’s right with us.

Buckingham writes:

“Some will reference to Dr. Martin Seligman’s 1999 speech after becoming president of the American Psychological Association.  ‘The most important thing we learned was that psychology was half-baked, literally half-baked,’ he said.  ‘We’ve baked the part about mental illness, about repair of damage.  The other side’s unbaked, the side of strengths, the side of what we’re good at.’”

The Strengths Movement is Now in Full Flood 
The strengths movement is gaining momentum and it’s here to stay.

Buckingham writes:

“Whatever is its true source, the strengths movement is now in full flood.  It is a wave of change that, over the last several years, has swept us all forward.  No discipline has been left behind.  Whatever we work in business, government, education or health care, this wave has lifted us up, spun us around, and revealed to us all a new world.  You may not yet recognize the change – some of us were bowled over by the wave, while others barely noticed it carrying them along.  But, with or without our knowledge, it has picked us up and deposited us far from where we were  a decade ago.  And there’s no going back.  This wave has forever changed the way we perceive ourselves, our employees, our students, and our children.”

Successful Organizations are Explicitly Strengths-Based
Successful organizations focus on their strengths.

Buckingham writes:

“Many of the world’s most successful organizations such as Wells Fargo, Intel, Best Buy, and Accenture have declared their commitment to becoming an explicitly strengths-based organization.  All new manager at Toyota must now attend a three-day Great Manager training program that shows them how to spot the strengths of their subordinates.  All new managers at Yahoo are required to take an online survey that measures their talents and pinpoints their strongest.”

Universities Have Been Swept Up by the Movement
Universities are now focusing on strengths.

Buckingham writes:

“Universities too have been swept up by the movement.  Princeton, with great fanfare, recently set up its own Center for Health and Well-Being, dedicated to the study of all that is right in the world.  Over half the faculty are, surprisingly, economists.  At Harvard, Professor Tal David Ben-Shahar’s class An Introduction to Poistive Psychology is now the most popular elective class in the entire curriculum.  And Azusa Pacific University now has a Center for Strengths-Based Education, set up by the pioneering educator Edward ‘Chip”’Anderson.”

Strengths-Based in Law
Even the law is shifting to strengths over weaknesses. 

Buckingham writes:

“If your child happens to break the law in Ingham County, Michigan, before his day in probate court, he’ll be asked to fill out a Strengths Assessment for Juvenile Justice, which will pose strengths-based questions such as ‘Have you made any good changes in the past?  How did you make these changes?’ and ‘What is your first step to get out of this trouble?  Who will be the first person to notice this step?’”

Strengths-Based in Psychiatry
According to Buckingham, psychiatry students learn the Strengths Model.

Buckingham writes:

“If you are a psychiatry student learning to work with patients suffering persistent mental disorders, you will be asked to read Charle’s Rapp’s 1997 classic, The Strengths Model, which shows you, case by case, how to ‘amplify the well part of the patient.’”

Strengths-Based in Sports
Major League Soccer has a Strengths-Based Coaching course that reinforces good patterns rather than focus on the bad. 

Buckingham writes:

“If you are in aspiring coach, Major League Soccer will be happy to sign you up for its Strengths-Based Coaching course.  Here you’ll learn, among other things, how to hand out “green cards,” which draw a child’s attention to a particularly good pass or tackle he made, rather than the traditionally punitive yellow and red cards.”

It Works Better than any other Perspective
Why do so many people from so many different worlds see power in the strengths-based perspective?  Buckingham writes:

“Because it works better than any other perspective.  The radical idea at the core of the strengths movement is that excellence is not the opposite of failure, and that, as such, you will learn little about excellence from studying failure.  This seems like an obvious idea until you realize that, before the strengths movement began, virtually all business and academic inquiry was built on the opposite idea: namely, that a deep understanding of failure leads to an equally deep understanding of excellence.  That’s why we studied unhappy customers to learn about the happy ones, employee’s weaknesses to learn how to make them excel, sickness to learn about health, divorce to learn about marriage, and sadness to learn about joy.”

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Photo by lanuiop.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi J.D.,

    I agree, it’s necessary to focus on the strengths of others. By encouraging them, giving them atta boys/girls, they’ll feel better. Whether they’re children or employees, the positive affirmations will produce much better results.

    P.S. I love your new site. I see you already have all of your posts moved, as well as the comments. Great job. If you have any questions about WordPress, just let me know. I’ll do whatever I can to help.

    I also forgot to say thank you for the mention in your post on your other blog. So, thank you! 🙂

  2. Thanks Barbara!

    I think in general people move towards pleasure and away from pain, so I think the carrot works better than the stick in the long run. I think the stick approach was for the industrial age, but in today’s world where people want empowerment and they have more choices of where they spend their time, the carrot wins.

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