This is a brief post on the Strengths Based Approach to growing & developing others. In this post we introduce the concept at a high level & share resources to help you learn more if you're interested.


The Strengths Theory evolved from the field of psychology & social work. Where traditionally psychology followed a “deficit based approach” for personal development, this new paradigm of focusing on what we are good at, emerged in the 1980s.

Essence of the approach

The approach at its core posits, that the best way to develop & grow, is by focusing our attention primarily on our strengths whilst being aware of one's weaknesses.

Research shows that, when we use our strengths, we’re happier, more engaged and more likely to achieve our goals. When each person knows their strengths and makes use of them consistently, group and team relationships are stronger and people perform better. Consider the following numbers (as mentioned in The High Five website):


People who have a chance to use their strengths are on average 74% more engaged at work


Awareness of one’s strengths enables individuals to be 31% more productive


The mere fact of knowing each other’s strengths makes the team 12% more effective

Key Principles of Strengths Based Approach

We've adapted these from Dr. Wayne Hammonds’ decades of work & research on strengths based approaches, primarily in the field of social work. They apply to any context where a strengths based approach is being practised. Use them as guiding principles in your work as a coach, mentor or leader.

  1. An absolute belief that every person has potential and it is their unique strengths and capabilities that will determine their evolving story as well as define who they are - not their limitations.
  2. Belief that change & growth is inevitable in humans– all individuals have the urge to succeed, to explore the world around them and to make themselves useful to others and their communities.
  3. What receives attention or focus becomes what we strive for and eventually becomes a reality.
  4. Awareness of vulnerabilities and weaknesses, but focus on strengths.
  5. Know that in order to build someone up, including their capacities, it takes time and there is a process of evolution.
  6. See people as creative & resourceful, rather than broken or failing.
  7. Positive change occurs in the context of authentic relationships - people need to know someone genuinely cares. It is not about “fixing” people, it is about supporting their growth with positive regard.
  8. You have to work in collaboration with the person you are supporting. The intent is to help people to do things for themselves instead of spoon feeding or taking the ownership of their growth. In this way, people can become co-producers of support for themselves, not passive consumers of support.

Learn more

To understand more about the origins & details of Strength Based approach theory, you can read the following article:

Strengths Based Approach Overview

Assessment Tools for Character Strengths

Here are some tools you can use to discover or validate strengths. Bear in mind that no tool is perfect, so it’s best to use it as an aid for goal setting & discovery rather than a singular source of truth.

Also, these are meant for finding personality or character strengths rather than technical or functional skills. They are most useful for long term development, leadership development or career conversations.

  1. The High Five Test - Finding 5 major character strengths & ideas to use them. The starter test is free but further reports are paid.
  2. Cliftons Strengths Assessment- Depending on the report version you opt for, find your top 5 character strengths & ideas to apply and develop them
  3. VIA (Values in Action) Survey - One of the most popular tools to help you understand your character strengths profile & how to use them. The starter test is free but the reports are paid.
  4. Personal SWOT exercise: The good old SWOT analysis as a subjective exercise with feedback received as reference. Here is an article on how you can run the exercise.
  5. You can also check out this free resource for a handy list to identify strengths in a coaching conversation.

Ideas to apply the strengths based approach

If you are a team lead / coach / mentor

  1. Read about the strengths based approach & its benefits.
  2. Evaluate your own beliefs about developing others. How aligned are they with the strengths based mindset? What are the resonances? What is the dissonance?
  3. Pick a tool from the ones listed above (or another one that you prefer) and take a character strengths based test. Read the report & work with a peer or coach if possible to have deeper conversations about it.
  4. Once you have some comfort with this approach, begin focusing your conversations with team members on their strengths & how they can best utilise them. To start with, ask them list out their top 5 character strengths as well as skills, based on their self assessment & feedback they receive from others.
  5. Consider using an assessment tool to have deeper conversations with your team members, especially when you're helping them plan their learning & growth goals.

If you are a team member

  1. Read up  about strengths based approach & its benefits.
  2. Examine your beliefs about personal development & how they stack up against the strengths based mindset. Examine your behaviours as well - do you tend to focus more on "fixing" what you're not so good at or on utilising & improving what you are already good at?
  3. Make 3 lists with examples for each point: a) My top 5 technical / functional strengths, b) My top 5 soft skills strengths, c) My top 5 character strengths (for this one, take cues from VIA, High Five or similar tools).
  4. Once you have these, take feedback from your peers & leads to validate your thinking.
  5. In your learning & growth plans, consider putting maximum focus & effort on getting better at your strengths while leaving some rooms for working on gaps / weaknesses.
  6. If you are keen, consider using a tool from the list mentioned above (or pick another one you like) to identify your strengths & get ideas about how to develop them further. Ideally you should work with your team lead, coach or a tool practitioner for a deep dive once you have the report.  

Cover Image Credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash


The High Five article on strengths based research research

Article on Strengths based interventions

You've successfully subscribed to Our Culture Cafe
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Great! You've successfully signed up.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.