When is a strength a weakness?


How do you turn a strength bad?… easy, you overuse it.  If you have the ability to translate the feeling of anger into a calm rational response, that will serve you well in most situations – until that response is perceived as not caring, or ambivalence.  The ability to always have a clear, strong opinion can be seen as an important leadership skill, until it becomes or is perceived as being singled minded, unthinking selfishness.  And that competitive streak can help you succeed – until winning at all costs spends farness, dignity, or character.

If an ability is under-used, or simply not seen we often call it a weakness – oh, they’re no good at…  We should say the same of a strength that is overused.

In mathematics there is a ratio called the golden ratio, sometimes described as the golden mean.  We use it in visual layout/design and architecture to produce something that is pleasing to look at.  It appears in music, geometry and nature (such as the nautilus shell above).

Aristotle used the golden mean to describe the desirable middle ground between two extremes – the Wikipedia author uses the example of courage as a virtue, which if taken to excess would be recklessness, and if missing would be cowardice.

In my view, a strength is an ability or trait used wisely.  This brings a new perspective to ‘working on your strengths.’  It’s not simply about building strengths, but knowing when and how to use them, becoming adept at hitting the golden mean.  Thank you Aristotle.


Reach Remarkable Strengths Triad

Reach Remarkable Strengths Triad Diagram

When we operating from our strengths, we’re working with our most powerful assets – the skills, thought processes, and ways of connecting that we’ve honed most successfully.  At Reach Remarkable we operate around a strengths triad, three areas that when developed and combined contribute to a high level of functioning and performance.

Strengths of the Mind

In reality just about everything we do involves our brain, but here we’re thinking about the mental or cognitive strengths that contribute to high performance – like self-control, resilience and persistence for example.  It’s not always obvious that we can develop in areas like self-control, with many of us considering this kind of capability to be in the, you either have it or you don’t category… but it’s not, and neither are many other strengths of mind that we might consider to be in same category.  Taking self-control as an example, you’ll find plenty of commentary here on the blog.

We consider strengths of mind to relate to ‘How we are’ – how we approach a task, how we deal with challenges, how we learn, and so on.

Character Strengths

The eminently quotable Albert Einstein suggested:

“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

Where the mind is about ‘how we are,’ character is about ‘who we are.’ The way we relate and involve others, whether through teamwork, curiosity, judgement or other character strengths.  I like the view that there are no bad strengths, it’s just a matter how much we use, or don’t use them. Teamwork is great strength when you need to achieve something as a team, it’s clearly less appropriate when you need to achieve something alone.

Character then informs the way that people know and relate to us.


Finally, our functional skills like leadership, project management or software development help define the role that we take, and our competency in achieving that role.  Most of us think about going on a course, and learning generally, being about this kind of skills development.  Alternatively, learning ‘on the job’ is a popular approach to development at work.  Both have their place, but alone, neither are likely to lead to skills mastery.

Finally, when you start combining these three areas of strength, you get important results.  Well aligned mind and character strengths, lead to authenticity;  the combination of strong character and skills leads to work engagement;  and finally, well developed strengths of mind and skill shows us our path to mastery…  and a person who is engaged, authentic and masterful is high performing.

Be strong,

How do you measure positive character?

Back at the formal start of Positive Psychology in 1998 one of the many challenges was the lack of an agreed way to characterize and measure good character… on the assumption that good character is one of the elements of positive human development.  A project created in 2000 by the Mayerson Foundation called the Values in Action Institute, now known simply VIA Character, was the start of the VIA Classification of Character Strengths.

The classification came about through a broad study to identify cross cultural, morally valued virtues and strengths of character. Led by Professors Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, it includes 24 character strengths such as teamwork, kindness, creativity and authenticity.

Today, I love using VIA Character as one of the tools to help people understand their strengths… I say love using it because being able to spend time with somebody talking about their strengths and how that translates into what they are great at, has been a universally positive experience on both side.  And with the recent release of the VIA Character Team Report, using VIA Character with teams has become even easier.

Practically, being clear about our strengths can make working on and choosing projects or work assignments easier;  and if you’re able to adjust or tweak your work so you can emphasise your strengths, it can make an enormous difference to both effectiveness and enjoyment.

In a team, sharing character strengths can help to grow the bond between the individuals and foster and improve the chances of successful collaboration – and so the results of the team.  It can also help highlight gaps that can be consciously compensated for or at least considered.

VIA have recently published a video study with Allied Health in Wisconsin, USA which shows how they’ve used VIA Character… it’s worth a view.

Allied Health Organisation and The VIA Survey


If you have any problems viewing the video in the page, you can watch it here)


Be remarkable,