Written By
Fatima Doman
Author, Speaker, Positive Psychology Coach, and CEO at AuthenticStrengths.com

Leveraging the Many Aspects of Our Strengths – Part 1

Signature Strengths, Strength Combinations, Situational Strengths

“The more you know how to leverage life, the more successful you will become.”
— Ehab Atallai

I once heard Muhammad Yunus — Nobel Prize winner and founder of the microlending movement, which has lifted millions of people out of poverty — say:

“All human beings are born entrepreneurs. Some get a chance to unleash that capacity. Some never got the chance, never knew that he or she has that capacity.”ii

In other words, we are born with everything we need to lead flourishing lives, and when given the opportunity to discover our potential, we can rise beautifully to the occasion. No matter the circumstances we are born into or how clouded our path becomes, we each possess an inner compass that can light the path to that potential. So how do we connect to and better understand this potential within ourselves?

It is more important than ever for people to see themselves through the empowering lens of their character strengths. Our very wellbeing depends upon it. This is precisely why the groundbreaking science of positive psychology is so exciting. It connects us in a tangible way with our strengths — the potential within each of usiii. We can learn to leverage the many aspects of these strengths, beginning with our signature strengths.

Our Signature Strengths

Some strengths are more strongly represented in us and are core to our identity and to what we value. These are called signature strengths, and they will be shown at the top of your VIA strengths report. These top strengths are like a fingerprint — they define our uniqueness and represent our authentic selves. They feel almost as essential to us as breathing. They come naturally, and we feel energized and satisfied when we are expressing them. And when others see them in us, we feel understood in a significant way.

If we are unable to express these parts of ourselves for some reason, we might feel like we are suffocating or dying inside. That’s why focusing on our top strengths and putting them into play, especially during challenging times like these, is so important. Our signature strengths bring meaning into our lives, which is a powerful coping tooliv.

As you look at your strengths survey results — and in particular, your top strengths — ask yourself these questions to determine whether a strength is truly a signature strength for you:

  • Is it authentic?
  • Does it show up often?
  • Do others notice it?
  • Does using it energize me?
  • If unable to express it, would I feel empty?

Interestingly, because we care so much about our signature strengths, we tend to expect others to value those particular strengths as much as we do and can become upset when they do not. Take, for example, the character strength of fairness. A person high in fairness may tend to become upset whenever they see instances of unfair treatment.

In other words, our top strengths are also our hot buttons — those emotional triggers that fire when others act in contradiction of our valued strengths. We can learn to turn these potential clashes into collaborations, however, through developing an appreciation and respect for the strengths of others.

Strengths We Tend To Combine

Character strengths rarely exist alone — they often occur in combinations. Like a well-tuned orchestra of many diverse instruments, the right combinations of strengths can amplify their effect, complementing one another.

Think of a person who combines their strength of creativity with their strength of prudence to ensure that their project is innovative yet complete and on time. Another example is someone who uses their strength of leadership while balancing it with their strength of teamwork, considering the input of their team before making decisions. Or recall a time when someone has been honest with you on a sensitive subject, balancing their strength of honesty with their strength of kindness toward you in how they approached the topic.

Our Situational Strengths

Another category of strengths is called situational strengths. These are strengths we call forth when we need to. For example, a man shared with me that although he had an aversion to public speaking and was terrified to speak at a community meeting, he was able to do so because his family was impacted by this meeting, and that was very important to him. So he called forth some of his less used strengths — bravery and leadership, which were best suited to the situation — to help get him through the public speaking. However, because these were lesser strengths for him, it was draining for him to do it. Therefore, people can “step up” and invoke any strength when needed, even if they find it daunting.

Situational strengths, unlike signature strengths, are not as crucial in defining who we are. The difference between situational strengths and signature strengths is that people need to express top signature strengths to feel whole and energized, but they are comfortable expressing situational strengths only when they are needed. Thus, you may feel more energy after expressing a top signature strength and less energy after expressing a strength lower on your strengths report.

During these unprecedented times, most of us are having to call forth strengths we haven’t used much in the past. Learning to combine our less used strengths with our top strengths to infuse more energy into our actions is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to get us through. For example, I’ve talked with many people who during this past year called forth their strengths of hope, social intelligence, perseverance, kindness, creativity, bravery, humor, etc. The more you use any character strength, the more your comfort level with that strength will increase, and you may experience more energy with it over time, genuinely building that strength.

This is Part 1 of a two-part article. Go to Part 2.

Author, speaker, coach, and CEO of Authentic Strengths Advantage Fatima Doman has motivated audiences across six continents to leverage their authentic strengths for transformation. An influential voice in wellbeing, resilience, engagement, and leadership, she is passionate about empowering people for sustainable high performance at work and in life.

For decades, Fatima has worked successfully with Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 clients representing a variety of industries and with educators around the globe. Her books, “Authentic Strengths,” “Authentic Resilience”, and “True You,” have been featured by ThriveGlobal.com, the Huffington Post, and Psychology Today and on TV, radio, and e-learning platforms, and her workshops have been licensed throughout the world. Learn more at AuthenticStrengths.com.

i https://www.wisesayings.com/leverage-quotes/#ixzz6hN7d6mtD 

ii “Muhammad Yunus on Microfinance.” Enterprising Ideas NOW | PBS. Accessed September 1, 2019. http://www.shoppbs.pbs.org/now/enterprisingideas/Muhammad-Yunus.html 

iii Peterson, C., W. Ruch, U. Beerman, N. Park, and M.E.P. Seligman. “Strengths of Character, Orientations to Happiness, and Life Satisfaction.” Journal of Positive Psychology, 2 (2007): 149–156. 

iv “What the Research Says about Character Strengths.” VIA Character. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.viacharacter.org/research/findings.