A strengths-based approach helps clients to navigate complex career transitions by supporting them to expand their perspectives and to address barriers to change. It also provides the career professional with a roadmap that can be tailored to the needs of individual clients.
Although there are a number of strengths models and tools available, such as Strengthsfinder and the VIA Inventory of Strengths, this article is primarily based on the Realise2 model (Linley, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010) summarized below. The three questions we focus on are:
What are strengths and how are they relevant to career transition?
What are the implications of using a strengths-based approach?
How can knowledge of strengths be applied to specific client experiences?
What Are Strengths?
Two key questions for clients who want and/or need to make a career change are “What are they good at?” and “What do they like to do?” But it can be challenging to step outside of familiar roles and activities to really explore this question. A strengths model provides a framework that can support clients in broadening their perspectives. The four distinctions, (realized strengths, unrealized strengths, learned behaviors and weaknesses) described in the Realise2 model (Linley, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010) are easy for clients to understand and a good basis for further exploration.
As shown in Figure 1 below, strengths are the things we are both good at, and find energizing. Strengths may be “realized” if they are used frequently and “unrealized” if they are not used or used infrequently. Strengths are different from “learned behaviors”, which are those activities which are performed frequently and often well, but which are de-energizing. Weaknesses are activities that we are not good at and also find draining. As discussed below, change can be accomplished by building a strategy informed by the client’s individual profile of strengths, weaknesses and learned behaviors.
Figure 1: The Realise2 Model
Although one might expect that clients, especially those with considerable work experience, already know their personal strengths, research shows that approximately eight out of ten adults do not fully understand their strengths (Linley, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010). For some clients, a formal assessment of strengths is an efficient way to gather information quickly before validating it through follow-up discussions. Enhancing understanding of strengths can be invaluable in helping the client to gain clarity about new possibilities for productive and satisfying work.
The Implications of Strengths-based Approaches for Change
Knowing one’s personal strengths is helpful, but a successful career transition frequently involves managing the anxiety, fear, loss or disappointment that may accompany significant change. Discussing the underlying assumptions of strengths-based approaches with clients provides a roadmap for the transition process. It is also an opportunity to help expose clients’ concerns and personal beliefs about change that may help or hinder their career goals.
The Realise2 model of strengths is founded on four main assumptions about development:
The most significant growth and development occurs through developing strengths rather than weaknesses
The most motivating conversations are weighted towards exploring strengths over and above exploring weaknesses
Weaknesses need to be addressed as part of a holistic picture rather than ignored
It is important to explore competence (performance) and motivation (energy) hand in hand.
Examples of how these principles apply to specific client situations are discussed below.
Applying Knowledge of Strengths to Specific Client Experiences
Table 1 below presents selected examples of different ways in which the career professional can tailor a strengths approach to help clients in two different situations.
Application: Areas of Focus
A ‘manufacturing worker’ who needs to start over because work is being outsourced.
A professional who is stressed & unhappy at work
As these examples show, individual career transitions are often complex. Strengths-based approaches provide career professionals and clients with new tools to develop the flexibility and resilience to thrive in increasingly turbulent work environments. Career transition strategies are more likely to be effective when individualized and based on awareness of both competence and motivation. Together the client and coach can discuss the relevance of particular strengths and weaknesses in light of career goals and life circumstances.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
Linley, P. A., Willars, J., Biswas-Diener, R (2010). The Strengths Book. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.
Linley, P. A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.
Linley, P. A., Woolston, L. & Biswas-Diener, R (2009). Strengths Coaching with Leaders. International Coaching Psychology Review, 4, 1, pp 37-46
Jennifer Bradley is a US-based coach, consultant, and trainer. She works with individuals and groups to help them create a work life where they can flourish both personally and professionally. She holds a Doctorate in organizational psychology (University of Manchester; U.K.) and a Masters Degree in Intercultural Relations (University of the Pacific; CA) Contact her via her email
Emma Trenier is a UK-based Consulting Psychologist with the Centre of Applied Positive Psychology (Capp) and specialises in individual, career and team development. Contact her at . More information at http://www.cappeu.com/emma-trenier.htm