Why Strength Matters and How to Grow It

You’ll know when you're coming from your strength because you feel invigorated, productive and enterprising.  When you come from your own strengths, life is easier.

The evidence points to your ability to learn far more quickly when you come from strength; you gain greater satisfaction; you perform more easily; and you experience a desire or a yearning to perform the activity more frequently, as you feel you just have to do it.

Strength Matters – Actually We Have Many Strengths

 I’ll focus on two main bodies of research in the strengths discipline: the first in the personal development space and the second in the organization development and leadership space.  In fact, they overlap and co-mingle.  Both offer an excellent online survey that you can take to identify your own strengths.

First step is to  discover  your innate strengths (also called talents) and then you go out, use them and put them to work.  This is the key to optimizing your well-being,  your flourishing, and a happy life;  and by happy life, the emphasis is on the engagement and meaning aspects of happiness.  This kind of happiness is when you are in alignment with your purpose and are contributing in ways that bring you deep joy and satisfaction.

At work, a good indicator that you're using your strengths is when you are fully engaged in an activity, and, while it may be challenging, you feel at one with it and you lose track of time.  In that case, you're experiencing the flow state, that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's famous book, Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience, introduced to the world.  On the contrary, when your energy is depleted and you're either bored (because the task is too easy) or stressed (because it's too hard and not aligned with your natural strengths), you are not in that flow state.  It robs you of productivity and vitality.

But first, let me define “strengths” in the context of human and organization development with a brief overview. 

Character Strengths – Virtues in Action

I’ll start with character strengths developed by the late Chris Peterson of the University of Michigan and Martin Seligman, at University of Pennsylvania,  deemed the father of positivity psychology, and others.  

With knowledge of your character strengths, it is possible to express and develop character and be poised to better direct talents and abilities into meaningful and engaging behaviors that improve your own life and the lives of others.   

This research identified a framework of 24 character strengths that are classified into 5 broad areas of strengths, namely,

  •  cognitive
  • emotional
  • social and community
  • protective
  • spiritual

Your top five strengths in any one of these broad areas are your innate character strengths and when you work with them and bring them into all aspects of your life, you have much greater capability to live a life that engages you fully and is meaningful.  Seligman talks about the Good Life as

Using your strengths to obtain abundant gratification in the main realms of your life

You can become aware of own strengths by paying attention to the activities that absorb you, that make time fly by andStrength matters you feel they are totally occupying you in a good way, that may also be challenging, yet you just want to be doing it.

For me designing courses and facilitating and writing and speaking bring out the best in me. I get into that flow state and I am totally engaged. It’s not to say it’s not challenging, because challenge and stretching yourself is good.


Signature Strengths – StrengthsFinder

Around the same time in 2001, the late Don Clifton, former Chairman of Gallup  who was deemed “the father of Strengths-Based Psychology and the grandfather of Positive Psychology” shared his research of near 30 years.

He had been studying excellence in two million people, finally identifying themes that reflect natural talents, naming them signature strengths. He recommends that for success and fulfillment we

“Capitalize on strengths, whatever they may be, and manage around weaknesses, whatever they may be.”

Clifton defines strengths as

“Consistent near perfect performance in an activity . . . the ability is a strength only if you can fathom yourself doing it repeatedly, happily, and successfully.

Clifton’s findings reveal that your top five signature strengths are themes of talent and therefore are your highest potential for development, because that’s where you will find the greatest satisfaction and do what comes most naturally.

“By focusing on your top five themes, you will actually become stronger, more robust, more open to new discoveries and, importantly, more appreciative of people who possess themes very different from your own.”

Take the Surveys

I invite you to go online and take one or both of these strength surveys (listed below) to help you learn about your best attributes and where you can leverage your potential to create the changes that will lead to a more satisfying and meaningful life.

The VIA Survey

VIA stands for Virtues In Action at the website

The VIA survey is free to take.  I highly recommend it.  You receive a report describing your 24 character strengths with more detail about your top 5.  You can also purchase a range of more detailed reports.   This website is full of excellent explanations and resources.  It's a fabulous resource.

StrengthsFinder Survey

The StrengthsFinder Survey, at the website There is a cost to take this survey , and there are a number of reports you can invest in to learn more about your signature strengths.

Personal Growth and Development Opportunities

Both surveys will help you identify your strengths, and appreciate the strength matters in a whole new, supportive way. You will come away with valuable insights and personal growth and development opportunities.  Inspired by your new found strengths, some of which you will have intuited and some may come as a surprise, you’ll become more consciously aware of your best self what energizes you so you perform with greater ease.

At the same time, you will now have greater understanding why you find yourself struggling at times and feel depleted.  When you are not in your strengths, it takes more effort, more energy and you find it harder to be in that positive state of engagement.   

How You Can Be More Energized than Depleted

You’ll  start to understand which environments stimulate you or bore you; which behaviors calm you or excite you. Over time, this adds up to a life that is efficient, effective, healthy, productive, and satisfying.

Invest in Developing Strengths – Why Bother?

Before I even started school, I remember annoying my grandmother, mother and father because they thought I asked too many questions.

“Curiosity killed the cat” was one of the many proverbs my grandmother delighted in repeating to me, every time I poked my head into something new, or asked “Why?” It silenced me, as I was upset by the idea of “killing cats.”

My mother, too, after endless “Why?” questions, in frustration would sigh, “Because I said so” or “’Y’ is a crooked letter that can’t be made straight.” I had to pause to think hard about trying to straighten the letter “Y” and wouldn’t dare ask, “Why does it need to be straightened?”

Even my father would tell me, “Mind your p’s and q’s.” I couldn’t fathom that one.

Curiosity and Love of Learning Energize Me

In spite of these early reprimands, it seems my curiosity, love of learning, and desire to seek out new ideas have been my constant guides. These days, whenever I am in a new territory, I am called to go further to explore what’s around the corner, over the hill, or beyond the horizon.

I am truly satisfied when I discover for myself what I can learn and what new ideas come up that stimulate possibility-thinking and what-if scenarios.

After all these years, I know now that curiosity, love of learning, collecting ideas, and seeing the big picture are my best attributes, or my signature strengths. I know I am most satisfied when I am playing or working to these strengths.

Our Weaknesses Attract More Attention and Investment

It’s a relatively new, and thankfully a growing trend, to focus on and develop strengths. Yet, the old paradigm of ‘overcome weaknesses first’ is played out every day in most of our homes, our schools, our institutions, and our places of work and worship.

The behaviors, the processes, the decisions that are weak or problematic in some way, are the first to grab attention. You focus on the things that “need fixing.”  What happens as a result is those behaviors, thoughts, feelings, decisions, and processes that are working well and bring you successes don’t attract the same attention or the investment of resources.

Do you think it’s a fair generalization to say that you invest energy, money, time, intellect, and emotion into things that don’t work for  you more than you  put energies into those things that will give you an easier and a much-better return for your efforts and investments?

The Task of Leadership

Key question: Are you better off investing in and developing strengths? – defined as innate talents that can be more easily and speedily developed – than dealing with weaknesses that can be worked around and will take more effort, time and resources and always be a struggle?

The late management and leadership guru, Peter Drucker’s quote is relevant more than ever:

 “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths, making our weaknesses irrelevant.”

Strength-based approaches to human and organization development and positive psychology, defined as the study of strengths, excellence, resilience, and optimal functioning in general, focus on people’s talents and gifts.

Your talents and gifts are your strengths. When people are performing in roles in which they play to their strengths, studies show that performance and satisfaction increase, productivity improves, and they have greater chance at achieving their full potential.  That’s from the book Now, Discover your Strengths, by Buckingham & Clifton (2001).

This is a radical departure from the long-held view that to help someone perform at his or her best, you work on improving the person’s weaknesses. This view is evidenced by the fact that in 2001 only 20 percent of employees in companies across the globe feel their strengths are in play on a daily basis or  “have the opportunity to do their best work”.  Good news is, in 2014, that statstic has jumped to an average of 30%.

Are you helping grow that statistic?  I sure hope so.  I know as an agent for positive change, I am.

How Appreciative Inquiry Questions Work, With Robyn Stratton-Berkessel – PS040

How Appreciative Inquiry Questions Work, Episode Overview

RSB Resized to 400 by 600 approxThis episode is Part II of a two-part show.  Kathy Becker, CEO of the Center for Appreciative Inquiry interviews Robyn Stratton-Berkessel. Both are Appreciative Inquiry Practitioners and professional colleagues. In the previous episode, Part I, Robyn interviews Kathy demonstrating  the Appreciative Inquiry Discovery Interview.  In this episode the roles are reversed and Kathy interviews Robyn.  We demonstrate how Appreciative Inquiry Questions work. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive approach to change which has been used globally for almost 30 years. It seeks to inspire, mobilize, and sustain, employee engagement and collaborations.


It's my great pleasure to be interviewed by Kathy Becker.  As the creator of Positivity Strategist, let me introduce myself.  My name is Robyn Stratton-Berkessel, and I am most grateful that you've come to my website and are listening in to my show.

In a nutshell, I'm an author, a speaker, a podcast host, an app developer, a designer and facilitator, and coach.  My strengths are leading positive change. I partner with executives and teams around the world, designing and delivering high impact and positive change with a focus on co-creating cultures of ownership, inclusion and collaboration.  You can find out more about my journey on my About Page.  If you scroll to the bottom of that page, you'll find out how I was an annoyance factor in my earlier years and the shift I underwent in my life.

High Point Experiences as an Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator

Being interviewed is such a wonderful opportunity to actually experience the work I love – as participants in my workshops do.  Instead of interviewing or facilitating others, I am in the participant's chair.  I have the chance to talk about the work I do from a very special place.  I talk about a high point experience in my career as an Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner.

You’ll hear not only the unfolding story of a high point Appreciative Inquiry experience, but some of behind-the-scenes set-up as well.

Appreciative Inquiry Questions

Below is the generic Appreciative Inquiry Discovery Interview Protocol.

Listen in to the episode to hear the responses to each of these questions and learn much more about the Appreciative Inquiry experience.

1 What has been a high-point experience for you as an Appreciative Inquiry practitioner, when you felt most alive, successful, and effective? Please share your story.

  • What was the situation?
  • Who was involved?
  • What happened?
  • What was the experience like for the client group and you?
  • How did you feel?

2Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself, your work, and how it’s organized?

3What are the core factors that make this work function at its best, when it feels a perfect fit for who you are, and you see how this work impacts your clients.  What are some of those impacts?

4What are three wishes for the future of this work for you as an AI practitioner?

Appreciative Inquiry Case Study - How Appreciative Inquiry Questions WorkBonus Offer: Free Case Study Download

To learn more about this Appreciative Inquiry Summit, please download the full case study co-authored by the client and and the Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner.

You will learn about the entire process from detailed preparation leading up to the summit, the design of the summit, the team work that make it works so powerfully, the project milestones, the participant experience and their outcomes.btn_Download


Delighting Clients

As you listen in, you’ll learn not only about my personal high point experiences doing my work, but also how it impacts everyone involved.  You will hear what happens when people share their stories and feel truly heard. You will hear what outcomes result from the conversations that happen. You will hear how an Appreciative Inquiry Summit is organized.  You will hear how the clients are delighted.

Links Mentioned In This Episode

  • Robyn’s Twitter            

Books Mentioned In This Episode


Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.

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If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

Positive Workplace Culture at Buffer, With Carolyn Kopprasch – PS031

Buffer Logo for the Positive Workplace Culture PodcastWorkplace culture determines how well people support and serve each other, internal to the organization and external. Buffer, the software company that helps us share and schedule our posts, images and tweets across the various networks has a culture that truly walks the talk of positivity, transparency and self-improvement. Carolyn Kopprasch of the Happiness Team at Buffer shares her experience of working at Buffer and what she loves about it.

Episode Introduction

Positive Workplace Culture with Buffer's Customer Happiness Officer, Carolyn Kopprasch (Photo)Carolyn Kopprasch works at Buffer where she’s part of the Customer Happiness Team. Carolyn talks with Positivity Strategist’s Robyn Stratton-Berkessel about positive workplace culture and customer experience.  In our conversation, we focus on the top three values that support Buffer’s culture: “Choose Positivity”; “Default to Transparency”; and “Focus on Self-Improvement.”

Not only do I totally love and depend on my Buffer App to help manage my social media sharing, I am totally admiring of Buffer’s culture.  My history with Buffer goes back about four years.  Back then, I emailed a support question, and, when I received a warm response offering a solution to my issue within a very short timeframe, I was so delighted that I emailed back, to say how happy they made me feel.  Over time, I started to dig around and found out that Buffer’s modus operandi was not only about progressing their product and service, but also the happiness of its users and the Buffer team.

Gratitude is Central to Buffer’s Culture

The one word that best captures working at Buffer for Carolyn Kopprasch is “gratitude”.  During our conversation, Carolyn explains very clearly why ‘gratitude’ is central to her working at Buffer.

Positive Workplace Culture and Gratitude ImageGratitude is, in fact, central to Buffer’s culture. It’s one of the company’s 10 values. She’s grateful for the team she works with; they work remotely all over the world; they express gratitude to each other, and there’s a lot of love in the team.

When it comes to customers, gratitude extends deep and wide. She says:  “We get to do this [work] because of our customers!”

Listen in to a couple of great stories that Carolyn shares about how gratitude is a two-way street – how all Buffer team members show gratitude to the customers and how the customers show gratitude to Buffer. An example of this reciprocation happened when customer accounts were hacked and Buffer received an outpouring of appreciation about how well Buffer handled the situation.

Three Good Reads from Buffer Blog

Buffer-Values For A Positive Workplace CultureBuffer not only supports its customers with social media scheduling in a very easy way for people like you and me and businesses as well, it also provides a lot of great marketing and human development resources through its blogs.  In the links below you can read three really great posts: 1) the 10 Buffer Values; 2) about happiness and positivity in the organization;  and 3) how it recently acquired its own domain name to (it will be transitioning from its original name,

Evolving as an Organization

One constant in Buffer is change. Growth has been steady and finding the best way to organize a remote workforce has been an exciting journey. Tools to keep the whole team and the smaller teams together are key. Carolyn talks about a number of these in our conversation.

Self-managing teams is how work gets done at Buffer.  Inspired by Reinventing Organizations by Frederick Laloux, Buffer is designed as a Teal Organization. The members of each team can contribute to other teams so that all are contributing ideas across the whole organization, whether they are part of the Happiness Team or Production Team or Product Team, or whatever, so ideas mingle and mesh together.

Positive Workplace Culture and Values at Buffer

Carolyn provides terrific insights into the first three values at Buffer. She explains how “kindness” was a core value from the beginning and then explains how the existing 10 values came into being.

We talk in some detail about the first three.

Choose Positivity  

Being happy is a choice.  You can make every individual moment count. In every situation – even the challenges – there is something to be appreciated. Struggles can be blessings.

Listen in to examples and how Carolyn makes the distinctions between positivity and happiness;  positivity and joy; and positivity and gratitude.

Default to transparency

Buffer is reknown for its transparency and openness. It shares everything about its revenues, salaries, performance with the public, unless it’s not possible because a third party may request something not be disclosed, as in the price that was paid to the entity that sold buffer the domain name

Internally, all emails are open to all, as are all other transactions and communications.

Focus on self-improvement

Everyone in the organizations has self-improvement goals which are shared openly.  Team members form into pairs each week and daily they account to each other about the progress of their self-improvement goals.

A number of the goals are common to everyone, such as getting good and enough sleep, daily physical exercise, and healthy eating to name three. Then there are the individual self-improvement goals which the pairs support each other on to help them stay on track.

One of the great benefits of the accountability pairs, according to Carolyn, is that you really get to know your other team members since you communicate daily for a week while you are helping each other with individual goals. It also adds to the value of transparency. You open yourself to your different partner each week.

POSITIVITY LENS for this EpisodePositivity Lens Notebook

Download Carolyn's suggested “positive activities” for this episode: Hint: It’s about accessing resources to increase your positivity, and focussing on gratitude.

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Other Valuable Insights

Buffer uses a tool call Small Improvements to help give feedback to each other.  Within Buffer, they call it feedforward because it has a forward focus. A delightful outcome of using this tool is a feature called “Give Kudos, Give Praise”.  It’s this feature that gets used the most.

Culture is unique to every organization. Therefore, it’s not about replicating one organization’s culture because it works for them into another organization. Even though the “Buffer Way” will not work for everyone, Carolyn does suggest that there are some aspects about the culture at Buffer that may be helpful to others and people may learn from Buffer’s experience to establish their own positive workplace culture.

Wouldn’t It Be Cool If…

Buffers Pablo App - Helping Positive Workplace CultureIf you have a desire to introduce something new at work, Carolyn suggests you just talk to each other.  Changes evolve over time and can be started by one person suggesting to another: “Wouldn’t it be cool if …” and it may catch on.  Change doesn’t happen by decree.

The new Pablo App, just recently launched was created by a Buffer team member. Pablo enables users to post to their social sites content with images and quotes. I am using it, and it works gorgeously.  As a photographer, I can use my own images with my favorite quotes or inspirational messages. I am getting more retweets with such tweets.  Thank you, again, Buffer Team!

If you have a creative idea, the message is: try it on small scale. If it succeeds and brings joy then go for it

Parting Evidence of Living with Gratitude

When I inquired of Carolyn if Buffer has many people knocking at their door wanting to joining them, Carolyn, with the greatest congruence, responded:

“We’re very lucky that people want to join us, and please the invitation is there.”

Links Mentioned In This Episode

Books Mentioned In This Episode:

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.

Listen to Stitcher


Subscribe Via RSS

If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.





Appreciative Inquiry – Overview of Method, Principles and Applications

10 minute read

My intention with this resource is to provide an overview of Appreciative Inquiry for people who are new to this strength-based, transformational, positive change methodology.

My Intention for this Resource

This resource is an overview of the change methodology Appreciative Inquiry. Topics covered:

  • What it is
  • How it is a strength-based, positive framework
  • What it can achieve through collaborative conversations
  • The 4-D process of Appreciative Inquiry
  • How it can be applied personally and professionally
  • The guiding principles
  • The importance of affirmative questions
  • The value of story-telling in Appreciative Inquiry

My wish is that you will be more curious and excited about the possibilities of this life-centric, positive approach to change after reading it.  And, there are many more posts and stories throughout Positivity Strategist if your interest has been piqued.

 What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Seeing with Appreciative Eyes

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a change methodology grounded in theories from the disciplines of organization behavior and the sciences of sociology and psychology, with a good dose of metaphyics. Those of us who practice AI refer to it as both a way of being and doing.

Appreciative Inquiry is a perspective on the world that invites us to see ourselves and the world through an appreciative or valuing eye.  We are made aware that how we use language, how we ask questions, and what stories we tell shape our own and collective destinies.

Appreciative Inquiry CertificateEarning my certification in Positive Business and Society Change Program at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in 2004 with Professors David Cooperrider and Ron Fry has been a high point of my personal and professional life.  It has enabled me to meet extraordinary people and contribute in ways I had never dreamed possible, adding to the body of work in this field.

Definition of Appreciative Inquiry

From the Handbook of Appreciative Inquiry, (link here) here’s a comprehensive definition:

Appreciative Inquiry is the co-evolutionary, co-operative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them … AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate and heighten positive potential … AI practice focuses on the speed of the imagination and innovation.  Instead of negative, critical, and spiraling diagnoses commonly used in our organizations … there is discovery, dream, design and destiny.”

Organizational Change

Appreciative Inquiry Summit

Organizational Change

Appreciative Inquiry is an affirming way to embrace human, institutional and organizational change.  As a change methodology, AI offers a life-centric structured approach to energize people in organizations to move in the direction of what they most desire.  Its framework focuses organizational members on their existing core capacities, strengths and successes; it invites them to to envision a desired future; it initiates collaborations to design projects and activities the members are willingly commit to.

This change methodology has the perspective that every system, human and otherwise, has something that works right already —things that contribute to its aliveness, effectiveness, and success, connecting it in healthy ways to its stakeholders and the wider community.   With the Appreciative Inquiry perspective, we can create positive change that can be sustainable, thereby expanding capacity for wellbeing and flourishing. Read more