I received the following question from a resilience practitioner:

I continue to frame an individual’s stronger resilience characteristics as, just that, strengths—even gifts. (Where appropriate, I am promoting the idea of strength areas being a stewardship to used in service to the larger mission—shared by the team, the group, the company, etc.) I recently heard someone else talking about the resilience characteristics with such a strong emphasis on the balance of the characteristics that it would suggest that one shouldn’t pay much attention to the “strengths” but should be most interested in balance. This would likely lead us back to a “work on your weak areas” paradigm that I don’t embrace in most situations.

Interested in your current thinking on the topic. I hope I don’t have to back off of my “strengths/gifts” message, but I don’t want to be in error either.

And yes… I am aware that the value of balance has always been a part of your resilience work.

Any thoughts on the subject will be appreciated!

This is a great question, and it led me to wonder how some of my colleagues thought about the issue. So I reached out to them and found that we were fairly well aligned, but wanted to take the opportunity to put together our best thinking to share with the community.


I would begin by saying that I do believe that it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate strengths as gifts that can and should be used to the benefit of oneself and the community, and that the overall focus of resilience conversations should serve to affirm and develop people rather than to highlight gaps and deficits.


However, I also believe that the strengths/weaknesses conversation, as it is often cast (and, to some extent, the language of “gifts” as well), comes from what psychologist Carol Dweck would call a “fixed” mindset—seeing individual capabilities as set in stone—rather than a “growth” mindset, which focuses on the potential for development through dedication and hard work.


We tend to focus less on each characteristic separately, and more on how they work together during times of change, using the “change muscles” metaphor as a way of illustrating the systemic and synergistic nature of how the characteristics combine in action. My colleague Dianne puts it this way:


“Each characteristic can be overused as well as underused, although we tend to see more easily how underuse can be a problem. A full consideration involves thinking about the potential risks and the potential opportunities presented by overusing or underusing each characteristic, including in combination with others. In some situations exercising restraint in using a characteristic can be a strength, and something that can increase resilience. An example might be holding back on being Proactive while devoting energy to Organized, so that one’s experimenting can be systematic and hence more effective.


It generally takes a particular combination of characteristics to handle each specific situation most effectively. A balanced profile is analogous to a well-stocked tool kit, where each tool is available for use. As the saying goes, to a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. A balanced profile means it’s more likely that the person can draw on an effective combination of characteristics for many different turbulent situations and hence be more resilient overall. On the other hand, someone with particularly high scores on the required characteristics for a specific situation may be spectacular in that situation, but can really struggle in situations that play to their lower-scoring characteristics.


I think the strengths/gifts message is still valid, but a little more subtle and complex. High scores do reflect strengths, but knowing when and how to use those characteristics—taking into account the pattern of one’s other scores, and the particular situation involved—is also a ‘resilience gift’.”