We humans always want to know how stuff works. So, I’ve created a high-level summary of how The Strengths Deck approach works, and how it differs from other strengths approaches out there.

How it works

Everyone, no matter who they are, has personal strengths that are part of the special brand of magic that they bring to the world.

The Strengths Deck approach is about helping you uncover your personal strengths, along with your weaknesses, and everything else that lies in between.

Because if you’re breathing, you have weaknesses – welcome to being human! But you also have an almost unlimited capacity for energy, engagement, and achievement, when you know how to tap into your personal strengths, what to do with your weaknesses, and how to set yourself up for success.

The Strengths Deck approach has two key elements: 

  1. The Strengths Deck cards
  2. The Strengths Deck matrix

You can get free, lo-fi versions of the cards and matrix on the Downloads page.

An overhead photo of The Strengths Deck matrix with some of The Strengths Deck cards scattered across it.

The Strengths Deck elements

I developed The Strengths Deck to put the power of personal strengths in your hands. By using the cards and the matrix, you’ll get up close and personal with your strengths, weaknesses, and everything in-between. This hands-on approach will help you take ownership of your strengths in a way that no computer-generated report ever could.

The Strengths Deck cards

The card deck includes:

  • 75 strengths cards
  • 2 instruction cards
  • 5 zone cards
  • 1 strengths groups card
  • 2 blank cards

Everything you need to use The Strengths Deck approach is contained in the card deck, including instructions on how to draw up your own copy of The Strengths Deck matrix.

Each strength card has the strength name, and a definition. These strengths and definitions were developed based on data published by a variety of sources, including other strengths-assessment approaches, academic research, practictioner publications, and my own two decades’ experience as a leader and manager.

A set of The Strengths Deck cards fanned out so their colourful backs are visible, next to black The Strengths Deck cards box, on a purple and yellow background.

The Strengths Deck Matrix

The second element of The Strengths Deck approach is the matrix.

Unlike most models, instead of a 2 x 2 matrix, this is a 5-zone deal. That’s because the middle of the matrix is a key part of understanding your personal strength fingerprint, and creating strategies for sustainable performance and wellbeing.

Dimensions

There are two dimensions: Performance and Preference

Performance is how we typically think of strengths – what we’re good at. But that’s not the full picture – we also need to consider:

Preference – that is, now much we enjoy and feel energised by a particular strength.

Because it’s possible to be really, really good at something but not enjoy it.

A visual of The Strengths Deck matrix, with two dimensions (Performance and Preference) and five zones (Genius, Reputation, Indifference, Potential, and Proficiency)

Zones

The combination of the two dimensions give us five zones:

Genius – things you are great at and love doing. You probably feel like you could do these all day without getting tired, and may not even realise that they are strengths

Reputation – things you are great at, but don’t enjoy, or that de-energise you. Others usually know you’re great at them, so you get a reputation for them. This is also known as the zone of burnout, because if you get stuck doing these things, they drain your energy and enthusiasm.

Indifference – things you’re not good at and don’t enjoy. Traditionally known as ‘weaknesses’, but called ‘indifference’ here because most people have absolutely no desire to think or talk about them. But you need to know what they are and what to do with them (hint: use your Genius strengths!) so they don’t trip you up.

Proficiency – things you’re pretty good at and reasonably happy doing. They don’t crank you out of bed on a Monday morning, but provide a steady baseline so that, even on a down day or a Friday afternoon, you can do good work.

Potential – things you love doing, but aren’t great at. This could simply be a fun hobby, or it might be a Genius strength that you haven’t had a chance to work with enough to increase your performance.

An overhead photo of The Strengths Deck matrix as someone places cards from The Strengths Deck onto it

The process

Once you have your cards in hand, and your matrix laid out in front of you, you’ll get to work, placing each card on one of the five zones.

It helps to start by deciding on which area of your life that you’ll be assessing. Strengths can show up differently at home, work, and in the community, so get clear on which area you’re assessing before you sort the cards.

Once you’re done with all 75 cards (some of which you might leave aside because they just don’t resonate with you at this time), then you work through each zone, selecting the top cards in each zone (6-8 for Genius, 4-6 for Proficiency, and 3-4 for Reputation, Indifference, and Potential).

Then, looking at the top cards, you can start to review how these strengths are showing up in your life, work, or community endeavours.

  • For things that have gone well, how did your Genius, Reputation, and Proficiency strengths play a part?
  • For things that haven’t gone well, how did your Indifference and Reputation strengths play a part? 
  • What goal(s) are you working towards? How might what’s in your Zone of Indifference get in the way? Which strengths in Genius, Reputation, Proficiency, or Potential help neutralise that? Which Genius, Proficiency, and Potential strengths can help propel you forward to achieving your goal?

There are a million different questions you can ask yourself about your strengths, weaknesses, and everything in-between.

How The Strengths Deck approach is different

Philosophy: fixed vs dynamic

The Strengths Deck approach is based on the philosophy that your strengths are dynamic – they can change over time, across contexts, and in response to the way you use them. 

This differs from a mainstream approach that claims that strengths are fixed; once you’ve done a single assessment, you need never do it again. The problem with the “strengths are fixed” philosophy is that it doesn’t square with what we know about the plasticity (i.e. adapatability) of the human brain, nor with a tonne of research into personality, competency, and personal development.

And that’s why I recommend that you complete a strengths sort with The Strengths Deck cards every 6-12 months – so you can see the changes that are happening, and refresh your strategies to make the most of your strengths for your current context and goals.

Medium: electronic vs manual

One of the comments I most reliably receive from people who have used The Strengths Deck approach is that, by holding cards in their hand, and physically placing them on the matrix, they felt more engaged with and connected to their strengths, weaknesses, and everything in between.

When you complete an online assessment, it’s quick, easy, and convenient – but it can create a disconnect between you and the results of the assessment. It can feel like the computer is saying “This is who you are”, rather than you saying to yourself “This is who I am”. It might seem like a subtle difference, but it’s a powerful one when you’ve experienced it for yourself!

Want to learn more about how it all works?

I wrote ‘Unleash Your Awesome’ to be like a coaching programme with me in written or audio format.

Published in February 2023 to rave reviews, it is helping hundreds of people just like you to figure out your personal strengths, weaknesses, and everything in between, and then create practical, powerful strategies to put your strengths to work for you.

Once you’ve finished Unleash Your Awesome, you will have:

  • learned about the long and rich history of personal strengths, from ancient religious texts through to modern-day psychology
  • completed your very own strengths discovery session,
  • brainstormed a heap of strategies, and
  • created your Personal Strengths Playbook – a set of strategies to help you create the kind of life and work you’ve been dreaming of.

It’s available as a paperback, audiobook, and ebook.

Get your paperback copy from the Store (and while you’re at it, why not grab the fantastic Unleash Your Awesome Bundle, which gets you the book and cards at an excellent combo price). I ship internationally, and the cards are only available direct from me!

For audiobook and ebook formats, check out the available platforms here.

A photo of a dark-haired woman standing in front of a wall painted to resemble a jungle. She is holding a copy of 'Unleash Your Awesome: How to live and work from your Zone of Genius' up so that it is covering the lower half of her face. Her eyes are crinkled in a way that suggests a big smile is hidden behind the book.

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