Where Did It All Start? The Strengths Deck Origin Story

I don’t know about you but I love hearing about the start of things. I’m fascinated by origin stories, whether that’s someone’s personal life story, the history of a movement, or the first steps towards a product or service.

So, I thought it would be good to share with the world about the start of The Strengths Deck.

Where to start?

The funny thing about origin stories is that you still have to choose where to start! I think there are two distinct starting points for The Strengths Deck: my journey as a leader and manager, and then encountering the strengths-based approch of positive psychology. If I only had one of the starting points, I don’t think The Strengths Deck would exist.

The first start: my life as a manager

I kind-of fell into my first managerial role. I was doing a fair bit of travelling, so was temping in-between trips to keep the bills paid. Then I landed an assignment at a company that needed a customer service representative while they searched for a working team leader for the team. Next thing I knew, I was being invited to apply for the role.

I made sure they knew I was planning a two-month trip to Europe with a friend in about 12 months. They were absolutely fine with that. So, I interviewed for the role, and accepted it when it was offered to me. I reported to a fantastic manager who took me under her wing. And I had a great team, and loved what I was doing (although my leadership skills at the time were pretty average, something I was working to improve).

Then, my boss was offered a promotion, and recruitment started for her role. I had no intentions of applying for it. I’d been in my team leader role for 5 minutes, I didn’t have management experience, and my big trip was coming up. So I supported a fellow team leader to apply, even holding mock interviews to help them prepare. They didn’t get the job.

In the third round of recruitment, my recently-promoted manager asked my why I wasn’t applying for the role. I explained my reasons, to which my manager’s response was, “So what?”. I applied for the role, and was successful. Now the gaps in my leadership skills were really on display. But, my wonderful manager kept me under her wing. She continued coaching me, challenging me, giving me tough and encouraging feedback, and always, always focusing on turning possibility into reality.

From her, I learned the science and art of leadership and management, and the importance of identifying and grabbing hold of opportunities. She showed me how to use my strengths to release the “handbrake” on my performance by neutralising my weaknesses. I applied those lessons to myself and the people I was leading, and (in most cases) saw great success.

The second start: encountering positive psychology and the strengths-based approach

As time went by, I made some decisions that introduced some twists and turns in my career, completed my Master of Management in Human Resource Management, and ended up running my own business.

I decided in January 2020 that it was time for some professional development, so I signed up to complete a Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing in Adelaide, South Australia. You can imagine what happened next 🦠😷

Copy of Rosie the Riveter poster, knowing that "we can do it" (the title of the poster) is a great place to stat
Rosie the Riveter knew her strengths and how to use them well!

The Diploma course switched to an online offering. Despite my initial reservations (because I absolutely love in-the-room learning), I joined the online classes. And I’m so glad that I did. Firstly, because the Zoom classes were a shot of positivity and inspiration during New Zealand’s strict lockdown. And secondly, because I encountered the strengths-based approach, and Strengths Profile in particular.

Suddenly, I discovered the framework and language for what that early boss of mine had demonstrated so powerfully. Focusing on what someone is great at, and helping them discover how to use that stuff to neutralise their weaknesses and do great work is a powerful approach. It was a combination of Appreciative Inquiry, coaching, and strengths. And it was based on a robust set of positive psychology research and practice.

How these two starts led to the start of The Strengths Deck

My early experiences in leadership and management had taught me the value of affirming what people were great at and what they got right, and then finding ways they could overcome the things that were holding them back. My education (a Master of Management and the Diploma) showed me the scientific theories and evidence that supported my real-world experiences.

I fell in love with the Strengths Profile approach of a limited focus on weaknesses. We spend only as much time as necessary to understand where they can get in the way, and how they can trip us up, then creating strategies to reduce their impact. But despite how much both I and my clients loved the tool, there was something missing. For some reason, the results didn’t seem quite as impactful as I knew they could be.

After learning about the Emotional Culture Deck (ECD), I realised the online assessment and computer-generated report were an issue. The ECD is a set of cards with different emotion words on them. You can use in a variety of ways to examine how you are feeling right now, what you do and don’t want to feel, and what actions you can take to shift in the desired direction. And one of the reasons they’re so powerful is that you’re holding, sorting, and placing them.

That led me to start experimenting with a set of cards with names of different strengths. I had some fantastic results with clients. As they used the cards, we had deep conversations. And they developed rich insights, which turned into strategic action. And those ations made a positive difference in the lives and work of my clients. The Strengths Deck was born!

Over time, I refined the approach to include The Strengths Deck Matrix. It’s a physical and visual way to categorise the strengths in The Strengths Deck. This brought the strengths conversations with my clients to an entirely new level. And now, after some more experimentation and refinement, I’ve finally screwed up the courage to launch it to the wider world!

The foundation principles of The Strengths Deck

The whole point of The Strengths Deck is to put the power in your hands – you literally hold all the cards! Instead of an impersonal computer-generated report, you are actively deciding where the various strengths captured in The Strengths Deck lie for you. Are they in your Zone of Genius? Maybe your Zone of Indifference? Perhaps they lie right at the heart of your Zone of Proficiency? Or perhaps they sit in your Zone of Reputation or Potential?

Which Zone a particular strength lands in shapes how you approach the use of it. There is no one right way to go about using a strength. It depends on your needs, values, goals, and other strengths. And both where your strengths land on the Matrix, and how you can best use them change over time.

So The Strengths Deck coaching sessions are 100% focused on what is helpful and valuable for you where you at right now, and where you want to get to in the future. Your journey through the coaching programme is tailored exactly for you.

I’ve written more about the key principles of The Strengths Deck approach over on the About page. And in future articles and newsletters, I’ll be sharing more tips, tools, stories, and strategies to help you get the most out of your strengths. Sign up to the newsletter here.

Is it your time to start?

Are you ready to make your start towards understanding your strengths? Do you want to learn how to use them to create the kind of life and work you’ve been dreaming of? It’s easy to take the first step. Just email me, give me a call, or send a message via my Contact page. We’ll set up your free, 30-minute consultation to talk about how you will benefit from The Strengths Deck approach. Or, book your call directly into my calendar here.


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