Strength Spotting

Uncovering the Strengths in those around us    

Imagine for a moment that there is buried treasure lying in your own backyard. Gold, diamonds and jewels are lingering just beneath the surface of your home, but you will never find them if you never begin to dig. This is what happens when we fail to look for strengths in those around us. All too often, people’s unique strengths are overlooked. By asking the right questions and maintaining the right frame of mind, you might discover that buried treasure lies within your colleagues and employees, waiting to improve a meeting, a project, or even an organization.

What is Strength Spotting?

Strength spotting is defined as “the act of recognizing and identifying strengths that a person may possess, through a process of naturalistic observation in day to day settings, or through more formal assessment approaches” (Linley, 2008). Strength spotting allows you to uncover another's strengths in order to create a more complete picture of their identity and put their talents to use.

Strengths Spotting in Talent Management

Organizations at large can substantially add to their bottom line by recognizing and utilizing their employee’s strengths. A strengths approach allows for allocating people and resources most effectively by using a collective understanding of what each person does best (Stefanyszyn, 2007). Strengths can be used as a part of performance management to guide goal setting and enhance progress towards goals (Linley, Nielsen, Gillettt, & Biswas-Diener, 2010). Coaches can use strength-spotting as an easy way to elicit positive emotions in their clients (Linley & Harrington, 2006). Leaders can increase engagement in their teams by knowing their colleague’s strengths and delegating tasks accordingly. Team members can most effectively contribute to a shared goal through a shared awareness of each other’s strengths. Understanding the strengths of those around you is invaluable, so how can you enhance your ability to spot them?

How to Strength Spot

                There are two fundamental types of strength spotting. The first is through observing others and asking informal self-reflective questions which enable you to spot loosely defined strengths.  Strengths can easily be spotted through informal conversations and interactions (Linley & Burns, 2010). You can specifically ask someone about their strengths, or you can look for subtle cues that may present themselves in day-to-day conversation and activity. Things to look for include:

  • Changes in tone of voice indicating enthusiasm and energy
  • Phrases such as “I love…” or “It just fits"
  • Full engagement in conversation
  • Sense of confidence
  • Use of rich visualization
  • Repeated patterns of successful performance
  • Prioritizing tasks that require using the strength

The second type of Strength Spotting, known as an Individual Strengths Assessment (ISA) involves using a set of specific questions in a semi-structured interview. The questions are intended to allow the person to talk about possible strengths in an easy, natural manner. Instead of asking, "What are your strengths?" the ISA is aimed at drawing out great experiences that serve as a treasure map for uncovering hidden strengths. Sample questions involve:

  • What sort of everyday things do you enjoy doing?
  • What makes for a really good day for you?
  • Tell me about the best day that you can remember having?
  • What would you describe as your most significant accomplishment?
  • What gives you the greatest sense of being authentic and who you really are?

Once you know others’ strengths you can help enable their best selves by affirming their energetic talents, recognizing their strengths when applauding their accomplishments, and integrating strengths in performance management and goal-setting. For a comprehensive guide, check out the Talent Science Lab brief on Strength Spotting (coming soon).


Linley, P. A., & Harrington, S. (2006). Strengths coaching: A potential-guided approach to coaching psychology. International Coaching Psychology Review, 1(1), 37-46. 

Linley, P. A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.

Linley, P. A., Nielsen, K. M., Wood, A. M., Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Using signature strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5(1), 6-15.

Linley, P. A. (2012). Rapid learning and strength spotting. In Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (pp. 2764-2766). Springer US.

Linley, P. A., & Burns, G. W. (2010). Finding and developing client resources in the management of intense anger. Happiness Healing Enhanc, 14(10).

Stefanyszyn, K. (2007). Norwich union changes focus from competencies to strengths. Strategic HR Review, 7(1).