ALigning Your Strengths, EI & Resilience

Two years ago, I had a simple question. What is the relationship between two of the psychological concepts I’ve found to be most helpful in leadership development — strengths and emotional intelligence?

My interest in individual assessments had led me to explore strengths more than a dozen years ago. Based in personality, the results of a strength assessment (such as Gallup’s CliftonStrengths) tell us what someone’s most unique and distinctive characteristics are. Rather than comparing someone to the mean or average of everyone, or fitting them into a limited number of “types,” strength assessments show the strongest characteristics of a person in the most positive terms. In my experience, people respond well to the positive approach of a strength assessment. They often resonate with the themes identified and can point to how they utilize those strengths in everyday behavior and especially in major accomplishments in their life and work.

Emotional intelligence is a major component of the leadership class I’ve taught in the MBA program at The University of Dallas since 2014. We utilize a popular book on the subject, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, which includes an online assessment and practical suggestions on how to enhance each of the components of emotional intelligence or EI (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management). Students like the practical focus of getting an assessment of their strengths and opportunities for improvement among these personal and interpersonal skills and having actionable tips for expanding or improving their behavior in any or all of the components of EI.

While research continues on EI as a form of intelligence, the so-called “mixed model” considers a variety of individual characteristics, including personality traits, skills and behaviors as aspects of EI. And much like my experience in the classroom, research has shown that training and development is effective at changing behaviors that are part of EI.

Since both strengths and EI have ties to individual personality (as most skills and competencies do), it was surprising to me that no one was looking at the intersection of these two popular ideas. I found no research articles, no books in either academic circles or the popular business press, and only a few blog articles that mentioned the ideas together in any way. Yet it seemed to me there must be a connection. Couldn’t strengths be used to enhance one’s EI, and wouldn’t the application of EI, particularly in challenging circumstances or relationships, make a difference in how effectively one’s strengths are applied?

The search for answers led me through a variety of research in both areas (and to start some of my own). What I found revealed great potential for benefit by considering both topics together and applying each one to support or assist the other. (It also revealed a gap in the common application of strengths without considering EI, but more on that another time.)

I presented some of my ideas to the local chapter of the Organizational Development Network on an evening when several of us gave short “TED-Talk” style presentations. I received helpful and encouraging feedback from colleagues. I also had an insightful conversation with a friend, Dr. Joel Bennett, who has worked throughout most of his career on resilience and well-being. Based on a presentation that Joel gave on the same evening, he and I immediately saw a connection between the ideas I was exploring on the intersection of strengths and EI with his work on resilience. Joel’s own model of the 5 Cs of resilience had some strong parallels with the typical conceptualization of EI and was clearly fertile ground for the application of individual strengths. Out of this initial conversation came an ongoing collaboration that has produced a 1.5-day workshop and the book we’re about to release, Your Best Self at Work: Aligning Strengths, Emotional Intelligence & Resilience.

I’ll be sharing more in the coming days about our book (now in pre-production with an expected release date of June 1st) and the ideas it contains. I can’t wait to tell you more!

© 2021, Benjamin L. Dilla, PhD



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