I had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Donald O. Clifton, the father of strengths-based psychology and creator of the StrengthsFinder assessment. By 1998, Don Clifton and a group of other Gallup researchers were deeply immersed in the benefits of developing people's strengths. Although Clifton died in 2003, his work has been vigorously advanced by the Gallup organization. As a result, the CliftonStrengths assessment, originally called the StrengthsFinder, is a tool that coaches are adding to their coaching toolbox. However, I feel that most of the time the assessment is not utilized to its full potential as a result of clients not having the opportunity to work with a coach who is both well-trained on the assessment and who has well-developed, specific strength-based coaching skills. Often the assessment is provided to employees by their organization, which is great, but without follow-up coaching, which is unfortunate.
Gallup's research on talents and strengths has been conducted over the past forty-five years in more than fifty countries. The first thing to understand about the StrengthsFinder assessment is that it does not measure strengths per se but the presence of talents in thirty-four areas. Talents are defined as recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied and that naturally exist within individuals. Strengths are defined differently—as the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific task—but they must be developed, and are the product of developing and refining one's talents with skills and knowledge.
According to the Gallup organization, the sequence of each person's dominant themes is unique, like their fingerprints. They report that the chance that two people have the same five signature themes, in the same order, is one in 33 million. Really? I doubted that claim. So I employed a Stanford mathematician to do the math for me, and sure enough Gallup is correct! As of 2018, more than 18 million people in over fifty countries have completed the ClifthonStrengths talent assessment.
The assessment is a measure of personal talent that identifies areas where an individual's greatest potential for building strengths exists. There are 177 item pairs that are based on the theory and research foundation from semi-structured personal interviews that had been used by Selection Research Incorporated and Gallup for over thirty years.
There are 34 talents identified in the assessment. As an example, here are the names of ten of the 34 talents: Activator, Analytical, Competition, Deliberative, Ideation, Maximizer, Relator, Significance, Strategic and Woo. One of the challenges for the coach is that these terms used to describe talents have different meanings in the assessment report than how they are commonly used in the English language. Hence it requires the coach to understand thoroughly the assessment theory to help the client be able to identify how these talents show up in their life.
The first step for the coach is to master the language of talents. The second step is to have a methodology and coaching model to help the client evaluate and relate to their talents, identify how their talents are helpful to them in their work and home life and then figure out how to leverage this knowledge of their talents into action steps and strengths. Through this process talents can become exceptional strengths which increase engagement and success.
Useful coaching questions for clients who have taken the CliftonStrengths that will help clients think more deeply about their dominant talents are:
Reflection on these questions will help clients realize how they use their talents in their daily life. Next steps for the coach and their client are turning talents into strengths congruent with their most important values and applying those strengths to their most contextually relevant goals. We will address this process in our next post.
The CliftonStrengths assessment is copyrighted. This content is used with permission; however, Gallup retains all rights of republication.