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Soft Skills? How CliftonStrengths Is a Research-Based Tool

Soft Skills? How CliftonStrengths Is a Research-Based Tool

by Tim Simon

About 15 years ago, I taught a strengths class to a group of skeptical managers. One manager particularly despised being in the "fluffy strengths class." Over the next two days, he repeatedly hummed the words to a 1975 song titled, "Feelings." The opening line? "Feelings, nothing more than feelings." It was difficult for him to accept the science and the practicality of CliftonStrengths.

There are hundreds of personality instruments on the market today. Some of these are "fluffy" in nature; they have little science and hard research to back up their claims. In contrast, there is concrete empirical research to make the case that CliftonStrengths, combined with some form of strengths development, can be linked to performance outcomes.

Gallup conducted its first strengths meta-analysis in 2015, and released another meta-analysis in 2018. These studies provide both research and practical information. The results assist strengths coaches by giving them the opportunity to speak confidently to the relationship between strengths-based development and performance at the individual and workgroup levels.

Meta-analysis is a statistical technique that is used to combine the results of many studies to reach stronger conclusions than could be reached with an individual study. The benefits of a meta-analysis over an individual study are many:

  1. There is a larger sample size.
  2. It is able to correct for sampling errors, measurement errors and range restriction.
  3. The consistency of Gallup's instrument shows strong generalizability -- the ability to predict individual and business outcomes -- across many settings (i.e., organizations, industries, countries).
  4. It is less likely to be misinterpreted as individual studies can be, leading to uninformed decisions and beliefs.

The 2015 meta-analysis looked at both individual-level interventions and business-/workgroup-level interventions. The research included 43 studies with 1.2 million individuals in 45 countries. The study linked strengths interventions to six business outcomes that include employee engagement, customer engagement, turnover and safety.

Great strengths coaches employ interventions that make measurable differences in every person they coach. These interventions do not have to be complicated and difficult. The most straightforward general definition of strengths-based development is this: Individuals take the assessment and then are made aware of their natural talents.

The 2015 Gallup meta-analysis contains powerful findings. One such finding is that interventions can be developed and used across different organizations with a high level of confidence. Another key finding shows that only a few hours of strengths usage are needed to maximize people's chances of happiness and to reduce their chances of anger. The Gallup research team stated that one of the most remarkable and practical implications of the meta-analysis is that simple, straightforward interventions generate meaningful changes. Even if we coach a person for just one session, there are tremendous opportunities to help our clients become aware of their natural talents and then to aim and apply these talents as strengths.

CliftonStrengths, combined with coaching, is more than just "feelings, nothing more than feelings." In just a short amount of time, coaches can help clients to "name, claim and aim" their talents so they become strengths. I like to think of our work as similar to the Stylistics and Boyz II Men versions of the song, "You Make Me Feel Brand New."

"Feelings" lyrics credited to: Albert, M., & Gaste, L. (1975).

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:


Tim Simon's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Learner, Woo, Maximizer, Focus and Arranger.

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