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How Do CliftonStrengths and the Kolbe Index Compare?

How Do CliftonStrengths and the Kolbe Index Compare?

by Adam Hickman and Mary Claire Evans

Coaches today face a variety of assessment choices, all claiming to result in understanding and to create transformative discussions about personality traits. In this blog, we delve into the history, as well as the similarities and differences, of two widely used leadership assessment tools -- the Kolbe Index and the CliftonStrengths assessment (formerly StrengthsFinder).

Kolbe Theory

Kathy Kolbe started Kolbe Corp in the 1970s but had been researching and implementing her theories on human instincts long before this era. She began her career helping elementary and high school students of all ability levels. In 1977, Kolbe founded the Center for Critical and Creative Thinking, which eventually would expand its mission and focus to working with adults and change its name to Kolbe Corp. Her framework for discovering students' approaches to learning was developed into an instrument to measure the instinctive action and problem-solving styles of individuals.

Kolbe's theory begins with the concept of a three-part mind: affective (or feeling), conative (or doing) and cognitive (or thinking). The Kolbe Index measures the conative part of the mind that, in theory, contains the striving instincts that drive a person's natural way of taking action. Innate conative strengths are then applied when individuals engage their thinking (cognitive) and feeling (affective) parts of the mind.

The Kolbe Index measures four action modes of the conative mind, and then rates an individual with a number from 1-10 on each of the modes. Individuals receive their final results as a combination of four numbers (for example, consider someone whose index is 6-8-5-2). The action modes, or conative strengths, defined by Kolbe are:

  1. Fact Finder -- the intuitive way we gather and share information

  • (1-3) Low: Simplify
  • (4-6) Medium: Explain
  • (7-10) High: Strategize
  1. Follow-Thru -- the instinctive way we arrange and design

  • (1-3) Low: Adapt
  • (4-6) Medium: Maintain
  • (7-10) High: Systematize
  1. Quick Start -- the instinctive way we deal with risk and uncertainty

  • (1-3) Low: Stabilize
  • (4-6) Medium: Modify
  • (7-10) High: Innovate
  1. Implementor -- the instinctive way we handle space and tangibles

  • (1-3) Low: Envision
  • (4-6) Medium: Restore
  • (7-10) High: Protect

Each person has a unique order of their action modes that leads to 12 different methods of problem-solving. There is no order that is superior to another, and the index celebrates all unique types of action modes. Also, the index measures how someone prefers to take action and recognizes that adaption can occur. But when individuals act in a way that goes against their instincts, it is purported to use considerably more effort.

Kolbe Assessment Design

Kolbe Corp sells multiple assessments for different audiences. The Kolbe A Index is their foundational assessment; the Kolbe Y Index is for youth; and the Kolbe B Index is for employees to measure their perceptions of their job responsibilities. Other assessments such as the Kolbe R Index measure expectations in a relationship, and the Parent Guide and Financial MO+ use the Kolbe A Index with a focused report for parenting and finances, respectively.

The Kolbe A Index is a 36-question assessment that takes about 20 minutes to complete. The Kolbe Index is used in the workplace and personally for individuals to know and use their conative strengths.

CliftonStrengths Overview

The CliftonStrengths assessment is based on the research of Dr. Don Clifton and distributed by Gallup. In 2003, the American Psychological Association honored Clifton with a presidential commendation as the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology. Gallup has been a pioneer in the strengths movement for decades with ongoing research into workplace outcomes, individual well-being and employee performance and engagement.

CliftonStrengths defines 34 talent themes sorted into four domains:

Haven't discovered your CliftonStrengths yet? Take the assessment and get your personalized 34 report today.

Each talent theme classifies a pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving that comes naturally to an individual. When these themes are understood and put into meaningful action, they can create near-perfect behavior, or strengths. As Dr. Clifton wisely said, "There is something you can do better than 10,000 other people, and we just need to find what that is."

CliftonStrengths Assessment Design

The CliftonStrengths assessment consists of 177 paired statements. For each pairing, respondents have a short time interval to choose which one best describes themselves. After completing the evaluation, respondents have two report options for receiving their results: the Top 5 Signature Themes report, which provides detailed descriptions of an individual's top five themes; or their full 34 CliftonStrengths report, which details not only an individual's Top 5 but also ranks their remaining 29 themes. There are 278,256 possible combinations of Top 5 themes and more than 33 million different sets of Signature Themes when the order of the themes is taken into account, so each result is unique to that respondent.

To date, the CliftonStrengths assessment is approaching 25 million individuals who understand their innate talents.

Both Assessments

Given that CliftonStrengths aims at awakening your innate talents, how you feel, do and think are woven into your strengths. Recall that Gallup's definition of a talent is a natural way of thinking, feeling or behaving. Talent is the ability to deliver consistent, near-perfect performance in a specific task. To boil it down further, talent is the capacity for excellence. The focus of Gallup's, definition of talent is on the word "natural." While Kolbe factors in feeling, doing, cognitive, affective behaviors, CliftonStrengths provides an exploration of how individuals get their work done. When you match these two assessments together, a coach now has the ability to coach with a report (Kolbe) of cognition, thinking, feeling and behaving, while having the clarity of how CliftonStrengths works to execute on the given task.

Bottom Line

In its early stages, Kolbe was aimed at helping students in education understand how they like to learn; it was then expanded into the workplace. This is where CliftonStrengths remains different from other assessments because of its validity. CliftonStrengths started as and continues to be an instrument that helps coaches see how their clients get work accomplished. Learning is no doubt an aspect of getting work done -- just ask someone with high themes of Learner or Input. What separates Kolbe from CliftonStrengths is that CliftonStrengths provides not only all aspects of Kolbe but also the ability to coach employees with foresight as to how to achieve performance excellence.

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


Adam Hickman's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Command, Analytical, Competition and Individualization.

Mary Claire Evans' Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Individualization, Achiever, Learner, Responsibility and Connectedness.

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