In 2016, the CEO of a well-known assessment company wrote a review of the CliftonStrengths assessment in a prestigious business magazine. I think three statements pretty much sum up the review:
- Strengths-based coaching weakens individuals.
- We would be better off if society ended its fascination with strengths.
- If an organization's focus is to make people productive and effective, then they should work on mitigating people's weaknesses.
I can respect those who disagree with the science and functionality of the CliftonStrengths assessment, although there is ample evidence that the CliftonStrengths assessment is valid, reliable and practical. Gallup's 2015 meta-analysis of individuals who received strengths-based development confirms the practical and measurable results of the assessment. More than 17 million individuals have taken the CliftonStrengths assessment, and the number of individuals and organizations using the tool continues to grow each day.
That said, the purpose of this blog is not to vigorously defend the assessment. It's to celebrate you, supporters of the CliftonStrengths assessment and the movement to help people do what they do best every day, all around the world.
I want to celebrate the individuals and coaches who believe in and practice the concept of building strengths rather than fixing weaknesses. I want to thank you for your fascination with positive psychology and strengths, just as Don Clifton did many years ago when the concept of strengths was not "fashionable."
Your strengths work with leaders, managers, employees and students is a most important work. You help individuals and teams focus more on what is right, what is strong -- and focus less on what is wrong.
You know that the greatest opportunity to grow and lead more fulfilling lives comes from building natural talent, not from building weaknesses. Permit me to inject some important facts and stories about why your work as strengths professionals is incredibly important and life changing.
- Joseph Folkman, writing in a January 2014 article for Forbes magazine, said that his leadership development team research revealed that 70% to 80% of leaders would benefit from improving what is right. Gallup's 2009 book, Strengths Based Leadership is based on the study of 20,000 in-depth interviews with leaders. The key findings reveal that effective leaders know their strengths and invest in others' strengths, get people with the right strengths on their team, and understand and meet the four basic needs of those who look to them for leadership.
- Gallup research shows that individuals who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged at work. Another Gallup study reveals that 67% of employees who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths are engaged at work.
Simon Cooper, former president of The Ritz-Carlton and a senior adviser to Gallup, said that he finds focusing on weakness "debilitating" and that it "consumes a huge amount of what I call negative management time because time spent trying to fix weaknesses almost always results in negative outcomes for the individuals and the organization."
I like that term "negative management." It reminds me of some insights common to great managers, as shared in First, Break All the Rules, Gallup's study of more than 80,000 managers:
- People don't change that much.
- Don't waste time trying to put in what was left out.
- Try to draw out what was left in.
- That is hard enough.
- A strengths-based development plan positively affects educational outcomes. Gallup works with K-12 schools and districts to build strengths-based cultures so that every teacher, staff member and student can apply their own strengths. Many of these school districts report higher levels of student, teacher and staff engagement and commitment to the school.
- Presently, over 600 colleges and universities prepare students for great jobs and great lives using the CliftonStrengths assessment. The institutions that make strengths an important part of their overall program can track and measure results.
I was fortunate to supervise senior education majors at a strengths-based institution and to help prepare them for their final capstone project, a semester of student teaching. I was excited to observe the seniors using their Signature Themes to deliver excellent instruction. These seniors delivered consistent student outcomes while using their unique set of talents. It was liberating to teach from strengths rather than tell the student teachers to deliver instruction and outcomes the exact same way.
These are just some of the facts and positive outcomes tied to strengths-based coaching. Thank you for believing and demonstrating through your work that a strengths-based approach does not weaken individuals and that society is better off if we keep our focus on the world's fascination with strengths.
What each of you does as a "strengths evangelist" can make a measurable difference in society. As you work and coach, remember this statement from a video of one of Don Clifton's presentations: "You can make a difference, you can make a difference, you can make a difference, one person at a time."