Strengths Tool Review:
Clifton StrengthsFinder

Discover Your Strengths

The Clifton Strengthsfinder is an online assessment tool that helps people discover their natural talents, based on Positive Psychology. Developed by the Gallup organization in 1998, it's now officially called "Clifton StrengthFinder" in honor of its chief designer, Donald O. Clifton.

Buckingham and Clifton, in their book Now, Discover Your Strengths, say that most organizations are based on 2 false assumptions:
1) we can become competent in almost anything, and
2) each person's greatest room for growth is in his area of greatest weakness.

They don't agree with these assumptions. Instead of spending our time and energy learning to become competent in "just about anything" or wasting our time developing our weaknesses, their theory is:
1) Every person's talents are enduring and unique, and
2) Each person's greatest room for growth is in the area of his or her greatest strength.

Talents boil down to 34 themes -- and how you answer the online test questions will result in a mix of 5 themes that apply to you -- your most dominant themes of talent - your signature themes. To get the best understanding of the various themes you need to read their book.

To give you an idea about the themes, here's an example of a list of signature themes: Woo, Activator, Learner, Maximizer and Self-Assurance. Each one of these themes comes with a 1-page description of what that theme means ("woo" means "winning others over") and other descriptive advice, such as how to manage a person with Woo (give her a role where she meets new people every day - strangers energize her). You would look up the description of each theme as it applies to you.

You Need to Buy a Book

You will need a copy of one of their books, such as Now, Discover Your Strengths or StrengthsFinder 2.0. The book has an ID number inside the back cover which you'll use to register for the profile. Then you go to and follow the instructions to complete the StrengthsFinder Profile online. Each item consists of a pair of potential self-descriptors, such as "I ready instructions carefully" versus "I like to jump right into things." Although these are not opposites, these choices will be placed on a continuum and you will be asked to what extent a chosen option describes yourself. You have 20 seconds to respond to each pair of descriptors so make sure you can focus on the assessment and won't be interrupted.

You can take the 1.0 version of the test, or the 2.0 version. The latest version, StrengthsFinder 2.0 is supposed to be faster and more reliable than the previous version - but I don't know this for a fact since I haven't taken the latest test. In either case, you'll receive your results immediately after you've finished the profile. And don't worry - you can't fail. There aren't any right or wrong answers!

I like this assessment because it's based on the premise that we are each unique and we can grow the most in our areas of strength. I also happen to think we're happiest when we're doing things where we're strong and confident - so why not focus on happy? Also, it's quite different than other personality profiles that tell you whether you're an extrovert or introvert - you probably already know that answer anyway.

The 34 themes are quite different than the usual personality tests and are meant to give you a different perspective about how you act in the world.

I use my results from this assessment as a guiding light if I ever seem to be losing direction. My 5 areas of strength are broad enough that they don't feel limiting, but narrow enough that I get clarity. From a practical standpoint I've used it to really, really focus on the right things - and stop getting distracted by the things that steal my energy or by the things that other people want me to do because they don't want to do it. Knowing your strengths helps you to focus on the things that give you energy. And for your weak areas you learn to tell people say "I might be good at doing that thing you want me to do, but I don't enjoy it. So I'm not going to do it." (Of course, if it's your boss you might not say it exactly like this).

For more information pick up a copy of the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, or go to the strengthsfinder website. As far as I can tell, you can't just go online and pay a fee to take the profile - you have to buy a book to get the code. I guess they want to make sure you have a resource to properly interpret the results. It's not very green but that's the way they do it. The books are available from Amazon for around $12-$13 - but the code is only good one time use so only buy it new, not used!

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