Nearly a decade after the Strengths Finder assessment took the management world by storm in the Gallup hit, Now, Discover Your Strengths, strengths based development is no longer confined to the business world.  YES, the youth sports education provider most famously linked to the Major League Soccer Clinic Program, swears by its strengths based coaching program; Ohio State University’s Center for Student Leadership offers student leaders a free 10-week course on strengths based coaching; strengths based practices are a staple in the social work community; and even activists and organizers employ strengths based models to improve political participation.

All over the world, teams of every shape and size are adopting strengths based coaching strategies to train their leaders and achieve their goals.

Strengths based coaching takes its cues from positive psychology, often referred to as “the science of happiness.”  At its most basic, positive psychology is predicated on the theory that the happier a person is, the more able, energized, and engaged he or she is, too.  Martin E.P. Seligman began carving out what would become positive psychology in 1998 when he made the topic the object of his tenure study at the University of Pennsylvania, though Dr. Donald E. Clifton had already been researching strengths based psychology—a parallel theme—for several decades.

The next year, Gallup released First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham, the preface to the smash strengths hit, Now, Discover Your Strengths, introducing the business world to the notion of a strengths based development.  Soon thereafter, companies began to do away with the deficiency-based approach to recruitment, management, and performance review, replacing it with a model devoted to praise and engagement.  Positive psychology and the strengths revolution reflect the idea of “appreciative inquiry,” which aims to find the best in people in order to maximize a system’s positive potential.

Today, strengths based coaching is becoming known as a surefire way to groom better leaders, fortify teams, and close the gap between high and low performing employees.  And it all comes down to one main question, highlighted in First, Break All the Rules:  “Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?”  According to five decades of Gallup research, employee engagement is the key to high productivity and low turnover.  But, when an organization is deficiency based, or focused on improving weaknesses, instead of strengths based, employee engagement hovers dismally around 10%.  Turn the focus onto employee strengths and that number jumps to nearly 75%.

So, how can a company utilize strengths based coaching to improve leadership and boost team performance?  It all starts with individual strengths assessments.  Have your organization’s leaders take the Strengths Finder assessment or the VIA Survey to identify their top talents–the Gallup book Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie is the perfect companion to this assessment, as it outlines how a leader should invest in his or her strengths in order to be more effective and responsive with his or her followers.  After a leader assesses his or her own strength, he or she should guide their team members through the same process.

Studies show that leaders and managers who balance their team’s talents, offsetting one person’s weakness with another’s strength, go eight times further than leaders and managers who focus on weaknesses alone.

Thus, the aim of strengths based coaching is not to turn a blind eye to one’s weaknesses, but to shine a light on one’s deficiencies in order to find someone else who can fill the gap.  Look at this way—when your goal is to improve a weakness, you may enjoy nominal success but you can only ever expect to be average.  On the other hand, if your goal is to build upon a strength, you have unlimited growth potential.  Why, then, would you ever choose to focus on a weakness?  A wise leader, therefore, will seek to assemble a colorful group of people capable of balancing each other’s talents so that each person can fully blossom and perform at his or her peak.

The strengths revolution should come as good news to leaders everywhere.  Before First, Break All the Rules, leaders were expected to be and do it all.  Now, thanks to visionaries like Marcus Buckingham and Donald E. Clifton, leaders are only expected to be themselves—and more of themselves–every day.  The leader who knows their own strengths and recognizes the strengths of the individuals around them is someone people want to follow because they create an environment of clarity and value that is safe for taking risks.

What modern business philosophy can streamline an organization’s hiring, performance, and management structures–all while improving employee performance, productivity, and positivity, as well as the organization’s overall profitability?

If you guessed the strengths revolution, fathered by Dr. Donald O. Clifton and made famous by Gallup, you hit the target (and “Input” could be one of your signature strengths—more on that later). The birth of positive workplace psychology in the late 90s paved the way for the strengths movement to explode at the beginning of the 21st century and this synergy of strengths and psychology changed corporate culture forever. Since Gallup’s publication of Now, Discover Your Strengths featuring the Clifton Strengths Finder in 2001, companies across the United States—and the world—have been cultivating strengths based cultures, all with incredible results.

For the last decade, the implementation of strengths based selection profiles, performance systems, and management structures have generated marked increases in hundreds of companies’ employee engagement and, consequently, customer satisfaction and sales revenue.

World leaders in mortgage banking, hotels, automobile manufacturing, and healthcare, among others, have contracted Gallup to design strengths based systems to help them meet and exceed their organizational goals and Gallup never fails—time and time again, strengths based systems yield record growth for teams and organizations of all sizes, all while changing individual employees’ lives.

With the help of Dr. Donald O Clifton, Gallup compiled nearly a half century of strengths research into Now, Discover Your Strengths, which featured a list of 34 talents and an assessment to help people identify their 5 signature strengths. (“Input,” the strength I mentioned before, is one of Gallup’s 34 talents, and is characterized by a desire to acquire knowledge and know more. Those with the Input strength are veritable storehouses of information.) The Strengths Finder assessment, now updated in the Strengths Finder 2.0, debuted in 2001 in Now, Discover Your Strengths.

The idea behind the strengths movement is that the traditional development approach, being deficiency-focused, is flawed. Clifton and Gallup concluded that, when one focuses on a weakness instead of a strength, he or she may improve, but only to an average performance level. Strengths based development, on the other hand, focuses on harnessing and maximizing an individual’s strengths in order to give each member of an organization the opportunity to shine. When a company’s employees are actively engaged in their work and intrinsically motivated by each task, Clifton argues, this is reflected in the organization’s productivity and profitability.

Strengths based leadership schemes are predicated on the notion that it is a well-rounded team, not well-rounded employees, that breeds success.

Because strengths based development requires a complete shift in how an organization operates and how its employees interact, it can take years for a traditional company to make the strengths transition. For companies ready to switch, Executive Strengths Expert, Brent O’Bannon, founder of and prescribes a 5 step process:

1. Start the assessment/coaching process with your company’s executive leaders.

2. Build a well-rounded executive/management team focused on communicating, understanding,and leveraging each others strengths.

3. Design a plan to assess every employee’s strengths and apply these strengths to improve job performance.

4. Shift to a strengths based business style and company culture starting with selection process and identify the specific strengths your company needs, based on its business plan/mission.

5. Continue applying the strengths based company model to communication, leadership, sales, customer service and employee well-being. Regularly measure, review and refine the strengths process.

Gallup’s approach to designing strength based solutions for the companies it consults with closely mirrors O’Bannon’s. When working with “one of the largest banks in North America,” as well as a “luxury hotel management firm operating 41 properties in six countries,” (the only details it will reveal in order to protect client confidentiality) Gallup focused in on each company’s approach to selection instead of taking an ax to everything at once.

In both cases, Gallup worked closely with each company before crafting strengths based selection profiles that spoke to the business’ specific needs and goals. Based on these profiles, the bank and the management firm modified their interview style, writing new questions to help pick up on each candidate’s company-compatible strengths (or lack there of). The result, for the bank as well as the hotel management firm, was an increase in productivity for all employees and 85-90% success rates for employees hired using the specially-designed interview techniques.

According to Gallup research, less than ¼ of all Americans are “actively engaged” in their work. In other words, over 75% of workers in the United States hate their jobs, with productivity levels that match their attitudes. But just as employee engagement is taking a nosedive, mega-companies like Starbucks, Aviva, Ernst & Young, and Unilever, as well as your every day Mom ‘n’ Pop corner store are switching to the strengths model because they have seen how empowering employees leads to skyrocketing sales.

Studies show that when employees are given an opportunity to utilize their strengths on a daily basis, they will be more “actively engaged” and team productivity will soar. On the other hand, disengaged employees have the potential to destroy profits—permanently. (A disengaged, or, negative team member is the ultimate liability when it comes to customer service.)


As CEO, Executive, Entrepreneur, Director, Manager you may know your top five strengths but you also need to understand the unique genius and beauty of all 34 strengths so you can harness the full potential of your team.

So follow the link for a gift article on the Genius and Beauty of the 34 Strengths in the Clifton Strengths Finder 2.0.




What are the three keys for success and happiness? Watch the short video from StrengthsFinder Coach Brent O’Bannon.

Coaching Questions for you to ponder…

1. Have you lost your keys? If so which one?
2. Have you discovered your strengths, unique ability and authentic voice?
3. Are you using your strengths in your career and personal relationships?