What is the Clifton StrengthsFinder?

I took the Clifton StrengthsFinder for the first time in 2002. It changed my life! I realized that Ideation wasn’t a form of ADD, but actually a tremendous asset. I had taken other “personality tests”, but nothing came close to describing me the way StrengthsFinder did. Today, although I’ve grown and changed, so much of what I learned back then continues to influence the way I understand myself and how I make decisions.

I remember trying to describe to people what this new “assessment thing” was. Most were skeptical. Although we rarely meet that skepticism now (over 10 million people have taken StrengthsFinder), we still take time at the beginning of each engagement to explain what the Clifton StrengthsFinder is.

A Brief History of the Clifton StrengthsFinder?

The Clifton StrengthsFinder was created under the leadership of educational psychologist Donald Clifton. He wanted to identify what the best of the best of the best were doing, and capitalize on it. According to Gallup,

The Gallup Organization, widely known for its polls and employee selection research developed numerous semi-structured interviews to identify talent that could be enhanced and used to pursue positive outcomes in work and school. In the 1990s, under the leadership of Donald O. Clifton, Gallup developed the CSF as an objective measure of personal talent that could be administered online in less than one hour.

Now Discover Your Strengths was the best selling book that first introduced the assessment in 2001. In 2007, the updated StrengthsFinder 2.0 came out and was the hottest selling book in 2013.

Although it’s called StrengthsFinder, it’s actually measuring talents.

The Technical Side of StrengthsFinder

The Clifton StrengthsFinder is an assessment of “normal personality from the perspective of Positive Psychology” (more on that below). When you purchase a code, it grants you access to take the online assessment.

You can expect:

  • 177 pairs of “potential” self-descriptors. ex: “I dream about the future” versus “People are my greatest ally.”
  • The descriptors are placed as if anchoring polar ends of a continuum.
  • You choose the descriptor that best describes you, and the extent to which it describes you.
  • You only get 20 seconds before it moves on to the next item pair. If you miss too many questions, it will start over.

Once you’ve completed it, you’ll immediately get you your results – your top 5 signature themes in rank order. This also includes a packet of info specifically geared to your unique theme print. We have a simple strengths activity you can go through to start.

What is the StrengthsFinder Measuring?

The Clifton StrengthsFinder helps identify areas where you have the greatest potential for building strength. It’s measuring your reoccurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior. Knowing this information is a starting point, and where we come along side individuals, teams and organizations to help leverage your talent, and turn it into sustainable strength.

Of Note: StrengthsFinder is not intended to be used in hiring decisions. In fact, any job or role can leverage any number of strengths combinations.

Defining Some StrengthsFinder Terms

There are a few key terms that are important to understand as you delve into the world of StrengthsFinder.

Positive Psychology

In a nut shell, positive psychology is “the scientific study of optimal human functioning; focusing on happiness, strength, personal potential and greatest satisfaction.” This is an important distinction because most assessments focus on trying to fix what’s wrong with you, not focus on what’s best about you.


The StrengthsFinder is rooted in and based around neuroscience – “a scientific discipline studying the structure, development, function, and genetics of the brain.” Through the use of cognitive MRI’s, neurologists can actually see what your brain is doing when subjected to certain stimuli. In short, your brain literally lights up when it’s functioning in an area of strength.

Assessment vs Psychometric

You’ve probably taken other personality tests. There are literally dozens of these on the internet. These “assessments” may seek to determine which city you best represent, which character on a popular TV show, superhero or even what cheese most describes you. These are just asking you questions based on your preferences. You can give any answer you want so as to influence the outcome a certain way.

Obviously these aren’t valid, or reliable (according to two different Game of Thrones assessments, I’m either Jon Snow or Tyrion Lannister).

A psychometric assessment is an “objective measurement of skills and knowledge, abilities, attitudes, personality traits.” You don’t exactly know what sorts of questions are being asked, or why. Additionally, StrengthsFinder only gives you 20 seconds to answer them before it moves on. It’s designed to get your gut reaction.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder is a psychometric that measures what you are naturally good at – so good you may not understand your results because your think, “doesn’t everybody do that?

Why StrengthsFinder Matters

There are many reasons why we use StrengthsFinder. In a culture that has focused on developing or fixing our weaknesses, the StrengthsFinder invites you to focus on what is right, and strong about you. Because of this, we use StrengthsFinder to help build strong people, strong teams and strong culture.

It is only from a place of strength that individuals and organizations can hope to have significant, long-term impact.

If you’ve taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder, how has it shaped your understand of yourself?