What is the CliftonStrengths Assessment?

By Gretchen Fauske, CED Associate Director

Strengths coaching resources

Strengths coaching resources

“What would happen if we studied what is right with people versus what is wrong with people?”
— Don Clifton

This was the question that sparked Don Clifton’s foray into positive psychology and the study of strengths, resulting in Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment.

The assessment asks a series of questions, grounded in more than 40 years of research, to measure what Gallup calls talent. Talent is a natural way of thinking, feeling, or behaving. Think of a time that you’ve achieved success, however you define it, when you were firing on all cylinders or you experienced a sense of flow. You were most likely using your talents.

After completing the assessment, you receive a report about your top five talents (you can also choose to purchase a report with your top 10 or full 34 for a deeper look) with insights specifically developed for you based on your responses during the assessment. The likelihood of you finding someone with the same top five as you is one in 33 million!

With investment - time spent practicing, developing your skills, and building your knowledge base - talents become strengths. A strength is the ability to consistently produce a positive outcome through near-perfect performance in a specific task.

The philosophy of CliftonStrengths:

  1. You don’t have to become a different person to be successful

  2. You don’t have to be all things to all people

  3. You can’t be anything you want to be, but you CAN be more of who you are...and a better version of who you are

Gallup’s research show a strong connection between who people are and what they do best; between what people do best and how people feel; and how people feel and how people perform. The key to transforming from who you are innately to performing at the top of your game is fully understanding how to apply your strengths in your everyday life.


Only 13% of employees worldwide report being engaged in their jobs. Being engaged means that when you wake up in the morning you feel good about going to work, you have more positive interactions with coworkers, and you focus more on positive, creative, and innovative work. Wouldn’t you rather be engaged instead of the 87% that aren’t?  

Fortunately, people who focus on using their strengths are six times as likely to report being engaged in their jobs, and three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.

Here’s the difference between conventional and strengths-based development:

convention v strengths.png

Isn’t it liberating to discover that you can maximize your potential by spending time on what comes naturally, on whatever it is that lights you up? You don’t have to try to be like someone else, or follow their path to success. All you have to do work toward becoming the best version of yourself, and success will follow.

If all of this seems a bit abstract, here’s a bit about my own self discovery, and how I’m engaging in strengths-based development: I’ve always enjoyed talking to friends about their aspirations and career goals, and get really excited about figuring out how to pursue whatever it is they want to accomplish. When I took the CliftonStrengths assessment, I learned that one of my top five talents is Developer. People with this talent recognize and cultivate the potential in others. Now that I’ve “named and claimed” this talent for myself, I’m intentionally using it as I work with CED staff to develop their professional growth strategies.

My top five:

  1. Empathy. People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.

  2. Responsibility. People who are especially talented in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.

  3. Learner.People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.

  4. Developer. People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.

  5. Harmony. People who are especially talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.

Of course, the above are just general descriptions of my talents - there’s a lot more to explore and learn about for everyone who takes the assessment!

As a newly certified Gallup CliftonStrengths Coach, I’m really excited about spending time with teams and entrepreneurs in the context of Strengths-based development. I’ll be sharing more about strengths coaching and how we plan to use it at CED in future posts. If you’d like to discuss CliftonStrengths, drop me a line at gwfauske@alaska.edu - I’d love to connect with you!