2016 CliftonStrengths Summit Highlights

Every 24 hours another 7,986 people around the globe take the CliftonStrengths (StrengthsFinder) assessment to discover their unique, natural talents.

At this rate, the strengths movement will soon deliver life-changing insights to its 15 millionth person.

Last week over 740 coaches, educators and business leaders met in Omaha, Nebraska to share, learn and grow in their strengths journeys at the world’s very first CliftonStrengths Summit.

After processing the entire summit, two major conclusions stand out—smart organizations are intentionally creating strengths-focused cultures and the strengths movement is rapidly gaining velocity.

A World Coaching Movement

Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, opened the summit by giving his unique, historical perspective of the strengths movement and its impact on the world today.

Clifton created The Gallup Path, currently used in over 500 companies worldwide. This behavioral economic-based model for organic sales growth has revolutionized the way companies manage their employees and engage their customers.

Needless to say, Gallup’s CEO is one of the world’s leaders in developing and focusing human talent. One of the many tools he and Gallup utilize to foster talent growth is the CliftonStrengths assessment, found in StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath and also online at Gallup Strengths Center.

StrengthsFinder 2.0 is the best selling non-fiction book of all-time on Amazon. It succinctly explains and explores the importance of understanding, nurturing and focusing our natural talents. As millions already know, the expertly researched Insight and Action-Planning Guides are the first step in turning your talents into strengths.

However, as Clifton explained, the real power of the assessment is beginning your own personal talent journey with an expert coach. Someone to help unpack and focus all of the nuance and depth of the talent themes.

As Donald O. Clifton, Jim’s father, wrote in his 1992 best-selling “Soar With Your Strengths”, “Strengths develop only in relation to another human being.”

Consider this: Millennials (those born between 1982 and 1993) already comprise one third of the U.S. work force. By 2025, that percentage will jump to 75%.

And, guess what? Millennials really want to be coached. An entire generation has come of age not knowing what life is like without the internet. Yet, organizations are behind the curve on delivering. In fact, only 46% of millennials say their managers actually deliver on their expectations for feedback.

Smart companies will correct this disconnect posthaste. If not, these companies will gain a lot of experience posting and re-posting vacated positions.

As Clifton said, “This is not a CliftonStrengths movement, it’s a CliftonStrengths coaching movement.”

The power of the assessment is in the conversation.

Can We Really Transform A Life?

Jeremy Pietrocini, Gallup Senior L&D Consultant, emphasized how everything changes—our work, life and relationships—when we get to use our strengths on a daily basis.

To illustrate, Pietrocini gave every CliftonStrengths Summit attendee time to share one story round-robin style of someone they’ve coached with the rest of their table.

What did the “before” look like? How did a journey of strengths conversations lead the client from, in some cases, barely surviving to actually thriving?

The individual stories our table shared were nothing short of exhilarating.

Each coach’s challenge wasn’t thinking of one really good transformational story. Instead, the hard part was only picking one to share!

We each shared multiple moments of moving life change. Each story ran the gamut: Soured business relationships turned revitalized and prosperous. Burned out executives rejuvenated with a strengths intervention. Struggling companies turned into flourishing cash cows.

The common denominator in each situation? Helping people focus and leverage what’s right about themselves.

“Strengths brings people to life in ways they had never imagined,” said Pietrocini in his closing remarks.

As our table of ten can attest (as well as the other 730 participants): Truer words.

Everybody Needs A Coach

It’s nearly impossible to pick just one favorite moment from Roy Spence’s touching and often hilarious presentation.

Co-founder and Chairman of Austin’s GSD&M, Spence has lived a strengths-focused life ever since he was a teenager growing up in Brownwood, Texas.

After receiving a succession of poor grades on numerous writing assignments, Roy was frustrated and discouraged. Ruth Griffin Spence, Roy’s mother and teacher, realized her son was actually a naturally gifted writer. She sat him down and gave the 14-year-old this life-changing advice:

“Roy, I don’t want you to spend another second being average at what you’re bad at.”

You see, Roy could write. He just couldn’t spell.

Roy’s mother knew focusing on strengths mattered exponentially more to his growth and development than attempting to “fix” his weaknesses.

As Mrs. Spence knew, editors, dictionaries and good copywriters can always be called upon to help correct spelling errors. (Fitzgerald was a terrible speller, by the way.) So, she encouraged her son to keep writing and communicating. The “i” before “e” except after “c” rules could be dealt with along the way.

Yet, our generations-old Deficit Remedial Education Model is still too prevalent in many school and business settings.

To anyone charged with developing and leading others, catch yourself before over-indexing on fixing what you think is “wrong” with someone. If you lead with a “weakness fixing” mindset, you’re dampening the power and edge of everyone in your orbit. This very power and edge is what will, in fact, make them successful!

Instead, it’s an essential part of your job as a teacher, coach, manager or leader to spot and nurture what’s right with your students and direct reports.

Anything less is professional malpractice.

Remember, the point isn’t to ignore weaknesses. The point is, if you spend your time and energy fixing weaknesses, you’ll only really be successful at one thing—herding everyone in your purview into a swamp of mediocrity.

As Spence reminded us, “God made all of us different, but we judge our kids with standardized tests...”

A thoughtful point worth pondering.

The Impact of Strengths And Coaching — Enterprise

One of Kristen Nagel’s key responsibilities as the Talent Enablement Director at Accenture is leading the growth and development of 375,000 employees. No small task.

Hearing Nagel describe the strengths immersion approach at one of the world’s leading professional services companies is to begin to understand the enormous value of an immersive strengths-based corporate culture.

At the heart of Accenture’s enterprise-wide strengths focus are these questions:

What are your priorities and what do need to do? How will you use your talents to succeed on your priorities?

It’s a similar riff on a helpful coaching construct—where are you now and where do you want to go?

So much value can be gleaned from such seemingly simple but powerful questions.

Incredibly, Accenture has completed 240,000 CliftonStrengths assessments and over 4,000 one-on-one coaching sessions. Now, that’s some enterprise-level strengths immersion!

With such dedicated commitment to leadership development, it’s easy to see why Accenture has been voted one of Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies” for 14 consecutive years.

The Impact of Strengths and Coaching – Education

Rachel Edoho-Eket, Assistant Principal at the Howard County Public School System in Columbia, Maryland, treated CliftonStrengths Summit attendees to an exploration of what happens when strengths are unleashed in our education system.

Unfortunately, a “vicious cycle of unrealized potential” is prevalent in too many of our nation’s schools.

Enter the unstoppable formula of strengths + leadership.

In 2012, Dr. Renee Foose, Superintendent of HCPSS, spear-headed a system-wide strengths movement. It began first with the teachers, then expanded to the students.

Student “strengths spotting” begins as early as grades K – 3. Formal StrengthsExplorer assessment begins in grades 4 and 5.

One student was even compelled to describe his strengths in verse, writing in part: “I am a (bird) leading its flock. I am a (fireman) helping injured people.”

Do you think this young poet’s confidence, self-awareness and budding emotional intelligence is impressive? Yeah, me too.

As a HCPSS Clifton Fellow, Edoho-Eket is part of a team of dedicated leaders helping our nations’s youth create their own futures by finding and building on their unique strengths.

Imagine if each of our communities had such dedicated strengths ambassadors? We could turn our country’s unrealized potential into actualized gain within a generation.

Because of Foose and Edoho-Eket’s leadership, wave after wave of Maryland students are becoming their best by focusing on “what is strong, not what is wrong”.

To see more of Howard County’s strengths-based education in action, click here.

The Coach’s Coach

One of my favorite CliftonStrengths Summit moments was when Jane Miller, Gallup Executive Vice President and COO, shared one of Donald O. Clifton’s favorite poems, R.L. Sharpe’s “A Bag of Tools”.

The perspective-building poem beautifully reflects Clifton’s own framework of Strengths Catalysts:

  1. Mission – Find a calling.
  2. Relationship – Strengths develop best in response to another human being.
  3. Expectations – Nothing happens until someone expects something of you in ways you can achieve.
  4. Celebration – Recognizing good work.

Perhaps you have one or more of the highest frequency talent themes like Achiever, Responsibility, Learner, Relator or Strategic.

Maybe you have some of the lesser prevalent themes such as Command, Self-Assurance, Significance or Discipline.

Regardless of an individual’s mix of talents, each combination can be molded and put to use to make the world a better place.

Where there is a mission, a relationship, expectations and proper celebration, people and organizations thrive.

CliftonStrengths Summit Keynote — A Lifelong Journey

Rounding out the dynamic list of keynote speakers was Paul Allen, Gallup’s Strengths Evangelist and Ancestry.com Founder.

I took so many notes during Allen’s opening and closing remarks, it’s impossible to fit them all in here.

However, these key points resonated with special significance.

On viewing his career in hindsight through the lens of his own strengths: “My Top Five (talent themes) explained everything I’ve done in my business career.”

(Dear high school, undergraduate and graduate school students—if you remember anything else from this post, please appreciate the above quote.)

For Summit attendees only: “I’ve never used a computer before. I like computers, and this makes me feel more human.”

Allen’s father was a world-renowned engineering taxonomy professor who revolutionized global manufacturing. Yet, one of this man’s greatest gifts were the wise words he spoke to his son, Paul, when he was only five years old: “Make use of your gifts and talents to serve mankind.”

On growing a strengths-based society: “In 2004, 1 million people had taken StrengthsFinder. By 2010, 5 million. By 2014, 10 million. Today, 14 million people have taken StrengthsFinder with 7,986 taking the talent assessment every day.”

If you attended the CliftonStrengths summit, you most likely returned home as energized and passionate about the strengths movement as I am.

The ideas, conversations and energy from such a purpose-filled group will be fascinating to watch unfold in the years to come.

It’s remarkable to consider the impact one young Nebraskan professor would have on the world when he thought to ask, “What if we studied what was right with people versus what’s wrong with people?”

If you want to take the CliftonStrengths assessment and see what all of the buzz is about, click here.

If you enjoyed this post, please sign-up for more insights on turning talents into strengths at StrengthsLauncher.com.

Or, drop me a line at hello@strengthslauncher.com. I’d love to hear about you and your own strengths journey.


Doug Wilks