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?


There is always a tug a war going on between our weaknesses and our strengths, as well as a tug of war between not over working IN our business and neglecting to work ON our business. If you have experienced a battle on your leadership team, business, or company and you want to build a strengths based organization, check out my new web site at

Today, we will focus on weaknesses and how to PLUG your LEAKS. Remember, our weaknesses are like a LEAK in a sail boat.

L: Loath

E: Escape

A: Average

K: Kink

One of my coaching clients loathes public speaking. He wants to escape it or get someone else to do it for him. He tries to improve but still just feels average. He even feels a kink his stomach when he presents a report to the senior management team.

How can he PLUG the LEAK?

P: Plan

Plan on consciously using one or more of your signature strengths to boost your weakness. If your strengths are deliberative, belief, responsibility, discipline and relator, then you could decrease the stress (landmines) before you speak, stick with topics on which you can share strong beliefs, use responsibility to make you follow through with quality, structure your talk with discipline, and open your hear so you connect with your audience.

L: Leave

You will likely have to do some public speaking in your work and life as a parent, but what if you could eliminate 80% of public speaking? Of course, don’t volunteer for public speaking jobs. Make it clear to your boss and team that you want to decrease any opportunity that could create public speaking moments.

U: Unite

Who on your team could you unite with that excels at public speaking–that loves public speaking and could take the pressure off of you? Many companies hire a spokesperson. You can, too, in critical public speaking situations. Who knows! You could even barter with someone who has the strength of public speaking.

G: Grow

We all have to do things that we are weak at to some extent. Go to Toastmasters or hire a coach to help you maximize your speaking abilities. Grow in the basics and let it go. Take the pressure off of yourself to be the best at everything and invest your time and energy in your strengths.

You have to do more than plug your leaks.

There is always a tug a war going on between our weaknesses and our strengths, as well as a tug a war between not over working IN our business and neglecting to work ON our business. Today we will focus on weaknesses and how to plug your LEAKS.

Maybe you think the strengths approach is one-sided. Nope. As a coach I realize we all have weaknesses in our personal life and business. Weaknesses are like water leaks in a sail boat and if we don’t plug our leaks, we sink.

First, we need to identify our weaknesses (leaks) as well as discover our top five signature strengths to help us plug our leaks. Strengths guru Marcus Buckingham paraphrased the military strategist Sun Tzu, saying, “Keep your strengths close and your weaknesses closer.”

Use my acronym below to help you identify your top personal and professional leaks (weaknesses) today.


What activity do you hate to do with a passion? You’re are going to laugh when I confess this but I loath and hate dealing with the cable TV remote control or anything related to hooking up a DVD and cables. When you loath an activity you will find a way to…


What activity do you want to avoid and get someone else to do? You guessed it, I ask my wife to take care of the remote control and hooking up any electronics. Similarly, she hates installing the toilet paper so for 27 years I’m the one who puts it on the roll.

In business, I loath and avoid entering data and dealing with Quickbooks so I’m frequently singing, “Help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda.” Oh, I’m determined enough (whether I’m smart enough is questionable) to learn how to control a TV remote and figure out Quickbooks, but I will always be…


What activity is a weakness in your life or business that, no matter how much you learn or practice it, you will only be average or below average in performance? Many professionals despise public speaking and try to get better by reading books or going to Toastmasters (which I recommend). The truth is, they can get better but they will only be average or below average in performance because it’s not their strength.

In fact, you can become average in a weakness and still feel a…


What activity, no matter how much you improve (and I recommend improving your weakness to a point) there is still a kink in your stomach? A feeling of stress and strain.

My wife gets a feeling of stress and a kink in her stomach just thinking about dealing with conflict personally or professionally. It is a weakness of hers, however she has learned how to plug that leak (and lean on me to help since this is one of my strengths). In 27 years of marriage we have had a couple (okay, our fair share) of conflicts, big and small, but we are still afloat.

We have found a way to PLUG our leaks so we don’t sink.

Each of our top 5 signature strengths are like a SAIL that create momentum in life and business.

S: Success

A: Authentic

I: Invigorating

L: Love

Today’s article will give you 5 ideas to HOIST those strengths into the air so you can sail toward your dreams.

H: Hear

What do your family, friends, and customers say you are great at?

Hear their feedback.

In fact that’s an assignment I often give my clients. Go and ask five people who know you best, what they believe are your strengths. Hearing their feedback breaks through our low self-esteem and denial of our own strengths.

What strength is lying dormant in you just waiting to ignite?

O: Opportunities

What opportunities are in your work or community to use your strengths? One of my coaching clients, a leader at Music Mountain Spring Water, used to under utilize her relator strength at work. Going through my program, she has created a company directory recognizing each employee with a picture, personal profile, and a list of the fun hobbies they enjoy, as well as planned company wide social events to increase positive relationships and employee engagement.

In the weekly senior management team meetings she facilitates the question, “How did you best use your strengths this week?” All of this positive momentum in Music Mountain Spring Water is flowing because she saw opportunities in her workplace and hoisted her sail/strength.

I: Investigate

How could you grow your strengths so that they are maximized?

Here are a few questions to help you investigate more deeply into your strength.

  • Who could I talk to to learn more about this strength?
  • What could I read to expand my knowledge of this strength?
  • Where could I visit to see this strength at high performance?
  • How could I try on “new hats” with this strength?

Remember that your greatest potential for growth is not in your weaknesses but in your strengths.

S: Strategize

Strategic thinking and planning is the ability to sort through the clutter and find the best route.

How could you design your life and work around your strengths?

A great chess player is always thinking ahead what moves to avoid and what moves to make to win the game. The same is true with your strengths. Ask yourself, “What activities would I love to cut in my work role because it’s not my strength?” Now ask yourself, “What activities would I love to do more of because I am strong at them”

Write that plan down and follow the next step to HOIST your sails.

T: Team

Every strength needs a complimentary strength to partner with to make the best team. A person who is strong at strategic or analytical benefits by teaming up with a person who is a strong activator. The activator makes sure that “paralysis by analysis” doesn’t happen.

What kind of person and what kind of strengths do you need to team up with?

HOIST your sails and enjoy the ride of your life.

Our top 5 signature strengths are like a SAIL that create momentum in life and business.

S: Success

A: Authentic

I: Invigorating

L: Love

S: Success

Ask yourself what successes have you had in your past or present life–any prizes or awards that you have been given are indicators of strengths? Maybe you won the science project in 7th grade, which could point to an analytical or ideation strength. What about winning homecoming queen or voted most popular in school? These could indicate WOO (winning others over).

But a history of success is not the only marker of success.

A: Authentic

What comes naturally to you, or, what is your authentic gut reaction?

One of my golfing buddies loves to drive the golf cart. I’m amazed by how easily he finds shortcuts around the golf course. He has a strategic strength. That strength helps in his golf game as well as running his home health care business.

I: Invigorating

When utilizing your strength, you will feel energized. If you are good at something but still feel drained doing it then it’s not a true strength. One CEO I coach says, “If people lined up at my door all day long to help them fix their problems, I would be in heaven.” But people with the maximizer strength would likely hate that job. Maximizers get an emotional charge making something already good into something great.

Determine what activities drain you and what activities make you feel invigorated.

L: Love

If you look forward to an activity or want to learn more about an activity then it is likely a strength. Tennis, coaching, and speaking are three activities I love. I get excited when I’m scheduled to do these activities. I’m constantly reading, watching, and learning how to do these activities even better. These three activities allow me to use my top 5 signature strengths–focus on the ball, my coaching clients priorities goals and priorities, and the topic in my keynote.

Individualization is the ability to come up with a unique strategy with my tennis opponent, my coaching client, and speaking audience, whether its made up of corporate clients, business owners, church group, or youth campers. My achiever and competition strengths help me work hard to achieve goals and win as well as help my clients to win in life and business. My command strength enables me to to take charge on the court, help my coaching clients face conflicts, and be charismatic when speaking to a large audience.

A great tool besides the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment to discover your character strengths is the free online assessment at Or you can list your top 5 activities that answer the SAIL concept.

What does it take to be a good poker player? That’s the question I asked my workshop attendees. The responses were:

  • Get a lucky hand
  • Know when to hold and when to fold
  • Know how to bluff

Just like poker, each of us is dealt a metaphorical hand at birth. You have been given a genetic set of signature strengths. It’s up to you to play the hand you’re dealt.

First, know your strengths.

Just like playing poker you need to understand the hand you’re dealt.

Here are four questions to help you identify your strengths (hand). Take a moment and write down your answers to these questions to better know your strengths cards.

  1. What successes, prizes or recognition have you received in the past? Maybe you were the chess champion, speech contest winner, or homecoming queen.
  2. What is an authentic, natural and gut reaction to you? Maybe you crack a joke and create laughter without a conscious thought or listen intently making people feel heard and loved. Either way, this strength is not hard for you. It flows naturally and effortlessly.
  3. What is invigorating, energizing, and exciting to you? When you’re reading, your mind comes alive, playing sports you soar with energy, or learning technology absolutely thrills you. These are key indicators of your strengths.
  4. What do you love to learn and look forward to doing in the future? My wife eagerly watches cooking channels and reads cooking magazines. My coaching client just enrolled in a filmmaking class because he loves making documentary movies. Another client can’t wait to get underneath the hood of his classic cars. Appreciate and accept your signature strengths. Learn to play the hand you’re dealt.

Second, know when to hold and when to fold.

Your area of greatest growth is in strengths not weaknesses. Part of that growth is knowing when to hold and play those strengths and knowing when to slow down and fold those strengths so they don’t derail you or hinder others.

One of my character strengths is zest. I was born with a bundle of energy. I wake up in the morning almost jumping out of bed ready to achieve and tackle the world. If you’ve heard me speak, you have felt my energy. However, I have to practice when to slow that energy down so I don’t overwhelm some people and I also need to practice turning that energy up when I need it to accomplish a task.

While in China I spoke for 5 days straight. One person said to me, “You have incredible mental and physical energy.”

I can hear you asking, “What if I’m dealt a bad hand?” That leads me to my next point.

Third, bluff your weaknesses.

We all have sluff cards we are dealt and we can use our strengths to overcome those weaknesses. One of my coaching clients struggles with communication with his team. He is an activator, which he calls WOT, wide open throttle, and he is strategic. He strategically created a discussion form with key questions and now is slowing down his activator strength to meet one on one on a monthly basis to dialogue with his employees. He feels more connected to his team and the door of communication is opening.

How could you use your strength(s) to bluff and overcome your weakness? Remember, play the hand you were dealt.

Happiness is more than just having a momentary good time in life.

The growing school of Positive Psychology is digging deeper into the science and experience of happiness PERMA is an acronym that Martin Seligman uses in his new book, Flourishing, to highlight the 5 elements of happiness, or what is scientifically called, “subjective wellbeing.”

P stands for Positive Emotion

Most people believe that if they feel more joy, peace, security, kindness, compassion, and so on, they will be happy. And research does show that experiencing more pleasant (positive) emotions throughout your day increases your sense of wellbeing. But it’s also true that you can laugh on the outside and be crying on the inside. I know because I’ve done it many times. Increasing positive emotions is a good endeavor to pursue, just don’t stop there because happiness is also a form of adventure.

E stands for Engagement

When my wife and I went crawling 180 feet deep into the Rats Nest cave in Alberta Canada we were totally engaged (and terrified). Picture us with hard hats, coal miner lights, repelling gear, rock gloves, and dressed in coveralls. It took 1.5 hours to slither down into the bottom of the cave and 1.5 hours to climb back out. We were totally engaged and in the moment because climbing required every fiber to be focused on the task at hand.

Engagement is being in the flow so much that you lose track of time. It could be with work, your kids, your hobby, or a thousand other things. Engagement is an important element of happiness but there still is more to happiness.

It’s also…

R, which stands for Positive Relationships

True happiness cannot ultimately be experienced without the context of another human being. Positive relationship experiences are the crucible of happiness. According to studies, doing a kind act for someone else is the single most reliable way to increase happiness. There is no denying the deep influences that positive or negative relationships have on our well being.

But where does happiness research go from here?

M stands for Meaning

Positive psychology researchers define meaning as “belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than yourself.” Being clear on your life purpose and giving your life to a bigger cause can add depth of soul which translates to more than momentary positive emotions.

A stands for Achievement

Many people pursue success, accomplishment, winning, and achievement purely because it floats their boat. The father who works to make money to provide for his family achieves just as the mother who dedicates her time and energies to nurturing her childrens’ success. The teenager who achieves levels of success at games, education, hobbies, dreams and goals increases self-esteem which translates to happiness.

If you want to be deeply happy, set goals in each area: Postive Emotion, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement.

Then you will be PERMA(nently) happy.