StrengthsFinder Legit? Valid? Accurate?
If you're wondering, you're actually just like Sara Regan, the Lead Through Strengths facilitator in this interview. Before being exposed to the tool, she was a bit skeptical about it.
Usually, before doing some strengths finding with the team, one or two among us are wondering if psychometric tools are accurate. Is StrengthsFinder legit? Is it valid? The CliftonStrengths Assessment has not escaped such skepticism from some of our participants.
You're not alone. Many of us come to these tools with a cautious eye. We want to know that it's more than parlor games. We hope for a tool that allows for more than a 4-hour kumbaya team building event at work.
Most of the time, skeptical people wonder, "Hmmmm, is StrengthsFinder legit, or is my boss making me go to a gimmicky feel-good-training today?" Other times, it's an industrial organizational psychologist from the HR department who wants to know about the peer-reviewed literature on the tool. Either way, people like having the confidence of knowing that the tool is tested and valid.
Here’s the transcript of this episode where Lisa interviews Sara about her journey from being a skeptic to someone who fully embraces StrengthsFinder.
Lisa: Hello everyone, you're listening to Lead Through Strengths, and today it's both me, Lisa and Sara Regan. You've heard a lot from me over the years and it's about time to get some new angles from some other facilitators here at Lead Through Strengths.
So let's get right into some fresh angles on strengths, from Sara.
From Skeptical Customer To StrengthsFinder Facilitator: What Prompted The Change?
Lisa: So Sara, sometimes we walk into a StrengthsFinder event. We're doing CliftonStrengths kickoff, it's a big thing. And you know, there are a couple of people in the room who are really skeptics. They wonder, "is StrengthsFinder legit, and is this an accurate tool?"
Tell me, how did you come to CliftonStrengths, and have you ever experienced that either in your own skepticism or other people in the room and how has that gone for you?
Sara: Absolutely. I think at this point, I almost expect that there will be a skeptic or two in the room. And I, myself, also had that skepticism, when I was first introduced to StrengthsFinder. I think for me it was the opportunity of “let's bring the team together.”
I was leading a group of around maybe 25 people or so at that time, and I thought I know team building is a good thing. We do this from time to time. We'll have coffee, we'll have bagels. Maybe people will get to know each other a little bit more. But I didn't really expect there to be much of a profound takeaway.
But for me, I was really struck by reading my own report and feeling like it really did help to highlight some things that I was aware of. So my skepticism
really certainly changed after I got to look at my own results.
And then in seeing the results of the team members too, I mean it just really dramatically changed the way I thought about my work, my career, the types of things I said “yes” to to the type of things I said “no” to, and how to position other people for success as well.
So even though I was a skeptic, I think I was a quick convert, and really felt like even in my homegrown fashion, I was doing strengths at any chance that I could with new team members or other people that I worked with.
So now as a facilitator, I expect that there will be the skeptics who wonder if StrengthsFinder is legit. I think one of the things that really helps is that people have some of the research underpinnings, and to be able to see that ahead of time there will be people who will want to understand how was this validated, what's the reliability, why did they choose these questions...
So to make that available for people, whether it's before or after a session, that can help as well.
Lisa: Yes, that's great. We always do that in the pre-work where it's like, “Are you one of the people who wants to validate whether StrengthsFinder is legit? Here's a deep meta analysis if you want to look into it. It's a 40-page technical report with all of the design elements and reliability data from Gallup's behavioral scientists. (and for those of you who will gloss over it, just come to the session — you don't have to read it).”
So, speaking of legit...you have a master's degree in psychology, don't you?
Sara: I do.
Lisa: So I can imagine with that kind of point of view, you might have needed to dig in when you first got exposed to the book StrengthsFinder 2.0.
So when you saw your own results, let's say you're fast-forwarded. You're good with the tool. Now you've looked at the validity and the reliability statistics and you're feeling good. You believe that StrengthsFinder is legit. Now you look at your own results.
Unravel Your Hidden Strengths Through Your StrengthsFinder Results
Lisa: Did you have any that you were personally surprised by, or even not quite sure that they were "you"?
Sara: I think the biggest surprise for me was Strategic. And as I read the description, I think it's one of the strengths that people have a lot of confusion about because our mind can go many different places about what that word means. But in understanding fully the definition in that Gallup definition of Strategic, I did find that it really clicked for me, and it was a style of thinking about systems and problem-solving.
I think I've always, as I traced back to hobbies and things that I've enjoyed, it has to do with patterns and how things fit together, so it explained a lot. I think at that point of my career, I had been in this role, or in this organization for probably seven or eight years, and I had so many ideas about how to, things that needed to change, and some of my ideas were pretty radical, and about how to reconstruct something, we need to go back to the basics and tear something down and start over.
And I think I was holding back on presenting these ideas partly because they were pretty outlandish, some of them. Some were beyond probably my pay grade or I wasn't, it didn't have a seat at the right table for that. But I began to trust that perhaps some of these ideas about how to solve systemic problems were right on and I think it gave me more permission to share what I was thinking. And then I have some opportunities to put things in practice. And what I found is, I was completely engaged in my work. I loved what I was doing.
And these things were working like they were solving systemic problems. So that was for me I felt like it was so powerful like I think it helped me to lean into my strengths in a way that I don't know that I would have otherwise.
Lisa: I think that's such a cool example of seeing things through a workplace lens where you looked for systemic problems and you gave yourself permission because so many people look at their results and go,
“Oh, this is why I'm always the voice of that in meetings.”
“This is why this is always running through my head.”
And suddenly, now that they have the result in front of them, they knew this about themselves but they say,
“Oh, that's why I ought to just leverage that.”
I also love that you read the results with an open mind. So often, when people are surprised by one of the items, they want to dismiss the tool and say, "hmmmmm, is StrengthsFinder legit? It doesn't seem to capture what I think of myself." Meanwhile the disconnect is usually as simple as a terminology issue. It can also be one of those situations where you believe what the report says, yet you haven't found it valuable at work, so you don't view that thing as a strength.
Your Strengths Are Making An Impact In Your Life Outside Work
Lisa: So, I can't help it. You mentioned hobbies and you mentioned patterns, so now that we have one workplace angle on you, will you give us a way that you've seen Strategic show up in your life outside of work and how these patterns came to be?
Sara: I can. It's a hobby that I've gotten away from a little bit just by having a busy life and three teenagers. But one of my hobbies, for quite a while, was mosaic tile work. And so, I love to be able to sketch out a design. And then, I would take my tile in the driveway with a hammer and be smashing pieces of tile, and looking for exactly the color and the texture and the right piece to fit into this larger whole of the design.
And so I did some commission works for a while. I got some things that were being sold in shops, and I loved it. I love to do in this work. And so, it's partly I think goes back to that, “How can I make everything fit and very strategic?”
I feel it's the way I approach my work too. It’s I always feel like…(muffled)...optimistic like there is a solution for every problem. There is a way that this will work. I just need time, I need access to the resources, I need to play around with it but I'll get there.
And that was completely the process of doing the mosaic tile work too.
Lisa: That is sooooooo cool. I love hearing about this hobby. Also, I love looking at mosaic tiles because I thought about putting them on a shower floor — making a dragon formation — but all the same color, where the pattern and the angles of the pattern is what makes the dragon pop out to you, except they're actually all the same color. It would be a monochromatic thing.
Someday, watch out, I’ll commission you. I'll get, “Come over from Boston. I need a dragon on the ground.” After your teenagers are off the payroll, right?
Sara: 'Cause even as I talk about it, I remember how much fun I had. It is definitely one of the things I plan to return to.
Lisa: It's a perfect way to end that question because this idea of strength and how you can reconnect to the things that energize you and how, when you tap into it, it's not just saying,
“Oh yeah, this hobby or this skill energizes me."
“Oh, that's why I like that thing that I didn't expect to like that much, just because it uses this pattern in my mind.”
This speaks to an unexpected angle of the question "is StrengthsFinder legit." It's a powerful angle because often the reports from the CliftonStrengths assessment will give you a spark. You then think, "hmmmm...that's totally true in my personal life, but I don't really use that one at work." If you have those thoughts, you might have a spark for some seriously untapped potential. Maybe you have a strength that you can unlock at work if you look for ways to apply it.
Okay, now it's your turn. You have some great new perspective from Sara to go apply in the workplace. We wish you the best as you take these ideas, and you learn to spot them in yourself, and then apply them to your life to make the workplace a better place. Most of all, you may believe that StrengthsFinder is a legit tool, but there's something bigger: it's believing that your strengths are valid. It's believing that you have a contribution you can offer the world. You have untapped awesomeness inside of you, and we look forward to hearing how you offer it out to the world!
Want To Explore More Of The 'StrengthsFinder Legit' Question?
Some time ago, Lisa delivered a podcast episode that answers the question, Is StrengthsFinder A Personality Test? The podcast debunks any quick assumption that StrengthsFinder is just another one of those personality tests being used by managers. Instead, it asserts that it’s a performance-based tool that focuses not only on what is needed to do the job but on how to do it well.
So does StrengthsFinder work? In another episode, Is There Proof That Strengths-Based Development Works?, Lisa provides answers anchored on 1) proof points through some Gallup research and 2) a visual way to imagine why strengths make sense.
Lisa’s resource for this episode is the classic book Soar with Your Strengths: A Simple Yet Revolutionary Philosophy of Business and Management by Donald O. Clifton and Paula Nelson, which uses a metaphor to bring us the powerful lesson of focusing on strengths rather than on fixing what’s missing or broken about us. It's a quick read. Warning: yes, the metaphor uses little animals like rabbits, which seems elementary at first blush. That's exactly why it works though — it's simple and totally understandable.
Want to know how else StrengthsFinder can provide practical value for you and your team? Listen to Lisa’s interview with Adam Seaman: Why Use StrengthsFinder For Your Team? or her conversation with Pete Mockaitis on How To Use Your StrengthsFinder Report. These are StrengthsFinder-focused conversations that can show you the practical side of living a strengths-focused life.
Carmie is a professional writer and editor at Lead Through Strengths. Having spent 8 happy years with a nonprofit child organization as a storyteller and sponsorship relations team manager, she continues collaborating with others across the globe for the joy of human development and connection. Her days are powered by coffee, curiosities, cameras (film and digital), music, notebooks, and a cat. Where books are home, she’s home. She calls her Top 5 StrengthsFinder Talents “CLIPS” (Connectedness, Learner, Intellection, Positivity, and Strategic)–you know, those tiny objects that hold connected things together. She’d like to think she’s one.