Strengths-Based Coaching Can Actually Weaken You (2023)

Leer en español
Ler em português


In the past decade, there has been much enthusiasm for the idea that behavioral change interventions are most effective when they focus exclusively on enhancing people’s inherent strengths, as opposed to also addressing their weaknesses. This is particularly true in employee and leadership development programs, with strengths having somewhat of a cult-like following among HR and talent management professionals.

A Google search for “strengths coaching” yields over 45 million hits. The top resultsmostly offer related services, while virtually none question the idea. Amazon sells almost 8,000 books on the subject, including several bestselling exemplars by Gallup, whose StrengthsFinder is now used by 1.6 million employees every year and 467 Fortune 500 companies. The word “weakness” has become a politically incorrect term in mainstream HR circles, where people are described as having strengths and “opportunities” or “challenges” —but not weaknesses.Some businesses are even planning to scrap negative feedback.

Although there are no reasons to expect thefascination with strengths to wane any time soon, organizations —and people —would be better off if it did. There are at least five reasons to be skeptical of a leadership development approach that focuses only on strengths:

1) There’s no scientific evidence that it works. Despite popular belief, the strengths-based approach to management is not grounded in science. I have seen no scientific studies (independent research published in peer-reviewed academic journals) to support the idea that developmental interventions are more successful if they ignore people’s deficits or provide no negative feedback.

(Video) Strengths-Based Leadership (Leadership Style)

Of course, absence of evidence does not necessarily imply evidence of absence. But the main postulates of the strengths-based approach are incongruent with well-established academic findings. For instance, meta-analytic evidence shows that negative feedback and lower self-estimates of ability do improve performance. Furthermore, high-performing leaders tend to get better by developing new strengths, not just enhancing old ones.

Further Reading

Moreover, although the pioneers of the strengths movement argued that traditional development and training programs — which are not focused on strengths — were doomed, scientific meta-analyses show that they are in fact rather effective. The average psychological intervention, feedback session, or executive coaching session improves desirable work outcomes, such as job performance, by half a standard deviation. That means that 70% of individuals in a control group — who did not receive any feedback or coaching — would perform below the average of the intervention group. How would this compare to a strengths-based intervention, specifically? We simply don’t know. To date, Ihave yet to see any independent peer-reviewed studies providing evidence on this. (If you know of any, please add them to the comments section below.)

2) It can give people a false sense of competence. Strengths-based approaches help individuals to identify their strengths (e.g., key competencies, talents, or career weapons). This is a noble goal, because people are generally unaware of their abilities and incapable of evaluating their own performance.

(Video) Introducing Strengths-Based Mentoring in School Contexts (S5E25)

However, the approaches attempt to do so by comparing a person’s strengths to each other, as opposed to a normative group or population benchmark. Thus your top strengths could mean that you are truly exceptional at displaying those qualities — because you possess them much more than other people do —or that you are just worse at all your other strengths. Say, for instance, that I’m a lazy person but that I’m even more selfish, narrow-minded, and stupid than I am lazy — would that make me hard-working?

Any serious attempt to measure talent should take into account “the individual’s current standing” on the key dimensions of talent. Non-normative feedback fails to do this and is therefore not only inaccurate but also unethical. It equates to telling everybody that they are great in their own way. It conveys the illusion of ability even to those who lack it. Since most people already have an inflated self-concept (especially leaders, who tend to be more narcissistic than average), it is likely that strengths-based feedback will only enhance people’s deluded self-views. In addition, any serious take on competence should examine a person’s capabilities in the context of the organization. That is, individual qualities should be considered strengths if they align not only with the individual’s role or job, but also with the organization’s goals or competency framework. Strengths approaches focus too much on the individual out of context.

3) It leads to resources being wasted on C and D players. Strengths-based approaches argue that every employee deserves to be developed because everybody is talented in their own way. For example, Gallup, amarket leader in strengths training, notes on itswebsite, “All employees have strengths — the unique combinations of talents, knowledge, skills, and practice that help them do what they do best every day. These strengths provide employees and employers with their greatest opportunities for success.” It is easy to understand the popular appeal of this idea, particularly among those who sell developmental interventions. (It widens their pool of potential customers.)

However, since top performers are many times more valuable than other employees, companies will see the highest ROI from training programs if they focus their development resources on their high-performing and high-potential individuals, the people who account, or have the potential to account, for most of the company’s output. That means focusing on the 20% of people who are responsible for 80% of the revenues, profits, or productivity (as the well-known Pareto effect states). Not, as the strengths-based movement so often argues, all employees in the organization.

4) Overused strengths become toxic. With the exception of moderation itself, everything is better in moderation. The scientific paradigm for this is the “too much of a good thing” effect, which indicates that even positive qualities will become toxic if they are overused or expressed in excess. For example, conscientiousness and attention to detail turn into counterproductive perfectionism and obsessiveness. Confidence becomes overconfidence and arrogance. Ambition turns into greed. And imagination into odd eccentricity.

(Video) Marcus Buckingham: How To Succeed At Work

Research shows that leaders are generally unaware of what their toxic behaviors are and that there is no shortage of competent leaders — individuals with clear strengths — who derail because of their inability to mitigate their toxic tendencies. For instance, according to some estimates, 40% of Fortune 100 firms engage in inappropriate, antisocial, or unethical activity bad enough to be reported in the media. And no one would say that people like Bernie Madoff, Sepp Blatter, Donald Trump, or Cristina Kirchner are without strengths, but it’s their weaknesses that cause so much trouble —weaknesses that are often overused strengths.

5) It doesn’t address the real problem workplaces face. Like most of the leadership-development literature, which has been hijacked by the self-help industry, the strengths movement exudes an inexplicable degree of optimism. Reality is not so sunny. As Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer summarized in his recent book: “Workplaces in the United States and around the world are, for the most part (as there are obviously exceptional places on best-places-to-work lists), filled with dissatisfied, disengaged employees who do not trust their leaders; leaders at all levels lose their jobs at an increasingly fast pace (…) and the leadership industry has failed and continues to fail in its task of producing leaders who are effective and successful, and it has even failed to produce sufficient talent to fill leadership vacancies.” It therefore seems a little odd, even intellectually irresponsible, to ignore our limitations and shortcomings. There is little to be gained, as Voltaire’s Candide noted, from “the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.”

We cannot solve the severe problems we face in leadership with wishful thinking. Strengths-based interventions may be useful if the goal is to help individuals “self-actualize” or increase certain aspects of well-being. However, if the focus is on making people more competent, productive, or effective, managers and decision makers should work instead on mitigating people’s weaknesses.


Is CliftonStrengths evidence based? ›

Yes. Gallup has abundant evidence that CliftonStrengths is reliable, with excellent test-retest results (results and differences between an individual's initial test, and then retest). These results are particularly important because it indicates the long-term stability that respondents depend on.

Is the strength-based approach effective? ›

(2004) found that using the strength-based approach helps individuals develop and maintain a strong sense of wellbeing. People who can find hope and inspiration using their strengths have a stronger sense of wellbeing (Smock et al., 2008).

Is the CliftonStrengths assessment worth it? ›

Work better with others: The CliftonStrengths assessment can be incredibly beneficial to teams as well. According to Gallup, employees that receive strengths-based development are up to 23% more engaged at work. The assessment can help build stronger team dynamics and better collaboration among team members.

Is strengths-based therapy evidence based? ›

Strengths-based therapy can be helpful for many different presenting concerns. It can help boost self-esteem and confidence, and there is evidence that this approach can be beneficial for individuals with depression or anxiety. 2 In addition, it can help individuals recovering from trauma.

What are the six key principles of strengths-based practice? ›

What are the 6 Key Principles of Strengths-Based Practice?
  • Goal Setting. ...
  • Strengths Assessments. ...
  • Environmental Resources. ...
  • Alternative Methods Come First for Different Situations. ...
  • Hope-Inducing Relationships. ...
  • Autonomy to Make Meaningful Choices.
12 Jun 2022

What are the rarest CliftonStrengths? ›

CliftonStrengths® auf Twitter: „The 5 least common #strengths are: command, self-assurance, significance, discipline and context.

Which CliftonStrengths are most common? ›

CliftonStrengths® on Twitter: "The 5 most common #strengths are: achiever, responsibility, learner, relator and strategic.

What are the most important CliftonStrengths? ›

Whatever job you are in, whatever job you move into, the heart of who you are comes with you. Get to know that person. Amy Shuman's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are: Communication, Competition, Maximizer, Significance and Focus.

What are the benefits of using a strengths-based approach? ›

The strength-based approach allows for people to see themselves at their best in order to see their own value. It then allows a person to move that value forward and capitalize on their strengths rather than focus on their negative characteristics.

Who invented strength-based theory? ›

A strengths-based approach was initially developed at KU in the early to mid-1980s by our faculty and students for use with adults with psychiatric disabilities served by community mental health centers. These innovators included Professor Charles Rapp and doctoral students Ronna Chamberlain, Wallace Kisthardt, W.

What is the aim of strength-based approach? ›

The objective of the strengths-based approach is to protect the individual's independence, resilience, ability to make choices and wellbeing.

How accurate is StrengthsFinder? ›

Pyschometric assessments are scientific tools that measure cognitive formation and function. That is why StrengthsFinder™ provides an extremely accurate identification of the talents present in an individual, pointing to his or her greatest potential.

Can you retake CliftonStrengths? ›

If you want to retake the CliftonStrengths assessment, you will need to obtain a new access code and redeem it with a new Gallup Access account. You may purchase an access code or a CliftonStrengths book containing an access code from the Gallup Store.

Can you fail a Gallup test? ›

Though often referred to as such, the CliftonStrengths assessment is not actually a test – that is to say, there is no pass or fail.

Is CBT a strengths-based approach? ›

Strengths-Based CBT is a four-step approach for helping people build positive qualities. It posits that there are many pathways to positive qualities and that each person can construct a personal model to build a desired quality, drawing on strengths already in evidence.

What are strength-based theories? ›

Strengths-based (or asset-based) approaches focus on individuals' strengths (including personal strengths and social and community networks) and not on their deficits. Strengths-based practice is holistic and multidisciplinary and works with the individual to promote their wellbeing.

Is DBT a strength-based approach? ›

DBT is both a philosophy to help view students' challenges from a functional, strength-based perspective and a structure that helps staff move students toward positive change. The DBT philosophy is based on a dialectic frame of reference.

What is a strength-based approach in mental health? ›

Instead of employing the traditional medical model which emphasizes on pathology, focusing on problems and failures in people with mental illnesses; the strength-based approach allows practitioners to acknowledge that every individual has a unique set of strengths and abilities so that he/she can rely on to overcome ...

What is strength-based coaching? ›

I would define strengths-based coaching as a coach 'supporting their client to identify their own strengths as a means to build confidence and self-efficacy to face into challenges, solve problems and achieve the changes they are seeking to make. '

Why should you encourage clients to identify their strengths? ›

By reinforcing the use of strengths-related behaviors in your clients, you can increase the client's happiness and well-being while also helping them to accomplish certain treatment goals.

What are the top 5 strengths? ›

StrengthsFinder Resources – Explore Your Top 5 Strengths
  • achiever.
  • activator.
  • adaptability.
  • analytical.
  • arranger.
  • belief.
  • command.
  • communication.

What is the difference between StrengthsFinder and CliftonStrengths? ›

In 2007, StrengthsFinder 2.0 was released and became the upgraded version of the assessment used today. Rather than measure a person's behavior as DiSC assessments are designed to do, CliftonStrengths gives teams and individuals an opportunity to discover their natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.

How many people have the same CliftonStrengths? ›

A basic probability equation shows us that 34 x 33 x 32 x 31 x 30 = 33,390,720 -- meaning there is a one in 33,390,720 likelihood of having a CliftonStrengths "identical twin."

What are the most common weaknesses in a person? ›

Examples of Weaknesses.
  • Self-criticism.
  • Shyness.
  • Lack of knowledge of particular software.
  • Public speaking.
  • Taking criticism.
  • Lack of experience.
  • Inability to delegate.
  • Lack of confidence.

What is the best StrengthsFinder test? ›

Below are our four top picks for strengths tests that you can take online:
  1. CliftonStrengths. Formerly known as Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, CliftonStrengths is a paid online talent assessment that measures your talents using 177 paired statements. ...
  2. High5 Test. ...
  3. VIA Character Strengths Survey. ...
  4. Strengths Profile.
4 Jul 2021

What does woo mean in CliftonStrengths? ›

Woo stands for winning others over. You enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting them to like you.

Why is CliftonStrengths important? ›

Using CliftonStrengths allows teams to move beyond an understanding of common "types" of people on a team. It allows for more specific insight into the natural talent of the individuals on the team and the collective strengths of the team.

What is the point of StrengthsFinder? ›

StrengthsFinder allows you to see what you and your team-mates are good at so that you can delegate work appropriately. It also helps team members see from each other's perspectives, allowing everyone to understand what's important to their peers and how they operate.

What makes a great leader Gallup? ›

A key to effective leadership is the ability to define outcomes, but then helps individuals put their talents to use to get there. The best leaders know their people and are more aware of those people's strengths than they are of their weaknesses.

What is a strengths-based approach trauma? ›

Strength-based interventions look beyond a child's problem behaviors. They emphasize the child's strengths and protective factors that promote resilience. They look for solutions to a child's problems instead of dwelling on the problems themselves.

What are the fundamental assumptions underlying the strength-based approach? ›

The fact that clients possess assets and strengths that enable them to survive in caustic environments is one of the foundations for the “strengths perspective.” Five assumptions that comprise this perspective are: clients have innate strengths, need motivation that is self-defined, self-discovery can occur with aided ...

Is trauma informed care strengths-based? ›

Trauma-informed care is a strengths-based service delivery approach “that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors, and that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of ...

What is the opposite of strength-based approach? ›

Deficit-Based – An approach that tends to focus on needs and problems in peo- ple or helping people avoid risks associated with negative outcomes. These risk- based interventions do not sustain change (Skodol, 2010).

Where does strength-based approach come from? ›

It was formally developed by a team from the University of Kansas, including Dennis Saleebey, Charles Rapp, and Ann Weick. In 1997, Rapp wrote "The Strengths Model", which focused on "amplifying the well part of the patient". The popularity of his approach spread quickly, and, in 1999, Dr.

What are the 5 major principles of a strengths-based family practice based on Saleebey 1997 )? ›

New York: Longman. Saleebey suggested five types of questions for social workers to ask in order to assess strengths in their clients: survival, support, exception, possibility, and esteem questions.

Is the strength-based perspective a different way of thinking than the deficit model? ›

Deficit-based research examines the existing issues within a community and attempts to overcome them. Strengths-based research identifies and promotes the strengths within the community.

How does a strengths-based approach empower learners? ›

Helping students understand the connection between their strengths and their personal goals and offering guidance in the application of their strengths in the most effective ways can elicit feelings of competence, and providing students with choices and opportunities for self- direction can support their need for ...

What are strength-based interview questions? ›

Here are some examples of strength-based interview questions:
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?
  • What energises you?
  • How would your close friends describe you?
  • Do you most like starting tasks or finishing them?
  • Do you prefer the big picture or the small details?
  • Describe a successful day. ...
  • What are you good at?

How accurate is StrengthsFinder? ›

Pyschometric assessments are scientific tools that measure cognitive formation and function. That is why StrengthsFinder™ provides an extremely accurate identification of the talents present in an individual, pointing to his or her greatest potential.

What is the StrengthsFinder theory based on? ›

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment 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 MRIs, neurologists can see the brain's activity when subjected to certain stimuli.

Is CliftonStrengths a psychometric test? ›

A form of psychometric testing, the Gallup CliftonStrengths assessment is designed to help individuals reach their full potential by turning personal attributes into strengths. The science behind it is based on years of research by educational psychologist Donald Clifton.

Is CliftonStrengths the same as StrengthsFinder? ›

The CliftonStrengths assessment is the same one featured in StrengthsFinder 2.0 and our other bestselling books. It's the same assessment invented by Don Clifton and used by organizations, managers and millions of people to fuel better performance in workplaces around the world.

How many people have taken the Strengths Finder? ›

Over 26 million people have taken the CliftonStrengths® test, also known as StrengthsFinder®. How Many Strengths Are in StrengthsFinder®? There are 34 strengths in the StrengthsFinder® test (aka CliftonStrengths® test).

How many people have taken the CliftonStrengths assessment? ›

Clifton invented the CliftonStrengths assessment, which has been completed by 28,703,696 people. Don spent the rest of his life researching and inventing ways to help people maximize their infinite potential. To understand not only who they are, but who they can become.

Why is StrengthsFinder important? ›

StrengthsFinder allows you to see what you and your team-mates are good at so that you can delegate work appropriately. It also helps team members see from each other's perspectives, allowing everyone to understand what's important to their peers and how they operate.

How does CliftonStrengths improve performance? ›

Because the CliftonStrengths assessment gives people a common language and vocabulary to better describe, communicate with and understand each other. Plus, when you have people in roles that fit their talents, their energy and passion can fuel their own great performance and inspire the same from their partners.

Who developed the strength based leadership theory? ›

Find your strengths

The VIA was developed by Chris Peterson from the University of Michigan and Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania. Over three million people worldwide have taken the VIA.

Who is considered the father of strengths psychology? ›

Donald Clifton

He was honored in 2002 by the American Psychological Association with a Presidential Commendation as the Father of Strengths-based Psychology and he has been called the “grandfather of Positive Psychology” (Snyder, Lopez, & Pedrotti, 2015, p. 66).

Can you retake CliftonStrengths? ›

If you want to retake the CliftonStrengths assessment, you will need to obtain a new access code and redeem it with a new Gallup Access account. You may purchase an access code or a CliftonStrengths book containing an access code from the Gallup Store.

What are the top 5 strengths? ›

StrengthsFinder Resources – Explore Your Top 5 Strengths
  • achiever.
  • activator.
  • adaptability.
  • analytical.
  • arranger.
  • belief.
  • command.
  • communication.

How much does CliftonStrengths cost? ›

$19.99 USD*

For those who want a basic introduction to what they do best. Learn moreabout Top 5 CliftonStrengths.

How many people have the same CliftonStrengths? ›

A basic probability equation shows us that 34 x 33 x 32 x 31 x 30 = 33,390,720 -- meaning there is a one in 33,390,720 likelihood of having a CliftonStrengths "identical twin."

Can you take CliftonStrengths for free? ›

CliftonStrengths is an online test taken directly through Gallup's platform. It's a paid assessment, so first you'll need to purchase to a Code to access the test. After purchase, you will receive an email with your Code for one-time use.

Where did 34 CliftonStrengths come from? ›

Based on a 40-year study of human strengths, Gallup created a language of the 34 most common talents and developed the CliftonStrengths assessment to help people discover and describe these talents.


1. Coaching Sales Performance, Part 1 -- Called to Coach
2. Strength Based Approach
(Jasmine Ama)
3. Strength-Based ADHD Coaching Presentation
(ADD Coach Academy)
4. 3 principles of effective, strengths-based leadership
(Curt Mercadante)
5. The secret to giving great feedback | The Way We Work, a TED series
6. Could Focusing On Strengths Ruin Your Career?
(Michelle McQuaid)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Wyatt Volkman LLD

Last Updated: 03/20/2023

Views: 5768

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (46 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Wyatt Volkman LLD

Birthday: 1992-02-16

Address: Suite 851 78549 Lubowitz Well, Wardside, TX 98080-8615

Phone: +67618977178100

Job: Manufacturing Director

Hobby: Running, Mountaineering, Inline skating, Writing, Baton twirling, Computer programming, Stone skipping

Introduction: My name is Wyatt Volkman LLD, I am a handsome, rich, comfortable, lively, zealous, graceful, gifted person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.