My strengths

I was talking with a student the other day who was raving about the Clifton Strengths Assessment she had done.  Unsurprisingly, this piqued the skeptic in me and I did a little research whether there’s any scientific validity behind this.  Short version: not much.  Did not find all that many good takes, but this from Harvard Business Review seemed pretty good:

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.

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 feedbackand 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.

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 interventionfeedback session, or executive coachingsession 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, I have 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.)

Of course, me being me, I had to do a strengths assessment.  No way was I going to pay money to Gallup for the Clifton Strengths, but this free Via Strengths seemed as valid as any other.

And the results were shocking!!  Kidding.  The results were totally unsurprising.  It’s almost that after 47 years, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what my strengths and weaknesses are.  And because inquiring minds want to know…

  1. Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing & caring are reciprocated; being close to people.
  2. Judgment: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.
  3. Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.
  4. Humor: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.
  5. Hope: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.

Yep.  Eye-rolling names aside, that is pretty much me.  So, kudos, I guess, to the assessment.  On the other hand, pretty sure I could have told you I really value human connection, humor, weighing evidence, etc.  And I suspect most people who know me could have come up with something similar.  And, arguably, I’d be better off knowing my weaknesses and working on them (for the record, humility and perseverance are at the bottom of my list– again, not surprising).



About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to My strengths

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    I used to think humility was overrated until the 2016 election.

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