By Noreen Keesey

“The greatest crime in the world is to not develop your potential. When you do what you do best, you are helping not only yourself, but the world.”

—Rodger Williams, Founder of Rhode Island

You are unique; it has been proven.

Don Clifton, the father of strengths psychology, posed a question during his graduate studies that would lead to years of research and the development of the CliftonStrengths™ assessment. That question was, “What would happen if we studied what is right with people versus what’s wrong with people?”

This question led to more than four decades of study on the topic of positive behaviors and success across many job roles and cultures. The result was a list of 34 clusters of behavior, or talent themes, that describe what people do that propels them to excellence in their chosen fields. (This is an important point; the research focused on how people were doing things, not what they were doing in terms of their career fields. Different people can be successful in a given career even with quite different strengths profiles.)

These talent themes are not simply things that people do, they describe innate ways that people behave and their inherent potential for developing excellence. CliftonStrengths™ is a development tool wherein a Strength is matured through the existence of a talent and personal investment in the development of that talent. As a strength, one can consistently produce an exceptional outcome in the performance of a specific task.

Gallup® research indicates that the likelihood of you having the same signature strengths—your top five talent themes—as another is one in about 278,000. The odds of having those five in the same order as another are one in 33 million. We each bring a unique perspective and set of talents to our experience on this earth.

With a list of 34 themes, it is inevitable that there will be talents at the bottom of our list. Though it is unrealistic to ignore our areas of lesser talent, it is not in our best interests to prioritize “fixing” those areas. A study conducted on reading improvement found that far greater improvements were made by those who were already good readers than by those whose reading speeds were not as strong before training. In terms of strengths, that means focusing our attention on honing our top talents is more productive than trying to develop our areas of lesser talent. We are not meant to be well rounded; we are far better off shining in our areas of unique ability.

What does this mean for us in our day to day tasks, duties, and responsibilities? First, we must recognize when we are at our best. We need to understand those things that come as naturally to us as breathing. The challenge here lies in the fact that identifying our talents can be like seeing the nose on our face. Without a mirror, we cannot get a clear view of our nose. It is too close to us. Spend some time considering what you love, when you excel, and how that excellence shows up. It can also be helpful to ask others who know us well what they see when we are at our best. Ask them to describe what they see you do well, and try not to argue with them when they point it out. Our talents are so natural to us that they can seem insignificant when they are pointed out to us.

Now, about those areas of lesser strength. Though we cannot, and should not, deny them it is important to realize that what we have is much more important than what we do not. Gallup has outlined four domains of talent. They are executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. It is uncommon to have signature talents across all five domains; most people’s top talents are clustered in one or two domains. Focusing on presence of talent and using them may mean using strengths in the relationship building domain in order to achieve the influencing results that are desired. Are there ways to apply our strengths to doing what needs to be done? Rather than focusing on a perceived lack, determine how to accomplish what you want using your gifts. This may mean partnering with others who can provide balance to your own themes while expressing their own.

You are unique and your development and growth is a lifelong process. Identify your talents, invest in them, and apply your strengths to enjoy greater success and life satisfaction.    

Noreen is a leadership coach and trainer who values time for reflection (Intellection), loves to provide helpful resources (Input), and is willing to go with the flow (Adaptability). She enjoys one-to-one interactions (Relator) and believes in continuous improvements (Maximizer). Those interested in more information about CliftonStrengths™ can contact Noreen at or go to (scroll to the bottom of the page) to find a directory of certified strengths coaches.