Theme vs. Strength

strengthsfinder Jul 24, 2018

I walked around for two years thinking that my top five themes were my strengths, and then upon re-reading a section in Donald Clifton and Marcus Buckingham’s book, Now Discover Your Strengths, I realized, no: themes don’t provide a name for strengths, themes provide a name for talents. This point is vitally important for our positive growth.

What is the difference between a theme of talent, a strength, and what’s the relationship between the two? Many people often interchangeably use the term strength/themes/talents. This gets confusing for people. They often think my adherence to this point is “word policing” but there is a powerful reason we need to be clear on the difference.

Here is Donald Clifton’s passage from Now, Discover Your Strengths (p. 29) defining the difference between a theme/talent/strength:

“We introduce you to three carefully defined terms:

  • Talents are your naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior. Your various themes of talent are what the the CliftonStrengths© actually measures. [Notice, he does not say the CliftonStrengths© measures strengths but “themes of talent.”]
  • Knowledge consists of the facts and lessons learned.
  • Skills are the steps of an activity

These three—talents, knowledge, and skills—combine to create your strengths.

For example, to be drawn toward strangers and to enjoy the challenge of making connections with them is a talent (defined later in the book as the them “Woo”), whereas the ability to build a network of supporters who know you and are prepared to help you is a strength. To build this strength you have perfected your innate talent with skills and knowledge. Likewise, to be able to confront others is a talent (defined later as the theme Command), whereas the ability to sell successfully is a strength. To persuade others to buy your product you must have combined your talent with product knowledge and certain selling skills.

Although all are important to strength building, of these three raw materials the most important are talents.”

“It is never possible to possess a strength without the requisite talent.” (p. 30)

“We suggest you take a close look at knowledge, skills, and talents. Learn to distinguish each one from the others. Identify your dominant talents and then in a focused way acquire the knowledge and skills to turn them into real strengths.” (p. 31)

I have a friend who is a very well-respected the CliftonStrengths© coach and he once said, “Adam I’m just afraid that you’re just standing against the tide on this. You know if people want to call the theme ‘strengths’ then you’re not going to stop that.” And he’s right, but instead of contributing to the confusion, I’m going to strive for creating clarity. Talent2Strength is going to be part of that solution and that’s what I’m passionate about. I think that if there’s going to be a lot of market confusion around the CliftonStrengths©, then to clear up that confusion will only further highlight the value people can gain from applying the assessment results to their lives.

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