Sunday, September 12th, 2021...6:54 pm

Reflections On My Strengthsfinder Top Themes

Jump to Comments

Back in 2014, my team at work took the Clifton Strengthsfinder 2.0 test published by Gallup. I had been meaning to write about the results since then, but never quite got around to it. (You’ll notice that Activator is not in the top 5).

My Top 5 Strengths

Back when I initially took the test, Gallup only provided you with the top five strengths. I think they did have the upsell option for all 34, but it was far more expensive then than it is today.


Ideation came back as my overall top strength from the test. Innovation is my passion, so this doesn’t surprise me. Back when I took the test, I was constantly creating “inators” at work with Microsoft Access and Excel to automate all sorts of business and reporting processes. I was the chair of our organization’s innovation committee and helped us get 50 ideas implemented in the space of two years. I love the process of brainstorming or getting a bunch of people in a room for a design session to try and come up with a solution to a problem. The personalized section of my strengths profile said that I spontaneously reduce complex ideas, processes, and mechanisms into their component parts and figure out how those pieces interrelate. I’m fascinated by all kinds of ideas and enjoy making connections between them or combining existing ideas in a new way.


Achiever is a strength where I see aspects of it in myself very strongly but other descriptions in the book or the site of people who have achiever don’t really fit me. The examples speak of making to-do lists (and doing so in an almost neurotic way), and that really doesn’t suit me. I imagine that most achievers have a judging personality on the Myers-Briggs and I have a perceiving personality. Nonetheless, Gallup ranked this as my #2 strength.

The personalized insights note that I have a great deal of stamina and can mentally zero in on tasks for hours at a time, and that I can outmaneuver and outthink other individuals because of my persistence and energy. One of the interesting things the personalized report noted is that my slow reading and high comprehension are a manifestation of this talent theme.


I have always loved learning. I was a good student at school, but my love and passion for learning really ignited once I completed my formal education and I had the freedom to study what I wanted. I am an autodidact, and a very motivated one. I don’t feel like myself if I’m not learning something new. Thankfully, being a technologist vocationally provides a seemingly infinite supply of learning opportunities. In almost all cases for the last five years I have either been learning new technology frameworks (Ruby on Rails, Salesforce) or new areas of the business to apply those technologies. I enjoy “drinking from the firehose” when it comes to learning, and thankfully am able to contribute and execute at a satisfactory level even while fairly early in my learning journey (see Achiever above).

One of the exercises that our team did when we took the Strengthsfinder was to try and predict what the strengths were of the other members of the team. I was the outlier in terms of being able to guess right, and I think it’s mostly attributable to my Learner talent theme. Even when I’m not consciously learning in the traditional sense, it is probably still happening as a subconscious “background process” of sorts. My personalized strength insights noted that I may instinctively identify the traits that distinguish one person from the next.


My input strength is closely tied to my curiosity. My Strengthsfinder personalized insights indicate that this strength relates to both the quantity and quality of information I take in. Abilities to find nuance in data and reduce large, complicated systems into their component parts or steps (seeing a pattern yet) is also associated with Input. This is also a generational strength. I’m fairly confident that if my dad took this assessment that Input would be top three. I can also see this strength prominently in all three of my kids.

The themes of language and slow reading re-emerge in my personalized insights. For better or worse, I have trouble skimming or glossing something over. I delve deeply into intriguing subjects, rarely satisfied with having a superficial knowledge of a topic. This can cause problems because I’m a finite mortal being. Delving deeply into one area necessarily precludes deep knowledge in another area. As I have gotten older, I have gotten a little bit better at cutting my losses and re-prioritizing my acquisition of knowledge in an adaptive way. My other top strengths also allow me to make connections; so even if I have allocated my time and energy deep-learning about the “wrong” topic, I am able to make connections, draw insights, and apply my learning from one area laterally to inform my ideas about another area.


My Strategic strength is all about alternatives, patterns, and solutions. I think my manifestation of this strength is more intuitive and right-brained than logical and left-brained, and I can’t always slow down and explain it to others. The personalized insights note that I often see solutions before other people know there is a problem. I know from experience that this happens, even though it’s still a bit of a mystery to me. Perhaps my mind is constantly doing some sort of background processing like Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity War where alternative scenarios are being played out and evaluated. Thankfully over the years, I have had interactions with people who are able to slow me down and get me to backtrack and explain the connections and evaluations I’m making intuitively. My Input strength allows me to break down an idea generated by my Ideation and Strategic strengths into its component parts and explain it to others. I don’t usually recognize that I need to do this unless prompted by another person who is struggling trying to translate “Mike” into a more accessible format.

As I have matured, I have also grown to greatly appreciate an agile and iterative approach to problem solving as a strategically superior methodology. Nearly all of my top strengths are strategic in nature, and I am probably an outlier at being able to come up with an end-to-end Grand Unified Theory type of solution to a problem. What I have needed to retrain myself as I have learned about agile is that my ability to think systematically and come up with solutions is only a path not the path. Constantly adapting, iterating, and gaining feedback from your stakeholders produces better results than the top-down Grand Architect approach. The most important challenge of the 21st century is adaptability in an age of disruptive change and innovation. That doesn’t mean that a strength profile like mine will become obsolete, but it does mean that in order for me to maximize success, I need to apply my strengths in a way that designs solutions that are iterative, adaptable, and responsive to change. Knowing the value of a tactical approach and letting it play out iteration after iteration is key to strategic success in this environment.

Like a Lung: How My Strengths Work Together

If I’m in my “sweet spot”, I’m blessed to have a set of top strengths that really work well together. The whole is greater than the some of its parts. I like the analogy of a lung for how my strengths work together. My Learner and Input strengths serve as the “inhale” phase of breathing. I take in information; I learn new skills; I make mistakes and learn from them; I fit the new information in with my existing knowledge and make connections. My Input and Strategic strengths really work well together as I try to make sense of what I’m learning. I’m never learning in isolation. Something I learn about Dungeons & Dragons can be applied to how I solve a business problem. Something I learn from reading a personality book can grant me a new insight the next time I read the Bible. I think I can thank my musical training from my youth for allowing these strengths to be able to communicate and interact with each other.

As I am learning something, it is not enough to file it away as useful information. I learn the best when I innovate and play with the new concepts. I innovate the best when I am learning something. To come back to the analogy of breathing, if you don’t inhale, you will starve your body of oxygen and it will die; and you can only hold your breath for so long before you exhale. The Achiever theme facilitates and keeps these other strengths on track working together.

Interaction with Others and Their Strengths

My unique set of strengths have an interesting and complementary “internal” interactions, but when you start collaborating with others who have different sets of strengths the possibilities are endless. As I noted above, Activator isn’t in my list of top strengths. But what happens when you team me up with an Activator? While I might be prone to delve too deeply into the rabbit hole of learning about a topic, the Activator challenges me to get out there and produce something with what I’m learning and do it now. It requires give-and-take on both of our parts, but you end up with something sooner than you would otherwise. This gives you the ability to learn from the concrete example and begin another iteration of learning and incremental improvement. Get that prototype into production so we can learn from it. Work twice as fast and half as well. I can contribute back: Okay, I’m good with moving forward, but these are the complexities and pitfalls that I anticipate. Are you okay with these risks? Sometimes that interaction causes the Activator to step back and reconsider things, most of the time the interaction causes me to take action a little earlier than I would be comfortable with. We both grow. I learn how to empathize with and work with Activators better.

This is just one example of how this might play out. There are billions of people in this world, each of them with their own unique configuration of strength themes and personalities. Our differences and individuality allow for division of labor and, more importantly, the interaction with perspectives that you could never think of on your own.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.