Talent Search: the cliftonstrengths language

Updated: Feb 16

In the world of CliftonStrengths, we talk a lot about talent. The whole tool and coaching process is built on naming, claiming and aiming the 34 universal themes of talent.

If you aren’t familiar with the CliftonStrengths language - and that’s most people here in New Zealand (where the Strengths Revolution is just getting started) some of the words have little meaning attached to them, or a meaning from a different context.

I’d like to demystify some of the language around this tool and hopefully clear things up.

What is a talent?

‘Talent’ is defined by Gallup as ‘naturally occurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied.’

Talents are something we develop naturally, often unknowingly as we grow. We might have a good idea of what we pick up intuitively and enjoy, but we can’t articulate what it is about us that makes us good at that.

Most people think of talent as something specific, like singing or mental calculations, when talent goes further and presents the building blocks that these skills need to occur. Talent forms a strong base to build on with skills and knowledge.

You can either build on what you are naturally good at, or try building on what you aren’t. Guess which will give a stronger foundation.

What are Talent Themes?

Themes are skills or talents that group naturally together. For example, the theme ‘Communication’ encompasses writing, speaking, storytelling and more. The common thread is that all these delight in sharing a message.

Donald Clifton and his team at Gallup studied these groupings and worked out that there are 34 universal themes of talent.The direction a theme will take varies depending on an individuals’ skills, experiences, worldview and other top talent themes.

For example, someone with communication and strategic in their top themes will speak very differently to someone with empathy and communicator.

A strategic communicator might work out the best way to phrase something to make the message as clear and succinct as possible, where an empathetic communicator might find themselves helping others find language and talk about their feelings, or even advocate for them.

What is a Strength?

A strength is based in talents, but taken much further. With intentional investment in skills, knowledge, and character building around the theme, you can solidify a talent theme into the ability to provide near-consistent performance in a certain area or activity.

Creating strength from talent takes time and intent. Just like a person with an aptitude for running doesn’t become a marathon champion overnight, it takes time, training, and consistent effort to become great.

How do we find talent?

Talent is found in what we are drawn to doing, what we love, where we find success and joy.

There are five indicators that a talent is present:


What were you doing when hours passed by without you noticing? Being so lost in what you are doing you forget the world around you is a sign that you might be good at something.


What do you long to do? Donald Clifton (creator of CliftonStrengths) called yearnings ‘the wisdom of the body.’ Is your body telling you to give something a go?

Rapid Learning

Are there any skills or activities that you tend to pick up naturally? What have you excelled at quickly?

Glimpses of excellence

What are you known for doing well? What successes have others seen in you? Was there ever a teacher, coach, parent, supervisor or mentor that saw talent at work in you?


What can’t you wait to do again? What makes you feel successful, fulfilled or generally good about yourself?

These clues can help us to get a better idea of where we should focus, and where the path to strength might be.

We can try and figure this out on our own, however it can be very difficult to articulate our findings to others.

This is a challenge that the developers of CliftonStrengths wanted to solve.

The tool offers a language - a way to talk about strengths that everyone can understand. The 34 themes are universal - they apply everywhere, and it is easy to get a basic understanding of them (though the nuances go much deeper.)

The base assessment (which gives the Top 5 themes) is the place to begin. The top themes are the ones that will be used most consistently, and are often the most obvious.

To truly get a handle on your signature themes, I strongly suggest coaching, whether a one-off session or ongoing.

The coaching process dives deeper into the assessment results, and together we can explore the relationships between your themes, how they are reflected in different areas of your life, and how to begin the process of solidifying them into strengths.

What do we do with it when we’ve pinpointed it?

If your talents are named, the next steps are to claim them and aim them. Not everyone resonates with their top themes straight away. Sometimes the label they have been given put people off, or they use their theme in a different way than usual.

In coaching, we work through why this might be and explore the ways you use this theme - after all you wear the theme, it doesn’t wear you.

Aiming themes is applying theme productively - we might look at breaking down a goal you are thinking of, or how to use your theme in different contexts. There might be a specific challenge in your role, relationships or recreation that you want to tackle. Your themes will give clues as to how best to do this, and what direction the path to success lies.

The journey of talent to strength is a lifelong one, and one where the aim is to do better each day. The awesome thing is, being aware of your talent themes will help you recognize where they are being used, and find places to bring them into play more.

Language is power - it allows us to communicate our ideas, wants and needs clearly to others. When you speak the language, you'll get a whole lot further.

If you want to find out how this language applies to you, get in touch with me today to find out what your signature themes are and how you can use them to go further in your business life and personal life.