History of the Gallup Strengths Model

The Gallup Strengths Model, better known as CliftonStrengths (and formerly as StrengthsFinder), has its roots in a shift towards positive psychology and the goal of understanding what makes people excel. Here’s a brief history of its development.


The Genesis: Donald O. Clifton

Donald O. Clifton, often referred to as the “father of strengths-based psychology,” was a psychologist and educational researcher. In the mid-20th century, while most psychological studies were focused on diagnosing and fixing problems or deficits, Clifton aimed to explore the flip side: What was right with people? What were the strengths and talents that allowed individuals to excel?

The Research

Starting in the 1960s and continuing for several decades, Gallup conducted interviews with millions of individuals, ranging from successful professionals in various fields to students. The goal was to identify the most prevalent human strengths and understand how they correlated with success and excellence.

The essence of this research was to look beyond knowledge and skills, diving into inherent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that could be productively applied – termed as “themes of talent.”

Development of the Instrument

Using the insights gathered from this expansive research, Gallup, under Clifton’s guidance, developed the StrengthsFinder assessment in the late 1990s. The goal was to provide individuals with insights into their core strengths and talents.

“Now, Discover Your Strengths”

In 2001, the model gained significant popularity with the release of the book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. The book not only detailed the philosophy behind the strengths-based approach but also provided an access code for readers to take the StrengthsFinder assessment.

Expansion and Rebranding

The initial StrengthsFinder 1.0 was expanded and refined into StrengthsFinder 2.0, which further enhanced the precision and utility of the assessment. Later, to honor the legacy of its founder, Gallup rebranded StrengthsFinder to “CliftonStrengths.”

Ongoing Evolution

Since its inception, the CliftonStrengths model has continuously evolved, incorporating feedback, additional research, and adapting to contemporary needs. The assessment and its underlying philosophy have been integrated into various fields, from corporate training and team-building exercises to educational curricula.


The history of the Gallup Strengths Model reflects a broader shift in psychological and organizational thinking. By turning the focus from deficits to strengths, from pathology to potential, Donald O. Clifton and Gallup ushered in a new era of personal and professional development. The CliftonStrengths framework serves as a testament to the power of understanding and leveraging what’s inherently right with individuals.