Strengths Coaching Blog

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Comparison of CliftonStrengths and MBTI

By Adam Hickman

Coaches face a variety of options when choosing the best development tools to help their clients. In this blog, we will dive into a comparison of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the CliftonStrengths assessment. 

MBTI Theory
MBTI classifications of individuals are based on an adaptation of Carl Jung’s theory of conscious psychological type. MBTI groups individuals into one of 16 personality types by measuring distinct polarities of preference: 

  • Extroversion or Introversion
  • Sensing or Intuition
  • Feeling or Thinking
  • Judging or Perceiving


The middle two categories are considered “psychological functions” — how individuals naturally prefer to take in information (Sensing or Intuition) and the basis on which they evaluate that information (Thinking or Feeling). 

The first and fourth categories are considered “orientations” that determine how the individual exhibits psychological functions. These categories indicate how individuals gain energy and focus attention (Introversion or Extroversion) and how they deal with the outside world (Judging or Perceiving). 

The resulting four-letter personality type represents the individual’s preference of the two opposite poles in each category. 

MBTI Assessment Design
MBTI asks a series of questions. The dynamic interactions between the preferences indicate basic personality types. This information provides insight into how individuals gain energy, process information and act upon their conclusions. For example, an “introverted thinking” type may spend much time internally processing ideas, while an “extroverted thinking” type may also spend much time in the world of ideas but “think out loud” to explore the ideas’ value and meaning. 

Individuals can build skill and competency in the opposite of their type but are most comfortable operating within their preferred orientation. Note that with the limited possibilities of outcomes with MBTI, the generalization of people with the same outcome yields distorted results. Meaning, with a large group, you will likely find individuals with the same results — 16 personality types based on the four pairs of opposing descriptors — with MBTI. 

CliftonStrengths Overview
The CliftonStrengths assessment measures the presence of talent in 34 areas called themes. After an individual responds to 177 sets of paired statements, he or she receives a Signature Themes report, which presents his or her five most dominant talent themes, as indicated by responses to the instrument. One’s Signature Themes are unique to the individual: 278,256 combinations of five themes are possible, and when you consider the order of the five themes, the number jumps to more than 33 million different sets of Signature Themes, meaning the likelihood of you finding someone with the same top five as you is one in 33 million. 

The CliftonStrengths assessment offers an opportunity for talent discovery and a language through which individuals can express their unique talents. The precision afforded by the depth and language of the strengths concept moves beyond that of “people person” descriptors, which offer relatively surface insight. Knowing, for instance, that a person naturally recognizes and cultivates the potential in others and derives satisfaction from watching others grow (Developer) can be a substantial asset when considering how an individual might interact with others. 

Both Assessments Are Accurate; CliftonStrengths Reveals a More Precise Approach to One’s Uniqueness 
Gallup Senior Scientist Phil Stone, a psychology professor at Harvard, examined the relationship between MBTI and the CliftonStrengths assessment. Stone had 206 of his students complete assessments through both instruments. The study showed some expected correlations between the two assessments. For example, if the CliftonStrengths assessment shows that Analytical is one of your top five areas of talent, MBTI is likely to identify you as Thinking. If Empathy is in your top five (CliftonStrengths), you are likely to be Feeling (MBTI). Likewise, if Discipline is in your top five (CliftonStrengths), you’re probably also Judging (MBTI). Stone’s work depicts the accuracy of the two assessments for defining a person’s innate natural thoughts, feelings and behaviors. 

Now let’s take a closer look at the applicability of each. Imagine a house and the rooms within it. MBTI indicates the room in which an individual is most comfortable residing. The CliftonStrengths assessment represents the furnishings, functional pieces, decorations and other details inside that room, helping us understand the individual’s unique innate abilities. Said differently, MBTI is the ZIP code, and CliftonStrengths puts you in front of the door. 

The specific conclusions of the CliftonStrengths assessment help individuals, teams and organizations by identifying talents that an individual routinely demonstrates. This gives organizations the opportunity to develop each individual’s powerful areas of potential to yield the greatest investment value. When the CliftonStrengths depth of discovery is shared within organizations, employees become intelligently and intensely focused on maximizing what they and their teammates naturally do best.

Bottom Line
MBTI provides broad awareness but may lack applicability, hurting its validity, an argument of relevance and value. MBTI does not provide the detailed descriptors that CliftonStrengths does. It brings surface-level results not aimed at any performance development outcomes. At a glance, the results of the MBTI assessment indicate characteristics such as introvert or extrovert, yet how this information leads to improved performance remains missing. The CliftonStrengths assessment not only provides context for performance development, but it also builds a common language within an organization to shed light on the essence of positive psychology — studying what’s right with people. 

Many organizations use both instruments. Even with the applicability of CliftonStrengths, coaching is still a necessary step toward improving performance. What experience do you have to share about these tools? 


Adam Hickman is a Learning Design Consultant at Gallup. He specializes in Leadership Development and Emotional Intelligence. Adam received his B.A. in Communications from Hiram College, M.B.A. in Management from Walden University, and currently is working towards his Ph.D. in Management from Walden University. 

Adam's top 5 strengths are: Ideation | Command | Analytical | Competition | Individualization
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