The Difference Between a Talent and a Strength

One of the things that confused me the most when I first discovered my passion for StrengthsFinder was the distinction between a Talent and a Strength. Actually, like most people, I didn’t even know that there was a difference; I thought the terms were interchangeable. When I got my StrengthsFinder report, I read it over and though, “These are my Top 5 strengths.”


However, as I continued researching StrengthsFinder and Gallup, the organization that facilitates the assessment, I realized that the terms Talent and Strength actually referred to two separate and distinct ideas. My exploration of that distinction opened up a new understanding into the power of StrengthsFinder.


To spare you the effort that I had to invest to come to this understanding, let me be clear: Your Top 5 are not your strengths. They are actually your talents (or more specifically, they are your Top 5 themes of talent). You may be wondering, “Why is the assessment called the StrengthsFinder if it really helps me find my talents?” Well, in order to find your strengths, you first need to discover your talents. Right away, this reveals something very important: by knowing our talents, we have the potential to hone them into strengths.


Does this mean that talents are not as good as strengths? Well, to be honest, yes. Talents, as defined by Gallup, are “patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can be productively applied.” This implies that talents can also be counter-productively applied, leading us to a key difference between a talent and a strength.


Your talents come easily to you. They require little energy. You may not even realize when your talents are at work, as they are an automatic part of how you operate and navigate through life. As an illustration, compare this idea to driving. If you have been driving a car for a number of years, you may find that you often arrive at a destination with very little effort. Instead of having to consciously think about keeping your hands in the 10 and 2 position, stopping at lights, or changing lanes, you are able to perform these tasks automatically. We can even listen to music or a podcast, carry on a conversation, or channel our mental energy to focus on a task completely unrelated to driving. After years of performing the same patterns and moves, driving becomes almost mechanical and instinctive. This is how talent works.


Talents are not yet strengths because of this mindless quality with which we can perform them. This reveals the potential downside to talents. Left unchecked, we will fall into the same pattern of behavior as directed by our talents, regardless of whether that behavior is appropriate to the situation. For example, a person with the Achiever talent may become so focused on completing tasks that he may neglect important relationships or be impatient during meetings. Someone with the Futuristic talent may be so absorbed in her vision for what is possible in the future that present-day tasks are overlooked. By taking the time to hone a talent into a strength, you will be able to avoid these potential ruts and maximize your natural abilities.


Strengths possess all the great benefits of talents and have the added advantage of being mindfully deployed. When you evolve a talent into a strength, it allows you to tap into just the right amount of a talent so you can most effectively meet the demands of a specific situation. While talents are patterns that fire automatically, regardless of whether they are advantageous at the time, strengths involve making sure that those patterns are the right fit for the situation at hand.


The process of understanding your talents and turning them into strengths is what Talent2Strengths is all about. Taking the StrengthsFinder is the beginning of a wonderful journey, not the conclusion. Converting talents into strengths does require time and effort, but it can be done!


One way to make the journey more efficient is by making use of the T2S COIN model. COIN stands for: Connect, Observe, Interrupt, and Nuance. Learn more about it here.