The family of the late Donald O. Clifton ’48, ’49, ’59 and ’90 had long been connected to Nebraska. For two decades, he worked at Nebraska as a popular instructor and researcher, and it was at Nebraska where he first began his experimentation with strengths. “My dad was born on a humble sheep farm in Butte, Nebraska. A regent scholar born with a little higher IQ than everyone else, he was a master teacher. He loved teaching kids. What he noticed was weaknesses don’t turn into strengths. For 40 years, nobody listened to him, but he never gave up,” shared Don’s son, Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup.
Don served as chair of Selection Research Inc. and then chair of Gallup. His research led to the CliftonStrengths assessment (formerly known as Clifton StrengthsFinder), released online in 1999 which helps people discover, understand and maximize their innate talents. Used by most Fortune 500 companies, the CliftonStrengths assessment also can be found in hundreds of schools and universities throughout the world.
In 2002, he was recognized with a Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association as the Father of Strengths-based Psychology.
Jim said, “CliftonStrengths is everywhere. When we travel, we meet people who tell us their top five strengths. Then they ask where it started. The answer is with Don Clifton at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, by a Nebraskan. Kids in classes can do exactly the same thing, because it is a perfect model for how a Nebraskan built something that changes the world.”
In June 2015, the Clifton Foundation and Gallup announced a $30 million gift to establish the Clifton Strengths Institute to further his mission through a partnership with the College of Business. The institute provides enhanced training and coaching on strengths-based leadership, early identification of high-achieving students with leadership and entrepreneurial abilities in the Clifton Builders program, and research support for faculty and students.
“The hardest job was teaching the strengths classes. Maybe the bigger gift was Mark Pogue (executive director of the institute). He had to bring his magic and he did. If we could have asked Dad right before he died if he had a wish, I think he would have said he wished the experiment on campus could continue on. That’s what the institute is at Nebraska,” he said.