A good friend recently asked me to share some of the most important things I learned from my late grandfather, Don Clifton, who died in 2003. Trying to distill what I learned from Don was a bit overwhelming, as no one has had more influence on my life both personally and professionally. Even though Don passed away more than a decade ago, his ideas and investment in my development continue to influence what I do every day — from my work to each interaction with my wife, daughter, and son.
First, a little background on Dr. Donald O. Clifton. Don spent more than 40 years showing up at work every morning to study “what’s right with people.” This work started when he was teaching at the University of Nebraska in the 50’s-60’s and continued for three decades as he built a business dedicated to helping individuals and organizations to build on strengths. Over the years Don published several books on this topic including the New York Times bestsellers Now, Discover Your Strengths and How Full Is Your Bucket? (which we co-wrote in his final year of life).
Don also created StrengthsFinder, an assessment and global language of 34 themes that has helped nearly 10,000,000 people to uncover their natural talents. In 2003, Don received a Presidential Commendation from the American Psychological Association citing him as the father of strengths-based psychology and grandfather of positive psychology, in recognition of his decades of work in this field. Along with a team of Gallup scientists, Don also developed the ubiquitous ‘Q12’ questions that have helped ten of millions of workers to be more engaged in what they do each day. He was a researcher, teacher, and leader who had a remarkable influence on those he worked with and taught over the years.
In addition to all that Don did in developing a science around human strengths, he was the ultimate mentor to me personally and professionally. As I stepped back to reflect on his influence over the past few weeks, it is clear that I learned even more from him than I realized — about parenting, teaching, leading, and building organizations, and making a difference in the world.