This article was inspired by a question from a podcast listener. The question was: "What do the StrengthsFinder colors mean?" If you stream the audio, you'll hear Lisa offer the three things you need to consider when looking at your colors: your thoughts, your demands, and your filters. These are described in detail at the bottom of this article.
What Do The StrengthsFinder Colors Mean?
This question comes up straight away when people finish the StrengthsFinder assessment because smart people see the DNA icons on the Gallup Access dashboard. Or you may have noticed that there are some colors on your Signature Theme Reports or the Insight Report.
There are four categories, which Gallup calls Leadership Domains.
Note: in August 2020, the color of the Thinking (AKA Strategic Thinking) domain changed from red to green to be more discernible to those who are color blind.
Green (formerly red): Thinking talent themes - the cerebral crew, in a variety of ways: critical thinking, decision-making, and creativity.
Orange-Yellow: Influencing talent themes - the creators of momentum, and the natural ability to spark change.
Blue: Relationship talent themes - the builders of relationships, and those who use human connection to get things done.
Purple: Executing talent themes - the "get it done" drive, and the powerful motivation from practical actions.
The words can make the acronym RISE if you use "Strategic Thinking" rather than "Thinking" as the label. This might make it easier for you to remember them. R-I-S-E would stand for Relationship, Influence, Strategic thinking, and Executing.
StrengthsFinder Colors - What's Dominant For You?
Gallup first created these "domains" based on a big research study. This study looked at the demands we all have on our personal leadership. In fact, we prefer to call them "the 4 demands" because we all have all of these demands on us at work.
If you want to read a full book based on this research, check out Strengths Based Leadership. It's also a great read for people managers, as it gives you insights into critical "follower needs" of hope, compassion, stability, and trust.
It's interesting to look at these categories of hope, compassion, stability, and trust against your Top 5 talent themes. Ask a few questions:
"Which of my talents naturally find or create hope?"
"Which of my talent themes help me be compassionate toward team members?"
"Which of my Top 5 help (or hinder) a sense of stability on the team?"
"Which of my talent themes help me build trust?"
Back to your dominant domain.
Nonetheless, you have a dominant area or two, which is probably your first filter as you work through a new problem or goal at work.
Here are the four demands in more detail. Look at your dominant area (or two). They'll help you spot your potential areas of superpowers when you're approaching a situation at work.
If you're dominant here, you're likely great at decision making. This domain is all about critical thinking. On the job, you can absorb and analyze information well. You probably enjoy "nerding out" on chosen topics. You might like researching, predicting, or processing information in ways your teammates don't.
If you're dominant here, you're probably oustanding at getting momentum. This domain is all about bringing attention to change. In a work setting, you're likely comfortable with taking charge. You might speak up or give others a voice (or give a project a voice) when it would otherwise be ignored.
If you're dominant here, you're likely awesome in the emotional intelligence department. This domain is all about people skills. On the job, you probably build rapport easily. You help others feel seen, heard, and appreciated. You catch nuances that hold a team together and create a culture of high performance.
If you're dominant here, you're probably oustanding at getting things done. This domain is all about making action happen. In a work setting, you're likely excellent at turning a vision into tangible, practical steps. You can take a 30,000 foot idea and get the "street level" resources needed to pull it off.
Is One StrengthsFinder Color More Prevalent?
In the image, you can see the percentages. This shows the frequency of a given domain being in someone's Top 5 talent themes in their CliftonStrengths report.
As you can see, the Relationship domain is the most prevalent of the four (as far as how often it's in someone's Top 5). However, you can also see that it's at 31% whereas the thinking domain gets 26% of the showings in a Top 5. And the Executing domain is right there at 28%. These three are pretty evenly spread.
The outlier is the Influencing domain. It's less commonly seen at 15%. This is an interesting insight because we see many teams that come in at 5% or 8% Influencing. Their first thought is "oh no!"...but actually it's pretty average for our corporate groups. The surprise is a good one because their first thought is that they should start hiring people who are loaded up on Influencing themes to even things out. As you can imagine, that's not what we'd recommend.
If you think of them as your easy buttons to high performance, then it doesn't really matter what the percentages are. Use the tool in your toolbag that gets the job done for you personally. Use your differences as your differentiators.
How Can You Take Action On Your StrengthsFinder Colors?
Once you have that information, then what? Well, here are three ways to think about your color lineups or the StrengthsFinder colors you see for the people on your team.
One thing that’s important to mention is that getting into the real detailed nitty-gritty of how to use these domains, or as I call them demands, is a more useful exercise once you have explored a lot of other elements related to StrengthsFinder. But, the question often comes up right away, so I’ll give you three quick things to think about:
- Your thoughts
- Your demands
- Your filters
1: Your Thoughts
Number one: your thoughts. These are your thoughts and reactions to actually seeing these colors. The two most important things: 1) don’t panic, and 2) don’t stereotype.
So, for example, you have no red in your lineup? No worries. Don't panic. Everybody thinks, even if they don’t have Strategic Thinking talents in their top five. Have no blue? You might say, “Oh, no, I can’t even build a relationship? I’m a people manager. That sounds terrible.” Well, everyone has relationships, unless you’re a hermit living in the woods.
There’s a concept that came up from a senior practice consultant at Gallup, I think it might’ve been Jacque Merritt. The idea is that there’s not a brick wall that separates these four categories, it’s more like a chain link fence.
You might have one category that is highly present in your top five that makes you think, “Oh look, I’m missing one.” So, for example, I personally have no Executing talents on my top five, but I don’t say, “Oh no, I’m doomed. I don’t get anything done.” My company would go out of business if that was the case, so we know that’s not true. With this idea of it being more like a chain link fence, you can see how the concepts can flow into each other and you can make one color act like the other. So that’s the first one. Don’t panic. Your strengths look the way they look and they are perfect for you.
The other big idea is to not stereotype someone based on these colors. If you see something on a teammate, don’t stereotype them and assume they’re going to be a certain way, because they are going to combine their whole 34-strength lineup to create who they are. Don’t oversimplify things.
2: Your Demands
Number two: your demands. Gallup calls these colors the Four Domains of Leadership because they originated from Gallup’s study of team leadership. Their research found that the most cohesive and most successful teams had clusters of strengths.
There are 34 potential StrengthsFinder talent themes, and there are specific clusters in four areas. These clusters are useful for thinking about how each person might naturally contribute to a team and how a leader’s personal lineup of talent will impact their leadership approach. Those four domains (and the four colors) are relationship, influencing, strategic thinking, and executing.
I actually call them the four demands, because most performers at work have to do all these things, not just those of you who are people managers. So, rather than limiting them to be leadership domains, I like to call them demands because it includes people in team sessions in a way they can understand. And they can relate to them personally because they, too, have reports that have colors all over them and they also need to make sense of them.
Even when you don’t have a given color in your top five, you likely have that demand on you in your workplace. What you can do with this is ask yourself what talent you have that can act in a way that compensates for the missing color.
I mentioned earlier that I don’t have any Executing talents in my top five, but I definitely do execute. If I ran through my top five, I could think, “Well, how do these help me execute?”
For example, my Strategic Talent helps me sort out options really quickly so I can decide how I’m going to do things and how I’m going to take action. I can do that quickly, rather than getting bogged down in analysis or holding more meetings about meetings. It helps me take fast and decisive action. So, it helps me execute, but it’s actually a Strategic Thinking talent.
Let’s look at some others. I have Positivity, Individualization, and Woo in my top five. Those three really combine as a lineup to make me a person with a lot of relationships in my life, relationships that I’ve nurtured over a long period of time.
So, when something needs to get done, they help me find smart people who can get a given task done better than I can. Or, if I need to call on help from people, I inevitably have someone in my network where I can get a question answered easily. These are based on my Relationship and Influencing talents, but they still are helping me execute.
In the last example, I would use my Maximizer talent. That’s an Influencing talent by category, but it also makes me want things to be better all the time. It creates a strong drive in me to get things done, to realize the latent potential that I see all over the place — the things and people and processes that could be better if we just put a little more execution effort into them.
Even though Maximizer is not an Execution talent, it works like an Execution motivator for me. You might not have a given color that represents that domain or that demand, but you can certainly apply it in that way.
3: Your Filters
Number 3: your filters. These four colors are also like a first filter — they define how you see and approach the world when something happens to you. They are your initial reaction.
Let’s use an example of a big reorganization at a company, and I’ll run through each of the four colors and talk about what it might look like if you were really heavy in that domain.
Relationship talents: Maybe you had a lot of blue Relationship talents, and a big reorganization gets announced. Let’s say you work for a very large Fortune 500 company and you’re going to have a merger or acquisition that will make your company double in size. You’re going to go from huge to gigantic, and you know that’s going to bring a lot of reorganization and questions about what is going to happen to different responsibilities at work, who does what, what teams you’ll be on, or whether you’ll be redundant.
If you get that announcement and you have three or four Relationship talents in your top five, most likely you’re going to be thinking first — your first filter — “Who is this going to affect? How are they going to react to the change?” Especially if you’re a people leader, you’ll be thinking of each person on your team who reports to you and how they’re going to take this news and what they might be thinking about it.
Influencing talents: Let’s take the example of Influencing talents. If you hear about a big reorganization and you’re a people leader, you might be thinking, “Okay, how am I going to communicate this to the team? What is it going to sound like? How can I cast a vision that will make people want to come along? How can I make this exciting? How can I get momentum for the change going?”
Strategic Thinking talents: If you had four or five red Strategic Thinking themes, your first reaction to something like that might be to go do some deep pondering. Or it might be to crunch some numbers and really consider what this is going to do. You might learn all you can, collecting tons of information. It’s a cerebral exercise. When something big happens, you go inside your head.
Executing talents: If you had three or four Executing talents, instead of thinking of this big picture merger, you would likely go straight from that 30,000-foot view of a merger down to the 3-foot view. How is it going to affect the operations? Who is going to do what? What will it look like at a task-level and a man-hours level? How will it affect the operations? What about redundant systems? How are we going to approach this great idea of what these two companies can become? And how do you make it practical and work for the everyday?
What if you’re heavy in one StrengthsFinder color?
You can see how all four of those StrengthsFinder color filters are really important for people to have in an organization. It’s great for all four to be represented on a team. But I also want to make sure that you don’t feel like it’s a bad thing if you are personally heavy in one color. This is a reaction I get often where people think, “Oh my gosh. I’m just a one-dimensional person. I have four or five in one color.”
Remember that the CliftonStrengths assessment is all about what comes naturally to you. Your natural talents are how you think and feel and behave at your natural best. They are your easy buttons for great performance. If you start lamenting what you’re not, you’re doing the opposite of Strengths-based development. You don’t have to covet the people that have the Skittles-mix with all sorts of colors in their top five.
What if you have all the StrengthsFinder colors?
Now, if you do have all four of the colors presented in your top five, you may have a hard time relating to the concept of the first filter — your first filter may not be strong in one of those areas like it would be if you had three, four, or five in one color. If you have the Skittles-mix of colors, I would suggest you just consider which of your top five talents speaks loudest when there’s a big change.
For example, for me, it’s probably Woo because I’m instantly thinking, “How are we going to message this? How can I make this change palatable or likable to people on the team? How can I make this exciting?” I also might be thinking things like, “Who else do I need to meet and learn from to become who I need to become to reach this next goal?” So, I would say that Woo is the loudest and my first filter. You might recognize one talent as the strongest, even if you have a big mix of colors.
Conclusion on the StrengthsFinder Colors
If you just took the CliftonStrengths assessment for the first time and noticed these colors and are wondering what they mean, you’re smart and you picked up on something very nuanced.
Just remember these three ideas:
- Your thoughts: Manage your thoughts and your reactions to seeing the colors. Don’t panic. Don’t stereotype.
- Your demands: You actually have the four demands on your personal leadership, or the four domains if you want to refer to them that way. Those are Relating, Influencing, Strategic Thinking, and Executing at work.
- Your filters: Think of your Talent Themes and see if they offer you a first filter when major things happen to you.
Another Resource on StrengthsFinder Colors To Dig Into
We also recorded an episode called "Is it bad if I only have 2 CliftonStrengths DNA colors?" It totally applies if you only have 1 color, or you have 3 of 4 and you're worried about missing one.
If you want some other Strengths-focused tools to use with your team at work, check out your Resources Page. There you’ll find at least one handout that shows you the talent themes that fall under these four demands/domains, plus a lot of other tools related to StrengthsFinder and Strengths-focused leadership.