As I facilitate the Gallup StrengthsFinder Leadership workshops across Singapore and Asia, I often get asked many questions regarding the StrengthsFinder tool (rebranded recently by Gallup as CliftonStrengths). One of the most common questions I'm asked as a Gallup Certified StrengthsFinder Coach has to do with the four domains of Leadership strengths. What do the domains mean and how should individuals interpret their StrengthsFinder results based on the domains?
I am writing this article as a Gallup StrengthsFinder resource with the hope of answering the most common questions asked. It is important to first note that StrengthsFinder is always positioned as a developmental tool and used by managers and coaches in a variety of ways. Similar to each of the StrengthsFinder assessment results, the way to interpret and understand a person's domain is uniquely individualized. I am writing about 8 things that people need to know: these responses are my own learnings as a Singapore StrengthsFinder Gallup Certified Coach as well as my experiences accumulated from the many workshops and coaching sessions I have done in Singapore and Asia. Please feel free to check out some of the workshops I have conducted in this gallery.
1. What are the StrengthsFinder Leadership Domains about?
Each of the 34 StrengthsFinder (CliftonStrengths) Talent Themes are categorized under four different domains, namely Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building and Strategic Thinking. These four domains are categorized by Gallup as a reference and for a different perspective on how the talent themes can be interpreted. The categories work more like a signpost and a guide. The different talent themes are surveyed and categorized in one of the four domains. The type of activities linked to that particular domain will be the type of activities that the talent theme will most likely thrive in.
2. What is one common misconception that people have about the domains?
In my experience as a Singapore StrengthsFinder Gallup Certified Coach, one of the most common misconceptions is that people believe that a particular theme can only excel in the domain it is categorized in. This is definitely untrue. The categorization of the domains in no way suggests that a particular talent theme will not be able to function well in another domain. It is by no means exclusive. For example, the Learner theme, which is categorized under the Strategic Thinking domain, is often used to build relationships. Learners are curious about what makes their friends tick and what makes them upset. Learners are also curious to learn how they can strengthen their relationships with people from different communities.
The categorization of the domains simply highlights the area in which each talent theme can manifest its greatest impact when rightly engaged. When we subscribe to the common misconception, we will often believe a voice crying out: "Oh no, I do not have any strengths (in this domain)!" This deficit mindset causes the knowledge of the domains to be disempowering rather than empowering.
One of the most common thinking traps that Corporate Leaders fall into is this idea that "I need more people with Influencing Strengths"! This is usually the instinctive response when a Team Leader begins to analyze the Team Strengths. Some even go as far as to comment that they need to hire people with specific influencing strengths (which are rare to come across). I usually spend time coaching the team leaders and help them understand how to develop their staff to leverage their non-influencing domain strengths to hit the objectives of influencing others.
3. How are the talent themes categorized and what does each domain mean?
The StrengthsFinder Talent Themes that are categorized in the Executing domain include Achiever, Arranger, Belief, Consistency, Deliberative, Discipline, Focus, Responsibility and Restorative. You can read more specifically about any of the talent themes in the 34 StrengthsFinder theme articles I have written.
When your talent themes are largely Executing in nature, it means you are someone who often intuitively wants to get things done and finish tasks successfully. The structure, system, budget, processes, timeline and rules are usually areas you are concerned about. While you might be often thought of as being task-oriented, people who work with you know that you can be highly depended on to get things done.
The StrengthsFinder Talent Themes that are categorized in the Strategic Thinking domain include Analytical, Context, Futuristic, Ideation, Input, Intellection, Learner and Strategic.
When your talent themes are mostly Strategic Thinking in nature, it means you are someone who loves thinking. Your playground is in your mind. Facts, data, concepts, ideas, strategies, dreams, and having a big picture are often areas that are of concern to you. You need to know the purpose behind a plan. You enjoy opportunities to create new strategies and explore ideas and meaning. You need room to imagine, and you need your mind to be engaged. People who work with you know that you are often a source of wisdom, counsel and ideas because of your agile mind.
The StrengthsFinder Talent Themes that are categorized in the Influencing domain include Activator, Command, Communication, Competition, Maximizer, Significance, Self-Assurance and Woo.
When your talent themes are largely Influencing in nature, it means you are someone who wants to rally people towards a particular direction. People see you as someone with lots of energy. You are more likely to be perceived as an extrovert than introvert. You are concerned with motivating others, persuading others to take action, and pushing others towards breakthrough. The freedom to speak out, freedom to act, and freedom to make changes are often areas you are concerned with. People who work with you know that you are passionate when it comes to inspiring and rallying others for a cause. The Influencing talent themes are rarer (statistically) compared to others. It is extremely rare to find someone with all their 5 top strengths in this domain. I had the privilege of conducting an interview with Singaporean, Joey Ong, who is one of the few rare ones in the world who have such a combination.
You can read more of this StrengthsFinder interview article on Joey Ong.
The StrengthsFinder Talent Themes that are categorized in the Relationship Building domain include Adaptability, Connectedness, Developer, Empathy, Harmony, Includer, Individualization, Relator and Positivity.
When your strengths are largely relationship building in nature, it means you are someone who often wants to show care and concern to others, often through an emotional connection. People see you as someone who cares. You send the message that human relationships triumph over everything. You are concerned with authenticity, encouragement, listening to the unvoiced, and ensuring no one is left out. Hearing the hearts of people, feeling their emotions and connecting to communities are often areas you are concerned with. People who work with you know that you are well aware of the human needs of people and you are highly sensitive to them. I found a unique pair of Singaporean siblings who both had the same five strengths (in different order) and interestingly, all five of their strengths fall in the relationship building domain.
You can read more of this interesting StrengthsFinder interview with the Singaporean siblings.
4. How do the StrengthsFinder Leadership Domains affect people and tasks?
In my personal opinion, we can also divide the four StrengthsFinder Leadership domains into two general categories - task-oriented or people-oriented. Strategic Thinking and Executing strengths are primarily task-oriented. It isn't the case that they do not care about relationships—only that they enjoy finishing the tasks at hand and they leverage the different tasks to build relationships with others. The Influencing and Relationship Building strengths are primarily people-oriented. For these two domains, it's not that the task is unimportant, only that the tasks are completed because they give meaning to the relationships that exist. Simply put, their motivation to complete the tasks comes from the relationships they are building.
5. Why is it important to understand the StrengthsFinder Leadership Domains?
Domains help us to understand strengths from another angle. It is discovered that a well-rounded team with a representation of talent themes in each of these four domains often have valuable contributions that lead to high levels of performance. In the Strengths-Based Leadership philosophy, it is often taught that individuals need not be well-rounded, but teams should be. As individuals, by understanding our dominant domains (the domain that most of our strengths lie in), we can understand the kind of tasks we are likely to excel in. We will also be aware of our biggest contributions to the team we are in. This knowledge also helps us to seek complementary partnerships. We can seek partners to leverage and strengthen the domains we are not so dominant in. Understanding domains also gives us an idea of how we usually impose ourselves on others (often without much awareness) - through the lenses of the domain filters. This understanding allows us to have greater self-awareness and to regulate our behaviours when it comes to working in a team. Understanding domains thus opens up new possibilities for us to grow our talents into strengths. Domains also allow a team to know from another perspective the areas it needs to watch out for in terms of its most competitive edge and its weakest link.
6. What does it mean when a person's strengths are dominant in a particular domain?
It essentially means that the tasks and scope of work in that particular domain will be the individual's greatest value-add to any team or community that they are in. These people will often feel most engaged when they contribute in that particular domain that most of their strengths function in (provided that their contributions are also appreciated by the team). A team leader would do well to take note of such a great value that exists in the team, and intentionally create opportunities that can leverage and maximize this person’s unique contribution. Team Leaders should also note that the reverse is true. When someone whose strengths dominate a particular domain but feel that the tasks and responsibilities given do not give opportunities for the strengths to be sufficiently-engaged, then disengagement of this individual can be highly likely. Team Leaders will do well to intervene and make quick and necessary adjustments.
7. What if an individual's strengths are evenly spread out among all the domains?
There is no cause for alarm. Firstly, that person is one of the unique ones who can give different perspectives (spanning across all domains) without overweighing a particular area. That person's view will tend towards being a more "balanced" one and that is a great value-add to any team. Most people usually overweigh their judgements in a particular domain.
8. What are some things I should watch out for if I am very strong in one particular domain?
In my personal opinion (as a Singapore StrengthsFinder Gallup Certified Coach), there are a few points to be noted:
- The perspectives in that particular domain can be extremely strong. Any job that does not strongly engage the strengths in that domain can easily lead to the person becoming disillusioned. For people who have 4 or 5 of their dominant themes in one particular StrengthsFinder domain, they need to be quite selective in the job they are in. Regular check-ins with your manager is a must to ensure that opportunities are sufficient for these strengths to be engaged. After all, based on Gallup's engagement survey, the key question to discovering whether a person is being strongly engaged is: "@@at work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?@@"
- A person who dominates a particular domain needs to form good partnerships with others who are strong in the other domains. (For example, as someone who dominate the influencing and executing domains, I intentionally surround myself with people high in Empathy, Positivity, Harmony. I do so to grow my relational skills as well as to leverage their unique insights and perspectives to grow my strengths). This person needs to build trust with these partners and be very open to feedback. Strong partnerships can be formed by operating in humility and being very conscious of the need to be interdependent. By being very open to the perspectives of others (especially in the weaker domains), blind spots can be uncovered. This naturally gives the individual a greater chance of success as he or she focuses on strengths and manages weaknesses.
- A person needs to have a deep sense of security about themselves. Unfortunately, what usually becomes the talking point among others are usually the domains that an individual lacks rather than the one that individual is strong in. We live in a world filled with people who look more at the bad rather than the good (I believe this mindset can be changed, but I’m just being a little realistic here.)
- While I believe strongly that #EveryoneNeedsAcoach, I would strongly advise a person with such dominant strengths in one domain to find a personal coach or mentor who understands how to bring out the best in him.
Concluding Thoughts: This topic on the StrengthsFinder Leadership domains remains one of the most important areas to be understood, especially for Managers and Team Leaders. In a very competitive business environment, the leader who can strongly leverage on the unique contributions of each team member is the one who can lead a team to perform at a very high level. Gallup's research has shown that it is the role of the manager to have the wisdom and understanding to create such a culture. I strongly believe this to be true.
Written by Victor Seet
Activator • Communication • Strategic • Self-Assurance • Command