Lead Through Strengths

050: What do StrengthsFinder Colors Mean?

In this episode, Lisa answers the question: What do the StrengthsFinder colors mean? She describes the three things you need to consider when looking at your colors: your thoughts, your demands, and your filters.

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One of the best ways leaders can build a strengths-based culture is to offer appreciation of strengths in action. If you'll notice what works, you'll get more of what works because people can replicate what they've already done well. On our home page, you can download this awesome tool that offers you 127 easy ideas for recognizing your team. Scroll down and look for the box that says "Great Managers Notice What Works".

What do StrengthsFinder Colors Mean?

Today’s question is: What do the StrengthsFinder colors mean? This question comes up straight away because smart people see the DNA icons on the Gallup Strength Center dashboard, or they notice there are some colors on their Signature Theme Reports or their Insight Report.


There are four of these potential categories, which Gallup calls Leadership Domains. The blue ones are Relationship talent themes, yellow are Influencing talent themes, red are Strategic Thinking themes, and purple are are Executing themes. Those words make the acronym RISE, so it makes it easier to remember: R-I-S-E for relationship, influence, strategic thinking, and executing.


Once you have that information, then what? I’ll give you 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:

  1. Your thoughts
  2. Your demands
  3. Your filters

Your Thoughts

Number one: your thoughts. These are your thoughts and reactions to actually seeing these colors. And the major point here is don’t panic if you’re looking at your own, and don’t stereotype if you’re looking at someone else’s.


So, for example, you have no red in your lineup? No worries. Everybody still 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. And 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.

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, but 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?”

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 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’s like an Execution motivator. You might not have a given color that represents that domain or that demand, but you can certainly apply it in that way.

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 elements of 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 color?


You can see how all four of those filters are really important for people to have in an organization., and 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 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 Strengths-based development 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 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 likeable 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.




So that’s it. If you just took the StrengthsFinder 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:

  1. Your thoughts: Manage your thoughts and your reactions to seeing the colors. Don’t panic, don’t stereotype.
  2. 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.
  3. Your filters: Think of your Talent Themes and see if they offer you a first filter when major things happen to you.

If you want some other Strengths-focused tools to use with your team at work, check out LeadThroughStrengths.com/resources. There you’ll find at least one handout that references these four demands, plus a lot of other tools related to StrengthsFinder and Strengths-focused leadership.


I look forward to hearing how you and your team members will claim your talents and share them with the world!

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Direct download: lts-050.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT


In this episode, Lisa tackles the topic of managing employee burnout. She uses the example of an overwatered plant: if you see the leaves turning yellow, your first thought is to add more water. But sometimes yellow leaves are a sign that the plant is overwatered—by adding more, you’re just drowning it. In the same way, many actions managers take to help their employees actually make things worse. In this episode, Lisa shows you how to discern the true causes of burnout and teaches you how to help in the right ways.

Strengths Tools

One of the best ways leaders can build a strengths-based culture is to offer an appreciation of strengths in action. If you'll notice what works, you'll get more of what works because people can replicate what they've already done well. On our homepage, you can download this awesome tool that offers you 127 easy ideas for recognizing your team. Scroll down and look for the box that says "Great Managers Notice What Works".

Can Working In Your Weakness Zone Lead To Burnout?

I made a comment in a team StrengthsFinder session the other day. It was that when you find yourself procrastinating on the same task over and over again, it might be a sign that it’s in your weakness zone.

A few faces in the crowd made the lightbulb look. A few had this look of, “Whoa, I never even considered that.” Pretty quickly, they started asking about what signs and symptoms to look out for.

There are three important symptoms that are clues you’re frequently working in your weakness zone:

  1. You’re frustrated.
  2. You feel soul-sucked.
  3. You’re burned out.

As a regular listener, you hear me say all the time that using your strengths at work will strengthen your performance. So wouldn’t it also hold true that using your weaknesses at work would weaken your performance?

When you think about yourself, it’s easy to notice these symptoms: You know when you’re personally in a state of burnout or frustration. You know when work is feeling like soul-sucking drudgery, even if you’re trying to not show it on the outside. Sometimes these symptoms can sneak up on you over time, yet once they hit you hard, you know they’re there. Now you simply have to figure out what’s causing it and do something about it.

If you’re a people manager or a talent management professional, this gets tougher. That’s because often the same symptoms show up in people who are disengaged out of boredom or lack of care are the symptoms that show up when someone is giving every ounce of energy to the job … only it’s in a weak area, so it sucks the life out of them.

People are kind of like plants in this way. You know how the leaves turn yellow if your plant needs water and is unhealthy? They show the same symptom when they’re overwatered. So you might have a plant that is drowning and you think, “This plant is yellow. It must need water.” So you water it. And it drowns more. It gets worse.

People are the same. They might be soul-sucked from working in their weakness zone. Rather than turning yellow, they turn disengaged. They appear bored or detached. They have less fire and zeal in their attitude. So you try to find them more work to offer them a challenge. And oops … you were over-watering their weakness zone already. Things only get worse.

My mother in law helped me fix this with my plants — she gave me a moisture meter. If a leaf is yellow, I can stick a probe in the ground and see if it’s too wet or too dry. Yessss! I stopped killing plants. An easy fix. But what about humans? They’re not that easy. There’s no strengths-zone probe. You have to have conversations to dig deeper.

Let’s look at an example for each of the three symptoms so you can explore the kind of conversations you might have as a team to uncover these draining weakness-zone responsibilities.

1. Frustration

What to do about it: If you have a team member who is mature and highly accountable, they’re not going to complain and kvetch. So be on the lookout for the tiniest comments about a project that’s eating them up. For example, they may make light of banging their head against the wall.

Even if you can’t assign them fast-moving projects without red tape because you’re in a culture with a lot of bureaucracy, think about things like assigning them to the front end of a project and then handing it off to a partner who thinks it’s fun to get to the finish line and use persistence to solve problems. Or, you can keep an eye out for projects that create something new versus maintaining or changing long-standing traditions.

2. Feeling soul-sucked

What to do about it: If you have someone calling on talents that run counter to their values, it is going to suck their soul. You can often see this one on people’s faces. When people are performing regular job duties that insult their personal values, they will procrastinate. They will resist. They will roll their eyes. Even if they’re mature and they wouldn’t literally roll their eyes, you can usually see subtle signs show up in offhand comments or in how they act.

Be on watch so you can open up a conversation that helps them reframe it by approaching the situation through another talent. Or, help them address the conflict constructively so that they can have a productive conversation with the person or team who hold the conflicting value.

3. Burnout

What to do about it: This one is easy to spot in yourself, yet tougher to spot in high performers. When top performers are burned out, they try to keep going. They often use brute force to keep performing. They’ll stay up later. They’ll skip workouts. They’ll push through. There will often be few signs of trouble, at least for a while. For other employees, burnout is easier to spot because they appear and act disengaged. That’s easy to see and address — it’s your top performers that you need to check in with more deliberately because they often won’t say anything for months.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard way too many stories where burnout led top performers to start a job search in the background because they don’t want to ask for help or appear like a weak performer by bringing up their burnout.

Now you have three symptoms to look for in yourself or on your team, four if you count procrastination as a bonus symptom. Of course, there are many actions you can take to get out of your weakness zone.

Action steps to take after you see symptoms

  • Swap tasks around on the team.
  • Partner up with someone who loves doing that thing you loathe.
  • Use one of your Top 5 StrengthsFinder talent themes to get the same outcome in a new way.
  • Name the situation, because simply knowing that it’s driving you crazy will often diffuse a lot of the stress from it.
  • Make a Stop Doing list — ask stakeholders, managers, peers, and customers more questions about how they use the results of the work that you’re doing (the work that’s sucking the life out of you). Often, participants from my training events tell me that the task isn’t even required any longer.
  • Reframe the situation. For example, a recent virtual training attendee told me that he was late on his expense reports 100% of the time. He got scolded for it every month and didn’t care. That is, until his colleague in the accounting department told him that he was killing her — she was staying late and missing her deadlines for closing out the books every month. He quickly mended his ways by tapping into his Relator talent, which made him care about the outcome because he cared about her.

Questions To Ponder

What’s going on with you at work? What makes you feel frustrated regularly? What happens in the weeks and months when you feel burned out? What responsibilities feel soul-sucking?

Then apply this to people around you. If you supervise people, this is important to watch for. Open up the conversation. Talk to your direct reports in one-on-ones about what responsibilities and projects make them feel alive and excited and which ones make them feel consistent dread and stress?

Since your team members will have stronger performance by working in their strengths, what can you do to align their work and their thinking with their natural talents?

Subscribe To The Lead Through Strengths Podcast

To subscribe and review, here are the links to iTunes and Stitcher . You can also stream any episode right from this website. Subscribing is a great way to never miss an episode — just let the app notify you each week when the latest episode gets published.


Direct download: weakness-zone-burnout.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT