CliftonStrengths at work: the big picture

One of our favourite leadership and team development tools is Gallup’s CliftonStrengths. If you haven’t heard of it, CliftonStrengths is a popular, research-backed psychometric tool designed to measure personal strengths, talents, priorities and thinking styles. We love it because participants find it so accurately identifies their strengths and talents.

The model includes 34 strengths, which have been validated by Gallup’s extensive research programme. You can see the full list of them here. The strengths are divided into four groups: Thinking, Relationship Building, Influencing and Executing.

The results of each CliftonStrengths assessment are presented as a list of strengths, ranked in order of precedence for the person concerned. The top five are especially important, as they show the individual’s dominant strengths – the ones they rely on most and tend to default to under pressure.

Over the last few years we’ve conducted many hundreds of CliftonStrengths assessments with participants on our leadership programmes and team development days, and we thought it might be interesting to look at some overall patterns.

Below is what we’ve found, based on a sample of 500 assessments from from the last few years.

Each bar shows what proportion of all top-5 strengths reported each strength accounts for. The bar colour indicates the group each strength belongs to:

Thinking: green; Relationship Building: blue; Influencing: gold; and Executing: purple.

The most striking thing here is perhaps how much variation there is between the frequencies of the strengths. The Learner strength appears more than ten times as frequently as Command, for instance.

A glance at the chart also suggests something else: that certain theme groups appear much more frequently in people’s top fives than others. The gold Influencing strengths don’t appear even once in the top sixteen most common strengths.

The pie chart below shows the share of top five strengths for each grouping.

If you prefer numbers, these are:

Relationship Building: 31%; Thinking: 29%; Executing: 28%; and Influencing: 12%.

So, what do these distributions tell us from a practical point of view?

When building a team it is generally useful to have a good mix of strengths, with people able to contribute to overall goals in different but complementary ways. Not all strengths will be equally useful in all roles, but most teams work best when they are cognitively diverse.

What this data suggests, is that if we want to build teams with well-rounded skillsets, we may need to pay particular attention to ensuring we bring in members who are strong in less common skills. Influencing skills are in particularly short supply, despite being a vital component in getting many teams to do their best work.

This is particularly relevant given that the sample we have drawn on is predominantly made up of people in or moving into management roles. Influencing is a vital leadership skill, and seemingly a common weak spot in many organisations.

It is important to note, however, that not all strengths are created equal, and their importance is context specific. The most common strength, Learner, could conceivably be useful in almost any job. Whereas the rarest, Command, might only be a valuable quality in certain contexts.

These are just some broad overall findings, but we’ll be digging into the data more next time, when we’ll break the results down to see if there are measurable differences in the strengths profiles of people who work in different kinds of role.

You can find out more about our work with CliftonStrengths here.