"Oh, so what we need is someone with Activator!"
A manager conferred with me about a perceived "hole" on his team, an element that was seemingly missing; something he was hoping to correct this with their next hire.
I responded, "Well, yes and no."
Some version of this chicken/egg conversation happens often around the topic of strengths: Do certain jobs necessitate particular strengths? Or, should we mold people's jobs around their strengths?
Well, yes and no.
Remember, themes are neutral; there is no "dream sequence" of themes that leads to success in any given role. Our CliftonStrengths themes do not qualify or disqualify us from certain activities, they are how we should approach any activity. The Strengths-Based approach challenges conventional wisdom that all successful people do the same thing in order to produce the same success. Instead, we embrace the truth that individuals arrive at the same outcome through different behaviors.
In 1953, Augustus Busch bought the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time, they played in Sportsman's Park. The new Cardinal's owner, also of Anheuser-Busch Breweries, wanted to change the name of the Cardinal's home field to "Budweiser Stadium" after their signature beverage. Major League Baseball balked at this, they didn't think it'd be a good look for one of their parks to be named after a beer. This was barely a generation removed from prohibition, after all.
Augustus Busch settled on naming the stadium "Busch Stadium." Hard to tell an owner of a team he can't name the stadium after himself, right? A year later, in 1955, AB Breweries debuted a new beer: Busch. Augustus Busch knew there was more than one way to achieve his goal: if baseball wouldn't let him name the stadium after a beer, he'd change the name of the stadium and then brand a new beer. Rather than hiring for a specific CliftonStrengths talent theme, let's hire the very best person for the role and help that person perform with excellence by developing their strengths.
As leaders we have to fight the temptation to treat strengths as labels. If a teacher doesn't have Developer or a pastor doesn't have Belief in their signature themes, that doesn't mean they don't love seeing students making progress or have any core convictions. The best teachers, pastors, or anything else you could name may share some instinctual behaviors, but there is not a specific recipe for success that can be molded out of CliftonStrengths themes.
What the best do tend to have in common -- that CliftonStrengths coaches can accelerate -- is an understanding of self, and appreciation of how their talent themes best show up in the world. Long after we've named our Top 5 (or even can recite our entire theme sequence), what we'll spend the rest of our lives working to meet the required aspects of our jobs through our strengths and appreciating how the strengths of others can be harnessed to attack an obstacle in ways we never would have guessed.
As a manager, if you're sensing you need a certain CliftonStrengths theme for success in role, you may either be overemphasizing the importance of a single talent theme or underappreciating the potential that lives within your people.
To be clear, CliftonStrengths is a powerful tool for development within a role once a hire is made, not a predictive process for hiring. It answers the question "how will you get things done?" but not, "should you be hired for this job?" Even though CliftonStrengths is not intended to be used as a hiring assessment, this should not deter you from hiring for talent.
Using CliftonStrengths opens up the conversation for how we can be excellent, not what we can or cannot offer. Augustus Busch knew that there were multiple ways to achieve his branding goals, and every strengths advocate should know that their strengths are not limitations, they free us to deliver outcomes in ways that make us feel strong.
Editor's note: The research that makes CliftonStrengths such a rich tool to describe talent is born of decades of understanding specific talents for specific roles, talents beyond what are identified in the 34 CliftonStrengths Themes. Learn more about the best tools to predict success in given roles by visiting Gallup's analytics-based hiring practice.
Adam Mustoe's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Strategic, Positivity, Activator, Communication and Woo.