Using Style Analysis As A Leadership Tool

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In my article, Learn This Skill To Dramatically Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness, I discussed the importance of leaders being able to see the world from the perspective of those you lead and identified some models that can be used to help us understand the different lenses that people see the world through. As promised, in this article I delve more deeply into the model that I most often use and how an understanding of this model can help us become an even more effective leader, sales person, employee, parent, spouse and friend.

I took my first DiSC® profile as a young manager in the late 1980s and it changed the course of my career. It illuminated blind spots and helped me understand that everyone else does not see the world as I do. It showed me that others have different needs, priorities and perceptions and that those filters drive their behaviors, as well as the environment they find most motivating, the style of communication they can most easily hear, and their approach to interacting with others.

If you are not familiar with the DISC Model, it is my intention to motivate you to find out more. If you are familiar with DISC, it is my goal to inspire you to even more fully integrate the model into your leadership approach.

Consider this scenario. You have what you consider to be a dream project that you need to assign to one of your staff. It is high profile and challenging. It offers the opportunity to come up with new ways of doing things. You assign it to one of your best, most loyal, dependable and stable employees. You tell her it’s an opportunity to figure out what needs to be done and do it her way. To your surprise the staff member is not excited but rather she is hesitant to take on the assignment. She seeks guidance as to how to get started. Without clear, detailed instructions she can’t seem to take the first step. You both end up frustrated and you can’t figure out what went wrong.

What you have just experienced is a style mismatch. The assignment was not a style fit for the individual you assigned it to. What you didn’t realize was that your dream assignment was your employee’s nightmare. Style mismatches occur when two people see the world very differently but expect that the other person sees it just like they do. It leads to miscommunication, misunderstandings and failed initiatives.

The DISC model provides us with a way to understand ourselves and others so that we avoid style mismatches. DISC is a simple four-quadrant model that helps us understand the filters we view the world through and how those filters drive our behavior, perceptions and priorities (as well as the behavior, perceptions and priorities of others) including how we lead and how we like to be led. The model provides insights into why we find some people difficult to relate to, communicate with and interact with and why they find us just as frustrating.

DISC is based on the work of William Marston who developed his theory in the 1920s at Columbia University. In the 1950s an assessment was developed based on Marston’s theory and today there are numerous assessments based on the four-quadrant model. The one I use and the one that will be discussed below is Everything DiSC® published by Wiley (formerly Inscape Publishing). Regardless of the assessment that might be used to determine someone’s DISC style, the underlying model is basically the same. The language and model description that I use below is based on Everything DiSC® Workplace™.
The DiSC® model identifies four primary behavior styles based on two intersecting continua:

  • Does an individual tend to be more fast-paced, direct and outspoken or more cautious, methodical and reflective?
  • Does an individual tend to be more questioning and skeptical or more accepting and warm?

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Individuals who tend to be more fast-paced and outspoken and who tend to be more skeptical and questioning fall into the Dominance (D) quadrant.
Individuals who tend to be more fast-paced and outspoken and more accepting and warm fall into the Influence (i) quadrant.
Individuals who tend to be more cautious and reflective and more accepting and warm fall into the Steadiness (S) quadrant.
Individuals who tend to be more cautious and reflective and more skeptical and questioning fall in to the Conscientiousness

(C) quadrant.
(At this point, it should be noted that no one operates or behaves purely as one style. We are all a combination of all styles. However, we do tend to have a default pattern of behavior that generally falls into one or two styles.

In addition, no style is good or bad. Each style has strengths and non-strengths. If our teams and organizations are going to be most effective we need a combination of styles.)

How do you identify someone’s style?
The most accurate way to identify someone’s style (or your own) is through an assessment. However, that is not always feasible. Imagine walking into a prospective customer’s office and asking them to take an assessment so you can sell to them better! You can get an idea of someone’s style though by looking at their behaviors and determining which of the quadrants outlined above their behaviors tend to fall into.

What does all of this mean?
Let’s look at the “dream” assignment scenario above. Had you understood that your primary style was D or Dominance and that your employee’s primary style was S or Steadiness you would have approached the situation differently.

First you would have understood that everyone would not consider this a “dream” assignment. Given the option you would have assigned this project to a staff member with a D or perhaps an I or Influence style for whom it would be a dream assignment.

If that were not possible and you had no choice but to assign the project to your S employee you would have taken the time to help her develop a step by step process for approaching the project and you would have been available to provide her support and guidance as needed. You would have adapted your leadership style to help your employee succeed.
Perhaps there is someone on your team that you just “clash” with. He is always asking questions and looking for why new ideas won’t work. He needs so much information to be comfortable moving forward that it seems like nothing ever moves forward.

You consider him to be a real roadblock. He on the other hand thinks you take so many risks and move forward with such reckless abandon that you are a liability to the company. In this situation, the two of you emphasize different priorities.

You prioritize action, a characteristic often associated with the I or Influence style (as well as the D or Dominance style). Your staff member puts a higher priority on accuracy, a priority often held by the C or Conscientiousness style. An understanding of the DiSC® model and behavioral styles would help you appreciate the strengths that each of you bring to the table and how to leverage those strengths for the good of the team and the organization.
These two examples only scratch the surface but they give you a taste of how powerful knowledge of behavioral styles can be and how you can use this knowledge to become an even more effective leader as well as a more effective sales person, employee, parent, spouse and friend.
The true power in the DiSC® model is not in labeling or even identifying your leadership style or your employees’ behavioral style.

The true power is in giving us the flexibility to see the world from a variety of different perspectives – to truly understand ourselves and others. It gives us the tools to adapt to the situation and to the individual based on what is needed instead of relying on our default.

By doing this we not only become more effective leaders. We create stronger more effective relationships with everyone we work and live with.
Find out more about Everything DiSC® and how it can benefit your organization here.

Want to experience the power of Everything DiSC for yourself? Purchase an Everything DiSC® Workplace profile.

Want more tips and resources to help you dissolve barriers to business success by unlocking the potential of your people and harnessing the power of teamwork? Sign-up to receive our monthly Blog post.

Everything DiSC is a registered trademark and Workplace is a trademark of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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