How The DISC Assessment Can Help Take-Charge Women Become Great Leaders
When I took the DISC personality assessment, I thought it couldn’t tell me anything about myself that I didn’t already know. I’ve taken lots of personality tests and they’ve all been informative and helpful, but this one… well, it blew me away.
See, I’ve always been a bit of a professional misfit. The DISC told me why. Turns out, I was looking at my strengths as weaknesses.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The DISC assessment isn’t as well-known as other personality tests, so we’d better start with a little 101.
What is the DISC?
The DISC was created in 1928 by a psychologist named William Moulton Marston. He classified people’s personalities into four basic categories: Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance (hence DISC).
In the 90 years since then, the basic tenets of the DISC system have remained pretty much the same, but the terminology has become more modern. Today, the four types can be described as:
Drive: Someone who is happy being in charge, making decisions and directing the progress of a project. These are the “born leaders.”
Influence: Someone who enjoys engaging and inspiring others. The Influencer is social, friendly and persuasive.
Support: The natural caretaker. Supporters are focused on the needs of others and are noticed for their kindness and empathy.
Clarity: Someone who is focused and systematic, thriving in jobs where accuracy matters. They’re highly motivated, but they’re not as interested in motivating others.
Everyone uses all four styles of interaction at least occasionally, but most of us default to one or two styles.
Me? I’m Drive and Clarity, or D/C, big-time. Clarity is my prominent style most of the time, but depending on my mood, Drive can come close. Influence and Support, not so much.
What does a D/C person look like?
When you put Clarity and Drive together, you get an extremely motivated perfectionist. I’ll never win Miss Congeniality, but I get the job done.
As my dominant quality, Clarity gives me a kind of tunnel vision. Whatever I’m working on, I’m really focused on it. I move methodically through the project, getting each part right before I move on to the next. And I produce good work if I do say so myself.
Drive is my secondary style, which is great in a lot of ways. Drive makes a person… well, driven. I want to do well, and I don’t want anything to get in my way. I can push myself pretty hard.
My Drive means that I can push other people pretty hard too. I’m still mostly Clarity, though, so I’d definitely rather be left to push myself.
I’m also a woman and a pretty feminine-looking one. This can be a bit of a liability when I’m in D/C mode.
Woman, DC: Clarity, Drive, and the Expectation of “Nice”
When you think of “feminine” qualities, you’re probably not going to default to exacting precision and high standards. That’s because female-assigned people are raised from a young age to be sweet, accommodating, and gentle – “sugar and spice and everything nice.”
These expectations persist even as we enter the workplace. If women want to be influential professionals, they don’t just have to be good at their jobs – they have to be liked. They have to be kind, helpful and generous.
And men? They just have to be good at what they do. Nice is nice, but it’s not mandatory like it is for women.
That’s a lot of extra work for any woman. Not only do we have to do our jobs; we have to help other people do theirs as well.
This expectation can be particularly tough for us D/C’s. For better or worse, we’re not naturally inclined to drop what we’re doing to get someone else back on track.
That doesn’t mean we’re mean or inconsiderate – but it does mean we’re focused. And when we’re expected to act like Influencers and Supporters, we can seem a little bit rough around the edges.
It’s a challenge, but it can also be a great learning experience. We just have to start, as humans so often do, with self-acceptance.
Hear Me Roar… Gently
Before I took the DISC assessment, I honestly thought that I was some kind of selfish monster, too focused on my success to care about anyone else.
Now I know, I’m no monster. I do care about people. I just focus differently than many other women – I’m task-oriented, and I don’t get distracted by people. Now that I understand that, I can use those strengths more effectively.
Being Yourself, Maintaining Your Relationships: Tips and Tricks for the Female D/C
As much as the D/C likes to have control over things, we can’t change society. But we don’t have to change ourselves, either – we just have to be helpful team members in our own ways.
“I Believe in You”
As D/C’s, we’re good at identifying people’s weaknesses. It’s both an asset and a liability: Our matter-of-fact mindset causes what we say to sometimes come across as harsh.
To succeed in today’s workplace, we have to learn how to give better feedback – but that’s nothing to worry about. We’re D/C’s. If we have a method, we can learn anything.
It’s our superpower.
So now when I give suggestions for improvement, I use this phrase:
“I’m saying this to you because I have high standards for this team/project/company, and I know you can meet them.”
If that doesn’t sound like you, reword it. The intention is the most important thing. You’re telling the person that you care about their success and you believe they can achieve.
Coming from you, an exacting person, that will mean a lot.
Being systematic is one of the D/C’s greatest strengths. We may not be as adaptable when it comes to people and their ever-so-spontaneous needs, but we can make time for them in a way that’s comfortable to us.
Schedule blocking is a great solution. It’s certainly been a godsend for me. I start work in the morning and divide my day up into blocks – half hours, fifteen minutes, whatever works – and schedule something into each one.
Here’s the important part: I schedule one-on-one’s and check-ins with people, just like I schedule independent work. People know I’m paying attention to what they need, and I still get my work done.
As team members, we have to make time for collaboration. If we work it in as standard parts of our days, everyone’s happier – including us.
Everyone has weaknesses. As D/C’s, we’re driven and focused, but we’re not always the best listeners.
Again, there’s a systematic method that can help – it’s called active listening. It’s worked miracles for my ability to help people feel seen and understood. Try it out the next time someone comes to you with a work problem.
1. Focus fully on what the other person is saying. Face them, make eye contact, and let them talk.
2. When they’ve said what they need to say, paraphrase it back to them. Make sure you’ve understood.
3. If they clarify a point, repeat step 2.
4. Validate their experience. Use words like “I hear you” and “I understand.”
5. Ask them how they would like to see the situation resolved – then work with them.
If you end up with an action item after this conversation, work it into your blocked schedule. Let the person know what you’re going to do and when.
Remember, You Are an Asset!
Clarity and drive are valuable skills – but before I took the DISC assessment, I had a hard time seeing them that way.
Don’t fall into the same trap I did! Value what you can do, because not everyone has those abilities. Embrace your drive to do great work, and remember – if people need your help, it’s because you’re skilled. Enjoy it!