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November 18, 2021

How to Build a Winning Team: The Secrets of DISC in Leadership

Post By:
Kim Beckett
In-House Contributor
Founder and CEO
Beckett Consulting
Guest Contributor:

“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have trying to change others.” Jacob Braude

You’ve probably heard this quote many times before. If you are managing a team of any size, you’ve most likely felt this before. Effective performance management is a key ingredient for any meaningful results, and the most effective managers are leaders: people with an ability to inspire and motivate those around them; people with an ability to influence. There are some who might argue that extraordinary leadership is innate, a God-given talent. But what if there was a way to awaken the leader inside all of us?

Welcome to DISC. Standing the test of time and scientifically validated, the DISC model is the secret decoder that categorizes people’s personalities, preferences, and motivators into a four-factor model. These four DISC “styles” explain how people approach their work, how they engage in interpersonal relationships, what their priorities are, what their fears are, how they receive and process information, and even how they buy (important when you’re seeking buy-in on a particular initiative, goal, or objective).  With DISC, you can adjust and tailor your communication in a way that resonates most with the personality type of those with whom you’re communicating, allowing you to build deeper trust, gain more confidence, and influence better results. Here’s a guide on how to do it… and do it well.

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DISC represents four styles: (D) Dominance, (I) Influence, (S) Steadiness, and (C) Conscientiousness.

  • The D-style employee is direct, confident and assertive. They don’t hesitate to express their opinions. They may dominate the conversation due to their take-charge attitude.
  • The I-style employee is outgoing, enthusiastic, and optimistic. They love to socialize and build personal relationships. They enjoy a friendly, informal atmosphere.  
  • The S-style employee is even-tempered, accommodating, and tactful. They tend to be careful and non-confrontational. They may avoid change and are hesitant to take on new ways of doing things.
  • The C-style employee is analytical, reserved, and systematic. They are unlikely to display great enthusiasm. They want to focus on the facts and task at hand. They prefer to avoid small talk or conversations of a personal nature.

We are all a blend of all four styles, and our styles can fluctuate depending on the environment or situation. However, most people tend to gravitate more strongly toward one or two styles. It’s important to note that all styles are equal and valuable in their own way, especially in a team dynamic. 

Understanding each DISC style’s unique needs and motivators is the key to harnessing the power of DISC in leadership. Performance management begins with identifying the DISC style for each of your team members.

By identifying and understanding each team member’s DISC style, you can more effectively communicate. You can identify roles and responsibilities that would be best suited for each team member and therefore set them up for individual and team success. Adapting your leadership style to fit the other person builds trust and allows you to connect on a personal level. This connection results in higher levels of employee engagement and job satisfaction, reducing turnover and increasing productivity.

It should come as no surprise that what motivates and influences a D (dominant) is not what will motivate and influence an S (steady). So, what motivates each DISC style? How should you adapt your communication style for each? How can you use DISC for more effective performance management and leadership? Here is a guide for incorporating and leveraging the DISC model so that your team can start achieving bigger and better sales results- and enjoy the process.

Dominate Style

People with the D style prioritize the bottom line and are driven to get results. They are willing to take risks in pursuit of success. They strive for ambitious goals and want the freedom to make their own decisions without having to ask for input from other people. Because they value independence, they may prefer to work alone versus with the team.

D styles are questioning and skeptical and may challenge your authority if they disagree with your decisions. They can be blunt and assertive when expressing their opinions. They are self-assured and confident, even if they don’t have the necessary skills or experience.

What is an Effective Approach to the D Style?

The most effective approach with a D style is to be direct and clear about the results you expect. Set a deadline and let them figure out how to proceed. Specify the limits of their authority while still allowing for some autonomy. If they are less experienced in their role, be careful not to confuse confidence with competence. Review their plans before they move ahead and check-in often enough to make sure they are on the right track. Have them check with you before any risky decisions are made. Let them know you will give them more autonomy as they gain experience.

Creating a Motivating Environment for the D Style

You can create a motivating environment for the D style by letting them control their environment as much as possible. Let them know the value they bring to the organization. Don’t overlook opportunities to allow them to work independently. Orchestrate healthy competitions that will contribute to team success. Challenge them with concrete goals meant to stretch their abilities. Explain the big picture and bottom-line purpose of new projects.

Recognizing and Rewarding the D Style

Recognize and reward the D Style by giving them credit for their work and ideas that lead to team success. Compliment them directly when their initiative and drive help the organization. Reward their top performances with more responsibility and autonomy. Offer them opportunities for advancement when they seek new challenges.

Communication Preferences of the D Style

  • Emails – Should be very brief, business-like and concise - Think “headlines and bullet points”.
  • Feedback – Should be direct, actionable, focused on the most important points.
  • Conflict – Essential for improvement, as long as it is actionable and objective.
  • Team – Teams should have a leader with clearly defined authority and effective distribution of responsibilities.

Conducting a 1-1 Meeting with a D Style

Action-oriented D types want honest, to-the-point communication. Keep the meeting brief and focused on just a couple of topics. Only schedule meetings when absolutely necessary. During the meeting, keep your conversation short and to the point. Try to focus on discussing their goals and giving direct feedback. 

Here are some key phrases and questions you can use when meeting with D types:

  • Let’s go back to the original goal here…
  • Here’s how it compares to others…
  • I want to challenge your thinking on this…
  • Do you want to take this feedback and try again?
  • What drives you?
  • What action will you take?
  • How do you suggest we move forward?
  • How would you like to assist?

Influence Style

People with the I style are generally upbeat and optimistic. They are sociable and openly expressive, willing to share their thoughts and feelings. They are most relaxed when they can share their ideas and be upfront about their needs. They appreciate encouragement and the ability to collaborate with others. They are action-oriented and tend to move quickly. 

I types seek new and exciting projects and can become restless if they are forced to work for long periods of time on routine tasks. They tend to improvise and make spontaneous decisions. As a result, you may need to check in frequently with those who lack experience to make sure they are on track and meeting deadlines. For those who are more experienced, encourage creativity and experimentation, but make sure vital details or tasks don’t slip through the cracks.

What is an Effective Approach to the I Style?

The most effective approach with the I style is to give encouragement and appreciate their natural ability to collaborate. Allow them to take the lead in group settings and acknowledge their contributions publicly. Make time to go over the details with them. Keep them on track and on schedule by encouraging them to move forward. If they are less experienced, check their understanding since their enthusiasm might hide a lack of clarity. Give them plenty of encouragement. Make sure they don’t lose track of details and hold them accountable for missed deadlines or skipped steps. You may need to limit their socializing.

Creating a Motivating Environment for the I Style

You can create a motivating environment for the I style by letting them collaborate with you and others. Encourage their positive energy and give them opportunities to express themselves. Limit the predictability and routine of their tasks whenever possible. Reinforce their optimism with your natural enthusiasm and energy. Give them opportunities to be in the limelight. Provide some time to socialize without compromising results.

Recognizing and Rewarding the I Style

Recognize and reward the I style by praising them publicly, making sure the whole team knows when they’ve accomplished something great. Let them know that others appreciate their energy and enthusiasm. Reward them by giving them opportunities to shine. Recommend them for awards and advancement opportunities.

Communication Preferences of the I Style

  • Emails – Should be friendly, casual and personal.
  • Feedback – Should be focused on the high level elements and delivered with encouragement.
  • Conflict – Can be a powerful tool to discover new solutions and ideas, but can also lead to people arguing in circles.
  • Team – Collaboration is essentially for teams to build relationships and achieve goals together.

Conducting a 1-1 Meeting with a I Style

Upbeat, optimistic I types tend to seek inspiration, excitement and encouragement in a meeting. They often bring a lot of energy to the meeting so it’s important to match their enthusiasm. They want to take a few moments to connect on a personal level. I types enjoy more casual meetings so don’t stress about planning out every detail ahead of time. Make sure to listen to any ideas they share and actively participate in the conversation. Keep the overall tone positive, even if you need to offer some negative comments.

Here are some key phrases and questions you can use when meeting with I types:

  • That’s a great suggestion!
  • What motivated you to pursue this?
  • Let’s walk through this together…
  • What do you think we could do better as a team?
  • What action do you think needs to be taken?
  • Who would be a good person for you to collaborate with?
  • What questions do you have about the details?
  • What concerns do you have about the deadline?

Steadiness Style

People with the S style tend to be accommodating and flexible. They want to be sure they know exactly what is required and want to be given clear guidance, even if they don’t ask you for it. They make steady progress toward predictable goals. Therefore, they may become uncomfortable if you delegate high-pressure tasks to them or urge them to take risks. They dislike dealing with abrupt changes and look to their leader for stability.

S styles may be most comfortable in friendly, cooperative environments. They enjoy collaborating with others, but will seldom push for more authority within the group because they are much more comfortable working behind the scenes.

What is an Effective Approach for the S Style?

The most effective approach with the S style is to give them clear instructions and make sure they are comfortable with a task before setting them loose. If they have more experience, give them as much responsibly as you can, but make it clear that you are available to advise them when needed. Ask them enough questions to elicit their concerns. Ask them directly what kind of support they need. If they are less experienced, give clear, step-by-step instructions. Ask questions to confirm their understanding and check in with them frequently. Refrain from giving them too much responsibility too quickly. Avoid pushing them to move ahead before they are ready, if they are less experienced.

Creating a Motivating Environment for the S Style

You can create a motivating environment for the S style by asking for their ideas, which they might not share without encouragement. Give them the structure and security they need to feel comfortable. Let them collaborate with others, but don’t push them to be more social than they want to be. Be clear about their tasks and responsibilities, and don’t skip the specifics. Plan ahead to be able to give plenty of warning when change is coming. Avoid rushing them for results, which may require you to slow your pace at times.

Recognizing and Rewarding the S Style

Recognize and reward the S style by offering sincere praise, but avoid putting them in the limelight. Give them more responsibility, and let them know that you trust them to deliver reliable results. Reward their steady contributions to team success by making them feel like a vital part of the team. Encourage them to consider advancement opportunities when you feel that they’re ready, since they’re unlikely to ask.

Communication Preferences of the S Style

  • Emails – Should be warm, sincere, and expressive.
  • Feedback – Should be thoughtfully explained and delivered with empathy.
  • Conflict – Should be handled with caution, as it can escalate and result in hurt feelings.
  • Team – Should support each other and make sure everyone is always on the same page.

Conducting a 1-1 Meeting with a S Style

Supportive, patient S types tend to be very polite and accommodating. Help them feel more welcome and included during meetings by asking them to share their thoughts or opinions on the topic at hand. Make sure they have a chance to see that their voice matters. When offering feedback to S types in a one-on-one setting, try to focus on what they’re doing well, rather than what needs improvement. Make sure to show care for their life by asking questions about what’s going on outside of work. Set a designated start time to meet with S types, don’t rush them to wrap up if they’re engaged in the conversation.

Here are some key phrases and questions you can use when meeting with S types:

  • Let’s talk more about what you think…
  • You have my trust, so let’s proceed with…
  • Is there anything I can help with?
  • You clearly put a lot of time into…
  • Is there someone you would like to collaborate with on this project?
  • What can I do to support you?
  • What are your thoughts on this?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • What additional info can I provide you?

Conscientiousness Style

People with the C style relate best to clear objectives and fact-based ideas. They take time to analyze concepts and closely examine solutions. They rely on logic and objectivity. They are comfortable working alone and may even avoid collaboration. They require very minimal face time and appreciate environments that foster independence. They want to work in an environment where they feel free to point out flaws and inefficiencies because they are concerned with high quality and getting things right.

C styles want to produce dependable outcomes, so they tend to thoroughly consider all the consequences before choosing a plan. They prefer to go over options and proposals carefully. They may become annoyed if pressured to multi-task or rush their efforts. 

What is an Effective Approach to the C Style?

The most effective approach with the C style is to allow them to work independently, whenever possible. Listen to their concerns about quality. Give them opportunities to solve complex issues. Encourage them to ask for more direction if they need it. Check in when necessary to ensure forward progress. If they are less experienced, communicate with clarity and make sure they have the resources they need. Help them achieve quality without putting deadlines at risk. Check in to make sure they aren’t getting bogged down in the details. Avoid forcing them to collaborate unless it is necessary.

Creating a Motivating Environment for the C Style

You can create a motivating environment for the C style by explaining the purpose of tasks logically. Be sure to clearly and specifically convey your expectations. Listen to their insights about projects or tasks and provide opportunities for independent work. Give them plenty of time to process information. Encourage them to help define quality standards. 

Recognizing and Rewarding the C Style

Recognize and reward the C style by thanking them for the unique contributions they make by ensuring high-quality outcomes. Compliment them in private, highlighting specific aspects of their performance that stand out. Reward them by providing new opportunities to complete challenging projects independently. Encourage their growth by offering to help them build expertise in new areas of interest.

Communication Preferences of the C Style

  • Emails – Should be clear, detailed and factual.
  • Feedback – Should be specific, detailed, and delivered with logical reasoning.
  • Conflict – Conflict is a useful way to discover truth and bring underlying issues to the surface, as long as emotions are kept out of it.
  • Team – Should allow individuals to make their own independent contributions and create their own processes.

Conducting a 1-1 Meeting with a C Style

Analytical, C types often want their interactions and meetings to be fact-focused and well-planned. Meetings should be minimal, formally scheduled and with a prepared agenda. C types typically won’t want to discuss anything unrelated to the purpose of the meeting. You can help them feel more comfortable by sharing a specific agenda for the meeting beforehand and honoring the scheduled start and end times. Make sure to give them plenty of advanced notice so they can come prepared. Share any relevant documentation ahead of time so they can read and think through it on their own. If you bring up something that they may need more time to process, like offering a new idea or asking for their perspective on an important issue, give them a chance to think and ask them to follow-up via email sometime after the meeting. 

Here are some key phrases and questions you can use when meeting with C types:

  • You have a lot of experience in this area…
  • Specifically, I think this part needs the most work…
  • What do you think the company could improve on?
  • What motivated you to pursue this?
  • Let’s go through this logically…
  • What are the speedbumps you see in this process/procedure/action plan?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What resources do you need?


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