The Strong Personality Safeguard: How a Smart Leader Changed His Style

While conducting a program on how to recognize and work with different personality styles, I heard a great example of self-awareness from the group’s leader.

We’ll call him Jack.

Jack scored very high on the D, or Driver dimension for the DISC profile, which means he tends to communicate in a very direct, bottom line-oriented way. High D’s also tend not to be particularly “warm and fuzzy”, often leaving others feeling bruised by their blunt, no-nonsense approach.

A refined version of their style

While Jack demonstrated classic D behaviors, he also demonstrated what I call an “Evolved Version” of his behavioral style. Every personality or behavioral style possesses unique strengths and liabilities.

People demonstrating unevolved versions of their style act almost like caricatures of their style’s downside. So for instance, an Unevolved Driver would manifest the Driver’s strong personality and direct communication style by bossing others around, speaking harshly and even cruelly, and bludgeoning people with their feedback when a light touch would have sufficed.

Conversely, people who demonstrate an evolved version of their style bring out the strengths of that style while also demonstrating a refined version of that style’s attributes.

So for instance, an evolved Driver would manifest their strong personality and direct communication traits by being clear, courageous, and direct with their messages, while still being respectful and understated. They would channel their strong drive to control and achieve results into being masters at execution and leading others.

“Thanks for sharing!”

People who demonstrate an evolved version of their style also have the self-awareness to catch themselves when they exhibit their style’s classic “darker side.” They also welcome and utilize feedback.

As we discussed his goals for the program, Jack shared how he discovered, much to his surprise and distress, that his management and communication style left his team feeling demoralized and disengaged.

He had been oblivious to this until his team members went to his boss and complained about what they experienced as his overbearing, steamroller-like management style.

“Message received… and here’s what I’m going to do”

Jack decided to take action (one of the strengths of a high D). Here’s what he did:

  1. He got his team together and let them know he hadn’t realized how he had been coming across.
  2. He asked them to fill out an anonymous survey to make it safe for his people to give feedback.
  3. When he got the results, he reported back to them what he had heard and how he planned to improve in those areas.
  4. He kept his word and made those improvements.
  5. He asked his administrative assistant, who is very relationship oriented (a high S in the DISC profile) to be his “watchdog” and let him know if he forgets the niceties in his communication, whether in person or using email. He also has her read important outgoing emails to see if they need to be “softened.” He also asked her to alert him to interactions in which he seemed oblivious to the emotional wake he had left behind.
  6. When he brings up ideas in meetings, he reminds his team that he wants them to share their opposing points of view; that he values and needs their different perspectives. He stresses that when he brings up an idea and sounds emphatic about it, that’s just his style. He still wants people to challenge him if they see flaws in it. That’s why he’s bringing it up.
  7. For introverted team members who don’t feel comfortable challenging him in team meetings, he makes it a practice to ask them privately for their perspective before implementing an idea.=

Notice that Jack didn’t just make a big announcement about wanting to get feedback … and then continue to act as he always had.

Notice also that he kept his message alive by reminding people at meetings that he wanted and valued alternative perspectives.

How to have the conversation

If  the above resonates with you — or if you’re simply interested in becoming an even better manager — you can start by having a conversation you’re your team.

First, share this article with them. Then, have the conversation.

When teaching or coaching managers on how to make it safe for direct reports to give them feedback on their style, I often share what I said to my new team when I became their leader:

My job is obviously to bring out the best in you. If I don’t do that, I’m not doing my job, nor am I doing right by you. So, if you find me doing things that make it hard for you to do your job well or that bothers you… please let me know. Also, although I wouldn’t do this on purpose, if I inadvertently say or do something that feels disrespectful or hurtful in any way, please let me know, because I certainly wouldn’t want to do that.

Great speech, but…

When I bring this up in management programs, I always ask the group: “So…do you think they started giving me feedback?”

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The response is always a resounding: “No!”

Of course, they’re right.

It doesn’t take being in the work world for too long to realize that giving your boss negative feedback doesn’t put you on the fast track for career advancement in most companies. My team was understandably leery of my invitation.

After confirming seminar participants’ prediction, I then ask them to share what they thought I did after my announcement to signal my sincerity. I ask them to think about what they would do to communicate: “I really do want to hear feedback on how I impact you”.

Let me ask you, what would you do next to signal your sincerity?

Your free “Constructive Conversations” mini-seminar

Share this post with your fellow managers and then engage them in a discussion, using the following questions:

  1. What follow up actions would you take after the announcement to communicate your sincerity?
  2. What about if someone gives you feedback that you disagree with? How would you deal with that?
  3. How have you felt when you’ve had bosses who didn’t make it safe to speak honestly and openly about what they did that either made it hard for you to do your job well or that you found distressful?
  4. How did that affect the way you felt about working for that employer, and about your performance?

The last two questions are designed to help you and your fellow managers cultivate greater mindfulness about the importance of making it safe for employees to speak up — not just because it’s the right thing to do — but also because of the engagement, performance, and loyalty-damaging effects of not making it safe.

Last but not least, if you have a strong personality…

In the meantime, ask yourself — especially if you are a “High D” in DISC lingo — if it’s time to have the kind of conversation Jack did with his team.

If you know you’re a High D, the chances are good that you are doing things that are negatively affecting your ability to bring out the best in your people and they’re not telling you, because of the force of your personality.

If you’re interested in remedying this, review what Jack did and put in place your own Strong Personality Safeguard Action Plan.

Note: If you want to share your answers to Questions 1-4 below in the comments section, that would be great.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," and Dealing with a Difficult Co-Worker, volume one of the Courageous Conversations at Work series, as well over 100 articles and book chapters.

You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at david@humannatureatwork.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework.

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