I’d just finished a speaking engagement to a terrific HOA group, and was having dinner with a couple of the seminar attendees. The presentation on communication, one of my favorites, was entitled How to Make Your Words Count, and the dinner chat was a continuation of that theme.
One of my companions shared a story about his former boss, a relationship-challenged gentleman who decided it was a good idea to have all of his employees take the DISC personal assessment. The DISC tool uses four different behavioral categories (Dominance-D, Influence-I, Steadiness-S and Conscientiousness-C) to identify an individual’s natural and adapted behaviors. While the assessment was initially created for enhanced self-awareness, today it’s often used to help evaluate job candidates by shedding light on how their personality type might fit within an organization or how an individual might perform in a certain role.
So, the boss man instructed his team to take the DISC assessment. He informed them that they would be sharing the results of their assessments in a group meeting – with the stated goal of better communication through greater understanding.
“This guy was a total D (dominance),” my friend stated. “About 10 percent of the people in the world are D’s. They’re driven, decisive, blunt and usually are more concerned about winning than they are about people. Nobody liked him because he had zero empathy. It was all about him.”
At this point, my brain jumped ahead to what I anticipated would be the story’s conclusion… that as a result of the exercise, this boss gained a better understanding of the personalities on his team…and that he became more aware of his own shortcomings.
Well…no. This guy was a complete, born and bred, grade A, 100% D.
“Because it was clear that the boss was going to talk about his own (assessment) results, the team was encouraged to do it,” my companion said. “But it backfired.”
Apparently, the boss began the meeting by proudly sharing his results. The assessment tool had provided him with verification that he was indeed driven…and dominant. To him, it was nothing more than confirmation that he was the leader…that he should be in charge…and that everyone at the table should now understand that when he was abrasive, short or condescending… well, it wasn’t his fault. He’s just a D.
As the meeting progressed, the boss made it his mission to point out the weaknesses of those individuals who scored higher in the other categories, particularly conscientiousness and steadiness. Because others required more information to make a decision, the D-boss interpreted that fact to mean that he was smarter and faster. And for those on the team who asked for clarification after clarification from the boss, whose four-word emails frequently omitted responses to questions that were asked, the boss couldn’t even entertain the thought that he might be doing a lousy job of providing his people the direction they needed.
It was painful to hear this story being told. This “leader” somehow managed to take a good idea and completely wreck it. My friend went on to explain that many team members were more frustrated than ever after the meeting. They now understood that the boss knew he was being abrasive. He simply didn’t care…because in his mind, it was the team’s job to understand that he was a D…and to simply deal with it. He gave lip service to the idea of better communication going forward…but it was a directive instead of a shared vision.
This event illustrates that in the business world, managers are often the worst at communication. They often think that every word they say to their staff or their employees will be heard, understood and immediately acted upon just because they are the ones in charge – and that kind of responsiveness is exactly what the boss deserves. Unfortunately, that is precisely the kind of attitude that leads employees and staff to resist, defy, and even ignore.
A defensive employee is not a happy, productive employee. But an employee who feels his or her input is respected, who feels a sense of ownership in the company or a specific project, who feels empowered, not emasculated, is an employee who will go the extra mile to see a job well done.
Look, it’s good to be a D. Many leaders are D’s, and companies need drivers to get things done, to take on challenges, to fuel growth. But D folks need to remind themselves that they likely have a blind spot when it comes to communication and empathy, an incredibly important trait in today’s workplace.
Bottom line: be aware of your strengths and recognize your weaknesses.
And don’t act like a D with your employees.