How to Use DISC and Birth Order to Be an Engaging Leader | with Marty Lahey [Transcript]


Link to podcast episode: EL 29: How to Use DISC and Birth Order to Be an Engaging Leader | with Marty Lahey

Jesse Lahey:  Welcome to the show leaders! I’m your host Jesse Lahey!

Marty Lahey:  And I’m your co-host Marty Lahey!

Jesse:  That’s right, my dad Marty has more than 25 years of experience in fortune 500 leadership roles and as CFO of smaller organizations, and 10 years ago he started up a restaurant and catering business that he still leads today.  So, dad brings a financial and operations perspective, which is a good balance to my background in leadership communication.

Marty:  Thanks, Jesse.  Well, today were going to talk about using DISC profiles and understanding of birth orders in how we can use those to be more effective leaders.

Jesse:  That’s right.  The reason were looking at these, is so we can understand ourselves better as leader, but also so that we can understand the people that we’re leading and influencing better.  Both in order to kind of cut them some slack, if you will.  But also so they and we can play to our strengths so that we can understand people’s weaknesses, compensate for those and play to our strengths.  As we go through these, it’s important to remember that there’s no right or wrong answer.  There’s plus’s and minus’s to each of the four, so were going to talk about some of those plus’s and minus’s and how we can understand those to basically engage the people on our team and to be more effective ourselves.

Marty:  Okay, lets start off at trying to understand the first type, which is, D dominant.

Jesse:  The D personality preference is sort of the born leader.  They are in fact often driven and if you think of your typical oldest child, who has the weight of the world on their shoulders, they’re used to needing to keep the rest of the kids in line, a lot of them are Type A, they have to get things done, they have to make an impact in the world, have to leave their mark, the family is going to got to ruin if they’re not doing everything right.  The over achiever, and this obviously has some strengths, they’re a natural leader, whether they came up with the vision or not, they really own that vision and they get the team moving ahead to that.

Now, for example, I’m probably primarily a D, I have a lot of D in me I’m an only child.  We’re recording this n mid February, I have set 5 goals for myself or this quarter and 4 of them are pretty much achieved and so I’m bound and determined to achieve that last one by the end of the quarter.  They are all, to me, extremely important goals.  Bad things will happen if I don’t (laughs)…

Marty:  I would contrast that with my 5 goals for the next decade, which I set about 5 years ago and I’m still working on it, I’m half way through the first one.

Jesse: Haha

Marty:  I’m feeling pretty good.

Jesse:  As you should! I’m amazed that you set goals that are very impressive.

Marty: A Dominant person can also be kind of a bull in a china shop, right?

Jesse:  That’s right.  Some of the potential weaknesses of the D are being less sympathetic to people’s feeling and not having the emotional intelligence, let’s say.  My Grandmother, for example, is a lovely person, very highly productive and has done so much good in her life, but a lot of people would say she can be the sort of blunt, just sort of say’s it like it is, doesn’t necessarily stop and think about how she’s affecting people’s feelings.  And she would say she cares about people, but when it comes down to it, “but I’m not going to slow down and sort of be namby-pamby with people.  We’ve got to get things done around here!”

Marty:  Yeah tell it like it is, she is a great lady, I love her daily but she has left a ‘trail of bodies’. (Laughs)

Jesse: (Laughs)

Marty:  The second one, which is I for influencing, which is the one I tend to more relate to I think.

Jesse:  Yes, the I’s generally have great people skills and is very good at coming up with ideas and influencing people and this is the classic youngest child, the baby of the family.  They tend to get this way because everybody loves the baby of the family and they just from a very early age reveled in attention from people and they found it very easy to interact with people from all ages.  They don’t have to be just with people who are like themselves, you can put them in any group and they will become the center of attention or at least navigate the group dynamics extremely well.  They have always done that.  This is a good time to mention that people are generally not just one or the other; they are usually a mix of at least 2 and sometime even a third of these.  So you, Dad, said you see yourself primarily as an I but you are not the baby of the family, you are actually the middle child of a large family.

For a long time you were the youngest boy in the family, it was several years went by before you’re youngest brother came along and so what you have in some ways, you were a functional baby of the family.  Psychologists will say, anytime there is about 5 year or more gap between kids, that sort of starts things over.  So, that’s kind of where you pick up a lot of the I.  So the advantages of the I are the great people skills, their creative ideas, they’re very energetic and tend to get other people excited about ideas.  Some of the weaknesses that you need to compensate if you are and I are that you tend to not be very detail oriented.  You gloss over details, you don’t think about things that could go wrong with your great idea and also you may have a short attention span.  You’re a shiny-objects person.  You know, you think of the Disney movie “UP!” and they way that they could distract the dog’s in that movie just by saying, “squirrel!” and the dogs would all go look for the squirrel.

Marty:  Yeah and the I is also, “you can do anything.”

Jesse:  Mm Hmm!

Marty:  “How are you going to that?” and their response is, ” I don’t know, just watch!” You know, I don’t really know how I’m going to do that, but just watch.

Jesse:  I’s can often be less organized and can be late a lot.  They show up to things late.   They show up late. Now, I am primarily a D but I have a lot of I in me as well and I have no idea…well, I was not the baby of the family but here was almost five years before my brother was born, so in some ways I was almost the oldest and the youngest and I have some natural people skills as a result of that.  But, I’m not a super later person; I’m pretty reliable that I’m going to show up maybe five minutes late for any given meeting.

Marty:  Lets go on to the S here, which stands for Steady.  This is one of the people that as an I, I tend to run into.  Somehow we rub each other the wrong way.  Why is that?

Jesse:  Well, the Steady, first of all, the strengths of a Steady is they tend to be loyal, they tend to be calm, and they tend to be investigative.  Some of the weaknesses is they tend to have low energy, whereas and I gets excited about new ideas, the Steady person sort of takes a wait and see approach.  They’re often sort of the wet blanket and I run in to this as well, similar to you.  I come up with a great idea and the S says, “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea” or I might even say, “You know I came up with this new topic that I want to speak about, I’m going to put together a speech” and I share it with my Aspendale team, who have a lot of S’s on that team, and they say things like, “are you really qualified to talk about that?  What do you have to say that people would want to know?”  Because they don’t see themselves as having necessarily any brilliance that the world would want to know.  You have to almost draw that out of them and say, “Look, nobody knows this as well as you.”  “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” “So, why don’t you stand up and tell people about that, because people would want to hear”.  The Steady, the S, often has the low energy and can kind of be a push over, or a doormat too.

Marty:  I think and correct me if I’m wrong but I think one of the strengths of a Steady person is that they can kind of3 be like the anchor, or the lightning rod or maybe even the peacemaker.  Sometimes, I think as the middle child I picked up on that role.  I found myself standing between two really different personalities sometimes, trying to find common ground, you know, diffuse a situation where you’ve got a D ready to climb down the throat of a C for whatever reason.

Jesse:  Right.

Marty:  You kind of step in there and you start taking a few spears yourself and you deflect them because you can shift on your feet, that whole personality type but to me it’s one of the advantages an S has.

Jesse: S is a great personality type for so many attributes and the middle child or the S is for one thing, makes a great spouse as well.  It’s the easiest type of person to be married to because they are peacemakers.  When you say, “What do you want to do tonight, honey?”  They are more likely to say, “Whatever you want to do.” and who wouldn’t like that unless…it’s a little but harder when they’re two S’s because then you’re both saying, “What do you want to do tonight, honey?”… “I don’t know. What do you want to do? “… “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” (Laughs).

Marty:  Or maybe, one of the spouses is having a bad day and the shoot a bullet at their spouse, not really meaning to much by it, an S can dodge that or deflect it and not take it personally and start a big argument.  They kind o let it roll off their shoulders.

Jesse:  That’s right.  Now, you and Mom both have a lot of S in you.  You’re both middle children.  You’re more of an I S and Mom is probably a D S, but you have a lot of the S.  On the other hand, my wife and I, neither of us have much S, were both high D’s.  I would be a D I, and she would be a D C and so we tend to butt heads a lot.  We have a great marriage but we are more likely to get each other’s hackles out.  If one of us is having a bad day and we accidentally say something that we otherwise shouldn’t, it’s hard to give each other grace.  The other person is more likely to jump on you.  So the S has definite strengths.

Once upon a time, I heard about this really exciting opportunity that involved a lot of writing but also what I thought involved creating seminars and then co-teaching these seminars.  I thought it’d be a great fit for me, so I went and applied for the job, got to the interview stage and they had me take a DISC profile and of course I came out a high D.  And I thought that sounds great, I thought it would be a good for this.   And they said, “well actually…this isn’t going to disqualify you because these are really super-predictive but it does say that your preferences may not be the best fit for how were viewing this role. This is primarily a behind the scenes writing role and generally S’s are a better fir for that role.”

Now, it was helpful for them to understand that I maybe not the right fit.  it was helpful for me to understand that that’s how they were viewing the role, it was not at all what I was thinking.  So it was very much a mutual decision that, “NO.  This is not a great fit for me.”

Marty:  That’s a great example.  Let’s move on to the last letter in the acronym, the C for conscientious.

Jesse: A conscientious person tends to be detail oriented, analytical and perfectionistic. This tends to be your only child, often would be known as a super achiever.  The strengths of this person are that there often, as I said a super achiever, they get so much done, they can be a wonderful leader in an organization.  They often will found a whole new organization; they’ll start a company or a non-profit.  The weakness that this personality can have is that they can be perfectionistic, they can be anal-retentive.  They can be so perfectionistic that they drive other people crazy or that they actually become procrastinators…”Why should I start on this if it’s not going to be perfect.  If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing 100% right and if I can’t do it 100%, I’m not even going to get started.”  They can be discourages and even depressed because of that perspective.  So, it can be a super achiever but it can definitely work against you.

So when you look at the DISC and the birth order, one thing to keep in mind is that generally people are a mix of one or two, so it’s not an exact science.  But you can often just guess even based on barely knowing people by their job title.  For example, there is an organization and their medical director I easily guessed that he was an oldest child, because he was leading his organization. You know, typically the leaders would be the D or the oldest children.  Often the sales people or the public speakers, or the ideas’ people, those are the babies of the family or the I’s, the influencers.

The “just really good” team players are often the middle children, the Steady’s and the analytical or the CFO of the group is often the C or the only children but you get confusing factors in there.  For one, blended families.  If anybody is in a blended family, that can skew things up.  In our own family, Dad, growing up the baby in the family my sister Chelsea has a lot of the I aspects in her.  She’s very energetic, very comfortable with people, but we adopted a family of four kids when Chelsea was still quite young and so she became a functional first born, in a lot of ways.  So you look at her now, and you see a lot of those leadership capabilities that you might not have guessed had you just known that she was originally the baby of the family.

Marty:  Yeah, that’s a very good point.  it was abrupt change for her to go from baby of the family to…I mean she not only was older than the four adopted kid’s but her older brothers were just in the process of leaving the nest.  So, she was on top and alone.

Jesse:  Yeah. The other thing that can make it a little difficult to guess, to do a quick read on people is that middle children are the hardest one’s to read.  I’m not 100% sure why but for one thing, middle children dislike bring categorized.  They don’t even like the idea that you’re trying to put them in one of four boxes. We said they’re steady, so they’re peacemaker, but they can also be the contrarians.  If you think about, in the really stereotypical family where the oldest child was the over achiever, a lot of times the second born doesn’t want to be anything like the oldest child.  He or she wants to make their own mark, their sort of like renegades.

So they want to defy categorization often, when I miss…I just did it the other night, Erin and I went out with another couple and I correctly guessed that Nate was a middle born and a Steady and his wife, I didn’t know as well so I just had to guess that she was an oldest.  No, she was a middle born.  Also, there was a client group that we were out with and I was guessing personalities and the sort of lieutenant of the group, she wasn’t the head of the department but she was kind of the next in line the lieutenant in charge of running a lot of things. I guessed that she was on oldest because she has such a leadership role, but actually she was a middle that was more stepping into the leadership role.  Once I recognized that, I could see the ways in which, yea she doesn’t have some of those classic D tendencies.  So that make it a little more difficult to read, but you know, being 80 or 90% accurate is very helpful in reading people and that’s why it’s just easier to guess people’s birth order than it is to guess weather they’re a D, I, S, or C and then it’s easy to ask people too, you can go “Hey are you a middle child?” and they can answer that and if you dig into it an realize, “Okay, well I am a middle but there was six years between me and my brother and so…” then you can understand some of the complexities.  It’s easier to get a quick read; you don’t have to get someone to fill out an assessment.

Why is that helpful? One, we already talked about.  It’s helpful to know the strengths and to know the weaknesses, so you can play to your strengths.  It’s a lot easier to go through life playing to your strengths but also sometimes you want to compensate for your weaknesses.  I’m a D, I need to work on my emotional intelligence a little but.  I can’t be the bull in the china shop.  Dad, you and I both have a lot of I and so we can be excitable and gung ho and energetic about ideas, but we need to be a little but more careful on follow-through.  Analyzing which ideas are going to work, getting input from other people and when you finally all agree on an idea then see that through to completion.  Don’t be so quick to go on to something else.

Marty: Sometimes an I, when they run an idea up against a Steady they back down.  Sometimes I’s will back off and shouldn’t.  We should be almost expected that a Steady is going to turn their nose up at an idea.  Use the sounding board, learn from their reaction, but don’t necessarily take it at face value.

Jesse: That’s right, I just last week was talking to my team about a new key note idea that I had and kind of got the, “I don’t know that you’re really qualifies to talk about that” and I started to get disappointed and then I remembered, “Oh, wait a minute.  I’m an I and they’re an S.  Let’s not throw this away so quickly.  So we actually scheduled a time later on this afternoon actually, where were going to look at this in more detail and decide.  Are their points valid that their questioning, “should I not really try to be an authority on this subject” or “Should I go bone up on some of those areas where maybe I’m lacking but don’t just throw it away” because that’s just their personality, they’re going to be slow to embrace a new idea.

Marty:  it’s really a great, almost natural order if you will.  It’s kind of a call to the influencing type to do their homework and do some research, make sure even if you’re a visionary and you’re moving on a very exciting path, still you have to do your due diligence and sometimes you can rely on steady driven contentious people to help you data-check yourself a little bit.

Jesse:  So it’s helpful to understand strengths and weaknesses. It’s also helpful to lead other people when you can read them and understand them.  In other words, cutting them some slack and I think the birth order layer on top of that, to me helps me cut people slack some more.  If I come to the realization that Bill is a D and Bill’s going to be dominant and he’s a driver and I can say, “OK, that doesn’t mean I need to give too much space.  That’s his problem, not mine, right?”  Well, for some reason it helps me to say, “Well, Bill was an oldest child and he’s got some of that weight of the world on his shoulder.”  There’s something about that to me, it helps me cut him some slack and I can appreciate his strengths and I can give him some space for his weaknesses. The same thing with the other personalities, my sister Chelsea we said is the baby of the family, she heard me and my oldest son JJ talking about this topic to an audience and of course JJ and I are both the oldest children and we were not making the case that the D’s or the oldest children are the best because we both believe that they all have strengths and weaknesses but, JJ and I are not going to talk about this topic without it sort of secretly coming through that were darn glad were D’s, right?

Chelsea listened to that and later sent me an e-mail and said, “That was go great hearing you guys talking about that!  I’m so excited to learn that stuff and you know, with my oldest daughter Cosette, now I know I need to be really careful with her and not have this weight of the world on her shoulders and not damage her in that way!” (Laughs).  So JJ and I are thinking it’s an advantage to be a D and she’s thinking, “Oh those poor D’s I feel so sorry for them, if only everybody could be the I’s, the babies of the family like me.”  Everybody is going to have their own preferences.

Marty:  So using insight into these personality types not only allows you to understand yourself better and to work on your strengths and weaknesses and how your coming across to people, but also makes you a more effective leader by understanding people around you and how to compensate for some of their heavy strengths or maybe some of their weaknesses and make the environment overall more productive because you’re using the best that people have to bring, you’re working together in this sort of natural order of things and really getting a lot more done.

Jesse: That’s right and these are personality preferences, this is not like a definite test on how you’re wired or anything like that and it’s not predictive necessarily.  For example, just because you’re an I, I should not assume that you’re going to be a good sales person or that if you’re an S that you’re not going to be a good sales person.  There are great salespeople from each of the four personality profiles and their are I’s that would make lousy sales people.  You cant necessarily read someone and then predict things about them, but you can better understand them.

One way that’s helpful to understand people is the notion of speed.  Speed, in terms of decision making and speed in terms of actions and the S’s and the C’s tend to be slower decision makers.  They prefer slow speed.  The D’s and the I’s tend to be faster.  The way this plays out and we just heard on episode 26 Kent Julian talk about public speaking and he talks about the DISC profiles a lot and a lot of his speaking is in the educational sector, so he’s working with teachers a lot and teachers tend to be on average, S’s, there Steadies. He will explain the notion of how the S’s and the C’s tend to make slower decisions and all these teachers start nodding to each other, and say, “Yeah, see that’s why were better.  We make slower, more deliberate decisions.”

Marty:  Or “Were more careful.  We don’t make mistakes.”

Jesse:  Right.  Now, you and I, Dad with the I in us and the D in me, I’m thinking, “See I make better decisions because it’s faster.  We think a faster decision tends to be a better one.” So, Kent always says, “Now wait a minute, I didn’t say better, I said slower more deliberate” or if he’s talking to I’s and D’s say “wait a minute, I didn’t say better, I said faster” and there not necessarily a right or a wrong, there’s pros and cons to both.

Marty:  Many of us have served on non-profit boards and I’m one of those antsy people sitting around, “Let’s just make this…let’s just tie this and move on.”  And you’ve always got somebody that wants to talk about the “rules of Robert” (Laughs) If I ever find him, I’m going to strangle him. (Laughs). They slow you down, you know?  And they said, “there’s a process we have to go through to think this through and you have to follow this and that, and committee this and we need a motion, we have to discuss” and I’m the guy that’s kind of like, I can make this decision in my business before breakfast.

Jesse:  Right!  We hate making decisions by committee, but if you can understand there’s…both are okay and appreciate, “OK, I’m working with some people who are little bit slower decisions makers and that’s not bad” and rather than get frustrated, rather than have a performance management conversation with them, like “Joe, you really need to make faster decisions” appreciate that that’s who they are and there’s some good things about that and take what’s good about you, you’re strengths, play to those and let those people play to theirs and give them positive feedback about that stuff.  It’s part of being an engaging leader.


Link to podcast episode: EL 29: How to Use DISC and Birth Order to Be an Engaging Leader | with Marty Lahey

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