In 2008, Peter D’Adamo published a book called Eat Right for Your Type. The premise was that people with different blood types metabolize food differently. In addition to learning that bleached carbohydrates are not my friend (geesh, who knew?), a major takeaway/reminder for me was that we humans just don’t fit into a one size fits all. This is as true for leadership as it is for anything else. Forcing an introvert to act like Mel Gibson in Braveheart makes about as much sense as asking me to tell a story in three sentences or less, in a calm tone of voice. We might do it, but we’ll be miserable, with less than stellar results.
A major misconception about leadership is that one has to be an extroverted, powerhouse, Type A achiever to be a good leader. This often has the effect of deterring folks who don’t fit into that mold from pursuing leadership roles. The truth is that there are immense strengths that all personality types can draw on to be effective leaders.
For simplicity, I’ll use the DiSC personality to illustrate the point, although other useful personality indexes include the Enneagram or the MMPI. I like DiSC, because there are only four main categories, and I am an impatient, HIGH D, but you’ll get the idea whichever evaluation you use.
Speaking of D, the first type on the DiSC inventory is D, which stands for Dominance, and is characterized by being direct, strong-willed, and forceful. D’s are achievement-oriented and fast paced. The I (Influencer) type is much more sociable and talkative. They also enjoy fast paced but are warmer and more accepting than the questioning D types. The C (Conscientious) type is extremely detail-oriented and meticulous. They are cautious and reflective by nature as well as analytical and logical. The S (Steadiness) type is also cautious, but warmer and more receptive than the C. Nobody is just one type, of course, there are variations and combinations, and most people are a little dash of this and a dab of that. However most of us do gravitate more to one overarching style in our professional life.
Those of us who are D’s usually feel the leadership call loud and clear. Mostly because we don’t like anyone else telling us what to do, and we think we can do it better ourselves anyway. The biggest challenge for D leaders to overcome in their growth is to develop empathy and adjust our communication style to be better received by pretty much everyone else in the world. If you know that you are a D, you probably also know that those around you appreciate it when you talk a little less, a little more quietly, and listen a bit more.
But what about the other types? Is there room at the leadership table for an I, an S, or even a C? I say absolutely! Every personality style has unique gifts and strengths that make them highly effective as leaders. For example:
If you are a high I, you already know that you connect easily with people and love learning their stories. That likeability factor lends itself very well to leadership, as you are able to form meaningful relationships that can be transformational. You possibly are challenged with the detail side of things (much like your D counterpart), but if you’re aware of this, you can make allowances and be highly successful.
The C and S types are the ones who usually don’t see themselves as leaders, and can be particularly challenging for high D leaders and also some of the most valued team members. When you see C and D, think cats and dogs, and that pretty much sums up the relationship. While D casts a vision, C wants to work out all the details of exactly how the plan will work. C’s are very prone to paralysis by analysis and this can be an obstacle in their leadership. However, if you are a C, do not count yourself out. You bring a wealth of strength to your role and are able to provide true support to your team, because you will make sure you understand their jobs as well as they do. If C’s can remember to explain the Why before the How, and to do their best to stay out of the weeds, they can be excellent leaders who do very well on the back end of change management and implementations. If you are leading a C, especially if you are a D, try to take advantage of their ability to dive deep into the minutiae and their passion for excellence (even if it does feel like they are dream killers).
And finally the S. S’s are definitely not your typical CEO. They do not seek out change, and you will not find them on a soap box leading a charge. But their calm composure, and warm demeanor can be very reassuring in a storm. S’s are great leaders and second to none at gelling a team.
So, as you see, if you have a passion for serving others in a leadership role, you should never count yourself out just because you don’t fit the ‘typical’ profile of a leader. Similarly, if it’s your job to coach or groom up and coming leaders, be aware of your own type, and our propensity as humans to gravitate towards like individuals. If there’s any lesson to be learned, it’s that every type has something to offer.
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