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The day the light bulb went on...What I didn't learn about leadership from my corporate job

I must have sat in a dozen, if not more, leadership development sessions over my 15-year career in corporate America.I didn’t lack in knowledge, yet I still struggled showing up as exceptional. I would seek coaching from my very accomplished mentors which were always eager to share advice about how they would approach the issues I was facing.Being eager to make something happen, I would run and ‘try on’ my new leadership behavior like a new pair of shoes. Although nice and shiny, the problem was those shoes weren’t mine. They didn’t fit. I wasn’t leading authentically, which only ended up creating another issue. Thus, the cycle continued.

This issue-repair cycle was a constant fixture throughout my career. It accompanied me into meeting rooms and brought with it feelings of self-doubt and a feeling that I somehow needed to be fixed. I always managed to “show up” when needed, but it didn’t dismiss the feelings creeping up or the comparison stick that played like a commercial in my head. That all changed the day I was sitting in my certification class for the DISC Model of Human Behavior.

The DISC Model of Human Behavior is based on the fact that most people have predictable patterns of behavior. The first pattern reflects whether a person is more outgoing or reserved. The second pattern reflects whether a person is more task or people-oriented. The personality traits are described as Dominant (D), Inspiring (I), Supportive (S) and Cautious (C) of which we are all a blend.

Here’s what I learned about leadership that my corporate job didn’t teach me:

1. Leadership has lots of looks. A person's view of leadership is naturally influenced by their own personality style and experiences - but mainly personality style. There are 4 primary views on leadership that correspond to each personality style.

  • The D-Style says, "Leadership is about Results and Productivity!" Their leadership position is from out in front.

  • The I-Style says, "Leadership is about Inspiring Greatness and Building a Team!" Their leadership position from the middle of the pack, inspiring people to join the effort.

  • The S-Style says, "Leadership is about Helping Others and Building Harmony!" Their leadership position is from behind, encouraging their team to move forward with their words of affirmation.

  • The C-Style says, "Leadership is about Doing Things Properly and Correctly!" Their leadership position is from the side, making sure everyone is in step following the right procedures.

The culture of my corporate job was heavily weighted with the D-style leadership type. It was the style that was recognized and rewarded most often. Since this was not me, I spent more time comparing myself to others and managing the negative self-talk.


The key: If we only view leadership through one vantage point, then our definition is limited, leadership must encompass all aspects.


Thus, my time would have been better spent on learning how to adapt my style for the situation versus trying to fit someone else’s perception of what a leader looks like.

2. How you lead has a lot to do with how you're wired. My DISC personality blend is C/S, which means I have a Cautious/Supportive personality style. I’m reserved and tend to naturally seek facts to support the team. As I look back on my time in corporate this is exactly how I lead. As a scientist, being a cautious fact-gatherer was seen as an asset. As a leader, the perception was that I could be contemplative and guarded. The insights I gained from the session helped me to understand feedback that I had received over the last decade. The more I understood about my decision-making process, motivations and blind spots, the more things started to make sense. Now, I understand why I struggled building relationships with some of my managers over years while others came easy, which take me to my next point.

3. Understanding how others are wired will help you to better manage up and down. The most powerful thing I learned during the session was how to adapt my unique style blend to better connect with others. Answering two questions (1. Outgoing vs. Reserved? and 2. Task-oriented vs. People-oriented?) gave me about 80% of what I needed to identify a primary style for most of the people I’ve worked with over the years. I now understand why it felt like a hopeless battle whenever I found myself on the opposite end with a D-style leader. Or, the relentless need for fun with for an I-style type of leader.

The truth is the workplace needs all these style of leaders. Different situations call for a different type of leader. What I learned is sometimes that leader might be you. I remember thinking how much I wished I was armed with this knowledge while I was still in corporate. Now, as a Certified Coach, I use what I’ve learned to inspire, develop, and grow my clients.

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