WILY: Playing the DiSC Gulf

In this week’s episode of Colocation, I discuss the value of planning to manage our own tendencies and personalities as project managers.

As PMs we try to plan for and mitigate all of the known unknowns. We do qualitative and quantitative risk assessments and develop response strategies. We keep meticulous RAID logs. We even analyze and rate our project stakeholders in order to develop a communication strategy that maximizes efficiency and minimizes risk. This stakeholder his high influence in the organization and is very interested in the project - let's manage her closely. The manager of the other department has relatively little power but is still interested in what is going on - we'll keep him informed. For construction projects, or any project with logistical considerations, there is even a risk response for the weather.

While we do everything to attempt to control as many external project factors as possible, do we ever turn the lens inward? What does turning the lens inward mean for a PM? And, I'm not talking about selfies. I mean doing a PM analysis. How do your personality and strengths potentially impact the project? Negative risks? Positive? Can they be accepted or mitigated? Or maybe even avoided altogether.

Over the years I've taken a lot of different personality assessments. From Strength Finder to Myers-Briggs and DiSC. Across time and different tests, my personality has been fairly consistent. I'm an INTJ for Myers Briggs and a very high, or close to the edge, C in DiSC. In fact, how close my dot is to the edge of the DiSC circle is really the only change I've seen in my personality. Ten or so years ago it was about midway between the center and the edge, and even shaded a bit toward CS. The last time I took the assessment, however, my dot was all the way on the edge and dead-center C.

Let's talk a little about DiSC. The four styles and their high-level profiles are:

Dominance - PMs and leaders with the D style are direct and commanding. They value authority and competition, especially when they are winning. They fear not being in control or being vulnerable and most often present as forceful with a high appetite for risk. At the extreme, they can appear to be impatient or to lack concern or empathy for others.

Influence- These folks are the social butterflies. They are driven by creating energy and blazing new ground. They are afraid of disapproval, rejection, or -maybe worst of all - being ignored. They are often charming and optimistic and get along with and enjoy being around people. At their worst, they can be disorganized or miss deadlines.

Steadiness - Here the circle swings into the more methodical lower half. S types like stability and cooperation. They are often patient team players who look for chances to help. At their extreme, they can be seen to have trouble making decisions with an aversion to risk and they fear the loss of that stability and harmony more than anything.

Conscientiousness - Finally, there is the C type, where I land. C types are deliberate, precise, and quiet. In fact, they fear criticism and being wrong. We'll pay attention to details and analyze everything to the point of overdoing it if allowed. Because we know and trust our own methods best, we also have a tendency to make decisions on our own and give rational rather than ideas. Our overwhelming trust in ourselves also can cause us to be overly critical.

I've done all of the C things over my career, and easily slip back into them when under pressure. The last DiSC assessment that I took was a full "Work of Leaders" profile as part of a leadership development program that I was in at my last employer. I remember feeling something close to despair when I read the results. The typical leader seems to be drawn as a larger than life risk-taking gunslinger who can push everyone toward a wildly important goal. How would I get there with my tendency to quietly study a problem alone and my bias toward details over the big picture?

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post about building a balanced team that complements each members weaknesses. I learned that lesson while playing basketball. I'm old and challenged by gravity. I'd better have a team around me who can slash and jump or else we'll all plod up and down the court and shoot stationary jump shots. But, I also easily find my role on a team of young slashers. While they move quickly around the court and take risks, I can be counted on to find an open spot and wait for an opportunity to take a shot. And to make a decent percentage.

The same is true on my projects. There is a place for a high C on every project. I'll be the one keeping an eye on the planning and details. I'll ask the "what happens if" questions that might keep the project from going spectacularly bad. I can do that lonely work without getting run down or exhausted.

But, just as I plan for stakeholder personalities and other risks, I also try to manage my own personality. For the wildly important projects with a bold vision, or those that need to get implemented quickly, my style can be a risk. And I should try to mitigate that risk by putting someone on the project who will balance my tendencies and keep the project moving forward. They'll keep me from sitting at the light and I'll make sure they don't drive off a cliff.

As PMs we intentionally plan for personalities on our project teams. If we want to be great, we should also manage our own.

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