How We’re Wired Impacts How We Pursue Our Purpose

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Leadership is HARD! I’m not suggesting that it’s complicated or difficult, just that it nearly always brings a heavy mental and emotional burden. Fulfilling our own responsibilities is often a complicated task in itself but accepting responsibility for the lives and the livelihood of a team of people can be quite a load to carry on the best day and more than most people are ever willing to handle on the worst of days! If we don’t have a clear purpose for leading and keep it top of mind, it will likely be tough not to throw in the towel on many of the good days. And if that’s even remotely possible, I’m guessing you can come up with your own analogy for the bad days… If we’re going to have a real shot at keeping a purpose that makes leading worth it clearly in front of us through it all, we need a foundational understanding of how we’re wired; why we do the things that we do.

There are times where I choose not to even mention the DISC Model of Human Behavior specifically in conversations because I’ve heard so many folks respond that they “know all about” it because they took one of those personality tests once. Unfortunately, I understand what’s behind a comment like that. With 60-plus companies in the marketplace spouting why their flavor of DISC is better than everyone else’s, not to mention all the other variations with fancy names and other assessment methodologies, the landscape is more than a little messy. While Cindy and I do use one specific brand exclusively, we’re far more interested in providing each individual with a fundamental understanding of the science a reliable assessment is based on than we are with selling some report at an inflated cost that they won’t understand, shove in a drawer (at best), and never look at again. When we do that, they can begin to recognize patterns in nearly everyone they interact with that allows them to be more effective in their communication but they also learn a ton about how they’re wired personally. With that foundation in place, we can help them recognize why they do many of the things they do as well as why certain things are far more fulfilling than others. This same foundation can make a significant difference in how we help our team members identify and work toward a purpose that fulfills them, but we’ll circle back to that in more detail later on.

I’ve made a few references to how draining it is for me when I’m faced with work that’s more about checking boxes than getting results that make a long term difference for anyone at all. At this point, I do very little in the safety and human resources fields but I maintain the licensing and credentials so I can help out a few clients if they’re in a pinch. I recently had close to half my working hours in a single week dedicated to some of those tasks that I’d typically avoid, while still balancing a relatively full schedule of everything we normally do now. While I’m extremely thankful that I can provide this service for a select few of our clients, and keep them from being price-gouged by some clown selling them a whole bunch of crap they don’t need, it served as a great reminder for how far those specific tasks are from the purpose that gets me out of bed each morning.

One of the most helpful things I learned about myself as I studied The Model of Human Behavior was that I’m very Outgoing and fast-paced all the time. I also learned that I’m predominately Task-Oriented but I do tend to keep things light and humorous with a fair degree of attention to detail when I’m not under a lot of stress. When I feel like I’m being pulled from every direction like I did during that week (even though I was the one who agreed to every bit of it), I tend to lose any interest in making sure anyone has fun and the details can quickly get through out the proverbial window.

The majority of our work today requires a significant amount of preparation and a tremendous amount of attention to detail. But since it provides me with opportunities to share tools with leaders that they can then use to make a positive impact on every person in their organization, and I often get to do that from a high level perspective that helps them achieve measurable results in their organizations, it really fills my tank when it comes to purpose. The times where I have to slow down and check boxes, like recertifying someone to do something they do daily but I haven’t done on a regular basis myself for more than two decades (because some gubermint agency mandated it as a requirement and I’m credential to check that specific box), it becomes really tough to connect it back to a purpose gives me fulfillment.

For me, with that highly Outgoing and Task-Oriented approach, seeing the results of the work I’m doing gives me energy and drive to work even harder and longer. And knowing that the people I’m working with can apply what I share with them to get great results of their own is icing on the cake. All said though, only about ten percent of the population share my primary behavioral style - and most of them don’t have quite as much even then. With that in mind, let’s take a look at why about thirty percent of the world will need to build in some fun along the way as they work toward their purpose.

Having Fun While We Pursue Our Purpose

Just as much as I get fulfillment by getting things done, there’s a large group of folks who will thrive on having as much fun as they can while they work at achieving their purpose. While this group will likely be every bit as Outgoing and move at a pace that’s just as fast, they’re much more tuned into enjoying the process - and making sure the team around them does as well!

Leaders with this primary behavioral style are usually great in front of an audience. Not only do they enjoy being influential, their words leave a lasting impression. They’re wired to get involved in many things at once and they’re very willing to initiate action. But as much as checking the boxes on the fine details can drain my energy, the leaders who have a high mix of this style can struggle with it even more! When they can build some humor and excitement into even the most routine tasks, their energy levels won’t drop nearly as much. If they’re able to identify a clear purpose that provides them with opportunities for fun along the way, at least on more than the occasional basis, the responsibility that comes with leadership won’t feel nearly as heavy.

The challenge a leader with this primary style will face is that there will inevitably be times where someone has something bad to say about you. Where these leaders will generally do all they can to make sure everyone enjoys the journey, they often take criticism very personally - especially when it’s done in a public forum! Their willingness to get involved in multiple things at any given time can open them up to being somewhat illogical about how many of those commitments they can actually follow through on but being called out in front of others can bring out even worse traits, and that alone can throw water on the fire of even the strongest purpose they may have for accepting the responsibility to lead others.

Make no mistake here, I’m not suggesting that an Outgoing and People-Oriented leader can expect every day to be all fun and games any more than the Outgoing and Task-Oriented leaders (like me) can expect to produce great results each day without getting bogged down in the occasional mess of details. Life doesn’t work that way for anyone - and it most certainly doesn’t work that way when we’re willing to carry the weight of leadership. That’s why having an extremely clear purpose and understanding how we’re wired so we can work to best connect our daily tasks with that purpose is so important. Once we understand ourselves, we can work to surround ourselves with other leaders who can compliment us with their strengths.

Now that we’ve got a handle on two variations of the leaders with a more Outgoing approach, let’s change gears to look at what a more Reserved leader needs to tie their routines back to a fulfilling purpose.

When Serving Others Feeds Our Purpose

If we’re in a leadership role and have this third primary behavioral style, where we’re more Reserved and People-Oriented, we’re part of the largest group across the population as a whole. That said, I haven’t personally seen nearly as many folks who are wired this way jump at opportunities to be front and center. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not suggesting that they’re not capable of being incredibly effective leaders. The people who are wired this way don’t tend to jump up and down about much at all. In fact, their steady and supportive approach will be far more even keel than the Outgoing/Task-Oriented folks we started with or the Outgoing/People-Oriented ones we just looked at…

Most with this primary behavioral style prefer to be in the background. They don’t typically enjoy being the center of attention and confrontation is nearly always something they try to avoid. Based on those two things alone, carrying the responsibility that comes with leading a team of any size can be more daunting for them than for any of the other three primary styles. Make no mistake though, this doesn’t mean they’re not equipped to be great in leading their teams. In complete transparency, some of the more soft spoken leaders I’ve seen are also ones that have earned tremendous influence with the individuals who follow them - primarily through how they serve their teams! This is Cindy’s secondary style and I’m eternally grateful for how she’s able to balance out my direct and demanding approach, helping me to minimize the number of people I overwhelm on any given day!

While these folks can be hugely effective in leadership roles, I’ve seen many shy away from accepting the responsibility simply because of the amount of energy it will draw from them. But when they’ve developed clarity around how that energy in leading is genuinely helping others accomplish things they may never be able to achieve on their own, the Reserved and People-Oriented folks are often some of the strongest leaders you or I will ever see. And since they’re leading from a place of service, their teams are likely to be far more engaged and back them in ways that would never happen for someone trying to lead by pounding their chest and barking orders!

Although we may only see a small number of this overall large group step into a leadership role, the ones who do - and can tie their work to a purpose of doing for others what those others can’t do for themselves - can make a significant impact on their teams as well as the communities they’re a part of! But remember, their reserved approach won’t make as much noise as the first two styles we looked at - nor will those with the final style we’ll look at…

A Clear Purpose for Achieving Exceptional Results

If you’re a leader with this forth (and final) primary behavioral style, I have no doubt whatsoever that you’ve developed complete clarity around how each task you perform ties to your purpose and why all the other junk you deal with through the process shouldn’t bog you down. But developing that clarity and keeping it in front of you during the toughest times are often two VERY different things! We’ll dig into some steps any leader can take to keep their purpose top of mind soon enough. For now, let’s consider some of the traits this final group has that will help them lead well and some things that may be extremely taxing - making that strong, clear purpose even more critical…

This particular group only represents about 25 percent of the population as a whole but it’s fairly safe to assume that any time we see an organization producing high quality results on a consistent basis, someone with leadership responsibility is extremely conscientious! As leaders, they contemplate nearly every possible outcome and consider all the ways something could go wrong before jumping in with either foot. Like the Reserved and People-Oriented group we just looked at, a Reserved and Task-Oriented leader won’t generally seek the spotlight. The biggest difference we’ll see in them will be in how methodical they are, building logical systems and procedures anywhere they can, as opposed to being focused on instilling peace and harmony throughout the team around them.

One challenge these leaders will need to work through, which can quickly become quite frustrating for them, will be moving forward through uncharted territory without having all the details they’d like to sift through to make a calculated decision. In most cases, they’ll also be dealing with many more Outgoing and Faster-Paced people on their teams who will likely be chomping at the bit to take any action they can. This can drain the energy from a more cautious leader if they lose sight of how maintaining an achievable level of precision in everything they do feeds their most meaningful purpose.

I haven’t shared any of this to suggest that one of the four primary styles is better than another. In fact, each of us have our own unique blend of them all. My intent has been to provide some foundational perspective for understanding how to connect your approach directly to your purpose for accepting a leadership role to begin with. Next, we’ll work through a few practical ways we can create systems that support our strengths and compliment our blindspots, all while continuing to feed our clear purpose.