Extended DISC® and the Art of Leadership


In general terms the manager tends to plan, organise and coordinate to achieve results and the leader tends to inspire and motivate. The two tend to go hand and hand yet they’re not the same thing, they are complementary.

Leadership is important as it’s found in every level of organisations. The challenge is for them to become more effective often through self-awareness and behavioural flexibility.

Watch a live recording of our webinar, Extended DISC® and the Art of Leadership, as we discuss the different types of leadership, the challenges and the strengths of each DISC style.

What is the most effective leadership style?

Leadership is always an interesting and hotly debated topic in our industry with many differing viewpoints. It is undoubtedly a well-liked DISC assessment with many of our clients. Interestingly enough, our clients customise their leadership assessment reports as the requirements and behaviours required for leadership roles are so diverse.

With the highly competitive nature of business today, along with the diversity of cultures, generations, and the capabilities of the workforce, leadership has a significant impact. Each week we often find a new ‘how-to’ business book released on modern leadership and how successful leaders should behave. You’ll discover a vast range of leadership-related Facebook posts, LinkedIn articles, seminars, courses etc. I’m sure you get the picture, there are endless leadership resources available.

So, does this emphasis, and focus, on leadership mean that we have identified the ‘perfect leadership style’? Is there a template for you to follow for success as a leader? The answer is Yes… and No!

What is the best leadership quality?

Think of all the successful leaders you know. How different are their leadership styles and the situations that they are leading? I would assume they are very diverse. Regardless, they are all successful. Why?

Well, there have been many studies undertaken on just this very thing, and interestingly enough they revealed that there are common traits that people display and that many look for in a leader. 

The base point for this seems to be centred around the word, TRUST. Trust seems to be the sticking point for people to want to be led, however, TRUST has to be gained and is certainly not a right of inheriting a management title. As the saying goes” you have to have followers to be a leader”. 

Trust it would seem is gained from two primary factors: 

  1. Competence in getting the job done 
  2. Their character in how they get it done.

However, how individual leaders demonstrate and communicate the common traits while doing or not doing this will be a reflection of:

  • Their own natural behavioural profile
  • The behavioural style of their target audience
  • The nature of the leadership challenge situation facing the team and its business environment

What is the best DISC leadership style?

Our clients often ask, ‘What is the ideal Extended DISC® behavioural style for a leader or manager?’ If there was, then it would be a sure-fire way to guarantee all leaders and managers are successful by following the recipe! We could continuously recruit that same behavioural style in every organisation, knowing they would perform strongly.

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Of course, as mentioned studies show that there are common traits found in successful leaders. But there is not one DISC type that is better than the others at being in a leadership position – why is that you may ask?

I think by going back a step and defining what leadership and management are will help to answer this question. 

What is the difference between Management and Leadership?

There are many definitions of what a manager is and furthermore what constitutes a leader. Some say they are both management, but one has a “driver” or task focus, and one “enhances” with a people focus. But what is agreed is that both types of management and leadership styles are needed to be an effective manager as they are complementary to each other, and linked.

The Extended DISC® Lead & Manage report recognises the differences in the two management styles as it is vital for us to help map which method a person might have a natural tendency towards. Let’s think about a manager as being a ‘driver’ and task-oriented and a leader as being an “enhancer” and people-oriented. From these two descriptions, we can gauge a fundamental issue: an effective leader has a high level of self-awareness. They know which style of leadership they tend to veer towards, and they learn to combine it with the other method. Managers learn to ‘soften’ around their people while leaders learn to toughen up. They understand their strengths and development areas. It’s this awareness this makes them great as they can adapt themselves when needed, play to their strengths and potentially surround themselves with others that can help deal with those development areas.

Now we have a basic definition lets go back to that question of “is there an ideal Extended DISC® style for leadership?” the answer to that question was ‘no,’ but why isn’t there, let’s take a look at 3 reasons why.

Reason Number One

Firstly, each individual leader has their own behavioural style and subsequently, their own strengths and areas of development that is unique to them. These traits, as well as their learned behaviours and experience, all help shape them into the supervisor that they are. That means they are more natural in some areas of what we expect of a leader than in other areas.

We traits do we expect our leaders to have? 

  • Fantastic communication skills that see them connect with their people
  • They need to be adaptable to changes or unseen issues that pop up
  • Make fast but fair decisions
  • Provide critical feedback and preferably encouragement to motivate.
  • Be clear and concise with the goals of the organisation, 
  • Have a strategic ability and future thinking
  • Be comfortable with detail, facts and figures

And we expect leaders to have these traits all while leading by example, coaching, being approachable, fair, having empathy and keeping a positive atmosphere and of course being friendly while holding people accountable! You get the drift. I think we expect a lot of our leaders, in fact quite often a superwoman or superman! If you’re familiar with DISC behavioural profile, you’ll notice we want our leaders to exhibit behaviours from all over the quadrant!

Reason Number Two

That brings us to our second point. The team that the leaders are managing will also be comprised of a variety of behavioural styles. For example, one team member may not need a feeling of a ‘connection’ with their boss, another team member with a different DISC style might find it very important to connect with the leader to build their trust of them. Where one team member might want more instructions, plans and schedules from their leader – another member might like a spontaneous, friendly approach and be more autonomous in their role. Each DISC styles expectations and their needs will vary. You can start to see how some of these leaders might not hit the nail on the head all the time with every member – unless they are aware and can adapt. 

Reason Number Three

Lastly, each situation requires different interactions and behaviours from leaders. The people that they are leading, the culture of the company, the product or service they might be selling. Every situation is different, each interaction is different. Therefore, unless we know the exact environment, we cannot know the ideals of the “best fit for a boss.”

All of these attributes and situations mentioned influence what an effective leader is for that particular environment! For example, an ‘operations manager’ position might require a results-oriented leader who manages massive amounts of technical information and detail and be creative in strategic business ideas. They may need to achieve results through efficient delegation, time managing people and product stock while problem-solving on the fly! So they need to make fast decisions are results-focused and task-oriented – naturally, you may find this leans towards a DISC behavioural style of a D or a DC. Though anyone can exhibit these behaviours, it may require more energy and effort from them.

When you are recruiting for a leadership position or looking at a succession plan, it’s essential to take into account a candidate’s DISC style, the tasks involved in the role, the job description, have an understanding of the people that they will be leading and recruit accordingly. This information will help you understand their strengths and where there might be challenges. If you are succession planning, promoting internally or even conducting leadership development, then by taking this same approach, you can identify training gaps or areas in which future leaders may need support.

What are the Extended DISC® leadership styles?

Authoritative Leader (D style)

The authority of the D personality type tends to be based on fear, power and distance. However, they are excellent in crisis situations and can even create a crisis of there own if there isn’t one! They emphasise the speed in completion of tasks and achievement of results. They view themselves as very much in charge!

Change Leadership (D/I style)

A DI leader tends to be persuasive, charismatic and friendly. They are competitive, demanding and wants results! They are future-oriented, visionaries and big picture thinkers. A DI leader is great at creating a positive atmosphere for their people and are seen as a pioneer and early adaptor of new ways and ideas.

Informal leadership (I style)

An I style’s authority is based on charisma and motivation. They create a relaxed atmosphere for their team. I profiles lead through being a friend to their followers. They tend to encourage creativity, positiveness and good energy over accuracy or rules at times. 

Participating leadership (I/S style)

The team atmosphere is critical to IS style leaders. They are open and friendly leaders and create a very accepting environment. They are often seen as more of a facilitator than a manager, and this can work very well for them with empowering their people. 

Supporting Leadership (S style)

An S style leaders’ authority is based on experience, expertise and bureaucratic Status. They are comfortable in maintaining routines and in general, tend to be stable and service-orientated. S styles have a participative approach to leadership and prefer to lead “small teams.” Because this type of leader is so patient, they have a great ability to guide, teach and develop their people. 

Planning Leadership (S/C style)

The SC personality type leaders tend to be thoughtful, cautious and structured with their leadership. Outwardly they are calm leaders but internally strong and very determined to do things right. Because they are great planners, they tend to clearly communicate their expectations and objectives. Careful preparation often ensures the goals are met.

Quality Leadership (C style)

The authority of C styles tends to be based on rules, standards and quality. They are interested in facts, details and analyses. They have an emphasis on regulations and compliance and do not typically lead through inspiration or words of encouragement. C style leaders are very systematic in their approach, and that tends to ensure that everyone knows what is expected. 

Power-centred Leadership (C/D style)

The CD style leader is a power centred leader – to them, their position holds the authority. They have a high level of individualism and can, therefore, come across as separated from their followers. They develop a formal environment where hierarchy is essential. They have high standards for themselves, and this is transferred to what they expect of their people. 

All of these leadership types have strengths and development areas. The most important thing is that leaders are aware of their natural style and can adapt this to suit the organisation, product/service they sell, and the types of people they lead.