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Master The Art Of Employee Motivation With These 8 Tips

Recently one of my leadership coaching clients and I had a discussion about the dynamics of a DISC assessment and its relationship to company leadership and employee motivation. She wanted to understand how her DISC preferences impacted her ability to lead her employees and how she could use knowledge of her own DISC to motivate her employees.  As her leadership coach I used the following to inform our discussion.

Since Dr. William Marston’s publication of Emotions of Normal People in 1923, when he popularized the view that people’s behavior could be described along 2 axes such that their action orientation was either passive or active and their perception of their environment as either favorable or unfavorable; a number of subsequent researchers have contributed to his original research, culminating in Walter Clarke’s development of the DISC Index in 1956 and Dr. John G. Geier subsequent work on the final instrument framework for DISC. [i]

My purpose here is to relate how knowledge of a leader’s DISC Index can assist her in understanding how to develop eight effective employee motivation tips.

Employee Motivation

DISC Index And Leadership Interrelationships

As the diagram illustrates, the two upper quadrant (D and I) leaders are extroverted and active in nature, seeking to modify, control, influence or shape their environment according to their own particular view. These are leaders who focus on the what of a situation more than the how or why and they continually challenge and test the limits of the surroundings and seek new ways.   The two bottom quadrant (S and C) leaders are passive and introverted in nature, seeking to focus on the how and the why of a situation and instead of trying to change the existing environment they are more interested in protecting or continuing it.

# 1. Employee Motivation and Decisive Leaders

A leader with high Decisiveness tendencies has a clear picture in her mind of what results she wants. Her actions or messages are designed to promote that idea and to get others to support those results. In order for a high “D” leader to effectively improve employee motivation she needs to communicate to her employees her end result by communicating the end result through the effective use of permission-based questions, i.e.:  Would you like to help me achieve X by Y date?  (Remember, the question only concerns itself with the “what.”)

# 2. Influencing Leaders

High Influencing tendency leaders also want to shape and mold events and have an active voice in that process. Her actions or messages are also designed to promote that idea and get others to support those results, but she tends to do so by working with or through people more using permission-based employee motivation questions that focus on working with others, i.e.: Would it be o.k. if we work together to achieve X by Y date? (Still concerned with the “what.”)

# 3. Stabilizing Leaders

High Stabilizing tendency leaders are more passive and introverted and interested in the how and why—a product orientation. Her primary interests are in maintaining stability within herself and the situation. Permission­-based employee motivation questions that address the specifics are important to this leader tendency, i.e.: Would you be willing to help me identify the specific steps necessary for us to complete X before Y date?

# 4. Cautious Leaders

High Cautious tendency leaders are also more passive and introverted. She also takes a product orientation, asking for specific reasons behind changes and supporting data to back up the decision to change. Why is her favorite question in order to get things done accurately. She is quite receptive to permission-based employee motivation questions messages that reassure her that she and her employees are doing it correctly, i.e.: Can you help me identify how X can be accomplished before Y date, and can you help identify the specific steps we need to take to do so?

# 5. Decisive & Influencing Leaders

As you can surmise high Decisive and Influencing leader combinations focus on the what, speed, and interactions with others.  Her permission-based employee motivation questions look like this, i.e.: Will you help me to achieve X by Y date if we can do it together?

# 6. Influencing & Stabilizing Leaders

High Influencing and Stabilizing leader combinations focus on people and process, she wants to make sure everyone is involved in the process.  Her permission-based employee motivation questions look like this, i.e.: Would you all like to help me develop the steps to complete X before Y date, to make sure we all benefit from each others ideas?

# 7. Stabilizing & Cautious Leaders

High Stabilizing and Cautious leader combinations tend to slow the pace down a bit, focusing on process and tasks equally, and she makes sure that others identify the steps and results to ensure work is done correctly. Her permission-based employee motivation questions look like this , i.e.: It’s very important that you detail the steps you need to take to accomplish X by Y date, will you make sure that you record the steps and fully describe how you accomplished it?

# 8. Cautious & Decisive Leaders

High Cautious and Decisive leader combinations are a challenge, no doubt. She combines interest in the end result with a need for the detail. Her permission-based employee motivation questions look like this, i.e.: Will you be able to identify the steps needed to accomplish X by Y date?

Leadership coaching as well as leadership training activities utilize the DISC Index and other psychometric assessments to help leaders better understand themselves and to then use that knowledge to improve employee motivation on a continual basis.  Which profile fits you best?

[i] I acknowledge the contributions of Jay Niblick in a concise descriptor of the research summarized in this article, from his work, The Innermetrix DISC & Values Index Training Manual –  The “HOW” & “WHY” of Human Performance, Innermetrix, 2009.

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Warren runs The Executive Suite, providing leadership & executive coaching programs, professional recruitment, One Page Business Plans, and franchise coaching services to businesses. Located in Hyannis, MA Warren is expert at people management, helping business executives hire, manage, and motivate others smarter. . He serves as the Director of Coaching Programs for Innermetrix, Inc. He is accredited in a variety of assessment and coaching methods. He is an ardent advocate of innovation, creativity, and inspirational change in business in life.

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  • John Twohig

    Good post Warren, leaders come in all shapes and sizes. The disc is interesting, if everyone understood their own strengths and weakness’s they would be best placed to direct the orchestra. Equally by understanding their people’s strengths and weakness’s they are best placed to help them play to those strengths. As Lee Iaccoca said when asked the secret of being a good CEO, know were the bodies are and don’t going there.

  • I’m quite familiar with DISC thanks to those bright sparks over at and reckon I’m a S and C mix, but am probably quite close to the center. I’ve used DISC mainly to help me understand my ‘high C’ colleagues – how to manage them best. In addition, it makes me aware of my weaknesses, which i’m trying to chip away at.

  • A high level of self-awareness enables us to become more aware of our environment, including those we work and live with. Profiling often throws up curve balls to really help us understand that all is not as it seems. I used an interesting (and very simple) matrix the other day with a group of fresh entrepreneurs – the Johari Window – many of them had never even wondered what they did not know about themselves, as they assumed they knew all there is to know. Oh boy, did I hear many pennies dropping that day 🙂

    Great post Warren, keep up the great work!

  • Thanks John – understand that DISC measures one’s behavioral preference, and does not speak well to one’s strengths and weaknesses. Strengths and weaknesses, or more accurately talents and non-talents are best measured with an axiological instrument such as the Attributes Index – hmm, another article in the making.

  • Thanks Vetter, BTW, any who want a complimentary DISC I’ll be happy to oblige.

  • Elaine it sure is interesting to
    observe each individual’s feedback to their behavioral preferences – and
    to then help them to understand how they can utilize what they now know
    to help them lead and manage better. Thanks.

  • Interesting way to classify leaders. I haven’t seen leadership organized this way. I’ll have to think more about it but my knee-jerk reaction is that people are hard to button down in this way as leaders. I think most leaders have style differences that depend on the situation they’re in, the task that needs to be accomplished and the nature of the person they’re leading.

  • Charles, correct on all 3. The article focuses on how differing behaviors can impact how a leader communicates a given task to the person they are leading. It also helps to understand the behavioral preferences of the person being led. Understanding yourself first helps you to understand how to communicate better to others. Thanks.

  • Great classification of leaders! I believe that in order for us to effectively motivate and inspire our employees, we have to be successful first in motivating and inspiring ourselves. To influence change on them, we have to first influence change in ourselves.

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