You didn’t come here to make the choice. You’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand why you made it. I thought you’d have figured that out by now.

The Matrix Reloaded. GIF source.

I know I’ve said it before…

…but running an agency is hard.

It gets easier with experience. You’ll start to learn what works – and what doesn’t work – for you.

Each time I’ve encountered a new problem I’ve spoken to peers, both inside and outside the agency; I’ve read books and blogs; I’ve just done something to see what happens.

I’ve made the situation worse; pissed off co-workers and clients; cost the company money. Sometimes solutions that have worked for others haven’t worked for me.

The most valuable experience I’ve gained hasn’t been an ever-increasing arsenal of potential solutions, but an ever-increasing understanding of what I’ll implement well – and what I won’t.

I’m making consistently better, faster choices since I’ve tried to name and quantify who I am. I’ve found personality assessments the most effective way to do this.

Professionally I’ve used both Watson Glaser and Objective Management and personally I’ve used Myers Briggs – but the tool that’s made the biggest different to me is DISC.

What is DISC?

DISC stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness – or Decisive, Interactive, Stabilising and Cautious in the version I’ve used.

Before I explain what each of these mean, here’s what my profile looks like:

DiSC Profile

  • Decisiveness – preference for problem solving and getting results
  • Interactive – preference for interacting with others and showing emotion
  • Stability – preference for pacing, persistence and steadiness
  • Cautious – preference for procedures, standards and protocols.

There are two columns, representing my natural and adaptive styles.

My natural style is how I behave when I’m being true to myself; it’s also the style I revert to when I’m under pressure or stress. My adaptive style is how I behave when I feel like I’m being observed or when I’m aware of my own behaviour; behaving this way for too long increases stress.

You’ll have met adaptive me if we spoke at a conference or in a meeting. My colleagues will have seen glimpses of natural me. Fortunately, natural and adaptive me both like people about the same amount (our I scores are similar), meaning I don’t make much effort to behave differently in social situations.

To put the scores into context, DISC uses word association. I’ve underlined the words most relevant to my scores.

High D High I High S High C
Demanding Gregarious Patient Cautious
Driving Patient Predictable Perfectionist
Forceful Inspiring Passive Systematic
Daring Enthusiastic Complacent Careful
Determined Sociable Stable Analytical
Competitive Poised Consistent Orderly
Responsible Charming Steady Neat
Inquisitive Convincing Outgoing Balanced
Conservative Reflective Restless Independent
Mild Matter-of-fact Active Rebellious
Agreeable Withdrawn Spontaneous Careless
Unobtrusive Aloof Impetuous Defiant
Low D Low I Low S Low C


Reading my DISC report immediately helped me improve the way I work. Here are a few examples:

I’m (very) low C

I like to think of myself as analytical – but even my adaptive self doesn’t come close.

I’ve created checklists to force me to use data in decisions and make better choices about when it is and isn’t appropriate to disregard process in the name of “getting things done”.

I’m a dS personality

When it comes to tasks I’m very outgoing – I have a high capacity for work and I power through my to-do list pretty rapidly.

I’m an introvert when it comes to people, however – I choose a few people to trust implicitly. You wouldn’t struggle to name which colleagues I rely on.

DISC radar

Here’s how to communicate with a dS personality, according to Crystal:

In person or on the phone

  • Project your voice and speak with a confident tone
  • Ask direct questions
  • Present ideas at a high level without going into detail
  • Use clear, direct sentences rather than long expressive ones
  • If you’re calling them on the phone, first ask if they are available via email or text

In writing

  • Limit an email to three sentences or less
  • State the purpose of an email in the first sentence
  • Include a direct call-to-action
  • If you don’t know them, include a brief introduction to build trust

I can recall situations where I’ve been sent long emails and refused to read them until they’re bullet pointed. I dislike conversations with people who don’t say what they mean. Communicating in a way that’s true to myself (i.e. when I’m under stress or pressure) probably makes me come across like a dick.

Discussing context from DISC with the people I manage has helped us to improve communication, so my team:

  • Knows the best way to reach me
  • Knows how to write a message if they need a response
  • Knows that I will consider their communication style too.

More than 60 people at my agency have now taken DISC assessments and there are some commonalities:

  • Account Managers are typically highest I and high S. Associated words might be gregarious, inspiring, enthusiastic and passive, complacent, stable
  • The profile of an SEO Strategist is similar to a web developer or even a project manager: usually equal measures of S and C. They’re often patient, predictable, passive and cautious, perfectionist, systematic
  • Middle management have higher than the people they manage. Board members usually have more than everyone else. They’re demanding, driving, forceful

Know who you are talking to. Swing your at a developer and you’re just going to piss them off.

My presentation style stems from my personality

According to Innermetrix, personalities like mine:

  • Prefer lecture formats compared to reading or manuals – I could be better at handouts and transcriptions – my slides rarely have notes so probably aren’t as useful as they could be after the event; I could blog more often
  • Emphasise a broad range of topics or ideas in the learning – potentially focusing harder on a central concept can make for a better talk
  • May seem somewhat difficult to know and understand on a personal level – I barely introduce myself when presenting and never have slides “about me”; I should make more effort to engage people before and after training.

I spend a lot of time at conferences, presenting and training. I’m usually happy with a deck when I think it’s better than my last and that I would be happy to pay to watch it; with only a little more effort, potentially many more people could feel that way about my talk too.

I’m (very) high S

Blair Enns and David C. Baker have discussed personality profiles in their 2Bobs podcast several times (more on that later). In one episode Blair states that High S profiles aren’t typically good at sales. Since that’s my job – and I literally couldn’t score higher in Stabilising – I put Blair’s comments to my sales trainer sensei Tommy Schaff.

“He’s right at a macro sense. High S means desire for stability. Doesn’t want to do multiple things at one time, highly stable, comfortable and loyal. What Blair was saying likely is…High S won’t prospect and take action and…he’s right. That’s often a result that kills sales quotas.

“Your score is high naturally. You adapt to 39 so unless you’re under stress, you don’t operate as a High S. It takes a lot of energy to move from 99 to 39…I suggest you mancave a lot with a way to chill so you can maintain that adaptation. It’s the right score to adapt to for this job but there’s a price to pay if you don’t honour your personal needs for space in your private life.

“So…recharge your batteries before you need them or you will end up falling into a trap of doing something likely not helpful to ease the pain of the job…lots of people who adapt from 99 S to 39 S end up drinking, gambling, 420, consumerism, porn…”

Suddenly my first blog post makes sense…

“Also, can adapt your behaviour because of your why – you love to get results, win, get paid and be the boss.”

How to put a number on your why

I’m using a version of DISC from Innermetrix including a values index.

According to the report:”it is vital for superior performance that your motivations are satisfied by what you do. This drives your passion, reduces fatigue, inspires you and increases drive.”

My values index puts my choice of a role in agency business development into context:


Low Aesthetic You have a bottom-line approach focusing on functionality over form or aesthetics.
Very High Economic You are very competitive and bottom-line oriented.
Low Individualistic You are able to support the efforts of the team without demanding the limelight; a supportive team player.
Very High Political You are a very strong leader, and able to take control of a variety of initiatives and maintain control.
Average Altruist You are concerned for others without giving everything away; a stabilizer.
Low Regulatory You are able to be a multi-threaded problem solver, able to shift gears and projects in a flexible way.
Very High Theoretical You are passionate about learning for its own sake. You are continually in learning mode and bringing a very high degree of technical or knowledge base credibility.


I’m the agency’s Sales and Marketing Director because I find making money and power e.g. title and responsibility the most fulfilling aspects of a role (very high economic, very high political).

Working with every team in my organisation – and talking to marketers in many other businesses about their challenges – gives me the opportunity to learn a wide variety of skills (very high theoretical).

I don’t speak, blog and share to gain fame for its own sake, but because it drives my business forwards (low individualistic). I have a tendency to ignore processes that I think are making things harder, not better (low regulatory). 

I’m very motivated because I get to do a lot of things I love and I get rewarded in a way that makes me feel like I’ve been successful at work.

That success has been easier to come by as I’ve become more aware of what motivates everyone else.

9 easy things you can do to improve your self-awareness

  • Listen to David C. Baker and Blair Enns talk about using assessment instruments in your firm. They eloquently describe what these tools are and aren’t useful for.
  • Take a free DISC assessment with Crystal.
  • Use a more detailed, licensed version of DISC like Innermetrix (the one I currently use) with a values index.
  • Tell yourself that nobody is a natural at everything – which doesn’t mean you’re not good at it. You might love being creative – but hate managing people. Someone who loves managing people is probably going to be even more effective at it. Give some of your least favourite responsibilities to somebody else to see how much more productive you are.
  • Get 360 feedback (here’s how, if you aren’t using software to help facilitate it already; we use PeopleHR). My manager, for most of my time at Branded3, has been Tim – we communicate very effectively because we’re very similar people (which we can prove with DISC). …but I’ve managed development, data, search, sales, PR and content teams; and they’re all very different. Get feedback from other people and you’ll start to build a picture of what the organisation really values about you and what you could improve.
  • Figure out what you want. A technique I’ve found helpful, courtesy of Tommy Schaff: make a bucket list with 100 things on it. The first 50 will be things you know think you want; the next 40 will be things you know you don’t want (but you’ve got to fill this stupid list); the last 10 will probably surprise you. I always use Microsoft To-Do to make lists because it’s easy to sort; works across iPhone and laptop; and it’s free of clutter. You should try it.
  • On the subject of “starting with your why” there’s a book you should probably read: Drive by Dan Pink.
  • DM me if you fancy a chat.
  • A bit of fun to finish: here’s a free test to get your Jungian personality formula…then look up your four letter formula on The REAL Personality Types Made Relevant. I’m an ENTP: The Mad Scientist.

Let me know how you’re using data like personality assessments to improve your life!