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Commanding leaders: DiSC D style leadership

Leaders who primarily use the commanding dimension tend to be challenging, determined, and rational.
5 min read

The commanding dimension of leadership

The Everything DiSC®-based typology of leadership styles helps determine your or your client’s primary leadership dimension and identify areas for development. It can also help you consider what type of leadership style might be most effective to use during specific organizational challenges.

Even though great leaders use each of the eight dimensions of leadership, they tend to prefer one or find one easier to exhibit. Leaders who primarily use the commanding dimension tend to be challenging, determined, and rational. It reflects their D DiSC style.

Who is a commanding leader?

Commanding leaders are what people often picture when they think of a traditional leader. They have a natural take-charge attitude and are motivated to achieve. Leaders who primarily use the commanding dimension tend to be competitive, driven, and assertive. They can be powerful, decisive leaders who enlist others to work quickly toward ambitious goals. They enjoy blazing new trails even through unfamiliar territory.

In their hurry to get results and beat the competition they can be challenging and demanding. At their worst, they can be forceful, egotistical leaders who push others without a care for organizational morale or cohesion.

Strengths of the commanding leader:

  • They are able to set and stick to aggressive timelines.
  • They tend to be very goal-oriented.
  • They’re able to speak with conviction.
  • They’re not afraid to take some risks.
  • They’re comfortable stepping up to take charge when a group lacks direction.
  • They’re able to make tough decisions that may not be popular.
  • They set high expectations for themselves and others.

Goals: Bottom-line results, victory

Would increase effectiveness through: Patience, empathy

Source: The 8 Dimensions of Leadership

Commanding leadership

Psychologically, leaders lead because they convince others that they understand the issues better than anyone else. People follow them because they speak about solutions with persuasive conviction, project confidence when others are uncertain, and act decisively.
Judith Bardwick in The Leader of the Future

What can we learn from commanding leaders?

The “command and control” type of leadership is falling out of fashion and you can easily find articles explaining how leaders need to be more affirming or inclusive. However, there are still times when a commanding leadership style is warranted; for example, during times of crisis when quick decisive action is required. Or when enough consultative inputs have been gained and it’s time for the leader to move ahead toward getting results.

Personal authority matters

Humans respond well to confidence and conviction. You can’t make decisions people will believe in without showing confidence. Confidence shows a commitment to—and confidence in—one’s self and one’s team. Want someone to follow you into the unknown? Then show confidence in being able to blaze (or stay on) the trail. Confidence allows you to make the tough decisions and it’s also reassuring for your team. Leaders early in their careers sometimes struggle with this.

One way to display confidence is to make firm, public commitments. Commanding leaders speak firmly and their audience responds by giving more credibility to their ideas. These leaders are seen as discerning, critical, and capable. Leaders are responsible for initiating change and the confidence they show funnels through their organizations, making that change easier to believe in.

The primary purpose of a driving, demanding leadership style is to set the expectation that individuals and teams should achieve critical organizational goals in an efficient, effective, and timely manner.
Susan Gebelein et al., Successful Executives Handbook

Decisive actions can’t wait for everyone’s permission

Groups want to evolve, grow, and be successful. Many in your organization want to push toward bigger and better things. Leaders who put unnecessary restrictions on their actions can keep themselves from finding new opportunities or from having the courage to act on them.

The words “can’t” and “should” can hold a leader back if they aren’t examined critically. Can you change the rules? Are you interpreting them too narrowly? Leaders who see themselves as powerful are willing to shift things as they see fit. They take the risk of speaking up first. You don’t have to be a bully or egomaniac to believe in your ability to make a difference and to act.

Rules are necessary for any organization to function; however, circumstances are often complex. Leaders who rely on rules indiscriminately fail to account for important context in their decisions.
Simon Sinek, author and speaker

Impatience can be a virtue

Impatience can be a tool to create urgency, to inspire others to achieve more quickly or more effectively than they thought they could. It gets us past doing just what’s comfortable. Impatience in a leader gets projects initiated and maintains their momentum.

Great commanding leaders use their impatience to support their vision of a better future. Their own sense of urgency and excitement adjust the expectations of those around them. They enlist others for support and investment. They show others how they fit into the grand vision. They also hold people responsible for deadlines and deliverables.

Leaders are fascinated by future. You are a leader if and only if, you are restless for change, impatient for progress and deeply dissatisfied with status quo. Because in your head, you can see a better future. The friction between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ burns you, stirs you up, propels you. This is leadership.
Marcus Buckingham, author and business consultant

The pitfalls of commanding-only leadership

There’s a reason why commanding leadership is out of fashion. It has been overused and some people see this style as autocratic and authoritarian. An inflated sense of power can close leaders off to outside input. This leadership style can take a heavy toll on those who value collaboration and support. Commanding leaders need to understand that for them to win, others do not have to lose or fail. It’s easy for assertiveness to turn into aggression.

Commanding leaders often fail to recognize the contributions of others. They hold themselves to high standards and tend to set the bar very high for others, only giving praise for the truly spectacular. While they might live comfortably with constant pressure to perform, they need to recognize that others do not. They benefit from recognizing that emotions and vulnerability aren’t necessarily weaknesses.

The words and actions of a commanding leader can seem fairly harmless in their own minds—but to others, they can sound harsh, combative, and demoralizing. If people see you as a hostile or indifferent leader, they will revoke their loyalty and reduce their level of performance. Leaders who show frustration, rather than focused impatience, can make their followers feel stressed and fearful. Naturally commanding leaders need to learn to maintain their composure.

Elsewhere on the web

Personal authority matters

Decisive actions can’t wait for everyone’s permission

Impatience can be a virtue


Kristeen Bullwinkle

Steeped in Everything DiSC since 2010. Strongly inclined CD style. Leadership style and EQ mindset: resolute. Believes strongly in the serial comma.

Certifications from Wiley:
Everything DiSC, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team

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