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Beyond A Number: Embracing the Complexity of Individuals

I nearly lost my mind. 


During a recent executive mastermind group, I heard a story that made me more than cringe. Paying attention to my body, I felt myself hold my breath. My chest got hot and my stomach tightened. Looking at the feelings wheel, I assess that I was frustrated and horrified. I could not believe what I heard. 


A leader in an organization shared that they were worried about their senior leader’s approach to people changes. The senior leader used the DiSC assessment as a tool for personnel changes. The DiSC assessment is an instrument to help an individual assess their behavioral tendencies along four dimensions: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness (more on that on the DiSC profile website). DiSC is intended to help individuals better understand themselves and how they show up at work. It is an effective resource and data point as part of a comprehensive individual professional development plan. No issues there. 


Here is where I got fired up: the leader in question uses the DiSC assessment as the only data point to decide who should do what work. The leader uses a single number to represent the totality of an entire human being to decide—without the person’s input—the kind of work the team member should do and even whether they should be a part of the organization. This single-number-based approach disregards the person’s interests, skills, experience, aspirations, and potential. No seeing the person. Just a number. 

We must do better than this. 


Each human being is a beautiful, complex, unique, valuable, creative, resourceful, and whole person. Each person has strengths, ideas, weaknesses, and so much more that fill them with the potential to contribute and lead in an organization and the world. Each person also has a right to autonomy and to have a say in how their career path unfolds. No, we don’t always get to do exactly what we want to do, but each of us should have influence in designing how we work. 


I often recommend assessments to help clients discover and explore. One of my favorites is CliftonStrengths (formerly known as StrengthFinders), which helps individuals identify and clarify their strengths to maximize their potential. I also recommend the Positive Intelligence Saboteurs, which names an individual’s limiting beliefs so that we can then work on developing positive intelligence, stretch potential, and gain higher satisfaction. There are many other assessments. But these are just data points. We then discuss, clarify, and co-create the next steps in the person’s journey. 


In considering our own potential and career development, and in supporting the professional development of the people we lead, we must consider the whole person. This must be a comprehensive consideration that includes the swirl of all that is person, more like watercolors than just a number. This requires connection, vulnerability, building trust, compassion, and courage to challenge. Some important data points about the person: 

  • Personal values 

  • Work values 

  • Strengths 

  • Experience 

  • Growth mindset 

  • Career aspirations 

  • Potential 

  • Current life needs 

  • Anything else they deem important 


A person cannot be summarized by a number. We need to see one another. Beyond the number, let’s embrace the complexity of individuals. 

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