Who’s who in your zoo

There is a plethora of methodologies for assessing the behavioural traits of the people you love, live with and lead. Most readers may have heard of DiSC theory (Based on four different behavioural traits, Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance), but in this post I want to share with you a theory first published by Dr Larry Little in 2013 in a book called Make a Difference and how to apply it to your business.

The book introduces us to four animals. The leading lion, the competent camel, the much-loved monkey and the tranquil turtle. We can immediately identify with these animals as we read through the characteristics of each. There is also a link provided by the author to an online testing tool, the result of which is a score for each individual animal arriving at a sum of 20.

Each animal exists in their own quadrant and typically your dominant and secondary attributes will be adjacent. Turtles and monkeys are PEOPLE oriented whereas camels and lions are TASK oriented. Turtles and camels are INTROVERTS whereas monkeys and lions are EXTROVERTS.

I have tested myself on numerous occasions over the last five years. My most recent results were Lion=13, Camel=6, Monkey=1 and Turtle=0. This means that my dominant attribute is to be a task-oriented extrovert. With such a high score as a lion, I am considered a thoroughbred. This is sadly, a potentially bad thing rather than anything automatically positive.

What does this mean?

Each animal’s dominate attribute has its own share of strengths and weaknesses. My ‘leading lion’ attribute means that I believe myself to be a strong leader (extrovert) who gets the job done (task). I am a big picture thinking workaholic who takes control. However, I am not sensitive because I will say what I like. I will also take risks if needed to ensure I complete my tasks.

My wife, Samantha, has ‘competent camel’ as her dominant attribute. She has worked her whole career in finance and administration roles and frankly we couldn’t have achieved what we did together without one of us caring about the details.

To help you understand how this all fits together I have created a summary which you can download. Click on the image below to access the PDF.

So how can you use this in your business?

You need to know who is on your team, so you communicate with them in the right way.

Now I know I am a thoroughbred leading lion I actively compensate for this. As a lion I don’t need much praise or to stop and celebrate but as a leader, I know that I have worked with team members who are people oriented (turtles and monkeys) and need this reward. From this understanding I now plan (remember, I am task oriented) celebration events. I even praise team members for something historically I would have considered was just them doing the job that I pay them to do. Some people thrive on praise. Who knew?

I would wager that if you have someone who is pleased to take any task on with a smile, but then fails to deliver on it they will test as being a monkey. People oriented (they like to please people) and extroverted. To help monkeys understand why they should do the task you have asked of them, you need to connect on a personal level. They need to understand how the task you are asking them to undertake impacts the people they care about.

And as tip for you, if you have any tranquil turtles in your team, they are sensitive and need careful handling. But they are where the wisdom of your business resides. Don’t give up on them. What I mean by this, is that there is value in the diversity of the people in your organisation, but you need to be aware of their differences to get the best from them.

Once I learned these skills, I looked back at my less enlightened times and some of the team members I most likely ‘broke’ with the roar of my badly behaved leading lion. With the benefit of hindsight, some of these otherwise great people were never going to be great in the new roles I gave them.

As a footnote to this insight, a Canadian called Laurence J Peter formulated something called the ‘Peter Principle’ which documents the idea that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence”.

This book has taught me that this may sometimes be avoidable if you first look at the characteristics of the person you are promoting and compare them to the requirements of the role you are trying to fill. If you decide to promote someone to a leadership role and they don’t have enough ‘leading lion’ and ‘monkey’ in their make-up, they may not be able to make the constant decisions that the role entails whilst connecting on a personal level with their team. Always interview with specific questions for the skills needed for the role whether it’s someone new to your company or as an internal hire.

The book and the author

Over the last five years since I first read this book, I have had the pleasure on numerous occasions of meeting and working with the author, Dr Larry Little. A more gentle and kindly man I am yet to meet. There are several volumes in this series but start with Make A Difference: In the lives of those you love, live with, and lead (ISBN: 1475945493)