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In the book, The 8 Dimensions of Leadership: DISC Strategies for Becoming a Better Leader, authors Jeffrey Sugerman, Mark Scullard and Emma Wilhelm give convincing evidence that leadership comes in a multitude of styles. Based on the DISC model of behavior – one of the most scientifically validated behavioral assessment tools available today, their work shatters many of our fundamental assumptions about leadership. Instead of the hard-charging leadership style that we expect to be the norm, we discover that there are at least eight different approaches to leadership. And while each style possesses its own strengths and weaknesses, each one is capable of getting the job done.

We learn there are leaders who are quiet, collaborative, humble and inclusive. There are those who choose charm over coercion, harmony over discord and stability over rapid change. Despite their different approaches, every type of leader can be successful if they are self-aware enough to know their strengths and weaknesses and are willing to adapt their behaviors when the need arises.

Let’s start with the style that they identify that fits our stereotypes and move on from there. This is the style that Sugerman, Scullard and Wilhelm refer to as the Commanding Leader. As leadership styles go, the persona of the Commanding Leader fits the heroic, stereotypical style most often depicted by Hollywood. Think of George C. Scott’s portrayal of “Patton,” the hard-line, win-at-all-costs general who was famous both for his tactical brilliance and out-sized ego. He personifies the powerful pros and cons of this leadership style.

This persona is not just found on the battlefield. Attorneys who take the DISC and score a pure “D” operate with this leadership style. In our experience, they’re easy to spot. They’re often found at the helm of their own firm, operating as one of the more dominant partners or acting as the leading litigator.

They Have Extreme Confidence In Themselves:

The need to dominate that is characteristic of the high “D” personality means they gravitate naturally to leadership roles. They’re comfortable with power, have an authoritative manner and are, in fact, uneasy when they’re not in charge. They don’t second-guess themselves and this strong sense of conviction makes them appealing as leaders. Though their high self-esteem can come across as arrogant at times (a charge they dismiss as uninformed and unfounded), attorneys who display this style can inspire tremendous loyalty among those who like a strong, unwavering, and unapologetic leader.

Unfortunately, this intense style of leadership is not for everyone. People with a high level of self-confidence have both positive and negative tendencies.

They Like To Win

On the positive side, these self-assured attorneys will take on cases, causes and projects others view as impossible. They like challenging assignments and can overcome tremendous obstacles to produce spectacular results. In fact, they relish the idea of overcoming the obstacles that typically stop their competitors. More than any other leadership style, attorneys who fit this profile seek victory and unabashedly want to win.

Clearly, the strong desire to win paired with a lot of self-confidence produces attorneys who make excellent litigators. In fact, in a survey of all Atticus attorneys who identify themselves as litigators, those with a high “D” in their DISC profile showed up as the largest group in a breakdown of personality styles.


This is not surprising. Given the challenging nature of the litigation process, anyone familiar with DISC behavioral profiles would expect to see high “Ds” in the courtroom.

Young Commanding Leaders

As young associates, high “Ds” will be competitive, self-starters who can operate independently and grind through a lot of work. They’ll work hard and focus on getting results quickly, which makes them valuable as workhorses.

This is very positive. But to maintain quality, these workhorses should be matched with a supervising attorney or an assistant with an eye for detail. Left on their own, they’ll sacrifice detail in favor of getting things done quickly.

Also, if they end up on a team they aren’t leading, they’ll either isolate themselves and work independently or they’ll assert themselves as outspoken participants or shadow leaders. Don’t count on them to make good team players. They’re more comfortable leading a team than participating on one. Keep in mind that attorneys with this leadership style have no desire to linger in the ranks.

They Need To Pursue their Goals

As they mature and gain experience as associates, they’ll set their sights on higher ground. This is ideal if you’re a partner or firm owner and see them as candidates to move up. Unfortunately, they’ll job hop to move up the ranks if a clear partner track is not available. They won’t be held back by a sense of loyalty if it conflicts with their own ambition.

If they are compelled to start their own firm or go into partnership with others – they’ll do it as long as the arrangement gives them a great deal of freedom, control and the ability to pursue their individual objectives.

Self-Awareness Is Important

As we’ve mentioned, attorneys who have this profile gravitate automatically to leadership roles, but their abilities will be limited if they lack self-awareness. Unfortunately, people with this behavioral profile have a built-in blind spot: the supreme self-confidence that makes them natural leaders can lead them to overestimate their own abilities.

This means the Commanding Leader tends to make commitments quickly – and without soliciting input from others. Both of these tendencies can have serious repercussions. If a leader is not a good collaborator he or she will not benefit from input from others, which is critical in resolving complex issues.

This overconfidence may manifest in another way as well: The Commanding Leader has a tendency to overestimate his own capacity, or that of his team, to take on new work. They will often overcommit to clients, leaving their team to scramble to make difficult deadlines. For firms that are staffed by more cautious and careful legal technicians (SC, SC DISC profiles), this can be an ongoing source of stress as they struggle to match the pace and embrace the amount of change required by the Commanding Leader. Too much of this means that team members will be very stressed.

Another source of stress will be their blunt approach to critiquing the work of their team. The Commanding Leader is a harsh judge and will demoralize their legal team quickly because they focus on what the team is doing wrong and not what they get right. This can wear a team down and cause them to question their own abilities. This results in associates and paralegals who check in constantly because they fear working independently and the harsh criticism that will result from going too far in the wrong direction.

This personality profile will also be competitive with his or her associates and will judge them based on the results they produce. If an associate doesn’t display a focus on fast, bottom-line results, the Commanding Leader will not play the part of the patient mentor who will take the time to work with them. They are more likely to be dismissive of them and to set their sights on team members who can match their fast pace and focus on results.

How The Commanding Leader Can Be More Effective:

While results are important, getting the right results is critical. If the Commanding Leader wants to tackle complex problems she needs input from multiple sources. That means she needs to develop self-awareness and recognize that the tendency to be dismissive and impatient reduces her effectiveness

It also reduces the number of people willing to work with her.

Many team members, especially those in younger generations, will be reluctant to work with this old-school, my-way-or-the-highway leadership style. In order to lead multi-generational teams, the Commanding Leader must temper their intensity, recognize that they overvalue their own opinion, and overcome their distaste for seeking input from others. This may make them feel vulnerable initially — anything that makes them appear susceptible to the influence of others will be seen by these lawyers as weak. But with patience and a willingness to be more compassionate in their relationships with others, they can maximize the scope of their natural leadership abilities to be even more effective.

The Characteristics of the Commanding Leader

Goals: Bottom line results, victory
Judges others by: Ability to achieve results
Influences others by: Assertiveness, insistence, competition
Overuses: Forcefulness, bluntness
Under pressure: Becomes impatient and demanding
Fears: Being taken advantage of, appearing weak
Would be more effective by: Patience, empathy

Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis

Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis

Mark Powers, President of Atticus, has been coaching attorneys for nearly thirty years. He is the founder and developer of the first personalized training program dedicated to teaching attorneys the lasting skills and habits necessary for practice development. These skills include strategic planning, client development, customer service, prioritization, time blocking, managing interruptions, financial management, staffing, and delegation… [read more]

Shawn McNalis, Atticus Curriculum Director and Practice Advisor Trainer, is a former Imagineer with the Walt Disney Company and credits her 15-year career with Disney for her creative, collaborative approach to advising attorneys. In partnership with Mark Powers for 20 years, Shawn is a senior practice advisor, director of curriculum, and a trainer for Atticus… [read more]

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