Saturday, April 20, 2019

Deb Terry: Founder of Skillblenders - Episode 1012

Randy Ford:     And welcome to the SuccessInSight podcast. Our guest today is Deb Terry, who's the founder of If you haven't had a chance, we got to talk to Deb another time, go back and listen to that, it's episode 1005. We talk a lot about her coaching, we're gonna get into that a little bit more. Deb, thanks for coming back on SuccessInSight.

Deb Terry:        Great, thanks for having me back. I enjoyed our conversation last time, and I'm looking forward to more conversation today.

Randy Ford:     Why don't you remind people a little bit about Skillblenders and what you do?

Deb Terry:        Yeah, I founded Skillblenders about, gosh, 17 years ago. The focus of it is really helping people identify and leverage their skills, values and experiences in their chosen areas. It can be not just individuals, but organizations, teams. To achieve that I focus on merging leadership coaching, team and leadership development, and then one of the tools I use a lot is the Wiley publishing company's DISC. I've been using that tool for a long, long time and it's been a key resource for a lot of success. Not just my organization, but more importantly the development of others.

Randy Ford:     Yeah, I want to get into that. I will admit that that is a new world to me. Of course, you and I know each other through our mutual friend, Howard Fox, who is the co-creator, co-producer and co-host of SuccessInSight podcast. You both are much more familiar with that than somebody like me who's coming from outside the leadership development world. What is DISC, really? Describe it to somebody like me who may be a newbie to this.

Deb Terry:        DISC is a behavioral assessment that helps individuals understand first of all, how do they show up, how do I show up leading myself? It's behavioral as opposed to personality. For example, if you think of DISC, it's an acronym, D is for the ... the term the publisher uses is Dominant, I prefer Direct, I, Influence, steady, S is Steady, and C is Conscientious. It really helps us to understand, how do I approach communication? How do I approach decision making, conflict? What kind of recognition do I need? It's a great tool to provide those, for some people it's an affirmation, for some people it's getting to know themselves better. So I like to say it's an aspect of emotional intelligence.

Deb Terry:        Then what happens is it gives people tools and resources for social intelligence, how do I adapt my style to be more effective with others? How do I adapt my style as an effective leader to better connect with people on my team, or how do I use it as a way to manage up? My manager might be a high D, which means, direct, bottom line, give me the facts, don't give me a lot of fluff. I know, which I am, I'm a high I, so I like a lot of fluff, I want to talk through things. Obviously if I'm going to sell my manager on something I need to adapt my communication style to be more direct, to be more fact based and not give a lot of extra fluff or emotional perspective on that case.

Deb Terry:        Last week I used it with a group in a local city government and they ... it was part of a customer service training. How do they better sell the solutions as they have different citizens, tourists, people come into their office? We spent a lot of time understanding the way they would sell it might not be the way the customer would buy that solution. So it's a really good behavioral tool to understand about one's self, but also, to me more importantly, how do I adapt to others to better connect, to better achieve whatever my goals might be?

Randy Ford:     Is there a certain type of assessment result that makes for a stronger leader?

Deb Terry:        I'm glad that you asked that because a lot of times people say, "Oh no, I'm a steady, I'll never be a good leader. I think I need to be a D, a direct." It's really what ... there's two significant variables, one, understanding and knowing your behavioral style and how do you leverage it. Two, and this is a factor that in certain organizational cultures, whether it be unintentionally or intentionally, and I would say most of the time it's unintentionally, you'll see certain leadership styles perhaps are more valued. So, you'll see perhaps some aspects of greater promotion. But again, I don't think it's an intentional, "if you're a D you'll get promoted," it's just what style works in that culture, that organization.

Deb Terry:        There's another factor that comes up significantly. If you look at a global organization, you tend to have leaders in Northern Europe and Northern United States that tend to be more direct, bottom line, let's go, let's make it happen and go from there. In contrast, Southern Europe, i.e Italy or South America, specifically Brazil, the leaders tend to be more relationship-focused. For example, steady, they're looking at, "Okay, how do I build the relationship? Once I do that, let’s work at getting our results." To give you a long-winded answer to your question, it's really understanding your style and also what works in the given organizational culture that you're part of.

Randy Ford:     So it may be that it's a mix of that if you look across the organization, a mix of the four types?

Deb Terry:        Right, and if you ask me the next question, what do you see more? For example, I do a lot of work in the Midwest of the United States, or with a lot of Americans, you'll see, whether it me a nonprofit or for-profit, generally the styles tend to be more D, direct, bottom line, let's kick butt, let's get results. Again, I just say that cautiously, because it's a broad generalization, there's exceptions, as I say this, that I see, but that's a trend that I see. I think a lot of people that do work in the DISC space of the United States would probably agree with me.

Randy Ford:     Again, not wanting to broadly generalize, but what do you think are the cultural differences, and this builds on something we talked a little bit last time, but I'm curious about: What are the cultural differences that make it different, for example, in Brazil, that you see one leadership profile more often than you might in the US?

Deb Terry:        Well, Brazil and Mexico, what you see, it's more indicative of the cultures where there's much more of a focus on relationships. If you look at any inclusive research that's being done these days, diversity, inclusion, and there's a lot more focus on knowing the person, understanding and building a relationship. Once you do that, then you conduct business, so you'll see a difference in that. Same thing with Italy. I used to joke when I worked inside corporate America that I knew my people I worked with in Italy perhaps better than I did the people that worked 10 feet down the hall because when we did get together we asked questions. Sometimes it was over coffee, sometimes it was over wine, but there was a stronger personal relationship with the business relationship. I think the relationship styles of the DISC model tend to be steady and influence, so you'll see that really indicative of their geographic cultures.

Randy Ford:     You said you tend to be an I, influence?

Deb Terry:        Correct.

Randy Ford:     How does that manifest itself in the way you interact with people?

Deb Terry:        I'm really curious about, first of all, building a relationship and working with the person. That's the good side, I think, and talking through things, context is really important. Understanding who's involved with this, what's the impact on the people side of the business? The downside of this can be, if I'm dealing with a D, a direct or a conscientious customer, I need to sometimes pull back. I say to myself, "Okay, I've talked a little too much, I need to ask more direct questions." Or with a conscientious customer, for example, how do I focus a lot more on processes, metrics and facts, which I tend to be much more qualitative than quantitative. By having that understanding, I'm working with people that have that inclination, then how do I adapt my style to better connect and show my effectiveness with them?

Randy Ford:     I've seen you say how you kind of got drawn to DISC when you started working in leadership management and I think you said it was because of a piece of advice that someone gave you one time. What was that?

Deb Terry:        Yeah, early in my career ... I'd been in human resources most of my career and I was working with a group of sales leaders. And as part of that I was presenting to them about the value of building succession planning. It was, like I said, very early in my career, so I was there with my manager. I had my presentation put together, and the way I approached it was pretty much the way I would want to presented to and buy into an idea. What happened is, as I was presenting to these individuals it was not going real well, candidly. They were polite, they were nice, they kind of nodded their heads, and I remember leaving that meeting my manager said to me, "Deb, you have to remember, you need to present to others the way they want to be presented to. What are the key ways that they're going to buy into something, not the way you want to be presented to and the information you need."

Deb Terry:        What's interesting, fast forward a few years after that, when I DISCovered DISC, a lot of light bulbs went on for me, because as I use that example, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I'm a high I, I was presenting all this information, I was getting enthusiastic about things and they, in hindsight, I look and say, Boy they were high D's, which is, "Okay, Deb, what's the bottom line, what do you want us to do? What's the impact on the business, and where do we go from here? At the time I didn't have the DISC language, if you will, to understand the situation. But in hindsight, it was like, "Oh my gosh, this is what happened."

Deb Terry:        When I learned about DISC and reflected on that situation, obviously there were other situations as well, it really helped me to say, "Okay, how can I work with others to help them be effective so they don't run into those situations where they approach somebody with a style that they're comfortable with and go, "Oh my gosh, they're not getting it". At least you have the agility, if you will, to adapt to that other person, or that other group's communication style. Like I said, it's been foundational for my usage with DISC for a long time. I used it when I was inside corporate America. I've been using DISC in some way, shape or form for over 25 years.

Randy Ford:     For those of us that do have the opportunities to speak to groups but maybe not the opportunity to get a full DISC assessment, what is a tip you have for people who are going into a presentation, or meeting a new group, knowing that those dynamics are all at play but not knowing in what capacity?

Deb Terry:        What I would say is, it's looking at body language, it's looking at facial expressions, it's listening to the pace and the, for lack of a better word, the tonality that they present. For example, if I'm ... I've done this for years, I usually reflect on this a lot. As I'm meeting somebody, I say okay, this is an aspect of people reading, but I say, "okay, they're fast paced, are they outspoken, are they more reserved or cautious. If that's the case they could be a D, fast-paced and outspoken, or if they're cautious and reflective, they could be a steady. Then I also think, okay, how are they interacting with me, are they questioning, why are you doing this Deb, why does this make sense? Are they skeptical about ideas, or like, "Oh this is a great idea, let's go with it." In those cases, as I listen and look I might say, "Okay, they could be a D I S or C".

Deb Terry:        For example, if someone's a D they might be fast paced and outspoken. If they're an I, they might be more accepting and warm, you might see those variables. Then, with the body language, usually I's and D's tend to be somewhat animated, facial expressions, hand gestures. In contrast, C's and S's are a little bit more reserved, the speech pattern will be a little bit slower, they're very selective about the words and how they use the words. I always joke that maybe with a high I, the -ish, "Yeah, it's close enough, you get the idea." The context is really important as opposed to the exact word that you might chose to use. So those are some of the things I would use as I try to do some people reading.

Deb Terry:        Even, for example, if I'm going into an organization to make a presentation, if I happen to know a couple of the people I'll think about what their style might be and make sure I have those points in the presentation. Or if I have a person who's a link to other people in the organization, I'll do a little bit of, "Okay, help me understand who's around the table. Who are the decision-makers, let's try to figure out their styles." That way I know I have the right information in my presentation, in my proposal presentation.

Randy Ford:     That's a great pro tip. I think I'm realizing as you're saying this that I tend to make assumptions. If I'm going to be speaking to a certain industry I make assumptions. Probably in my mind, without having looked at all this, I think they're all gonna be high D's, now that I know what that term means. Probably in any room, any industry, any place there's more of a mix of people.

Deb Terry:        Oh definitely. I'm using generalities, and as you mention that, just tell you quick story. I had a new client several years ago. He was president of a small company that made a product for the medical industry. I made the assumption, which is always dangerous, that, "By gosh, if he's in this industry he has to be a high C," so I went in with a pretty detailed deck. He's the president of the North American business here, and went in with this deck and started going through it. Two minutes into the presentation, I think, "Oh my gosh, this guy's a D off the chart." I have like, 15 pages and I'm thinking how do I shorten it to three because I know I'm going to lose him if I don't shorten it.

Randy Ford:     Right.

Deb Terry:        Again, it was his body language, the way he asked the questions, how he looked at me as we went through this. Luckily I knew my presentation well enough so I shortened it. The ironic piece is I was in and out of his office in 20 minutes. The good news is I did work with his team, but I guess I totally misjudged what I thought was going to happen, then, like I said, I had to adapt quickly to make sure I wasn't going to lose him.

Randy Ford:     And it worked?

Deb Terry:        It did, it did work. I got the gig.

Randy Ford:     Are there any people you have worked with before, who then you've been able to catch up with down the road? Any instances of that jump out where you're, "I really feel like I had some part in helping this person realize their path"?

Deb Terry:        That's probably the best part about what I do. I love when I have those situations and people talk about their career and professional journey, what they've done. One in particular recently, it was a person ... I started coaching her about 10 years ago. I think I mentioned in the earlier podcast I worked with a large organizations' employees resource groups or diversity networks. I was doing coaching and she was head of one of the diversity networks. She was early in her career. She was an analyst at the time. We spent a lot of time together, we click and at various points over the last 10 years she's been at some workshops of mine or whatever. I hadn't seen her in about three years and then earlier this year, she's at another company, she's treasurer of this company, and she reached out to me and said, "Hey, I'd really like you to do a DISC workshop for my new team. We're trying to get to know each other, I'm new to the organization, I really would like them to get to know me as well."

Deb Terry:        Went over there, was getting ready to do the workshop, and then she proceeded to introduce me. It's one of those things, I wish I had my phone on record because it was really exciting because she was talking about how she had used so much of what we had done in the coaching sessions at various points of her career, and how she had used DISC at various points in her career, how it helped her better connect with others. A lot of the things we spoke about already, presentation, and the other part is it helped her to manage up in the organization. It was one of those things where, "Yes, it worked." I was excited to be there anyway, because when I met her she was a financial analyst and here she was, she's now a treasurer with a good-sized organization.

Deb Terry:        That was exciting. The other part was the fact that she had these wonderful statements about her experience with not only the coaching but using DISC as a tool to help her in her career. It was one of those great moments that you go, this is why I do what I do.

Randy Ford:     One thing was always like to ask at the end of every podcast is for an insight to go. This is anything that's been on your mind lately that you think you want to recommend for others of us to check out. What do you have for us?

Deb Terry:        Lately I've been using Patrick Lencioni's book, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team." It's a book that I've used as a reference point for the last 10 years with different clients that I have. The reason I love the book ... the reason I love Patrick Lencioni and his consulting style is it's practical, easy to use, and frankly, organizations say it makes sense. One of the things I like about it is there's so much you can do with it to have a better team. I'm working with two clients right now, one we had been doing something based in this book, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," and using one of Wiley's products, which is "The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team." What I like about it, it has a baseline where the participants in the session will assess themselves and they get an idea of how they function as a team.

Deb Terry:        The beauty of the whole thing is, in very practical terms, they had conversations: what does trust look like for us, how do we handle conflict, what about commitment, how do we leverage conflict to really drive commitment, and then how does that help us hold each other accountable, and then ultimately, how does this drive results? The beauty of it, it provides great framework and a lot of ah-ha moments for the teams because of that, so to compliment the DISCussion that they have I encourage them to read this book so they understand what we're doing and where we're going. And more importantly it's a resource that they can use and apply as they go on their journey to become even more of a cohesive team. Not just because it's fun and nice, but more importantly it helps to drive results and frankly makes it a good place to work.

Randy Ford:     People can find you, Deb, on, also Deb Terry on Linkedin. Are there other ways people can reach out to find out more about you and the work you do?

Deb Terry:        Those are probably the two best ways to do that. If somebody sends me an email off the site or on LinkedIn, I'll respond to them, we can set up a time to talk and go from there.

Randy Ford:     Great, I appreciate, again, you taking the time to explain DISC to me a little more than I knew before. It's really fascinating, so I appreciate that.

Deb Terry:        You're very welcome. As you can tell it's one of ... I'm really passionate about the tool, I've seen it impact and help a lot of people become more effective.

Randy Ford:     Well, thank you again Deb Terry, thank you everybody for being here for SuccessInSight podcast. I'm Randy Ford signing off for my co-host Howard Fox.


Deb Terry is the Founder of Skillblenders. Deb is an Executive Coach | Mentor | and Facilitator who is passionate about helping people grow & expand their understanding of themselves and working with others. Deb invites you to visit her at

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