I often refer to myself as a recovering CFO. I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and lived in multiple countries, including Singapore, Indonesia, and Sudan. I spent most of childhood in Tucson, Arizona, where I attended the University of Arizona to study accounting and finance.
My mom, like many typical Asian mothers, wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer. However, I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, and the thought of more calculus to become an engineer did not amuse me. Therefore, I chose accounting and finance.
I ended up working as a Finance Manager trainee for an Australian company in San Francisco with operations all over the world. Over the course of my 18 years with that company, I lived in Mali, Australia, Malaysia, and China. I also got to visit and work in more than 40 countries during that time.
After my first three and a half years in China as the CFO for a portfolio of steel businesses with the Australian company, I realized that being a CFO was not what I wanted to do. I told my boss that, after 15 years in finance, I had finally determined that finance was not my passion. Coincidentally, during that time, our VP of Human Resources wanted to introduce an assessment called the Devine Inventory to our China employees, and he needed someone to trial the assessment. I was curious, so I volunteered.
When the results came back two weeks later, the VP said to me, “Why are you our China CFO? According to your results, you should not be a CFO.”
A month later, I transitioned to a CEO role running two of our China businesses in Beijing and absolutely loved it. While I had been exposed to assessments early on in my career, it was this experience that opened my eyes to the world of assessments and the value they can bring.
Assessments helped me see that people are different. Once I was exposed to assessments and how different people function differently, I realized that I could be a more effective leader if I made an effort to adapt to other people. You see, I am an extrovert, and I realized it was important to acknowledge the introverts in the room and give them a chance to first think and then voice their thoughts.
My lessons into the value of assessments only magnified further when I was exposed to the DISC assessment. A couple years after China, I changed employers and began working for an employee-owned company in Northwest Arkansas as their Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
When we rolled out DISC to our sales team, I knew that if we really understood who our customers were and how they preferred to communicate, we could really ramp up our sales.
During the DISC training in North Carolina, I looked at one of my sales team members and saw that he just had a chandelier moment, because a light bulb would not have done this “a-ha” moment any justice. That sales team member had just visited a top prospect in South Carolina who would represent up to $3 million in sales for the company. In fact, we sent our Sales Manager and Divisional Vice President of Sales along with the salesman to visit with the prospect.
In that company, we used animal names to refer to the different DISC styles.
D stands for Dominance. People with this style are results oriented and like to challenge the status quo and take action. We called them Panthers.
I stands for Influence. People with this style are enthusiastic. They enjoy collaboration as well as taking action. We called them Otters.
S stands for Steadiness. People with an S style tend to support those around them. They thrive on collaboration as well as a stable environment. We called them Dolphins.
C stands for Conscientiousness. People with the C style strive for accuracy. Although the like a challenge, they appreciate the need for stability. We called them Owls.
When I asked the sales team member what he was thinking to lead to the chandelier moment, he responded: “We just sent three panthers to kill a dolphin!”
I asked him how long the first meeting lasted. He said about 15 minutes, and he wanted a chance to try again with his new knowledge of DISC. Accordingly, he headed back to South Carolina for another meeting. When he returned, he said the prospect was ready to place his first order and try us out. It wasn’t all of his business yet, but it was a chance.
I asked the sales team member how long he spent in the prospect’s office the second time, and he said two hours. They talked about the prospect’s family, the history of the company, the frustrations he had with their current suppliers, and how we might be able to support them.
Assessments can be incredibly powerful in sales when used to really understand your prospect and adapt your style to make them more comfortable. They can also be really helpful in understanding who you are as a professional and where you might need to grow.