Climbing Out of the Gutter – The DISC way

LAST UPDATE ON June 28, 2023


Article by: Bryan Tio, Programme Consultant 

Does the name Chris Gardner ring any bells? 

Or perhaps a better icon would be Will Smith, the red carpet actor for his stellar portrayal in The Pursuit of Happyness – an autobiographical film of a man’s struggle as he tries to make his way in the world. He’s poor, struggles as a salesman for bone density scanners, and has spent his whole life being told he isn’t good enough.

But before you read on, Warning – Spoilers Ahead (to the 2006 movie you should have watched)! The film ends on a happy note, with Chris winning the only coveted full-time position as a stockbroker at Dean Witter Reynolds; he eventually goes on to open his own million-dollar brokerage firm.

Aside from a great story, this film urges me to explore the word: Resolve. How a man that seemingly comes from nothing, with no training and no development, claws his way to the top through sheer grit and resilience.

The DISC Personality tool is one is used to understand and appreciate human behaviour. [Now pause at this point if you feel scepticism creeping in or a prompt to click on your little ‘x‘ icon, hear me out for a second.] This isn’t a read that justifies the validity of the instrument, nor a sales pitch in an attempt to convince you of people-reading prowess. Rather, an appreciation through the lens of a simple enough, yet profound tool I have applied and found useful.

The Resolve of Chris Gardner

We meet Chris as a man struggling as a door to door salesman without a steady income, who proceeds on to join a prestigious broking internship against all odds. For those that have watched the film, you would identify with the myriad of fleeting ups and frightening downs amidst his journey. Some examples include battling a hippy couple who steals his machine, getting evicted from his home because he was unable to pay rent, being locked up in jail for unpaid parking fines, and ending each day without any certainty of where he and his 5-year old son would sleep the night.

Certainly, he is a man with unbreakable resolve. This brings me to explore further into the person the film has portrayed him to be, along with what makes him the man that persevered through it all.

Referencing our data collected from top salespeople across industries, the majority comprises of the Dominant ‘D’ and Steady ‘S traits. These are individuals that demonstrate characteristics of being fiercely independent and are motivated intrinsically rather than from external sources. They do not quit easily and have the ability to “hang in there” for long periods of time (all of which stand true in Chris’ story).

On top of this, PowerDISC (a measurement of Leadership Tendencies/Preferred Leadership Styles) identifies 1 of the 7 leadership elements as Persisting. This leadership behaviour describes how one is focused on an approach and will not be easily diverted or dissuaded. It is an element of perseverance that others would wish they had, an attitude to see a mission through to its end.


High Persisting = ‘D + S’ Scores

We recently concluded a series of programmes for the largest financial institution in Asia. From our data, we observed that the majority of top leadership (C-suite executives) in the organisation has a blended personality style of the ‘D + S’ combination.

We noticed these functional behaviours to work through problems that would sidetrack others, staying hawk-eyed on the end in mind. Another of our clients, which came out as 2019’s youngest Multi-Million Dollar Agency in Singapore has 5 out of 9 members of their leadership team possessing this same combination.

80% of salespeople in this team have ‘D’ or ‘S’ scores above the energy line in Graph 1 – an indication of moderate to high Persisting abilities based on their job requirements/environment.

So how does this run parallel to the personality of Chris Gardner? Here are scenes from the film on how he demonstrated heightened ‘D’ and ‘S’ personality traits along with how we can do the same.

Die Hard Determination

In the scene where Chris attempts to apply for the brokering internship programme, it is clear how focused he was on achieving this goal. He couldn’t stand waiting for his application form to be processed and he knew he wouldn’t stand out via paper qualifications. Instead, we find the earnest protagonist waiting at the office lobby to personally hand his résumé to Jay Twistle, the hiring manager. Displaying a dogged determination on the bottom-line result and pushing oneself to ‘take action now’ will contribute greatly to building an unshakable resolve. Also as the saying goes, “Don’t wait for opportunity. Create it.”

No Excuses Attitude

Let’s recap the iconic interview scene. Chris spends the night before in jail for unpaid parking tickets. Upon release, he sprints straight for his interview at Dean Witters and shows up in his paint-splattered singlet and jeans (oh, did I not mention he was busy with a paint job right before his arrest in efforts to pay his rent?). He’s greeted with a panel of jaw-dropped interviewers who stares at him in disbelief as he attempts to explain why he showed up in this state. As Chris navigates through the air or awkwardness, the questions veer toward what sets him apart from other applicants. Now here’s where the magic happens.

Chris’ answer demonstrates his humility and determination all at the same time. While he calls out his own white elephant of not having the paper qualifications other applicants possess, he vulnerably puts forth his best strength of determination and resoluteness. Above and beyond, he showed up for the opportunity when many folks might have seen an excuse to call in and beg to reschedule. Researcher and TED talk speaker Brené Brown mentions in her book Daring Greatly: “The willingness to show up changes us, It makes us a little braver each time.”

Pause to Reflect

It’s a Saturday and Chris brings his son, Christopher, out to play basketball who gets really into the game and scores a hoop despite his teeny built. Chris then goes ahead to shoot one for himself but when he misses, he tells his son how basketball would never be something he’d excel in. Hearing this, the disheartened little Christopher picks his ball up and proceeds to pack up. Realising his mistake, Chris immediately reflects, saying “Don’t ever let someone tell you, you can’t do something. Not even me. You got a dream, you got to protect it. (When) People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you, you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.”

This powerful moment is a demonstration of the maturity of an ‘S’ style in terms of reflecting and catching oneself in moments of erring. In fact, intrapersonal intelligence (being introspective) is one of the top talents identified across highly successful entrepreneurs and salespeople. These individuals understand the Why behind their actions and frequently ask themselves “What could have been done better?”

Through life, I’m sure many of us have found reasons to give up at some point or another, it is the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together in these toughest moments even when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.

These three behaviours can represent the difference between individuals who show firm resolve versus those who crumble under adversity or challenge. Behaviours that we all can learn from. A calm and steady character plus a winners single-mindedness will build on your ability to “plan your work and work your plan”. There is surely a lot more to learn from Chris Gardner’s story. 


Knowing yourself is the foundation of becoming an effective leader. It helps you identify your preferred leadership dimension and foster better relationships with others. 


Tools are available to help leaders with different personality style blends. PeopleKeys’ DISC Leadership Report is an excellent tool to use for leadership development and providing DISC understanding.