The Colors of Leadership

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

What’s your favorite color? One of the blessings of being human is the ability (unless you are color blind) to see things in color rather than in shades of gray. Our leadership styles display a kind of color to those we lead. Our leadership often has the characteristics of certain colors and it is those colors that our followers pick up on as we lead them. They don’t necessarily hear the words we say. Here are a few descriptions of leaders from my color palate.

The Blue leader – Those who study the psychology behind certain colors say that blue is the color of confidence and peace.  At their best, blue leaders instill confidence in the organization and in the direction we are moving.  We feel peaceful around this leader. The leader’s confidence in the organization and us help move the entire team forward.

Blue can also be the color of depression, discouragement or sadness. When someone is down we say they are feeling blue. At their worse, blue leaders are discouraged and that sense of disappointment leaks to followers. A feeling of doom and gloom spreads rapidly when it begins with the leader. I’ve worked with organizations whose atmosphere was greatly improved once the discouraged leader was no longer around.

The Yellow Leader – Yellow is the color of warmth and friendliness. Yellow leaders who are kind and approachable build great relationships with their followers. Rapport and likeability are key traits of this leader. It’s easier to follow a leader we like and who likes us.

On the downside, we use the term yellow to refer to someone who is a coward or afraid. Yellow leaders used in this negative sense are those who can’t make a tough decision because they are afraid of the consequences.  So no decision is made.  The irony is, of course, that making no decision is in itself a decision.  It’s tough to follow a leader who is so afraid of offending people their leadership stalls at every turn.

The Red Leader – Red leaders at their best have energy and excitement. Red is the color of passion and enthusiasm. I’ve owned a gray bicycle and a red bicycle. I was more motivated to ride the red one. To follow a red leader is to be on a journey that moves from place to place with speed and power. The red leader always has energy to charge the next hill and achieve the next goal.

The negative aspect of red is that it is often used to symbolize anger.  Writers sometimes describe characters as “becoming red with rage.” Ever try to respect an angry leader? I worked for a manager who was continually angry. He went around the office banging on stuff and hitting things when he got angry.  As followers, we never knew what was going to set him off.  This led to a sense of instability and tentativeness on the part of the followers.

The Green Leader – Growth is the key quality of the positive green leader. This leader has not arrived and is continually learning how to lead better. Leadership doesn’t demand perfection, it demands growth from failure. A green leader can get back up after a mistake, learn from it and do better the next time.

The adverse use of green refers to a person who is too new to leadership to have much of an impact. When we use the term “greenhorn” to refer to this leader, we mean this person is inexperienced, immature or easily led in the wrong direction. New leaders can be difficult to follow as they try to find their way around an organization. Patience and grace on the part of followers is required. Greenhorn leaders don’t need to be greenhorns for long, but they do need to stay green and learn from their mistakes.

The Orange Leader – Orange used in its most influential way conveys innovation, creativity and fresh ideas. Orange leaders are able to spot a new direction or come up with a new way of doing things that moves the organization forward. Orange leaders are open to new ideas that will help take the organization to the next level.

On the other hand, I’m thinking of the shade of orange from the 1960’s and 70’s. The kind of orange we see on Mad Men. Growing up, our kitchen counters were this color. Some say this color will make a comeback, but for most of us alive in the 1960’s and 70’s this is the color that reminds us of our past.  This undesirable color in a leader symbolizes that this leader is trying to lead in ways that have gone out of style. They are trying to use methods such as “command and control” that no longer work with today’s followers.  An ever shrinking tribe is the result.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and colors. These are just a small sample of the ones I’ve seen in action. I welcome your thoughts on some of the colorful leaders you have experienced.

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