Session 2: Knowing Yourself to Lead Others


The first full teaching day on the Leading from the Middle course was delivered by an external company, Insights, who used their Discovery tool, a kind of personality test, to create a profile for each of us before the session, and then used to session to explain the theory and how it can be applied to learn more about our own personalities and preferences, and how to quickly assess others and the best way to interact with them based on their profiles. The basic model is composed of four colour energies, cool blue, earth green, sunshine yellow and fiery red, a concept that can be traced back to Hippocrates’ four humours and developed by psychologists such as Carl Jung in the twentieth century. Insights have taken this further and developed their own model, a wheel with 72 types to give a more nuanced view of your personality. These are arranged under eight broad headings which are, going counter-clockwise from blue to red, Reformer, Observer (blue), Coordinator, Supporter (green), Helper, Inspirer (yellow), Motivator and Director (red).

I have to confess to being a little sceptical about this kind of thing. I enjoy studying the underlying psychology, and if it has been presented within that framework I think I would have gotten more out of it, but when they are corporatized and packaged up into small, discrete packages that can be easily sold to organisations by external consultants, and when something seems to be unnecessarily overcomplicated, then a little warning bell goes off in my head.

Nevertheless, you don’t get anything out if you don’t engage, and so I can reveal that based on the Insights Discovery Evaluator, a series of 25 preference statements which you rate to generate your profile, I am a blue, green, red, yellow kind of person. Not a huge surprise to me, and it accords with a self-assessment I made based on a ‘colour summary’ in one of Insights’ handouts in which I ticked mostly blue, quite a few on the cusp between blue and green, and a couple of red qualities, specifically ‘Fears: Losing control’ and ‘Decisions are: Pragmatic’. On Insights’ 72 point wheel, my conscious wheel position is 54, ‘Coordinating Observer (Accommodating)’, and my less conscious wheel position is 14, ‘Coordinating Observer (Focused)’. This is a bit of an interesting position; if I had to pick where I thought I fitted I would have went for either Reformer or Coordinator, though Observer is in the middle of these two so perhaps it’s right. The ‘Preference Flow’ shows that I skew towards red and yellow which, if I understand this right, means that I am making an effort to go in this direction, against my natural inclinations, which is a good thing. Most of my cohort were in broad agreement about where they came out in the evaluation, though a few reds noted that they feel that they are being forced into this category unnaturally due to pressures at work.

It’s not all about colours, and the profile which is created delves into quite a lot of detail about your personality and style, highlighting perceived strengths, weaknesses and communication strategies. I found myself agreeing with most of this analysis, even if the language was a bit over the top at times – “her original mind, fine insight and vision” (urgh) – but some of it was wrong and I would argue that some statements which were presented as positive things are really more problematic. For example, the statement that I am a “no-nonsense person who is not often attracted by the strange, exotic or unfamiliar” is patently untrue, certainly when it comes to my work and technology where I delight in being on the cutting edge. Another statement that stood out to me, as it goes to use of instinct which came up a few times, was “may be rather slow to make decisions as she wants to gather all essential information before acting.” This may be true in an ideal situation, but in reality, when there are deadlines and pressures, or no clear indication on the correct course of action, I am a great believer in going with instinct or in choosing the more positive option, something which I find usually works out well.

One of the most useful things I will take away from the evaluation and the session is the need to adapt communication strategies to match the preferences of the other party, so that you are not, for example, unnecessarily forcing a more red person to give you too much detail before starting work. Also, using the most appropriate colour response to a situation to get the best results, so in my case that could be being more open and sociable in less formal meetings for example. There were also some comments in a suggested development section which I found useful. “Accepting that perfection can be a rather obstructive standard to constantly aspire to” is something that I am aware of and I know that I can spend too much time on something when ‘good enough’ is enough. Also, “never attending a meeting without speaking out” stood out as, thinking about it, I can see many examples where I am very quiet in meetings, and I will be more conscious of this in the future. However, as a counterpoint to that I do feel the need to note that there are so many meetings I attend which are almost completely pointless and accomplish very little.