Fifty Shades of Red

The Dark Side of Tactical Addiction

One of our primary assessment tools is the Birkman Method® which measures many aspects of ones personality and preferences. The assessment uses four colours to describe key aspects of work and life. Blue represents the planners/thinkers; Green are the communicators/outside sales; Yellow are process/systems people and Red represents those who bring energy and action to the team. All four colours are necessary to have a healthy and productive team, however all four colours have their own short comings in certain contexts. 

We work with a lot of what we like to call ‘Red’ organizations. These are companies that are led by leaders and leadership teams that are high energy, hands on, driven perfectionists. They get stuff done, and while this is fantastically important (trust me we know what the opposite looks like too), there is a dark side. 

Many leaders who have driven, results oriented tendencies fall trap to a tactical addiction. This simply means that in their rush to see results they become impatient with strategy and focus on tactics instead. Ok, so a quick definition for each. Strategy can be thought of as the broad, over arching plan to achieve a major objective. Think of the ‘war room’ scenario where generals surround a table and plan major offensives. Tactics on the other hand are the actions taken by individuals to achieve the strategy, think “guy in the trenches”.

Tactics, while important, are never complete enough to address larger, chronic issues. The danger is that over time the red leader creates a hurried environment of fire fighting activity and frustrated employees who don’t feel heard or successful. Here is what to do about it.

Reframe Your View of Strategy:

Too many leaders run anemic strategy sessions, sessions that result in poor action and little accountability, this is very frustrating for the energetic leader. Begin by moving strategy from the realm of talk to that of action. Leave 20% of strategy sessions to be used for summation of findings and the assignment of clear action and accountabilities. To really get traction delegate this to someone in your group who is very ‘red’, they will stay engaged and the rest of the team will gain greater traction.

Audit Your Meeting Structure:

Evaluate your current meetings. Tactical meetings are short and frequent (daily) while strategy meetings are less frequent and longer in duration to allow for more conversation and listening. Monthly, Quarterly and Annual meetings are frequently used for this purpose. At the very least be sure you have a monthly alignment meeting (2 hours); a quarterly strategy meeting (half day) and an annual planning session (1-2 days offsite). Patrick Lencione has a great book on how to establish meeting patterns, appropriately named Death by Meeting. This is a great place to get a better understanding of how to structure each of your meetings.

Try Sprints to Feed Your Red Hunger:

Sprints are full bursts of energy for short time frames that achieve great results. We understand what they are in the world of running, however recent research is putting a spotlight on how they can be effective in the workplace. In short, sprints allow you to take an idea from genesis to reality (a prototype) in a very short period of time. The examples in the Harvard Business review are five days in length, short enough to satisfy any ‘red’ leader!

What type of leader are you? Build upon your strengths but be self aware enough to realize that you too have areas that if not checked can be detrimental to the people you lead.


Contact us today to show how we can help you and your team become high performers.


Ian Whitfield