Is all leadership the same?

Better Safety Health & Safety Consultant

Is all leadership the same?

I've been around the block a couple of times within the corporate and SME worlds. If there is one thing that frustrates effort more than any other thing, it's not having the influence to change, or, the authority to circumvent the leader that blocks your path!

When I provide seminars on leadership and management within the context of the health and safety setting, I could just as easily be talking about a government department, corporate account or even sales business unit. The people and the players are identical...they just have different titles.

When I talk about leadership, I am talking not about the theory of leadership, but the reality of it. There are times you may be faced with the type of leaders described below. With a bit of luck, it may even help you to identify solutions to working with them and gain their acknowledgement, trust and respect. So without further ado.....

For the purposes of the article, each leader will be asking their subordinates to fit a shelf to the wall. A simple task, but with different approaches.

Red Leader!

Red Leaders are usually highly driven to succeed and can be described as "Type A" in certain circles. Red leaders are known for getting the job done by their seniors and usually a nightmare for their subordinates.

A red leader will often speak in "strategic terms." So in relation to fit a shelf, the red leader will call you into the office.....

Red Leader: I need you to fit this shelf on that wall by 5:00pm today

You: Can you tell me what it will....

Red: It's a simple task, I haven't got time to discuss it. Just get it done. Thanks (walks out)

4:30pm and red leader returns to find the shelf has not been fitted where they wanted it......

Red: Why did you put it there? It was a pretty simple task. It's Ok, I will do it myself.

Red leaders very often have the perfect vision of what the shelf should look like in the office and there is an expectation that after working for there for a while, you will also have the exact same vision as them. No deviation. None. When you fail to deliver on this expected vision, red leader becomes frustrated and appear condescending to your efforts and your work. This is the tricky part.....THEY DON'T MEAN TO COME ACROSS THAT WAY!!! In their world, there is a narrow filter of how things should be done and they are usually busy doing 500 other things too. They very often do not get involved in the detail of things. They have strategic direction rather than technical knowledge many times.

Solutions for working with red leaders

Ask them to point you in the direction of previous examples (not take you to them, they won't). Ask them who is best to speak to in work who has completed a similar project successfully for them already. This is quick, efficient and they will appreciate the initiative.

Do not try to pin them down for specifics directly. They will become frustrated quickly and come across as either hostile or aggressive if they feel their time could be better spent on something else.

Very often, red leaders are visually focused. If you send them a picture that takes a second or two for them to absorb, they will appreciate this. Send them a 20 page technical manual and, well..... you get the idea.

Red leaders are great if they have people working under them who really know their stuff. But if people under them don't know their stuff, they may lash out or even worse....take on the workload themselves and almost 'cover' for the failings of their subordinates.

Green leader!

Green leaders are the technical people who make things work and really know their stuff. Not only do they know the technical specifications backwards, but they actively expect others to be as enthusiastic as them about the technical details. Can you imagine a red person and a green person trying to plan something?

So a green leader wants you to fit the shelf:

Green leader: I would like you to fit the shelf at 1.4m height and in the dead centre of the width of the wall, using 15mm............[5 minutes go by] and here is a drawing and design schematic for how it should look.

You: Can you let me grab a pen, I didn't quite catch all of that!

Paralegals are amazing at highlighting errors in solicitor instructions. Finance people are pretty much the same. From a health and safety point of view, these people drive me crazy because they can tell you the Regulation, paragraph and section, with usually no clue how to apply it in the real world.

Green leaders make fantastic engineers and other professions where precise information is critical to project success.

Solutions for working with green leaders

Always have a pen and paper to hand. Never enter their office without them. There is so much detail in the discussion that you may not feel you are able to put your own stamp on the work being carried out. Don't take this personally. There is a better than average chance that green leader has been obsessing over the detail all night. But...if you can provide a methodical alternative solution, you will make their day! They will also be happy to send the praise your way too. Their satisfaction is seeing the work completed to the expected standard, not necessarily the high five from the boss.

If you do want to make a suggestion to a green leader, try to not speak in "strategic" terms and "big ideas." Instead, focus on a considered solution to a problem. They will appreciate your efforts and you will gain their respect.

Flow diagrams, process maps, technical manuals, legislation guidance are all examples of things that can make a green leader happy when engaging with them. Messy pictures on the back of a fag packet without detail....will not (Red leaders may be very interested though!).

Interestingly, the red and green leaders are also demonstrable in people on the autism spectrum. The spectrum is so wide and varied that is not possible to pinpoint each. But this is worth baring in mind if you choose to employ a person who is considered to have ASD.

Our last leader of this article.....Blue leader!

Blue leader is the one who many people like to think they are, who is human-centred and considers the impact of decisions on the wider human element of the business. The blue leader is the person who asks for your opinion on where to put the shelf and spend 20 minutes looking through other designs first.

Blue leaders are the ones you go to with human problems such as when you are having problems with a red leader or if there is a health and safety issue on site that requires empathy and understanding.

Solutions for working with blue leaders

Owning what you say is critical. "I think;" "I feel;" "I believe," are good opening liners for a blue leader. Listening to others and demonstrating how you have considered the group are great ways to get on side with the blues. I was going to say that HR and training are great occupations for blue leaders but I have lately seen some sort of ruthless hybrid of HR people who are almost red leaders on steroids and red bull.

Blue leaders appreciate consensus in the room. They like to ensure everyone gets a say....even Dave from accounts. Remember this in your dealings with them.

So what does this all mean?

Red will get impatient with green for technical overload and blue for tree hugging.

Green will get frustrated with reds inability to focus on the detail and blue wanting to contribute non-essential information to how the project will shape.

Blue will try very hard to get along with green and red but will become distressed and probably leave on long term sick because they cannot understand why neither red or green like them very much.

In truth,we can all be a bit of red, blue or green when the circumstances arise. But knowing your leaders' approach is critical to not only knowing how to communicate with them, but also understand how and why they communicate with you in a particular way.

How does this relate to health and safety?

One of the most frustrating elements of being a health and safety professional is the complete and utter absence of leadership and management training when completing health and safety qualifications! There is not a single assessment of leadership or management capability in any of the qualifications I have taken to date....I advise C-Managers and construction clients with £35m+ projects....don't you think some leadership and management training would be a good idea?

This is almost insane when you consider that a person can go from zero knowledge to gaining a level 6 certificate (NCRQ) or level 3 certificate (NEBOSH) and be hired as a manager almost straight out of course completion.

I honestly and sincerely believe that recruiters and clients looking to hire health and safety professionals should be actively searching for not only a suitable health and safety qualification, but also some form of credentials in leadership too.

Some people are natural leaders. They are charming, persuasive, effective and drive the best results from their teams. For others (myself included), they have to work at it through training, reading, study of people and behaviours etc.

If you are interested in knowing more about leadership (and possibly some management too), I am happy to discuss the journey I took to become academically qualified in these areas (which is not the same as being a good leader or manager - only my clients can confirm or deny that I am good or bad at this!)

Constructive feedback and discussion is always appreciated! To find out how a qualified leader and safety professional can help your business with Principal Design | CDM Advisor | Health and Safety Management Systems, feel free to get in touch:

☎ +44 (0) 7572 877 551
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Better Safety Health & Safety Consultant

I am a Chartered Safety Practitioner with over a decade of experience in both operational and strategic management of safety and health.


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