How to Recognize a Red Person and Avoid Getting in His Way



How to Recognize a Red Person and Avoid Getting in His Way

What should we do? We’ll do it my way. Now!

This is the behavior type that Hippocrates in his theory of human temperament called choleric. Nowadays you might call a Red person bold, ambitious, driven, but also potentially hot-tempered, rash, or dominant. You quickly notice a Red person because he doesn’t make the slightest effort to conceal who he is.

A Red person is a dynamic and driven individual. He has goals in life that others may find difficult to even imagine. Since his goals are so highly ambitious, achieving them seems to be impossible. Reds strive forward, always pushing themselves harder, and they almost never give up. Their belief in their own ability is unsurpassed. They carry inside them the firm belief that they can achieve anything—if they just work hard enough.

People who have lots of Red in their behavior are task-oriented extroverts and they enjoy challenges. They make quick decisions and are often comfortable taking the lead and taking risks. A common perception is that Reds are natural leaders. These are people who will ingly take command and go to the fore. They are so driven that they will get through despite any obstacle in their path. Their disposition is ideal in competitive situations. It’s not unusual for a CEO or a president to have lots of Red in his behavior.

This form of competition is present in everything Reds do. To say that they constantly want to challenge and compete is probably not entirely true, but if a chance of winning something arises—why not? The exact nature of the competition is unimportant; it’s the competitive element that keeps Reds running on all cylinders.

Pelle, one of my former neighbors, liked competing so much that he developed entirely new interests just to compete. I like working in the garden, and so I spend quite some time doing so. Pelle didn’t like gardening, but when he had heard people commenting on my beautiful garden often enough he finally had enough. He started one project after another, always with a single but very clear objective: to outdo me. He confounded his wife by digging new flower beds, planting a rainbow of unbelievably fabulous plants, and cultivating the lawn to golf-course standard. The only thing I needed to do to keep him going was to merely suggest that I would purchase more plants. Then he would go to the local garden center quicker than you could say “bad loser.”

You can also recognize Reds by other behavior patterns. Who talks the loudest? Reds. Who goes all out when explaining something? Reds. Who’s always the first to answer a question? Reds again. Who, during an otherwise pleasant dinner, makes categorical comments on just about any topic? And who will judge an entire country based on something he saw on television? Reds!

Something is always happening in the lives of Red people. They can’t sit still. Idle time is wasted time. Life is short; better get going immediately. Do you recognize the type? Always on the go. So step aside; let’s get cracking!

“Tell Me What You Really Think—Yes, for Real.”

Reds have no problem being blunt. When asked a specific question, they often say exactly what they think, without any frills. They see no need to wrap things up in a bunch of empty phrases. When a thought pops into their heads, everyone knows it immediately. They have opinions on most things, and they trot their thoughts out quickly and efficiently.

A common remark is that Reds are very honest, because they dare to express their personal truths to people. They don’t really understand what the fuss is all about. They’ve only said things as they are.

If you need someone with extra energy, you may want to invite a Red into the team or project group. They fight tirelessly along when others have already given up—if they are determined to succeed, that is. A task that has become humdrum or meaningless could be totally ignored by a Red. 

I call this phenomenon slog or split. If the task is important enough, a Red will go through fire and water to complete it. If he feels it has no purpose, into the trash it goes.

Can I Win Something? In That Case, I’m In.

So Reds like competing. They appreciate the slight antagonism that is part of being competitive and the glorious moment of winning. They even enjoy winning competitions that probably don’t even exist, except perhaps in their own mind. It can be passing a slow walker on the street, finding the absolutely best parking spot, or dominating the family game of Monopoly—despite the fact that the purpose of the game is to entertain the kids and none of the other adults are actually competing. For a Red, this is all natural because he sees himself as a winner.

Let me give you an example. I once worked for a company where the CEO was Red. He was energetic and efficient—and consequently incredibly dynamic. No meetings were as short and sweet as those run by this CEO. But his weak spot was the competitive element. As a young man he had played soccer, and every spring at this particular workplace they held a soccer tournament. It was very popular, even before he joined the company.

Naturally, he had to take part. No other CEO before him had ever done so, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that as soon as he got out on the field he became a different person. On fire with his competitive drive, he flattened anyone who stood in his way.

This continued for a few years until someone had the guts to tell him that he played just a little bit too rough—the game wasn’t supposed to be that serious. The CEO didn’t understand. He grabbed the latest flyer for the game and pointed out that it was called a soccer “tournament.” Tournaments are competitions, and if you compete you are in it to win. Simple!

He competed in traffic, on the soccer field, in business. No area was too insignificant not to become a competition. He even raced to see how quickly he could finish reading a book. What others do for relaxation he transformed into a competition. One hundred pages an hour was a reasonable pace.

His wife had even banned him from playing a memory card game with his children, who were five and six years old. Since they had better memories than he did, they won most of the time, and in his frustration he intimidated them.

Before you conclude that this guy sounds rather unsympathetic, we need to look at his intentions. This kind of intensive and competitive behavior often upsets other people because they think it is all about dominating and suppressing others. Nothing could be further from the truth. His intentions were almost never malicious. He just wanted to win.

This is one of the greatest challenges for Reds. It’s not uncommon that other people feel irritated or intimidated by them because they’re such powerful personalities. Later on in this book, I will share some simple ways that you can deal with these individuals.

Time Is Money

“Quick” is synonymous with “good” for Reds. If you are in a meeting and suddenly notice that one of the other participants is devoting his time to something completely different, it may well be a Red who has lost interest. If you look closer, you will realize that his thoughts are elsewhere—on the next step in the process being discussed, for example. Because Reds are quick thinkers, they move on long before everyone else.

Few things annoy Reds more than sluggishness. If a meeting or a discussion drags on, he may interrupt and ask if it’s really necessary to prolong the issue. “We’ve already discussed this for twenty minutes. Get it together! It’s only a few million in investments. How hard can it be?”

If you think about it, they’re often right. When other people may find it difficult to make a decision, Reds are prepared to make quick decisions in order to keep things moving. With a Red on the team, nothing will be discussed ad infinitum. After all, it’s always better to do something rather than nothing, right?

The advantage is obvious. We’re talking about people who never waste time on anything that doesn’t move forward. As soon as a task becomes unclear or is taking too long, a Red will ensure that the momentum is maintained and spur things along. Chop-chop, done in double time.

About fifteen years ago I began working for a small consulting company with about a dozen employees. It was a polished organization with a great spirit of entrepreneurship and excellent momentum in business dealings. One of the reasons why they were so efficient was because the founder of the company was a Red. Nothing could move too quickly for Bjö rn. No meeting took longer than was absolutely necessary.

In my second or third week in the new job, I was sitting in a traffic jam when my cell phone rang. I looked at the display and saw that it was Bjö rn. I answered the way I’d been instructed to when I started at the company—with a greeting, my name, and the company name. Impatiently he interrupted me and spit out his question.

“Were you looking for me?”

“No,” I replied, and took a deep breath, ready to say something else. I didn’t get the chance.

“Okay,” he said, and hung up.

Eight seconds.

Unpleasant? Well, at the time we didn’t really know each other. However, I must admit that the whole episode had me worried a little—at least on that occasion. Only three weeks at the company and the big chief himself calls, and sounding irritated!

When we’d gotten to know each other—and I learned that Bjö rn was Red—I asked him why he was so abrupt on the phone. Of course he didn’t even remember the call, but he said he was probably just trying to find out if I was looking for him. When he learned I wasn’t, there was no further need to talk. Wasting time on polite flowery phrases or drawn-out farewells wasn’t for him.

But at the same time, here was a person with a capacity to work far more than normal. Bjö rn managed to do more in an average working day than most people. He still has an exceptional ability to make the most of any free time. If he has a gap of five minutes in his schedule he manages to squeeze in an email, a phone call, and go through some meeting minutes. From the outside, this may seem like an unnecessary pursuit of efficiency. But a Red detests inactivity. Things must happen. Add to this a sense of constant urgency, and a great deal will get done.

The Sky’s the Limit. Or Is It?

For a Red, a realistic budget is a budget for cowards. If we don’t push ourselves to the breaking point, we haven’t tried hard enough. Reds love difficult tasks, so their level of ambition is usually boundless. The ability to manage difficult situations and challenges is the defining attribute of Red behavior.

When a person with Red traits sets his goals, several things happen. First, he wants to know how well a specific task under the most favorable conditions could be performed. If all nineteen parameters were met and we all gave it a little extra effort the results would be phenomenal. This means that anything below that impossible level of excellence is boring, because there’s at least a remote possibility of that result being achieved.

Nothing is impossible. The impossible just takes a little longer. More than likely it was a Red who came up with that expression.

Naturally, it’s also about the type of project. It’s not enough just to set an impossible sales budget. If a Red doesn’t like sales, he’ll ignore the budget. Since he prefers to make all the decisions himself, he probably won’t be fooled into doing something he doesn’t feel like doing. Reds set higher demands on themselves than any of the other colors would. And they are always prepared to work hard. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that no other color works as hard as Reds do, but I would venture to say that a Red would give anyone a run for his money.

Ambition, which is intrinsic to Reds, shouldn’t be confused with a lust for power. Reds have no problem taking positions of power, since they are fearless. Expressions like “It’s lonely and windy at the top” don’t scare them. But for a Red power is not an end in itself. It does, however, come in handy for those who like to make their own decisions and avoid having to wait for others.

A Red can, in fact, be quite unassuming. It’s true that he has a strong ego, but status and prestige don’t have the same importance as with other colors. The reason is simple: A Red usually doesn’t care what others think. He’s not here for their sake—he’s here for his own.

Let Me Tell You How Things Really Are

A Red gives everything he’s got. When he has an opinion about something or if he wants the rest of us to agree with him, he pulls out all the stops.

Once, I was in a meeting with a large number of people who didn’t know one another that well. It was a gathering of consultants who were meeting to discuss a potential collaboration. It was in the middle of a recession, and we were all concerned about the lack of direction. While we were waiting for the chairperson to arrive, we chatted a little about everything.

At one end of the table sat Elisabeth, who had strong opinions about everything. In an unequivocal voice, she suddenly stated that the company was still expected to earn over $50 million a week, despite the recession. About fifteen consultants, all highly trained, reflective, and intelligent people, nodded in agreement. Just imagine—$50 million! Per week!

While Elisabeth expanded on how the situation ought to be resolved in the consulting world, I began thinking about the figures a little bit. Not knowing where these figures came from, I remained silent. It could be true; it could also be farfetched. I honestly didn’t know. While waiting for the meeting to begin officially, I started calculating how much $50 million per week would be per year. I didn’t have enough paper.

After the meeting, I got the answer to my speculations. I was in a taxi on my way to my next meeting when the driver turned on the radio. In the news, it was announced that the company in question was expected to earn between $2 and 2.5 million per week. I realized that Elisabeth had gotten the information from the news. I also understood that $2 or $2.5 million per week was far more realistic than the $50 million that she had referred to.

But wait a minute. A little reconciliation with reality is needed here. Why didn’t anyone react? No one in the room lifted a finger or called her information into question. Why?

Because she sounded so convincing! Her facial expression was definite; her countenance was determined, and her voice did not quiver in the least when she presented her figures.

That’s the way Reds function. When they believe something, they let people know that this is the only truth that exists. Now maybe there are some sticklers for detail who might claim that this is deceptive, since we now know that the company earned $2.5 million a week and not roughly $50 million. But I’m convinced that Elisabeth really believed what she said. She had things turned around, no doubt about that, and she was certainly not interested in details. But my point is that by sounding utterly confident when she declared that the company was earning six months’ revenue—per week—we all fell for it.

Or, in the words of a good friend of mine: There are two ways to do this—my way and the wrong way.

Only Dead Fish Go with the Flow

Reds are both groundbreaking and strong willed. Why not also add “results oriented” and “decisive” when we’re at it? For Reds, it’s not sufficient to do things like everyone else does. And just because it’s tough doesn’t mean we should avoid doing it.

Reds aren’t afraid to make decisions. When everyone else hesitates, thinking and weighing the risks, a Red makes the controversial decision. A Red’s determination is usually unyielding. Once he’s decided, then it’s full steam ahead.

Their fearlessness dares them to tackle things that make others hesitate. This is usually evident when things get rough, and they are undaunted by tough choices or tricky decisions. It is no coincidence that many entrepreneurs are Reds. Setting up new businesses—especially if they are based on completely new business concepts—is, in our current economy, not for the faint of heart. It’s not a bad thing to have a force of nature in the driver’s seat. It takes a strong mind to move things forward, someone who understands that risks that are part of everyday life and that everything boils down to hard work from morning to night—for many years. Reds understand this from the beginning and are in no way intimidated by it.

Do you need someone to pursue a problem in your apartment complex? 

Maybe you’ve gotten on the wrong side of your landlord, who says that there is absolutely nothing wrong with your heat. Or maybe the contractor who repaired the roof and installed the new elevators was negligent and won’t take responsibility for it. Any time you try to get things straightened out, you’ve been brought to standstill by a barricade of unanswered calls and info@ addresses. You’re just about to give up when you suddenly remember the guy on the second floor living above you. Isn’t he kind of Red? Wasn’t he the one who dared to go against the super at the last meeting and get the trash policy changed? Yes, that’s the guy!

Throw the guy from the second floor into the process, and then you’ll see things begin to happen. You might have to motivate him a little, explaining that he has a lot to gain from it himself. But he will make things happen—he’ll subdue the landlord and get the contractor in line. And he won’t lose any sleep just because someone got angry with him in the process.

Generally speaking, a Red’s strengths are very powerful. They are extremely clear in their communication, and you don’t have to look far to identify Red behavior. Of course, over the years many Reds learn to restrain themselves somewhat, but it doesn’t usually last very long. They’ll be back to full throttle—and all that that entails.

It Wasn’t Better Before. Onward and Upward.

A Red doesn’t try to stick to his original point of view when he realizes that a better solution exists. He is a quick thinker and has no problem shifting his ground at short notice. One of the advantages of this is that he doesn’t reject other people’s ideas if he has none himself. It’s worth looking into anything that can propel development forward.

Sometimes decisions can come a little bit too quickly, but the will to constantly change creates a strong dynamism and flexibility. If anything has been static for a long time—maybe a few weeks—he will turn things up a notch. Some people may find this stressful, but when you ask a Red why he changed something that was actually working the answer could well be “Because I could.”

Naturally, there are also downsides. Reds get bored with the status quo quickly and so they change it—the people around them have no idea what will happen next. When Greens and Blues have just gotten used to the new organization and think they have finally grasped how things are supposed to work, well, a Red will have already outlined the next step.

Conclusions on Red Behavior

So what do you think? Do you know any Reds? Do you have any around you? If you want to get to know some famous Red people, consider Steve Jobs, FDR, Venus Williams, or Margaret Thatcher. There’s also Barack Obama and Mother Teresa.

Oh yes, it’s true. If you consider Mother Teresa’s deeds, the strength she needed and whom she had to deal with—the world’s foremost leaders—to achieve what she did, then you’ll realize that she was extremely determined and forceful. A typical Red profile.


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