The Be Inspired virtual conference kicked off today and a key message was that strong management is more crucial than ever. Retail Week delves into one session that explored how understanding the leadership colour wheel can help people maximise their strengths and get the best out of their teams

Cool blue, fiery red, sunshine yellow, earth green. No, these aren’t paint colours you might find in a DIY store – they also represent distinct leadership styles.

In a panel discussion on the first day of the Be Inspired virtual conference, Pets at Home chief people and culture officer Louise Stonier, Farfetch vice president of innovation David Grunwald, Secret Sales co-founder Sach Kukadia and Women in Leadership Level-Up Academy founder Astrid Phillips came together to share the hues on the leadership colour wheel that they identify with and how this has helped them to lead effectively.

What the colour wheel means

  • Fiery red = competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed, purposeful
  • Cool blue = cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal
  • Sunshine yellow = sociable, dynamic, demonstrative, enthusiastic, persuasive
  • Earth green = caring, encouraging, sharing, patient, relaxed

You can take the test to find your leadership colour for free here.

Identifying your leadership colour

Stonier said she identifies as cool blue according to her personality traits because she’s “calm under pressure” and always wants to “lead with purpose in conversation”. Stonier explained that this colour is followed by fiery red as she is “very determined and passionate and can be quite relentless and direct at times”. 

Be Inspired panel discussion

Clockwise from top left: Louise Stonier, Sach Kukadia, David Grunwald Astrid Phillips on today’s panel discussion

Kukadia identifies as fiery red as he is “outgoing, confident and can be quite direct”. He explained that the negative of red is that “you can sometimes be perceived as aggressive” and shared how it has to taken him “time to readapt my weaknesses and see if there are ways I can improve”.

Philips, who was formerly a project manager, now identifies as sunshine yellow but her leadership style has evolved over time. She explained: “I used to be fiery red but because I’m now in coaching my leadership style is now more yellow purely because of the nature of how I have to interact with other people. When I did originally leave to start my own business, I was very fiery red because I could be very directive and impatient and now I’ve changed across.”

For Grunwald, his lead colours are earth green then cool blue but the Farfetch executive explained that being able to adapt your leadership style is “fundamental”. He also highlighted how you should build a team that has a diverse mix of personality types, after he “brought in more red and yellows to fill the gaps.”

The benefits of understanding your leadership style

Grunwald, who started his career as a management consultant, explained that “it was often taught you should leave your personality at the door” to be successful in business. But he soon found that it was that mix of personalities that was much needed in a team to “support collaboration”.

Kukadia echoed this and said he used learnings around colour wheel leadership styles to better communicate and work with his team by assigning each team member with a colour. “If someone was high green, I would actively listen and encourage more,” he said. “For high blue, I’d have to come with more data and measurable insights. It enables you to be a better leader.”

Phillips said by encouraging people to find their own leadership style you are “encouraging people to be themselves” and this was the only way “they’ll be authentic and true to themselves”.

“People need to get the best out of themselves in a way that they’re able to step into their power and be comfortable and unapologetic about it,” she added.

Don’t try to be the leader you’re not

Phillips continued by sharing how she has seen a lot of individuals, particularly women, who felt they needed to be a certain way and “are pressured to be a certain way” to lead effectively. She explained that this “doesn’t help because they’re forcing themselves to be something they’re not”.

Instead, Phillips advises people to “build confidence [in their own leadership style] to demonstrate that they are the right person. In order to be authentic, you also need to understand the needs of your team too.”

This sentiment is shared by Kukadia who emphasises the need to play to your strengths, not your weaknesses: “When you do a bunch of these tests, you often work really hard to try to become a more well-rounded person and focus on the areas you’re not as strong at. I’m now focused on being really good in the areas that I’m already good at and having other people to balance out those areas I’m not as strong at.

“I knew that I needed support with areas of my personality and I actively recruited to fill those gaps.”

Building a team which is inclusive of all leadership types across the colour wheel is essential for Grunwald too: “This insight is just one of a number of tools to build mindfulness and to understand more about how you can be a better leader and build diversity in your team. I firmly agree that having someone around me that has a contrasting view is really useful and it’s important to fill gaps.”

And, while a colour wheel gives a good framework, Stoner highlights that “you have to be careful not to pigeonhole people into those colours”.

Leveraging leadership in the pandemic

During the difficult times retail has been facing recently, the panel shared how their leadership styles have benefitted them:

  • Stonier: “It’s helped me to stay calm during the crisis – it was so chaotic in the first few months, so my style has enabled me to think through it and be more analytical.”
  • Grunwald: “We’ve needed to act fast and, as a green and blue, it’s worked as I’ve needed to use data to inform our decisions, so it’s been key.’
  • Kukadia: “Having sold Secret Sales in May last year, in recent months it’s helped me to really think about what I wanted to do. During quarantine, I’ve started three new businesses and my red style has enabled me to pursue new opportunities, so for me it’s been quite eye-opening.”
  • Phillips: “As a yellow, I’m the kind of person that likes to talk and share, so I was able to get up to grips with dealing with the crisis quite quickly and bringing positivity around it. I can still be enthusiastic and positive but I just need to find another way of doing it. I always look for the bright side.”

RWRC’s Be Inspired programme began in 2016 with the goal of promoting diversity at all levels of retail and to encourage everyone, whoever they are and whatever their background, to fulfil their career aspirations.

To access more Be Inspired content like this for free, click here.