Behavioral Systems
Surrounded by Bad Bosses and Lazy Employees

Behavioral Systems

Thomas Erikson divides all people into certain types and applies those metaphors to understanding your boss and yourself.

When a detail-oriented introvert must collaborate or make decisions with a results-focused extrovert, problems arise – especially if one is the other’s boss. Thomas Erikson – author of the Surrounded By series – asserts (and asserts and asserts) that identifying someone’s personality type can help you communicate and collaborate with them. Armed with his often witty insights, workers can better interpret their bosses’ behavior, and bosses can improve communication and motivation.

Personality Types

To motivate, influence and inspire, leaders must engage the personality types on their team. Understanding and communicating with people who perceive and operate differently than you do improves the working situation for all.

According to Erikson, some people are “task-oriented”; others are “relationship-oriented.” Task-oriented people focus on the job but sometimes ignore other people’s input. Relationship-oriented people prioritize positive human interaction, which may impede results.

Boss is what you are. Leader is what you do.Thomas Erikson

People are usually extroverted or introverted. Extroverts direct focus outward and gain validation from other people’s energy and ideas. Extroverted bosses are action-oriented, make quick decisions and embrace risk. Their impatience and egocentricity can lead them to bad choices or to ignore other people’s suggestions. Introverts rely on their inner worlds for strength. They ponder and reflect before making decisions. Their slow reaction times impede team members from understanding what they want.

Combined Types

Erikson offers four behavioral categories: Red (task-oriented and extroverted) people tackle hard problems and take action. Yellow (relationship-oriented and extroverted) people care about relationships, prioritize positive interactions and seek approval. Green (relationship-oriented and introverted) people like to know what to expect, appreciate consistency and avoid change. Blue (task-oriented and introverted) people value rules, require structure, and gather facts and relevant materials before acting.

Only 5% of people exhibit solely one color, says Erikson; most combine two or more. Red-Yellows are creative, upbeat and accommodating. Yellow-Greens value relationships, like to help and care what other people think of them. Green-Blues pair their love of order and analysis with an appreciation for the contributions of others. Blue-Reds organize, weigh the pros and cons, and avoid mistakes.

Knowing your own colors provides insight into the personalities and situations that cause you stress. Reds feel anxious when not in control, bored or unchallenged. Feeling ignored, overlooked, left out or unappreciated triggers stress for Yellows. Greens benefit from replenishing activities such as gardening, reading and sleeping. Changes, interruptions or other people’s emotions throw Blues off balance.

Erikson synthesizes the work of multiple psychologists and social scientists to present these systematic identifiers. How these systems pertain to being surrounded by one kind of person or another, the author does not clarify.


Identifying your boss’s color provides a gateway into his or her behavior and clarifies how it affects your job performance and career prospects. Red bosses, Erikson explains, are impatient, temperamental and domineering. Yellow bosses are energetic, upbeat and innovative. Green bosses are supportive, inclusive and create a collaborative work environment. Blue bosses tackle problems only after examining every angle and resource.

People are complicated, and it can be hard to understand them. But every quality or characteristic is specific to the color concerned.Thomas Erikson

So how should you tackle these personalities? Erikson notes that Reds are impatient and blunt, so don’t take criticism personally, and come to meetings prepared. Yellow bosses are excellent communicators and persuaders. Engage Green bosses with open-ended questions to tease out their opinions. Blue Bosses want facts, figures and details, so stick to the agenda, and prepare to answer questions.

Driving Force

When your job performance aligns with your driving force – your motivation for getting out of bed every morning – you feel energized and good about yourself, asserts Erikson. “Personal driving forces” are the priorities that comprise a person’s value system; “inactive driving forces” are subconscious needs and concerns compelling you to act a certain way.

You can’t change what your boss is like, you can only change yourself – that’s the reality here.Thomas Erikson

For example, a Blue person may seek knowledge through research, a Yellow person by talking with an expert. The goal is the same; the path differs.

Complex Drivers

If you want to be a boss, write a brief mission statement to delineate your purpose and establish aspirational goals. Understand your underlying attitude toward your employees. Theory X and Theory Y describe different views of the workforce. Theory X assumes people avoid demanding work and responsibility unless forced to do so; Theory Y envisions initiative-taking, self-directed employees who want to perform well. Theory X is outdated, yet many bosses embrace it.

If you assume that you’re leading a bunch of tired slackers and unprofessional sleepy-heads, they’re going to notice what you think of them.Thomas Erikson

Red bosses fall into the trap of believing no one can do tasks as quickly or as well as they can do them. Yellow bosses assume far too many assignments. Green bosses want to help or feel guilty about asking their staff to do more. Blue bosses believe they’re the only ones who can do a task the right way. Consider your employees’ color profiles when assembling diverse teams that function well. For example, Greens and Blues work well together, as do Reds and Yellows.

Mercury in Retrograde

Erikson’s entire thesis revolves around his human categories. But he never clarifies how these identifiers offer more effective insight than, say, astrological star signs. Still, Erikson’s text proves witty, unpretentious and amusing – in other words, harmless and diverting. If you enjoy easily digestible, generalized systems, Erikson’s approach will work for you. If not, take it all with a grain of salt and amuse yourself by fitting complex human personalities into superficial, reductive categories.

A behavioral expert and lecturer, Erikson also wrote Surrounded by Idiots, Surrounded by Narcissists and Surrounded by Psychopaths.

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