CTLS: Yellow

And now we’re back to the Color Thinking Leadership Series…but before we start, I invite you to mentally pick a daffodil or a sunflower or a yellow chrysanthemum or if you aren’t into flowers think of something yellow that you just love.. Bumblebee fur? Frozen banana? Yellow tennis ball? You pick.

There’s a reason, of course. I would like you to tap into your joy, and read this post starting with a smile …maybe even with laughter.

We often go all serious when we talk about leadership. Yes, it’s a serious topic. But that doesn’t mean we have to be 100% serious all the time, harbingers of boredom and blahdom. There is so much room for joy and even humor. One of my favorite authors, Sam Kean, is able to bring big humor into the topic of neuroscience. Yeah, if there’s room for joy and humor in that topic, there’s pretty much room for it anywhere, including your leadership style! So let’s play with the light filled attributes of yellow before we get into the shadow side.

Yellow Attributes

The aligned leader attributes (light): You show up as a fun, inspired and joyful leader. You like the people you work with, you like what you do. You enjoy life, and it is infectious. You are optimistic, and because of that you create motivation to take calculated risks. You are success focused. You nurture your team’s ability to find solutions, to discover what can work. You tend to see the good in people and situations. You create an environment where mistakes are lessons, not failure.

Your team is very loyal to you and to your vision. They enjoy working for you. They really like you, in part because they feel that you genuinely like them and enjoy what you do together. They also see you as a courageous leader, sticking to your principles. You are naturally inclusive.

The aligned leader uses humor very effectively – to motivate, disarm, charm, release tension and create a sense of play and wonder.

The shadow leader attributes: Not quite as fun, because there is very little joy. You show up as worried, preoccupied, anxious. You are pessimistic and focused on the threats, the myriad ways things can go wrong. Your fears are rational – okay, they aren’t irrational – but they are paralyzing to you. You are afraid to take action because it might be the wrong action, and you think the risks are too great. So you gather more data, do more analysis, get some more advice…true analysis paralysis. Your team feels your anxiety because it is contagious. They tend to worry about covering up their mistakes, or making sure that they can’t be blamed for the failure that you are sure is coming. You and your team are very risk averse. (That’s a polite way of saying that you’re fraidy cats.)

What the shadow feels like to you is you are the only one who realistically sees all the dangers. You live in a heightened state of anxiety waiting for things to go wrong, for that other shoe to drop. You think that you are taking care of everyone by looking out for them, but it doesn’t feel like they are very grateful. In fact, they seem fearful and resentful. You’re frustrated that people don’t want to take responsibility, but why would they when there’s so much fear?

You spend a decent amount of time in a state of anxious confusion. You know how important it is to get things right. There’s so much depending on you. You consider yourself to be very analytical, but often go into information overload – the data just doesn’t provide you with the obvious action to take. So you find that you don’t take action quickly, and people are impatient with your perceived inability to make decisions. Mostly you are just stressed and anxious all the time. You feel you just can’t let your guard down.

As always, you might feel some of the light and some of the shadow attributes. You might be two different people – a joyful barrel of fun in your personal life and an analytical, risk averse leader. Or you might be love introducing fun and humor, but only when you feel it is safe. You might create an environment where mistakes are learning experiences – but only for your team, not for you. These are just some of the possible blends.

Yellow Questions

Color Thinking questions can help open our mind up to see different possibilities. If you lean towards the shadow side of the yellow spectrum, you’re going to think that logically you need to reduce the risk, gather information to alleviate our fears, or some other rational approach. Actually, you’re wrong. It’s 100% okay. It’s not failure, it’s an opportunity to learn…with joy…which is why we started with yellow flowers and banana cream pie. What? We forgot the pie? Silly me.

And, as a collector of data to analyze, you would want lots and lots of questions. So I will thwart you here, and give you only five, and they’re roughly in sequence.

  • What brings me joy, makes me laugh?
  • How can I be a leader and be someone who shares joy?
  • How can joy improve things for me and my team?
  • How can joy or playfulness or humor help me to be brave in spite of the risks and dangers I see?
  • How can I turn my challenges into adventures?

When you have your answers, use the yellow color hacks. Create a mantra that can quickly remind you of make the changes that you want to make, and the behaviors you want to exhibit.

But you know what’s most important? Laugh. Enjoy. Be enjoyable. Yeah, that.  That’s what leaders do.

In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!

Love and light,



If you’re interested in using Color Thinking for your own leadership development program, let’s talk. Email: Maggie@maggiehuffman.com

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