Work styles: Are you a Dragon, Unicorn, Phoenix, or Lion-Turtle


dragon phoenix

Most of us in the field have done various “behavioral styles” activities.  With so much of our work being relationship-based, it is important for us to understand one another. This will lessen our chances of strangling our coworkers or boss or board members or even some funders or clients.

There are dozens of categorization systems, some using color, directions, or adjectives such as amiables, expressives, drivers, analyticals; or controllers, stabilizers, persuaders, analyzers, etc. Whatever the system, everyone tends to agree that there are four different behavior styles.

It is always good for us to get regular refreshers on what those four styles are. But colors and directions and adjectives are so boring. Here, I’ve relabeled the styles after bad-ass mythical creatures, each awesome (and also sometimes sucky) in their own ways. Find out which style you and the people around you are, and then try to get along with everyone.

How do I know which bad-ass mythical creature I am?

The best way is for you to show this blog post to three or more people, ask them to read it, and then tell you which of these styles most closely describes you. That’s because what we think we are may be completely different from how others perceive us; for instance, I used to think I was an amazing beat-boxer, but based on feedback I was really more like a dying weasel with a spittle problem…

If you’re too lazy to ask three people, just take this one-question quiz below.

When you read the title of this blog post, what was your first thought?

  1. Whoo hoo, Dragons, Unicorns, Phoenixes, Turtle-Lions! Sounds like a drinking game!
  2. This is stupid. I don’t have time to read blog posts about work styles. I have stuff to do.
  3. Hm, this article sounds silly, but I should read it to determine if it has any validity.
  4. Aw, someone took time to write this blog post. I should read it because they spent so much time working on it.

If your answer is 1, you’re a Phoenix; 2, you’re a Dragon; 3, you’re a Lion-Turtle; 4, you’re a Unicorn.


(Red, North, Fire, Controller, Director, Driver, Dominance, Decisive)

“When is this meeting over so we can do stuff?”

dragonWhy Dragons are awesome: Dragons are decisive and like to get stuff done. They hate long meetings, and they’d usually rather juggle live cobras than have to do a wishy-washy ice breaker. Dragons will drive teams to take actions and to be expedient. They wish you would stop reading stupid blog posts like this and do something, like your job.

Why Dragons sometimes suck: They can be brusque and impatient. In their drive for action and efficiency, they can make mistakes. And they can run over people. Then they might roll their eyes when the people they run over want to talk about their feelings. Feelings are for losers, according to Dragons, because while people are all experiencing emotions and crap, stuff is not getting done.

How to best work with a Dragon: Get to the point quickly. Be action-oriented. Don’t make them share their feelings. Just do your job.

Dragons will have most conflict with: Unicorns. They find Unicorns to be indecisive, emotionally weak, easily manipulated, and their focus on harmony and snuggling an annoying waste of time.


(Yellow, West, Air, Persuader, Socializer, Expressive, Influencer, Interactive, )

“Let’s go to Happy Hour after this meeting!” 

phoenixWhy Phoenixes are awesome: Phoenixes seem to have unlimited energy. They bring fun wherever they go. They are creative and spontaneous. Phoenixes are great at building relationships, since they are charismatic, great talkers, and excellent at convincing people to do stuff, such as get everyone to go out for drinks after work. When they get excited about stuff, they are quick to get it done.

Why Phoenixes sometimes suck: They can be unfocused and fail to follow up on things that are not fun, which, unfortunately is about 85% of work. They are not good at details and get bored easily. They can be distracted and distracting, and sometimes they burst into songs, which, depending on the timing and frequency, can be either endearing, or make you want to throw a stapler at them.

How to best work with a Phoenix: Get to know them on a personal level, and let them get to know you. Participate in the stuff they suggest, praise them, and go out for drinks with them. (Hint: Phoenixes like to buy people drinks)

Phoenixes will have most conflict with: Lion-Turtles. They find Lion-Turtles to be way too serious, stuck-up, and boring as hell.


(Blue, East, Earth, Analyzer, Thinker, Analytical, Conscientious, Cautious)

“I’ve prepared handouts for everyone for this meeting.”

lion turtleWhy Lion-Turtles are awesome: The Lion-Turtle is this giant creature that has the head of a lion and the body of a turtle and is totally cool. Lion-Turtles are diligent, careful, logical, and accurate. They take time to do their work, so it is usually high quality. They are detailed oriented, often picking up stuff that other people miss. They bring grounding and balance to any team, encouraging everyone pay attention to boring technical crap like objectives and timelines and data.

Why Lion-Turtles sometimes suck: They require a lot of time to think and plan, which can be annoying. Also, they keep wanting more and more data, and keep asking questions all the time, like “what’s the budget for this?” and “what was the process for coming up with this budget?” which can be infuriating. Sometimes they seem boring, since they often like to keep work life and personal life separate, meaning they might seem stand-offish when everyone goes out for drinks and they don’t.

How to best work with Lion-Turtles: Be specific, thorough, and demonstrate that you have thought thoroughly about stuff after doing research. Be consistent and predictable and don’t seem too impulsive.

Lion-Turtles will have most conflict with: Phoenixes. They find the Phoenixes to be silly, narcissistic, drunkards, and time wasters.


(Green, South, Water, Stabilizer, Relater, Amiable, Steady, Stabilizing)

“Let’s make ‘snuggling’ the first item on the agenda.”


Why Unicorns are awesome: Unicorns are considerate, thoughtful, and good at listening. They like harmony and use their unicorn powers to help people get along. Unicorns will always be on the lookout to make sure everyone is comfortable and no one feels left out. They are good at mediating conflicts and getting people to hold hands and snuggle and crap like that.

Why Unicorns sometimes suck:  Unicorns are always searching for consensus, so they can be indecisive, needing to check in with everyone. They can be conforming, insecure, and wishy-washy. Wanting to avoid conflict, sometimes they bottle up their feelings, absorbing the stress until it reaches a breaking point, and then they explode, getting messy unicorn bits all over the place.

How to best work with a Unicorn: Do what you say you’re going to do, be kind and considerate to everyone, tell them you appreciate them.

Unicorns will have most conflict with: Dragons. They find Dragons to be insensitive and thoughtless clods who don’t give a crap about others.


I hope that was helpful. Remember, no one mythical creature is better than any other. A good team will have at least one of each of the styles. And also, keep in mind that while we each have one dominant style, we can (and should) learn other styles and transform into different mythical creatures as situations demand. If we can all learn each other’s styles and learn to work with one another, maybe, just maybe, we will survive planning the next annual fundraising event.

  • Heidi

    My first thought when this popped up in my inbox was, “Wow, Lion-Turtles! That’s so great!” closely followed by, “This sounds silly, but I should read it to see if it has any validity (because I trust Vu).”

    So, of course, it turns out that I’m a lion-turtle. You have made my week 🙂

    • Vu

      Thanks, Heidi 🙂 Lion-turtles are awesome and under-appreciated. But with more and more focus on outcomes and metrics, you guys are more important than ever.

  • Karin Gerstenhaber

    Another Lion-turtle here but I do have dragon moments when I truly want to skip the ice breaker (were you there, Vu?) and knock some action items off my list. Great article!

    • Vu

      Thanks, Karin. You’re right, Lion-Turtles also tend to hate ice breakers, especially stupid ones that have make alliterations with your names or animal sounds or something.

  • Andrea

    I too am a Lion-Turtle and I endorse this blog posting as being totally valid. I find it interesting that all the comments thus far are from Lion-Turtles. Perhaps this trend needs to be studied to further our understanding.

    • Vu

      Thanks for the endorsement, Andrea. That does puzzle me why only you Lion-Turtles are commenting. Maybe it’s because only you have the patience to fill out all the fields required to comment. In Facebook, the other types comment more actively. This does require further investigation. Let’s apply for a research grant.

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  • Lyne Tumlinson

    Glad you linked to this post in today’s icebreaker topic (I’ll read that next) and I love how you included all those other descriptors from other style assessments. Here’s another style set, often used for communication and leadership styles to add to the mix: Dragon= Direct; Phoenix =Spirited; Lion-turtle= Systematic; Unicorn= Considerate. BTW, I’m a Phoenix (so no surprise late to the game, eh?!).

    • Vu Le

      Thanks, Lyne. Thanks for clueing me in to this other set. Phoenixes are awesome and so much fun to hang out with.

  • LiveLaughLove

    bahahahahahaha – this is my favorite blog in the whole world

    • Vu Le

      Aw, that’s so sweet 🙂

  • LiveLaughLove

    when is happy hour!?

    • Vu Le

      LiveLaughLove, you’re obviously a phoenix. Happy Hour is whenever you’re around!

  • Martha Sheahan

    LOL, Lion-Turtle here. 🙂