Not much has changed since Beowulf had to slay the dragons that were wreaking havoc in Denmark. First he struck down the dragon Grendal. Later he took out Grendal’s mother—half-human and half-dragon (trust me, she did not look like Angelina Jolie of the 2007 movie). However, one dragon remained to threaten Beowulf’s reign as king, and in end, it brought him down, proving that…
It never does to leave a live dragon out of the equation.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Today, 1600 years later, leaders are still being brought down by unslain dragons. Almost every organization has one…or more. The dragon is the unspoken truth—the issue that most everyone knows about and fears. The dragon can stop change initiatives and sink morale. No one can do anything about the dragon except the leader. If the dragon has been around a long time, most people are resigned to the fact that the leader probably won’t do anything. So the best and brightest leave for greener pastures, and everyone else hunkers down, trying to be invisible to both the leader and the dragon.
Dragons are often people: turf shepherds, abusive managers, or relatives and close friends of the leader. The most dangerous situation is when the leader is the dragon. Dragons can also be incompetence in key positions, obsolete technology, products that are endangered species, or software that doesn’t work (probably sold to the organization by the leader’s nephew).
If your organization has a dragon—and it probably does—it will eventually bring you down if you don’t slay it. (Generally, dragons can’t be reformed; they have to be removed.) It is your job as the leader to get the unspoken truth on the table:
Leadership is equally about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted.
What kind of climate does your organization have? Are the truth and brutal facts confronted, honestly confronted—even when they are about you? Are you the dragon? If you aren’t sure, get help. If you don’t, you may end up like Beowulf.
© Copyright 2011 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company
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"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner