Raising the level of your leadership

Unslain Dragons Always Win

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.
Jim Collins

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

[if this post was interesting and helpful to you, please forward it to other leaders you know.]

9 responses to “Unslain Dragons Always Win”

  1. Mitch Anderson says:

    A couple of things jump out at me:
    1) Are you as a leader REALLY willing to create a climate where the truth is heard (ie. what if a problem is you or a family member/close friend in the organization) and
    2) can you do it without “slaying” the messenger instead of the dragon?

    Great stuff…!

    • Dick Wells says:

      The worst situation of all is when the senior leader or a family member is the dragon. Fear prevades the organization and the truth rarely gets out. Thanks, Mitch.

  2. Tim Richards says:

    Yet another insightful post from someone who has faced his share of dragons. I continue to be blessed by your wisdom.

  3. Scott Layden says:

    Re-energized after reading this to slay my dragons.
    There sure seem to be a lot of them in my industry, these days!

  4. Wow…what a great reminder. I can’t afford to ignore things just because they may be unpleasant. Thanks Dick.

  5. Diane says:


    So true and the truth shall prevail. We also have unslain dragons in our family and friendships. Thanks Dick.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • On Leading Well…

    "The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."

    Kouzes & Posner


    The Hard Lessons Company
    © 2014-2020
    All rights reserved.

    337 Whitewater Way
    Franklin, TN 37064