People ask me why I use a rather fierce looking dragon as my Center for Human Systems’ logo.
Dragons are known throughout the world in all climates, cultures, and eras. There are dragons with horns, claws, breath of fire, great size (some small), wondrous wings (some wing-less), and marvelous colors. These serpentine creatures forever populate our myths, legends, novels, and movies. Dragons are strong, fierce, powerful, and persuasive. They are creatures of magic, power, and beyond-normal insights. In Western cultures the magic and power of dragons is destructive; they are to be eliminated. In other cultures, dragons are positive symbols: Chinese dragons are symbols of good fortune. In the Aztec, Olmec, Mayan world, their dragon—Quetzalcoatl—symbolizes sustenance and re-birth. In the old Slavic world, some dragons—Zmaj—were friends of humans while others—Azdaja—were friends of witches and such. When they fight, great storms occur.
Dragons are creations of the human psyche representing the passion, fierceness, magical potentials, and depth of insight that is now mostly hidden from human kind. As Western rationality and civilization ascended over the centuries and around the globe, we repressed those potentials. Unfortunately, as we deny our passions, our fierceness, and our magicality, we also deny ourselves the power and insights needed to make real the possibility of creating teams and organizations, families and communities, even humankind to be as healthy, productive, and engaging as we want them to be.
In these modern times, our scientific method would have us be sensible people who do not accept dragons or magic or fairies or spirits or sprites or witches or wizards or anything we cannot see, measure, manage, and control. In the place of dragons, science and technology have given us the wonders of automobiles, airplanes, skyscrapers, computers, the World Wide Web (chockful of dragons itself), and cell phones. Caught up in their thrall, we depend more and more on rationality and technology. We have put aside the part of ourselves that loves wholeheartedly, that can make castles from cardboard boxes, and that have the insight and discipline to create healthy, productive, and engaging organizations–organizations where people love to go to work and do whatever it takes to make them successful. Those things we can do if we reclaim dragons—as magic, power, and possibility.
When I live as the dragon I am, I end the power struggles we create when our egos make it important that we never be losers. I learn and can help others to learn from our differences rather than work so hard to convince others that I am right and not wrong. The dragon I am loves fully with total focus, consummate passion, and direct action. I am irresistible and in wonder.
Only the dragon I am listens with compassion. I have the insight to see hostility and fear to be signals of pain needing healing. Only the dragons we are turn dysfunctional groups into synergic teams appreciative of each member’s good heart, good intentions, and useful contributions. Only the dragons we are can see the systemic issues that create cultures of blame and dysfunction. We can discover the levers that will most bring everyone to full alignment and the organization to full productivity and success. The dragon I am sees resistance to our efforts as important information we need to fine-tune those efforts and create new partners.
A dragon is the symbol of the Center for Human Systems. The dragon in us manifests through eight essential and insightful disciplines that enable us to be dragon-wise and dragon-strong as we create change within ourselves, with others, with groups, and with organizations. We call those disciplines Dragon Principles.
The Eight Dragon Principles
- Conscious Use of Self: Where It Change Needs to Start
We behave mostly on automatic without the need for much thought. When wanting to create change, however, our automatic tendencies often do not have the impacts that will be useful. Consciously and deliberately choosing our behavior, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs to create the changes we desire requires dragon-wisdom. Such Conscious Use of Self is the foundational discipline for creating the changes we desire.
- Human Systems Thinking: The Power of Organization Development
Understanding and operating from the premise that systems behave in whatever way they are behaving because every component of that system is behaving the way that they are. This gives us opportunity to manage change at every moment. It also provides the foundation for sustainable, systemic behavior change. As we are soaked in the Western socialization of individualism, dragon-wisdom is required to consistently think and operate in terms of human systems rather than individuals.
- Sound and Current Data: So Obvious, So Important, So Often Missing
Our assumptions based on our lifes’ experiences get us through our days with little need to check them. However, if the changes you seek are not forthcoming, it’s time to see if your assumptions are in tune with what is really happening. The biggest assumption that can hamper our change effort is the assumption that they are Sound and Current Data when they are not. That our assumptions may be correct 85+% of the time is enormously seductive requiring dragon-wisdom to notice and dragon-strength to resist.
- Personal and System Feedback: Are you on target or off?
Feedback allows us to evaluate how well the impact of our behavior is congruent with our intentions. The more we can fine-tune our behavior so that our impact will be in sync with our intentions the greater will be our effectiveness as managers of change. Easy to understand, yet difficult to apply since feedback has a bad reputation. What’s your first reaction when someone says to you, “Can I give you some feedback?” And, we don’t see systemic feedback at all since we don’t see human systems. You as dragon is needed.
- Infinite Power Orientation: The Heart and Soul of Organization Development
Most people see the win/lose power struggles among people and their differences as an inevitable, wasteful, and unpleasant part of human nature. We know to avoid them by shaping ourselves to conform to the norms we see; thus, destroying whatever unique value we might have brought. Shifting such a finite, control-oriented view of power to one that sees power as infinite and as energy rather than control is crucial to successful change creation. What better purpose for both dragon-wisdom and strength!
- Learning from Differences: The Hardest, When It’s Important to Be Right
We all like to learn except when we have attached our egos to being right. We must be dragon-strong to use such ego-laden differences to accrue knowledge and skill rather than as the source of contention and hostility. Then, we can help others do the same. This is the source of dragon-wisdom.
- Empowerment: The Value-Add of Organization Development
Empowerment is about supporting others to self-discover their ability to make conscious choices and recognize their inherent excellence toward invoking their ability to achieve their personal and systemic goals.
- Support Systems: The Pay-Off of Organization Development
There is nothing of any significance that we have accomplished or can accomplish by ourselves. We need support systems. In fact, we need two kinds of support systems: a personal support system to help us maintain our conscious use of self and to help us have developed support for our change goals to critical mass. When the latter occurs, the change is virtually at hand! But, we often equate needing support with weakness and disadvantage. Dragon-strength is needed to continually focus on building support systems for ourselves and our goals to critical mass–the herald of success.
Creating change in teams, organizations, and other human systems is often an uphill battle against the norms and cultures whose task is to maintain the status quo. Armed with the eight Dragon Principles that battle is won. Be the dragon you are to create the changes you’d like to see!
Want to sharpen and deepen your organization development skills? Sign-up for the Master Classes in Organization Development jointly sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay OD Network and the Center for Human Systems.
Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., CEO, Center for Human Systems
About Michael F. Broom. I’m an organizational psychologist with 40 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations including Microsoft, Google, and Genentech. I’m the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game (with Donald Klein), and the upcoming The Dragon Principles. After 25 years at Johns Hopkins, I founded the Center for Human Systems. I am a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.