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It Takes Dragons

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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

Get the skills and wisdom of the Dragon Principles for yourself! Take the Dragon Principles Intensive! Go to chumans.com/intensive to apply!

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

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.

The Center for Human Systems ~ http://www.chumans.com ~ michael@chumans.com

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Three Keys to Conscious Use of Self

Conscious Use of Self covers a broad range of things we might want to change in our worlds. Deciding to try a new restaurant or buy a new car takes, figuring out how to deal with your kids or get your team to work better together, and making peace with your significant other all call some degree of Conscious Use of Self. Figuring how to consciously manage one’s self in such a range of situations may seem daunting.

Fortunately, there are only three keys areas of use of self that need to be mastered—Intention-Impact, Connection, and Ego Management.

From the previous article on Systems Thinking, we know that when we are a part of a human system, we make an impact whether we want to or not… whether we think we have or not. A system’s response to what we do is essentially feedback that tells us if we have accomplished what we want or not. Accordingly, it is important to be conscious of:

1. What our intentions are: Do you walk into a meeting with the intention simply to get through it, to make some difference in the success of the meeting, or do you have no conscious intention at all? Those that have no intention at all wind up being main contributors to bad meetings.

2. Whether or not our behavior is in sync with our intentions: If you had an intention to make a difference in the success of the meeting, were you silent the whole meeting? Argumentative? Helpful to others? Which behavior would be most in sync with your intention? If I want a satisfying relationship with my significant other, my kids, or my colleagues at work, am I consistently denigrating them or proving that I’m right and they’re wrong?

3. Whether or not our behavior has impacted the system in the way we want it to: Was the meeting successful, not just in your mind but in the minds of the others present? Are your important relationships satisfying to all parties, including you?

When we are not aware of our intentions or simply have none, and things don’t work out well, we tend to seek outside ourselves to discover why we are dissatisfied with our lives and whatever is going on around us. Do we operate as victims, believing ourselves to be powerless to change that which is dissatisfying?

Certainly, there are times that in spite of our clearest, most conscious intention and most considered action, things just don’t work out the way we want them to. Regardless, we still have choices about how we will respond to such situations: do I revert to victimhood or do I have a conscious intention to maintain a sense of positive esteem for myself and those I’m with?

On my first visit to Paris, my luggage didn’t get to me until four days into my vacation. Without a conscious intention to enjoy myself, I might have easily spent too many of my vacation moments righteously upset. I chose not to do that, and I had a marvelous time despite having to wash my underwear!

Connection

To accomplish our intentions, to manage change, to make a difference in the human systems in which we live and work, we need help. We can accomplish little of any significance by ourselves. Consequently, it is imperative, essential, and indispensable that we connect with others to accomplish the changes and other goals that we might have in mind. This is so important that we have an entire chapter on Support Systems. Think back to our example when you were continually arguing with your boss to the point of alienating her. On automatic and with the best of intentions, you were at risk of weakening a connection crucial to your success. Through high quality connections, high quality relationships, we have the support and the influence to accomplish our intentions.

As we monitor whether or not our behavior is having our intended impact, in our monitoring we must decide whether or not we are deepening our connections or weakening them.

We cannot connect with others if we are disconnected from our environment and those around us. If we try to move our intentions forward without being present to whether we are strengthening or weakening the connections with those from whom we need support, we may be left wondering why things don’t seem to be working.

Two things could show that we are not connecting effectively with those whose support we need:

1. We simply aren’t paying attention to the impact our actions are having on our important connections. The CEO of middle size organization confided in me once that his wife had just left him and taken the kids. He was distraught. I asked him if he’d seen it coming. He said that her leaving took him totally by surprise. I said, you probably weren’t paying attention and that was probably at least part of why she left. He sadly nodded his head. He said he thought everything was fine when it wasn’t.

Too often, we trust our own beliefs about what’s going on with those important to us at home and at work. Often those beliefs are wrong. Sound and Current Data from others are needed to know if our connections and influence are in good shape or not.

2. There are times when our supporters express disagreement with the intention or the goal we think is quite marvelous. Our supporters begin to feel not listened to and begin to distance themselves from us, weakening, if not breaking the needed connection. What we do on automatic when people differ from us is explored in depth in the chapters on Infinite Power and Learning from Differences.

The more our intentions are important to us, the more we need to attend to the connections with the others we need to help accomplish them. Of course, there is also the tendency to take for granted (pretty much the same as being on automatic) those with whom we are connected, as our distraught CEO did with his wife.

Ego Management

We define Ego as one’s sense of personal and social identity alloyed with our sense of self-importance and self-esteem. It is our perception of who we are interwoven with, or confounded by, our perceptions of what others think of us and of what we think of ourselves. If I use my intelligence (or my work, my skin color, my socio-economic status, my humor, etc.) as a source of self-esteem, then my ego would have me protect that idea of myself from perceived assaults. If the assault was from my having done something “stupid,” like accidently knocking over a glass of water, you could count on me to blame the glass or table as unstable or simply deny that I did it. I might also very easily interpret your disagreeing with me as an assault to my self-esteem and vigorously, even vehemently argue my case beyond the importance of the issue at hand.

Some of us have “needy egos” that need insatiable reinforcement of some trait or characteristic as perceived as conveying importance and esteem upon the owner—more money, more affection, more clothes, more power, more beauty, more achievement! Whatever the “more” is, there is never enough to fill our ego’s need for importance and esteem. Such specific characteristics (or things) can never really fill such needs.

This is a very simplified explanation of “ego” but hopefully it provides enough insight to understand a couple of ways that the beliefs and thoughts that come from our egos can drive our emotions and our behavior. Unless, that is, we are aware of egos and of the characteristics that we have attached to them. From such awareness, we enable ourselves to choose intentions and actions other than those our egos would have us follow and do.

For most of us, our ego issues are not humongous, yet they can still get in the way of our being effective. I have a colleague that whenever she perceives her competence is being challenged, she will retaliate rather vociferously though there may be no real challenge being offered. I’ve had many clients at risk of failing because they had the notion that asking their staff for support would have them appear weak when it was important to their egos to appear strong. You may have friends or colleagues who never seem to accept responsibility for whatever may not be working. Maybe they are trying to prove to themselves and to those around them that they are “Okay.”

What are your ego triggers? Is it important to your self-esteem to be seen as smart, friendly, knowledgeable, popular, well off, rational? We all have something or some things to which we have hooked our egos. The sooner you choose to acknowledge yours, the sooner you will be able consciously to choose beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and actions that will better move you toward your consciously chosen intentions and goals.

Want practical and powerful skills about how to use yourself to create positive change in your teams and organizations? Then take the exciting Dragon Principles Intensive in San Francisco or Columbia, MD. Go to Dragon Principles Intensive to find out more. We start in September!

For a powerful introduction, to the Dragon Principles take the one-day workshop, Conscious Use of Self for Organizational Change in June or August! There’s a discount if you register soon!

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D.

About Michael F. Broom. I’m an organizational psychologist with 39 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations. 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.