There are many lists of the skills needed for effective leadership. Myriad workshops and courses that cover things like decisiveness, communication, integrity, influencing, data-gathering, problem-solving, and dependability. They are all fine. Yet, they can be difficult to practice in the real world of the stressed-filled and emotional situations that leaders often must work with. Edith Whitfield Seashore, Charlie Seashore, and myself, Michael Broom decided to put together a list of disciplines that would enable leaders to be effective even in the most challenging situations. Our combined 140 years of experience allowed us to put identify nine disciplines that we consisted had to teach to hundreds of clients and students at Johns Hopkins and other universities that supported successful projects.

Each discipline relates to and supports the others. Together they enable the critical thinking capacities needed in important or difficult circumstances. Some of the disciplines seem familiar and some not so much. Regardless, each represents a significant and sometimes difficult shift in how we use ourselves. Hence, they have gained the nickname Dragon Principles since they are powerful and offer us a sense of possibility beyond our normal lives. If interested, click to read more about why a dragon is the logo of the Center for Human Systems.

The Nine Disciplines

Conscious Use of Self – the Leader’s Path to Self-Mastery

We use ourselves—our intellectual, emotional, and physical energy—from moment to moment, day-in and day-out. How we use ourselves deeply influences the impact we will make and the amount of influence we will have with others.

Most of the time we use ourselves automatically. We trust that our learned behaviors from past experience will work. And, mostly they do. We get through a day without having to put much thought into our morning routines, how to drive the car, and how to greet those we work and live with. Our pre-made choices, our habits take care of them. Being on automatic saves us time and energy for the great bulk of our daily activities.

However, sometimes our automatic behaviors have unintended and undesirable impacts. There are also times when we face important and difficult situations that need to go well. In both situations we need to make choices that are more intentional and deliberate. Choices that are attuned to the moment and selected as most likely to have the impact we desire. Such conscious use of self is the keystone of self-mastery.

Understanding Human Systems – The Secret Sauce for Building Great Teams & Organizations

Understanding human systems is the secret sauce for building productive and engaging teams! This is a new term for many. Yet, we are all members of human systems. The teams we are on at work, the families of which we are a part, the friends we hang out with are all human systems. When we don’t see or understand human systems, their culture and norms determine much of our behavior, be they functional or dysfunctional.

When we can see and understand our human systems, we gain the ability to manage them rather than be managed by them.

Human systems are synergetic. Synergy in human systems can be positive or negative. Think of the meetings that waste time and energy even though everyone present is intelligent and well intentioned—that is negative synergy.

The ability to see and understand human systems improves our ability to manage them and to create positive synergy.

Contracting – Building Better Agreements for better results

Contracting is the process of building explicit mutually understood and mutually satisfying agreements. We are not using “contracting” in the legal sense, and writing is not needed. We call them contracts to emphasize the need for agreements to be explicit and negotiated to mutual satisfaction.

Too often we assume agreement where it does not exist. We don’t take the time to be explicit enough or listen enough to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunications. Explicit contracting is crucial for effective implementation of team and organizational goals. It also helps avoid the upsets of unmet expectations, thwarted intentions, and unspoken communications.

The most effective contracts are dynamic and iterative. They change as circumstances and needs change. Effective contracting establishes explicit agreements about goals, strategies, roles, relationship management, and accountability. Developing such agreements provides the clarity and the grease needed for effective interactions.

Building Support Systems – No Significant Success is Ever Achieved Alone

There is nothing of any significance we can create by ourselves. We believe we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and become self-made successes. Such beliefs inhibit us from building and using the support systems needed for success.

Support systems are important for two reasons. First, we cannot trust ourselves to consistently stay on the path to self-mastery without the support of others. Left alone we will backslide from stress or complacency and find ourselves stuck on automatic. Second, our goals will be accomplished only when the support for them reaches critical mass.

Our success in leading and managing ourselves and our human systems depends on our ability to develop support systems. An easy concept to understand, yet many find it difficult to practice.

Sound and Current Data – Discerning Facts from Assumption and Beliefs

Information is best when it is accurate and up to date—a no-brainer. We need data that is sound and current whenever important decisions are at hand. However, we are meaning-making machines who can perceive whole cloth from seeing a few threads. We are prone to trust our assumptions and interpretations about what has or is happening rather than seek facts.

We have good reason to trust our assumptions. They are often right though occasionally wrong. However, in important situation our assumptions are best when verified. For example, many leaders assume their high performers need little attention. They are surprised when they find out that a strong performer left for lack of attention. Sound and Current Data could have prevented the loss.

Do not trust your interpretations and assumptions in areas of life important to you. If you want to create great teams and organizations, the more Sound and Current Data you can uncover the better.

Making Feedback Work – The Key to Staying on Target

When someone asks, “May I give you some feedback?” the usual internal response is, “Uh-oh.”  Feedback is important and its negative connotation gets in the way of its usefulness. Feedback is better seen—as it is in the worlds of science and technology—as information. Information that tells us if we are on track toward our goals or if we need to adjust our course. Feedback in human systems is the same. It can tell us we are having the impact we intend or tell us we are off-course.

Feedback is available interpersonally and systemically. Interpersonally, three principles are important.

A. Feedback always says something about the giver, not necessarily anything about the receiver.

B. What is done with feedback is solely in the hands of the receiver.

C. Interpersonal Feedback is most effective when it relates to the intention of the receiver, not the giver.

Systemic feedback is the impact we have from whatever we do or don’t do. If I intend to lead, but no one is following me, that is systemic feedback telling me that I need to do something different. Or, if on automatic, I blame someone. We forego systemic feedback when we have no intention to accompany the impact that we will make.

Both interpersonal and systemic feedback are important if we are to know when we are on target toward our goals and when we need to correct our course.

Shifting Power Dynamics – Resolve Conflicts and End Power Struggles

Much, if not all, of the dissatisfaction we experience in our relationships with others comes from seeing power as a finite, control-oriented, zero-sum, win/lose dynamic. Such a perspective leads to hostility, passive aggression, and fear-based compliance. Negative synergy at its worst and a self-fulfilling prophecy. An alternative is needed if we are to have healthy human systems.

Power in the worlds of science and technology is simply energy in use and offers a more useful perspective. Power as energy allows for a positive-sum, collaborative perspective in which our goal is mutual success rather than determining who wins and who loses. As such, power dynamics in human systems can become positively synergetic and potentially infinite. Self-mastery is needed to make the switch.

Learning from Differences – The Source of Synergy and Creativity

Differences are the only sources of learning we have. We only learn from something that is different. Fill a room with 30 clones of me and there is nothing I can learn from them. But, you, I can learn from because you are different from me. That is, whenever my ego is not using our differences to determine who wins and who loses. If the latter, we wind up with wasteful power struggles or esteem-deadening conformity. Fortunately, we can shift to the perspective that power is energy in use. From there, we can use differences to stimulate curiosity and inquiry to create a host of new ideas that can gel into positive synergy. We create healthy teams and organizations that way!

Empowering Your People and Teams – Turn Your People on to Their Inherent Excellence

As we have used conscious choice to empower our own self-mastery, we must share its possibilities with others. Or, we risk losing what we have gained. We must offer others opportunities to experience the results of their conscious choices. Each person must make their own choice to move toward their own self-mastery. We can, however, offer support. That support often makes the difference. And, as we support others toward their self-empowerment, we support our own.

When we apply these disciplines with rigor, we gain the ability to transform ourselves, our teams, and our other human systems toward sustainable prosperity.

Why do we call them “dragon” disciplines? Click for why!

The Center for Human Systems offers several ways we can help you become the leader or change practitioner you wish to be:

Feel free to contact Dr. Broom, the CEO at to schedule a no-cost initial conversation.