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A dragon at the meeting

“Undaunted Knights of the Round Table, take heart. Don’t become consumed by the fire of the dragon, but fight him together.” If I’d been the mythical King Arthur, this would without a doubt have been the way I’d spoken to my people.

Admitting, this is a strange way to start, but I really felt like King Arthur in his Camelot! During a difficult meeting the discussion was getting heated and my knights needed a strong signal, a paradigm shift, sort of speak. “Take distance of the problem, don’t endear your personal vision and try to see every side of the situation.”

You could take ‘taking a distance’ literally here. This round-table-meeting I led, was in a really busy period before the holidays and important decisions had to be made. The figures weren’t pretty and a series of ‘trade-offs’ was forcing its way in.

It wasn’t pleasant. Trade-offs will always be trade-offs! Sometimes you’ll have to give up an advantage to aid a higher purpose. But everyone has to sacrifice something. When everyone’s convinced of their own truth, you won’t get anywhere.

Everyone at the table could see the necessity of the reductions, but the compliance that came with it had a nasty taste. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. When someone had to give in to a reduction it was easily seen as an illegitimate advance of another policy segment.

Tunnel vision
Every one of my knights was blinded by his own truth. This is tunnel vision at its purest. The collective interest didn’t count anymore. The Round Table of King Arthur was one without beginning or end; the symbol of the equality of his knights.

But knight Marketing soon got startled. Only imagine that knight Customer Management wouldn’t have to sacrifice as much as him!? Knight Supply Chain defended his territory forcefully. He couldn’t imagine that his soldiers had to pay the piper and had to work extra hard, while knight Innovation could do as he pleased.

Being the chairman, I tried to keep the conversation going, but the discussion bogged down to a yes-no quarrel. Arguments became personal. The atmosphere was tense and the meeting almost became a verbal dispute.

All of a sudden I had a - now that I look at it again – brilliant idea. I got up and went to stand in the corner of the large meeting room. I didn’t say anything. Tap, tap, tap …

It was a gamble. It became really quiet and everyone looked surprised. I asked the group to join me in the corner. Surprise everywhere. “Did Herman go crazy?”

“What do you see?” Again there was an awkward silence. You could even hear a needle drop. I noticed I had their undivided attention. “You can see a table with a really large problem on it … a dragon if you will”, I added calmly. “Are we going to let it consume us or are we going to fight it together?”

My knights weren’t the problem. It was the finance management that was the problem we had to tackle together. The momentum turned and a smile could be seen on their faces. We held a short recess and half an hour later everything was agreed upon. Even better, when coming closer to a deal, the passion and drive to actively do something came back. Whow … Arthur smiled and saw everything was fine.

This is a list you could use as a checklist in these situations:
  • Never become part of the problem, take distance and keep your head cool.
  • Don't jump to conclusions. Think positively and start from the ‘yes-position’. Brainstorm together with your colleagues on possible scenarios, weigh out your solutions and only then you can make a thoughtful decision.
  • Collective interest comes first. Suboptimum and micromanagement won’t get you any further and will only give short term benefits.
  • Make sure you know how to tone down. “Am I really right?” “Aren’t I consumed by self-interest?” “Will I think the same on this subject tomorrow?” In short: Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
  • And last but not least: humor works miracles.
And if a dragon crosses you path during the weekend, you know now what to do!


By Herman van Herterijck

"my ambition is to put the importance of pragmatic and continuous self-coaching on the agenda of current business leaders"

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