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What dragon do you need to slay?

As England celebrates St George’s Day today what lessons about leadership in more modern times could we learn from this ancient legend?

First, I must confess something strange. In my mind there is a clear story regarding St George that I must have heard sometime ago. It is the story that this blogpost is based on. I’ll tell you at the end what’s strange about it. Anyway …

We all know the bare bones of the myth. Once upon a time there was a dragon that demanded human sacrifices. One year it demanded that a beautiful princess be brought to its lair. Luckily up steps our hero George on his white charger, with spear in hand, who slays the dragon and saves the princess.

Anyway in the version in my mind George doesn’t slay the dragon with his trusty spear. He uses a much more psychological technique. Folklore and magic say that the Dragon can only be killed one way. It’s secret name needs to be discovered and whispered in its ear. This, somehow, is what the sainted warrior does.

So what’s the relevance of all this to leaders living today?

Well, I believe that only when you name your nemesis – the development area, blindspot or derailer – can you destroy it. Too often we choose instead to repress thoughts about these vulnerable weak spots. Deep down we know our truth has this darker side but we don’t want to admit it – to others or even ourselves.

At CDP we help leaders dig deep to find their underlying development areas. We take them on a journey of discovery. Over Easter I was looking at various Development Action Plans that executives at a FTSE100 company had developed, with our support, over the last year for an aggregate analysis I am due to present next week. The documents are honest, quite raw and very moving. The people concerned don’t duck their issues, or mince their words. I will give just one anonymised example:

I want to move from a leader who …  
to a leader who ……
Always thinks they’re right and already knows the answer       Is able to actively listen and allows people time and space to contribute  
Has a very low tolerance for people not performing at my expected level       Looks to motivate people who don’t fit my mould
Struggles to show empathy       Is more open with my fears and feelings.

Naming these, so boldly and clearly, is a brave thing to do. Just as brave, I think, as George rearing up on his horse in front of that fiery beast.

Now that these development areas have been named this guy has a chance to tackle them. That’s what he’s working on now.

CDP can help him using our Delta360 goals tracker to gain realtime feedback every 10 weeks to show he’s doing, according to his key stakeholders.

Again, that makes his development areas known throughout the business but that’s the point. He’s names them not just to himself; he names them to everyone else too.

As we enter Spring, the season of renewal, take some time to reflect on your own demons. Ask for feedback, not just from friends but from people who you think don’t rate you highly.

Name your own development areas and tell people what you’re working on. Then spend the next few months slaying some dragons of your own. Happy St. George’s Day!

***

So, what’s mysterious about the story I told about naming the dragon? I remember “knowing it” but I cannot remember from where. For this article I googled it, increasingly extensively. I can’t find any reference to it at all. I can’t explain it. Did I dream it? I discovered that Terry Pratchett once said, “‘as every wizard knows, once you have a thing’s real name you have the first step to its taming”. But nothing tying this notion to the legend of St George. I thought I’d tell it my way anyway 😊

Derek Draper is the CEO of CDP Leadership Consultants (www.cdp.consulting) and author of Amazon #1 Bestseller (Management) and Financial Times Business Book of the Month “Create Space: How to Manage Time and Find Focus, Productivity and Success”. Which you can buy here.

front view of blank book on white background

You can sign up to his weekly bulletin which contains the best content from the last 7 days for business and HR leaders at www.derekdrapers.space

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