Beyond This, Here Be Dragons

Paul Heagen Authenticity and Vulnerability Leave a Comment

Are you afraid of the unknown, or do you welcome it?

The easy (or ego-salving) answer is that we embrace the unknown. But is that really true?  And what impact does it have on our leadership and business success?

I’ve always been fascinated with history – not only in how experience has sculpted the human condition, but also in how we repeat its failures so unwittingly. However, my high school history teacher would be mortified to know my current method of refreshing my appreciation for history:

I watch American Pickers. (Well, it is on The History Channel. if that helps.)

Mike and Frank, the two rummage rats on the show, are always drawn to artifacts like bike parts (human and motor type), signs, posters and quirky, antique toys lost in the clutter of dusty barns and attics. One discovery was a map, perhaps of arguable provenance, that depicted the Europe of several centuries ago. The expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to the left trailed off to an uncertain and unexplored expanse. Rearing up from the waves was … a dragon.

It was the cartographer’s fanciful attempt at expressing the utter fear and dread of the unknown beyond charted oceans. Fearsome and larger than life.

Some dragons never die.

How much does a simple fear of the unknown keep us from making some proverbial leap into uncharted waters? Do we imagine an abyss rather than the adventure? Some of the boldest and most legendary business successes started with such a leap. Successful entrepreneurs eat dragons for breakfast. Too many of the rest of us allow dragons to eat our lunch.

We are surrounded by systems and processes to infuse some prudency into our sense of risk, and few businesses — particularly public – can afford to repeat the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where a desperate future was somewhere over the edge of the cliff.

Still, much of leadership, as expressed by my friend Doug Sterbenz, is taking people where they would not go on their own. That starts with being honest about where we fear to go merely because we over-state or over-imagine the dragons that lurk in wait. Maybe it’s the difficult conversation we fear may be worse if held, the cut-our-losses excise of a product or line of business, a capital investment into a nascent market, or even just the challenge of re-making ourselves to stay afresh when the status quo seems so comfortable.

We all have dragons, and we too easily steer clear of them or haul sails short of their domain. In doing so, we miss the keenness of finding our limits, which are often well beyond what we might chart for ourselves.

Most dragons don’t exist in anything but our imagination. Others that do, can be slain.

The only way to know which they are, is to get closer to them.

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