Dragon Slayers

BBC Television in the UK has a surprise hit: Dragons’ Den. In this show, entrepreneurs pitch to a panel of 5 successful business men and women, with the prize being investment by the ‘Dragons’ in the fledgling business.

It’s compelling viewing, partly because of the sheer diversity of inventions and new business ideas on display, but principally because the Dragons are so rude and aggressive with entrepreneurs.

If a Dragon likes a proposition, they will offer a sum of money in exchange for an equity share – sometimes asking for as much as 50% of a business. These people are strong negotiators, in a position of strength, dealing with often inexperienced negotiators who may be in front of a TV camera for the first time.

These negotiations are compelling, and highly revealing. There are many lessons to be learned from observing the ways in which people handle this pressure, but the one I wish to focus on here is the nature of dominance. Time after time, Dragons show a surprising failure to understand the mindset of people who are different to them.

A recent show had an entrepreneur with a truly wonderful product – a seatbelt adjustor to keep children comfortable and safe – which all the Dragons loved. However, one Dragon simply could not understand why this entrepreneur hadn’t succeeded in setting up a distribution deal – he actually accused the man of laziness. I think most people would have looked at this entrepreneur and said to themselves ‘he isn’t really a salesman, he’s an inventor. Respect his skills – don’t expect him to excel in salesmanship’. Yet this Dragon persisted in tearing a strip off the poor man, who responded with calmness and dignity (and yes, he did eventually close his deal).

Why did a successful businessman have so much difficulty understanding that we are not all born salesmen? I believe that this is a kind of ‘mind blindness’, a difficulty which I have observed in many dominant personalities. Natural leaders often have difficulty understanding submissive behaviours. Sometimes they will accuse gentle people of a kind of dishonesty – they simply cannot accept that a person can be unassuming, lacking in ego or have little desire to dominate. Freudians might describe this as a form of ‘projection’ – the dominant individual unconsciously believes that everybody shares his wishes and aspirations, and is sometimes genuinely baffled by the decisions other people make.

It is commonplace to hear natural leaders described as ‘confident’, but I would like to differ. That is a very narrow view of confidence. It is my belief that the truly confident person is able to be modest, unassuming and open to other people, if this is their preference. Expressing your beliefs candidly and calmly, and accepting that others may have different beliefs, is a hallmark of true confidence. Dominance traits may help you to succeed in business, but business is only a small part of the much greater enterprise of life.

And the truly confident people on Dragons’ Den? They are the handful of entrepreneurs who maintain their dignity and calmness in an atmosphere of intimidation and challenge. We all encounter dragons in our daily lives – maybe people who are very senior at work, or perhaps those who appear to have been born to rule. How we deal with dragons says a great deal about us; we know that we are truly adult when we can respond firmly and gently, without resentment, and stand our ground. This is an example of Status Confidence in action – the ability to deal with people appropriately regardless of their status. For further information on this topic, please consult http://www.confidenceclub.net/content/statusconfidence.php