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8 May 2017

Several years ago, San Diego researchers placed 95 sharks and 5 dolphins in a large pool and let them live together for a week. Guess what they saw when they checked back on them seven days later…

In Part One of the article we presented the three characters in the Strategy of the Dolphin by Dudley Lynch and Paul L. Kordis. Would you like to know the rest of the story and to find out how the strategy applies in the business context?

What Happened in the Pool?

The sharks, blinded by the threat of the unknown and making no distinction, started attacking their own. After a while, there were only a few sharks left and five dolphins in the pool. The sharks turned their attention to the dolphins. These friendly, sociable dolphins meant no harm, yet the sharks only saw enemies. The dolphins used various strategies to show their good intentions, but the sharks continued their attack. Working together, the dolphins circled the sharks. When one of the sharks attacked, the dolphins used their bulbous noses and back fins to ram the attacker and methodically crush the shark’s sides until the sharks sank helplessly to the bottom of the pool one by one.

Did you know that if a dolphin gets wounded, the group delegates four dolphins to accompany their wounded peer to safety? The dolphin is the person who takes ownership of the task, who assumes full responsible for the results, successes and failures alike. He is able to adapt, to surf the wave of change. He is the leader who wants to succeed and to help his colleagues reach the top. He believes he lives in the world of abundance and knows there is always enough for everyone. He welcomes new ideas and consciously adopts the most appropriate strategy depending on the situation. Meanwhile, sharks and carps live in a world of scarcity, of resistance, where there are winners and losers.

In these times of constant change that easily cause storms in the ocean, a major shift is taking place in our society, in our companies, in us. We live in the era of transformation of the leadership role, which requires a lot of flexibility on the part of every player: the owner, the CEO, the management and the employees. You can guess what will happen to the companies and executives who resist change, who cannot adapt…

Are There Many Sharks in Your Company?

You have certainly heard someone (maybe even you!) say that he works with sharks, always in fear to be stabbed in the back at any time, because the shark believes: “For me to win, you have to lose”.

Usually it is the organizational culture that attracts a certain type of personality. You can either drive the corporate culture or be driven by circumstances. The culture and values are usually set by the management. If the corporate leadership establishes a climate of trust that promotes innovation, mutual assistance and collective interests, then a natural coexistence among the employees will reign. Those who share the values of the organization will stay and those who don’t will either leave the company or will be forced out. However, the decision must come from the leaders. Without their support, the change will be difficult, if not impossible.

Often, there are sharks in certain business sectors that encourage the predatory behaviors. But even these sectors are expected to go through changes.

Can the Carp and the Shark Change?

The only constant is change! Of course everyone can change. If there is a will there is a way. Thus, the common carp evolves into the pseudo enlightened carp, who can then transform into a dolphin.

A carp may want to stay a carp, or a shark may refuse to change, but it is in their benefit to learn about dolphins and their way of thinking. Otherwise, they may stagnate and get lost in the stormy seas. Sometimes when sharks meet a dolphin, they mistakenly think that they are dealing with a carp. In organizations, many people mistakenly believe they know all about dolphins, yet they hardly understand the specific characteristics of this personality. Until recently, many were unaware of the presence of a dolphin in their organization. How can they learn to be a dolphin themselves then?

A smart shark could understand that he cannot win against a dolphin (still he must recognize this fact) and could be open for cooperation. For thousands of years humans have been resorting to a confrontational behavioral style that encourages resistance. This is what sharks are used to, this is what they expect. Instead, a dolphin speaks from the heart. His nonconfrontational attitude throws sharks off balance and disarms them, causing them to change their perspective, adapt their ways and be themselves. But first, the shark must want to change. But not all predators are the same. We invite you to read our article on toxic leaders.

Applying a Dolphin Philosophy

How do we improve the attitude of the carp and the shark, and optimize that of the dolphin? As mentioned earlier, a company that has existed for a long time has (or will have) an organizational culture that values integrity, authenticity, transparency, innovation and encourages initiative. However, by encouraging initiative, we can expect improvements and success, but also mistakes. But don’t get discouraged: penicillin, pacemaker, microwave and even potato chips were all a mistake once! To err is human, and it makes us better. There are no failures, only learnings!

Know the expectations of your employees as well as their motivations. This will help you delegate effectively and choose profitability objectives accordingly. An employee who achieves his goals has an increased level of happiness and a sense of wellbeing. He does not need to put others down to feel better. He knows he has the power to advance.

Make sure you are fair. Make sure you have a code of ethics, a manual of standards and procedures, which were read and understood by all employees. Make sure you have a remuneration system that encourages teamwork rather than individualism, e.g. a bonus system based on the results of their department.

Let’s dolphinize[1] our business, promote cooperation, abundance, continuous improvement, consciousness and happiness in the workplace! And above all, let’s make it enjoyable!

Isabelle Vincelette, Experte amélioration organisationnelle et coaching


[1] Expression borrowed from “Water the Flowers, Not the Weds” by Fletcher Peacock

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