Sat | Aug 8, 2020

Dominance, headbutting and ju-jitsu

Published:Sunday | September 22, 2019 | 12:00 AM

The Commissioner of Correctional Services was a participant in one of our Success with People learning and coaching experiences. He indicated to me that he was being second-guessed and challenged by his second-in-command at every turn.

He was tired of it and wanted my advice.

I suggested that he should convert his frustration into an action plan that could pave the way to a successful win-win outcome. I shared some advice that was accepted and implemented with great success.

The plan was to identify a discrete area of his responsibilities and assign it to his dominant second-in-command (2iC). If it is discharged well, then the 2iC will be occupied with making his own decisions and the commissioner would have one less matter to address.

If the 2iC fails to perform, the commissioner would have every right to invite him to be more conscious of his own failed efforts at undertaking just one aspect of the total responsibility.

This is an example of applying the supple, flexible, pliable, and yielding art of ju-jitsu to reap rich rewards from dominant personas as against butting heads.


One of the features of dominance as a behavioural style is the approach to communication. There is a tendency to be animated and emphatic when getting points across. This is frequently viewed as aggression and a source of conflict with others.

Even if you feel that you are being attacked, remember that yielding in ju-jitsu is not a sign of weakness or submissiveness. It is actually intended to get the other person off balance – to your advantage.

Consequently, a powerful strategy to defuse high-octane interactions is to refuse to add fuel. In fact, you should be looking for avenues to release fuel from the conversation.

One simple and effective approach is to have the parties restate their positions. This must be accompanied by effective listening, which may include appropriate questioning for clarification. Ask for a timeout to better appreciate the different perspectives. Use that to narrow down the areas of disagreement and work on resolving them. This signals the intention to shed light, not heat.

For the record, asking why they are angry or referring to their mannerism is NOT a release valve, it merely annoys them!


One of the features of ju-jitsu is its reliance on immobilising opponents. A similar mindset can be taken to get better results from dominant team members.

Dominant team members can be harnessed to be at their productive best when the big picture is painted for them, like when they know precisely what is required of them and they fully understand the rewards and consequences.

Challenge and reward are key devices for keeping dominant personas’ shoulders to the wheel and mouths out of trouble. Keeping them busy is one secret to steering them from trouble and to being highly productive contributors. This can be achieved through effective leadership.


Let’s not get carried away here. No violence is intended at any time. Ju-jitsu’s key pillar is the use of the opponent’s energy against them. Throwing is one of the defensive techniques that is used.

The relevance of this is that dealing with dominance sometimes requires swift, decisive, and strong action that throws the source of the trouble into a state in which they can no longer be disruptive.

Allowing dysfunctional and disruptive dominance to take root can have serious negative impact on team dynamics and performance.

Truth be told, the inappropriate use of dominance is far too frequently displayed at the leadership and supervisory levels. This group should be models of appropriate behaviour, but instead, many abuse their positions and are clueless or couldn’t care less about its impact on the team and its performance.

GMs and CEOs must recognise that it is their responsibility to identify and address this frustrating and debilitating behaviour.

Leadership does not convey the right to be despots. Today’s leaders need to be coaches, not dictators.

Better to ask than to tell. Better to converse than to yell.

- Our SHRM-backed 3-D Leader Certification and ICF-accredited Certified Behavioural Coach programmes prepare leaders to guide change effectively. 3-D Leader Certification: Leading Dominant, Difficult and Diverse Personalities. ICF/SHRM-backed Certified Behavioural Coach programme, September 19 – enrol now! (876) 315-1345