Black Belt Leader As Martial Artist: Part Four

“Would you rather be right or happy?”

—  Jerry Jampolsky

Black Belt Leaders appreciate that the restoration of harmony is the goal of most conflicts. Winning and losing have no place in conflict resolution, unless, of course, one is playing a game, a contest, or involved in a military campaign. This distinction hasn’t always been so clear to me. But when I met with the president of a deputy sheriffs union of a large metropolitan city some years ago, the stark contrast between understanding the goal of conflict to be harmony and not winning had never been so apparent. 

A few months before I met with the sheriffs union president, the department’s director of professional development had commissioned me to create a program on leadership. After multiple presentations, he was impressed enough with the program to suggest that I expand my reach within the department. “Why don’t you contact the president of the deputy sheriffs union? They’ve got 5,000 members.” So I did and we set a time to meet. When I arrived for our appointment, however, the president feigned ignorance as to who I was or why I was meeting with him. What kind of game was he playing with me? I soon found out. As I spoke about the leadership program I had been conducting with the department, he interrupted me.

“You don’t know what a warrior is….” he said derisively with a steely look in his eyes. I was about to explain what I had meant when I used the word warrior in my description of the program. But that was not to be. He waved me off, belittling my experience and proven track record. Nothing could compete with what he knew as the truth. He began to tell me about being in Viet Nam during the war and seeing his fellow soldiers killed in firefights with the enemy. “Warriors put their lives on the line….” he said, looking at me, nodding, knowing that I had not been to war, to Viet Nam, which proved his point. I had not seen my friends killed. I had not put my life on the line on the battlefield. So what did I know about being a warrior? In his mind, he had won the game of being right and I had lost.  

I wasn’t against what the president was saying in theory. What a warrior is can be interpreted a number of ways. It just wasn’t the point of our meeting. I had already been in contact with hundreds of people in the department and had done some good work with them. I wanted the work to continue.

“You know,” I said, “I don’t have any disagreement with what you’re saying. In fact, for the most part, I agree with you.” He sat back in his chair, surprised by my attitude. “But as you know,” I continued,” the reason I contacted you was on the recommendation of the director of professional development. I’m not new to this department.” At this point, I imagined all the people in the department who I had worked with were standing right there behind me supporting my efforts.  

Just then the door to the president’s office opened, and a man walked in. I wondered if this man had entered the office of his own accord, or the president had secretly summoned him.

“Frank, I would like you to meet Robert,” the president said with a broad smile. “He’s going to do some great work with our deputies.”

I stood up, shook Frank’s hand, the president’s hand, and was escorted out of the office.