Managing Conflict & Swimming with Sharks

Managing Conflict & Swimming with Sharks

July 23, 2020

Geo Prz




“Now, more than ever, two myths must be laid to rest. One, sharks are not mindless predators nor sinister man-eaters, and two, the oceans are not full of sharks.”   – Jean-Michel Cousteau

Originally broadcast on July 12, 2006, the documentary ‘Sharks at Risk’ shows that for thousands of years, sharks have haunted the human imagination. These perfect predators are unique hunters with awesome power.

The fact is that it is dangerous to swim with sharks and in the case of leadership situations, not all sharks are found in the water. I have news for you: leadership is an occupational hazard, leaders must learn how to swim with sharks.

Another Cousteau, Voltaire Cousteau, wrote an interesting essay titled ‘How to Swim with Sharks: A Primer’. Little is known about the author, who died in Paris in the early 1800’s. He may have been a descendant of François Voltaire and an ancestor of Jacques Cousteau. Apparently this essay was written for sponge divers.

Another book by Vickie McCray, titled “How to Swim with the Sharks: A Survival Guide for Leadership in Diverse Environments“, shows leadership techniques for use in challenging business or personal environments -a.k.a. ‘office politics’. This book could help readers successfully swim with the sharks.

I am planning the read this book by McCray; at the mean time, in this post I would like to capitalize on the valuable analogy of swimming with real sharks and identifying great rules for interacting with the sharks of the land:

1: Assume any unidentified fish is a shark
Ask yourself how a friendly looking fish would react when blood is in the water.

2: Do not bleed
You do not want to bring aggressive behavior or attract more sharks.

3: Confront aggression quickly
At any warning, feel free to punch the shark on the nose.

4: Get out of the water if anyone starts bleeding
With blood, shark behavior becomes irrational.

5: Create dissension among the attackers
More often than not, sharks fight among themselves over trial things

6: Never divert a shark attack toward another swimmer
Let’s call this ‘leadership etiquette’.

Leaders know that the most important source of conflict is the lack of communication between parties. If you do not have the stomach to swim with sharks it is always safer to remove yourself entirely from the situation. If you cannot stop bleeding, let me advised you not to swim with sharks at all.

It is said that sharks will provide indications that an attack is imminent. If you are able to confront the shark, then a blow to the nose is not only appropriate but necessary -it shows the shark you understand the shark’s intentions and you are not afraid of ‘conducting business in kind’.



Cousteau, V. (1973). How to swim with sharks: a primer. Perspectives in biology and medicine, 16(4), 525-528.

How to Swim with the Sharks: A Survival Guide for Leadership in Diverse Environments Paperback – July 11, 2014. By Vickie L. McCray (Author)

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