Articles tagged with: leadership skills

The Elephant in the Room

It’s there. Sometimes sitting quietly while you maneuver around it in conversation. You’re hoping it might just go away.

elephantOther times, it’s so big and blatant that it becomes your sole focus.

It’s the elephant in the room, of course. And it’s one of the greatest threats to your business.

In my consulting work over the years, I have realized that one of the greatest challenges facing executives is how to deal with the elephant in the room.

You may have missed that lesson in school. Unfortunately, many executives struggle in this area. Consider it an undervalued “leadership skill.”

The elephant comes disguised in different ways:

  • The disconnect between employees and management
  • The manipulation of numbers or processes
  • The tension between partners
  • The disagreement about strategy
  • The clash of different personalities
  • The hidden agenda
  • The wrong job fit

You know what it is for you.

The question is what to do about it.

Almost always, the key lies in communication.

Part of your responsibility as a leader is to create a safe and trusting environment in which people can communicate openly about what’s on their minds.

Here are some factors to weigh as you consider how to address the elephant in the room.

  • What’s the upside of addressing the issue? The truth is there is usually more reason to address the issue than not. You’ll get to the heart of matters that are keeping you stuck or hurting performance. Many executives report that they actually feel better after airing issues constructively. Be optimistic.
  • What’s the downside or risk of addressing the issue? Some people may be sensitive. Feelings may be hurt. Determine what’s really at stake – the business, your reputation, relationships. What’s the worst that could happen? Be realistic.
  • What’s the risk of not addressing the issue at all? In many cases, the risk of not doing anything is the greatest risk. You might be losing potential opportunities or focusing on areas that are not growing the business. Constantly sweeping issues under the rug makes you trip when you walk on it. Be brave.
  • Who needs to be involved? Can you address the issue privately with another person in the business? Perhaps you need to talk in a small group. You might benefit by including an outside resource or neutral party. In some cases, you may hold an open meeting with your team.
  • What is the best timing? The best time is when you’re least likely to be emotional, when you’re thinking clearly, when you’re least stressed. Understand what timing works best for others involved. If people are working on deadlines, wait. Schedule time to meet on the calendar. That shows the issue is a priority.
  • What is the outcome you’re looking for? When addressing any potentially sensitive situation, it’s a good idea to stay focused on the ultimate outcome that you’d like to achieve. State your intent up front. Listen a lot.

It’s natural to dread a sensitive conversation. Instead, believe you will handle the conversation in the best way.

If the elephant remains in the room too long, it’s probably taking up space in your head as well. Ruminating about a problem is not solving it. Take the action you need to take to resolve the issue.

The sooner you address the issue, the sooner you can focus on priorities that are most relevant to your business — and minimize disruption.

Don’t let the elephant turn your business into a circus.

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Change the Conversation

With the New Year approaching, it’s only natural to be thinking about change. 

As Margaret Wheatley said, “Real change begins with the simple act of people talking about what they care about.”

But that’s not as easy as it sounds — at least not for many executives.

It’s especially difficult when you’re dealing with the daily stress and challenges of managing people and running a business.

The conversation tends to be about solving the problem of the day.

So the problem is twofold:

  1. You may lose sight of what you really care about.
  2. You’re not talking about it.

Let’s break it down.

The first question to answer is: What do you care about?

When I ask executives this question, I hear them say things like:

“I care about creating a great culture.”

“I care about the relationship with my partners or colleagues.”

“I care about my legacy.”

“I care about the impression I make on others.”

“I care about my team and their success.”

“I care about our clients’ success.”

“I care about being part of something bigger.”

On a personal level, they care about their family, friends, personal growth, health, making a difference.

Answer that question for yourself.

Once you put your attention on what you care about most, how will you talk about it?

This can be challenging for executives who aren’t used to speaking from the heart.

But it’s necessary.

It requires a kind of vulnerability and courage to talk about what you really care about — whether you’re on your soapbox in front of a group or speaking to someone one-on-one.

Consider it a leadership skill, and strength.

Tragedy, like the one we’ve recently experienced at Sandy Hook, naturally brings us into a different kind of conversation about what we really care about.

Thankfully tragedy doesn’t have to be the only trigger.

Leaders can be.

You can be.

How will you change the conversation in the New Year?

With whom do you need to speak?

When you change the conversation, you change what’s possible for your business — and yourself.

Change the conversation — or open new conversations — to achieve what you really want.

PS: As I reflect on this year, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of wonderful clients including large global organizations, mid-sized firms and small businesses.

Let me know when I can be of help to you, your team or your company in the New Year.

‘Tis the season for bright, shiny objects!  

Read Gayle’s recent article in the Birmingham Business Journal…

Don’t Get Blinded by Bright, Shiny Objects 



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