Articles tagged with: management

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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Eager to get to work?

Businesswoman celebrating her successStudies show that approximately two-thirds of U.S. employees are not fully engaged at work. And 26% are actively disengaged.

But you don’t need studies to prove that. Think about the people you know in your own network.

How many express frustration, apathy or burnout compared to those who seem to thrive in their work?

Maybe you’re not jumping out of bed every morning to get to work, but it’s worth thinking about what it would take to feel more eager to go to work. Are you fully engaged?

As a leader, it’s even more important to consider what it would take to fully engage your team.

Engaged employees are 22% more productive, according to a new Gallup meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees. They also enjoy double the rate of success, lower absenteeism and turnover, and fewer safety incidents and quality defects.

In an engaged workforce, people want to come to work. They understand their jobs and appreciate how their specific responsibilities contribute to the organization’s overall success.

Executives attempt different approaches to build engagement, from high energy motivational programs to fun off-site events.

But increasing engagement doesn’t require bells and whistles. It requires simple actions that are fundamental to good leadership.

If you manage people, your relationship with your direct reports is a key driver of engagement.

If you want to build better employee engagement, here are some simple things you can do to start:

Show interest in other people.

Showing interest in others (a basic Dale Carnegie principle) makes a lot of sense, but you may be too focused on the numbers, metrics and milestones. Remember that building a business is based on human connection.

Showing interest in your team members and what they care about goes a long way. You don’t have to nose into their personal business.

Ask questions that show you care:

How are you?

What are you most excited to accomplish this week?

What do you need?

Paint the big picture.

Employees want to understand where the business is heading. Sometimes it’s a challenge for senior leadership to get clear about the vision for the business.

Some executives admit they’re holding too many closed-door meetings to discuss the future. They forget that everyone else in the business isn’t clued in.

When talking with team members, be descriptive about your expectations for the future.

Try statements like:

Here’s where we expect to be this time next year…

These are some of the issues we’re considering in the visioning process…

Our vision of success looks like this…

Invite participation.

Building a business is a collaborative effort, not directive. Employees want to know their opinions and perspectives are valued.

When they understand where your business is trying to go, they have a better sense of why their work matters — where they fit. They can contribute more effectively.

Let them know their participation is not only encouraged, but expected. Speak with them, not down to them.

Open the dialogue with questions like these:

What are you seeing that we might be missing?

What solution do you think we should consider?

What are your thoughts on the issue?

There’s no magic approach to engaging employees. It often starts with simple conversations.

People appreciate the effort — and are more likely to stay with you while increasing productivity.

Final thought: Employees read your own level of engagement. As you take it up a notch, your team will too!

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The Leadership Skill That Makes Work Easier

It’s a leadership skill that few people talk about: group facilitation.

Facilitation means “to make easy” or “to lessen the difficulty.

“It’s not a quick fix, but developing your facilitation skills over time will help you accomplish your collective goals more easily.

When executives say they want to work on leadership skills, you’ll often hear them talk about the need to communicate more clearly, develop strong presentation skills, run productive meetings, improve strategic thinking, decision making and problem solving.But the ability to facilitate group discussion well is a leadership skill that underpins many of the other skills executives need to master to be most effective in their role.

Why focus on facilitation now?

  • Management approaches have shifted away from top-down approaches to inclusive approaches. One executive can’t have all the answers. They need input from those who are involved in all aspects of the business. Good facilitation is a means to accomplish buy-in.
  • Employee engagement is now center stage. Companies realize the power of employee engagement. Employee engagement, or lack thereof, affects their bottom line. Facilitating high quality discussions is one of the best ways to engage employees.
  • Innovation is necessary to be competitive. Leaders must facilitate new kinds of discussions that are less directive and more provocative — conversations that challenge people’s thinking and invite new ideas.

With the current challenges executives face, there are many opportunities to make things easier!

Some executives achieve desired results by facilitating their own meetings.

Others need a little help from time to time.

I often serve the role of outside group facilitator when an outside resource is needed to bring objectivity or a process based approach.

Whether your team is ready for a big leap or trying to get unstuck, facilitation is an effective way to move them forward.

I like what my friend and colleague, Tom Breur, has to say about facilitation when a group is “stuck.”

When a group wrestles with a difficult problem, in the early stages of facilitation they can sometimes spin around in circles and get “stuck.” What is usually going on then, is that they’re rehashing old alternatives from within a too small set of options to deal with the issue at hand. They run over familiar approaches over and over again, which are then discarded because they have proven not to work in the past. Groups may not be inclined to look for fresh ideas. You can add value to the process by motivating people to consider innovative, inclusive solutions.

So to bring out the best in your team and achieve the results you really want, strengthen your facilitation skills.

To start, how would you rate your facilitation skills?

Think about your ability to:

  • Listen
  • Observe
  • Summarize key points
  • Synthesize issues
  • Prompt/Ask relevant questions
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Stay focused on the desired outcome
  • Resist imposing your own ideas

Pick just one of these areas to work on, and you’ll begin to improve your facilitation skills.

Continue your efforts to build your directive leadership skills, but don’t ignore the supportive leadership skills. You need both!

The key is knowing when to be bold, assertive and directive and when to listen, observe and invite dialogue.

Facilitate. Don’t force results.

It’s just easier.

PS – Tom Breur makes nine other excellent points about group facilitation. You can find Tom’s full article on group facilitation in his newsletter archive:

Tom’s Ten Data Tips

Will You Meet Your Goals This Year?

As you head toward the end of the year, you’re likely thinking about what you most want to  accomplish over the next couple of months — trying to squeeze in that last bit of business activity before the holidays arrive.

You might feel like you’re pushing toward the end of a marathon  — running out of steam, losing energy, allowing your body to move on autopilot just to cross the finish line.

That’s one strategy.

But there are a couple of better ways to gain momentum — to get a second wind to carry you across the finish line. (It’s really not a finish line. It’s the starting line for next year.)

1. Catch your breath to review your progress. That’s right. Stop what you’re doing for a minute.

Think about the progress you’ve made in whatever areas of your business or life are most important to you. Simply list anything that represents progress of any kind: small steps to major breakthroughs.

If you’re having trouble making your list, I’ll take you through a little exercise to help in a moment.

Many executives are too busy to take the time to acknowledge progress. Although you may hold regular meetings for team members to “report in” on their action items, it’s not the same as taking a broader look at progress made over the course of a year.

Let’s walk through this exercise…
  • Write down a general description of where you were or where your business was a year ago. Include challenges you were facing, opportunities at that time.
  • What were your fears, hopes or concerns?
  • Where are you now? What’s changed? What’s improved?
  • How is this picture different from the first one you described?
  • List the key accomplishments or milestones that occurred. Note any challenges you overcame and how you did so.
  • What worked well?
  • What did you learn?

Great! Now you’ve got some talking points to share with your team.

Seeing your progress is motivating.

Imagine the implications of this concept with your team. When they can see the progress they’re making, they will become more energized.

Studies have shown that “support for making progress” is one of the most important factors that can influence motivation at work.

(For more about managing progress, you might enjoy my print newsletter on the topic.You can find it in the Resources Section below.)

2. Imagine your best future — or at least the best picture of the year ahead.

It’s too easy to dwell on problems.

If I asked you to describe what you are most looking forward to in the year ahead, what would you say?

What would be most exciting to accomplish?

Where are your best opportunities?

Think about:

  • The impact you can and want to make next year.
  • The role you want to play.
  • The people with whom you want to work.
  • The partnerships you want to create.

Start the thinking process NOW. These are important issues that deserve your attention.

Let your ideas simmer over the next few days. 

Don’t put pressure on yourself to figure out everything in one sitting. Strategic thinking takes time.

Your optimism about your future will help you gain more momentum heading into the New Year.

You’ll give yourself a running start.


The secret to a strong finish is preparing for a strong start — taking a little time to reflect on your progress and to imagine compelling new possibilities.

Choose carefully the lens through which you want to view your past progress and your future success. It can propel you and your business.
Catch your second wind!
PS — If you’d like more in-depth content on managing progress as it relates to high performance, click on the WorkMatters Newsletter in the Resources Section below.


Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.~ William James



Creating Change the Best Way

I have a few clients who admit they don’t like change. (Gasp!) To them, change represents “disruption.” Yet, they want to grow their business or their career. They want to achieve even better results.

Any time you commit to something bigger or better, it will require change of some kind. If you have trouble dealing with change, try viewing change differently.

Here are some thoughts about change to help you gain perspective:

  • Change isn’t the goal. It’s a means. Accept it as necessary part of the process to help you get what you really want.
  • Change can be disruptive, but it doesn’t have to be. Break your process into small steps to avoid overwhelm. Take action one step at a time.
  • Change is happening – like it or not. To stay current and competitive, you have to be aware of what is changing around you so you can adapt.
  • Change is already part of your experience. Look where you were five years ago. You’ve been through much change since then. You can continue to make changes when and where you need to.

This is a time of year when it’s natural to be thinking about change.

What do you want to be different next year? For you? Your business? Your career?

Change is a non-negotiable. Just focus on the goal, the reward or benefit. You’ll figure out the steps that are necessary to help you.

If you’ve read this far, there’s likely something big you want to achieve. You must do something differently. Stop resisting.

Your reason for wanting change is bigger than any perceived difficulty you think the change might create.

Change is good. Change leads to growth.

Don’t dread change. Look forward to better results.

How will you get where you really want to go by doing or being the same?

Gayle Lantz is a leadership expert, author, speaker and career strategist. She helps established leaders serve and succeed in new ways that make a significant difference in their life and work.

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