Growth: Love the Elephants!


N ope, I am not asking you to love the Amazons, Tatas, or Alibabas in the world. The elephants in focus here are the invisible, yet tangible, issues that take up time, space and money in our organizations – unless they are embraced and turned into an opportunity for growth!

In an organizational setting and in management teams, I have found that elephants in the room may be: a personal conflict between two or more senior managers that is not dealt with, a sensitive strategic or operational issue affecting all but without clear origin or responsibility,  a far too domineering CEO or other senior leader – or – simply a lack of trust. And sometimes, all of the above.

Needless to say, these elephants are not as harmless as they look in National Geographic or on a Safari tour. And the thing is – they are not! Elephants (a male in “musth” that is) can be one of the most dangerous animals to encounter in a game reserve as they can, and have been known to, toss the vehicle you are in. Not even a lion is capable of that. 

Elephants drain people of energy, and more seriously gear discussions towards diplomatic and/or political questions and answers causing a general loss of real execution power and results. However, these elephants can play an equally important role in driving the creative tension you need to create a dynamic development and growth of your company.

There is only one way to handle them – face them and embrace them! In for example:

  • constructively challenging individuals who block or inhibit invaluable cross-functional collaboration due to personal conflicts or own agendas not benefiting the company. 
  • digging into, and addressing, the root-cause of seemingly sensitive yet important issues. Addressing them is more often than not, a real relief for all involved.
  • and above all, enabling a climate of trust among peers – welcoming productive, transparent reflection and debate even if it is uncomfortable at first – with the end in mind!

Whilst the elephants may and do cause a lot of harm and discomfort (if left standing and allowed to proliferate) you as CEO or Senior leader can address them to inspire and gear a discussion towards real and novel solutions. And drive growth. If you dare. Dare to address them, but also to acknowledge that they will most likely come back into the room in a new form, and lurk underneath the surface. It does not take more than a little bit of courage, and, a clear idea of where you are heading. Now, if the elephant happens to be the CEO, there is sometimes no other way than to gather the hard evidence and address the Board. Or, just offer som constructive feed-back.

Find your own way of facing them by setting some rules for the encounter, define boundaries and the desired outcome. If these ground rules for tackling elephants are set within your organization, you will unleash potential that is currently hidden in loss of time, money, intellectual and executional power.

As commented by a CEO within the IT-industry: “Sometimes,  the trick is actually to identify the elephants. This often has to be done in-between meetings to be prepared to encounter them more openly”. Intrigued by the challenge the same person suggests to add “Any Elephants in the room?” to Management agendas every now and then, to not only address them, but also to test the dynamic level of a team.

However, not all elephants can or should be addressed in plenary. Some issues are best dealt with one-on-one, letting the solution be known, sometimes through the mere notion that it is no longer “in the room”.

So, ask yourself, what do your elephants look like? – and are you embracing them for individual and organizational growth or are you hoping that they will somehow just disappear, accepting the loss of potential success?

July 2019