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Elephant in the Room
by Kelly McDermott
01/28/06
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It is in the room and everybody knows it, yet nobody is doing or saying anything about it. What is it? It is the elephant topic that is “off limits”. These untouchable elephants are the work of a leadership team that is lacking the courage to face some issues head on. It makes maneuvering around the elephant a chore for everyone causing distress and angst that saps productivity out of your organization.

The elephant exists because of lack of accountability. Some leader owns the situation, yet has not yet demonstrated the will and skill to deal with it. Because of some unwritten rule or relationship this behavior continues and renders an organization dysfunctional. There are others in the organization who suffer consequences for not dealing with issues in their domain and a double standard emerges exacerbating the situation and frustration mounts.

There are occasions when you make different decisions in varying situations, however a good leader understands the importance of reasoning with employees to explain what is happening and getting buy-in from the entire team. One of the hallmarks of a great team is where any question can be asked and openly discussed. This level of transparency is difficult because it threatens power. The only major corporation that has voluntarily disclosed information and allowed decisions to be decentralized and decided by the person closest to the change is AES. The energy, responsibility and accountability at AES under Dennis Bakke CEO reign have been the subject of Harvard and Stanford case studies.

Developing the business skills and allowing people the freedom and joy to have a significant stake in the outcome of daily job decisions has been robbed from nearly 90% of corporate America. Most decisions are made by command and control and the vast majority of workers feel like human doings instead of human beings. This is becoming more and more disconcerting as we move into the knowledge economy.

The best decisions can only be made with full disclosure to information pertinent to the decision. If there are “taboo” subjects that are only dealt with by the corporate underground then we will have to learn how to walk around with the elephant and are at risk of being trampled. It is time for leaders to start facing the truth and deal with the issues, the elephants head on and operate with a new level of transparency. Let’s commit to getting rid of the elephants and unleashing insightful decision making.


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