Creative Leadership

How to Point Out the Elephant in the Room (Without Losing Your Job)

When it comes to the workplace, there are plenty of elephants in plenty of rooms, and no one seems to have the courage to point them out. For me – it’s become an obsession. I simply can’t sit through meetings where out-of-date policies, hypocritical leaders, or incompetent people are creating obstacles to success. The problem is – how to you point out these sensitive areas without a leader or his team looking inept or being humiliated?  Here’s six important keys:

1) Dump the arrogance.  Sure you’re smart. Sure you noticed the elephant before anyone else, but lose the attitude. You may be exactly right, but being a jerk doesn’t help win over a leader or his team.

2) Don’t blame anyone personally.  After all, elephants are sometimes very old. It may appear that a current leader or member of the team created the elephant, but in most cases, it’s been around a long time. Speak about the elephant in the context of the history of the organization. Accusing someone of creating the elephant will only make them an enemy, and that doesn’t help.

3) Be very clear about the negatives.  How much money, talent, time, or goodwill are we losing by not dealing with the problem? This is what often gets a leader’s attention because many times it can be measured. Figure it out, because it’s a great card to have in your deck.

4) Be very clear about the positive result of removing the elephant.  Sometimes, an elephant in the room has been around so long it’s simply familiar. In those cases, employees can feel it’s not worth the trouble removing it. Give them a vision of how much better things will be once it’s gone. When it comes to change, most people fight because they don’t understand what’s in it for them. Make it clear, and you’re more likely to win them over.

5) Include everyone on the “elephant removal team.”  Don’t make this a personal quest. The more everyone is part of the process the more success you’ll have.

6) When it’s done, don’t take the credit.  Make it a team victory. This way, you’ll train the entire team to become elephant spotters for the future.

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7 Comments

  1. “Sometimes, an elephant in the room has been around so long it’s simply familiar. In those cases, employees can feel it’s not worth the trouble removing it. Give them a vision of how much better things will be once it’s gone. When it comes to change, most people fight because they don’t understand what’s in it for them.” SO TRUE!!!

  2. If the elephant is a new elephant, and you have not been given the power to point out the elephant, discuss the elephant or even acknowlege it is even there, then you just give the elephant long enough and he will spin out of control and destroy the room, probably taking your boss with him. In my company I have been employed 8 years and I have a boss change every 6 months or so. Just recently occured again.

    1. I’ve seen that happen as well. The problem is nothing moves forward, and it’s a miserable place to work. My question is: Why have you been there for 8 years???

      1. I am a nurse, however due to a foot injury I can’t do regular-run-the-hospital-hall type nursing so I work for the insurance industry, the money is good and now I work from home and away from all the “elephants”. Also being bi-vocational as a pastor at a new church plant, it helps pay the bills! I enjoy your post tremendously good to interact with you!

  3. The spirit of what Phil has written here is absolutely wonderful: Humility. If we all presented our ideas in humility, with the outcome being the most beneficial to our goal, the workplace would run a lot more smoothly and the morale would be significantly better.

  4. One way not to get fired: Blame it on In That Day Teachings, on what was written years ago.

    To wit: Book 2 of In That Day Teachings…

    God Sees and Wonders – Those who preach egregiously, who teach in error, who prophecy wrongly, who pretend inerrancy in all doctrines they espouse see little carnal correction in the Christian world, not to themselves or others. They can stay in position and pride almost indefinitely. But to eyes that see, nothing is anointed and with signs nothing is confirmed but rather opposed. These are God’s ever present wonders. God wonders when more people will notice His wonders which always confirm truth and deny lies. The spiritually blind on earth believe only and perceive only God sees and waits. To the spiritually perceptive on earth, revelation is always abundant because God sees and actively creates stunningly explicit explanations of His power, position and judgment seat opinion (thumbs up or down) through His amazing wonders. If an “invisible” white elephant is present, so are its unmistakable signs. God’s wonders are ever-present burning bushes, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear. These are the signs of Mark 16:20 and if wise, we must fear God’s opposition and thank His confirmation.

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