Our Organizational Elephants

The thing about organizations…they are slow to forget.

Each day we wrestle with three elephants in our organizations…the one in the room, the one that never forgets, and sometimes, even the one we have to eat.

And as leaders, it is important we understand each one and the part they play.

The first elephant we are all too familiar with…it likes to make its presence known even when we don’t want to recognize or acknowledge it.  It walks right in and sets itself up in the middle of the room.  It doesn’t try to hide or conceal itself.  So, even though we might act like we don’t see it, try to pretend it’s not there…in actuality, all that does is make it worse.  The more we ignore this elephant, the more it grows.  Bigger and badder…until it eventually overwhelms the room and everyone in it.

The second elephant is much less noticeable…

But no less bigger.  It just has a tendency to set up residence in our mind, rather than in the middle of the room.  This elephant is our organizational memory.  The problem with this elephant is that too many leaders have a tendency to invoke what we might refer to as organizational amnesia.  They have a tendency to forget or cast a different light on what the organization and those within it are more than willing to resurface and rehash.

This tendency towards organizational amnesia causes immense frustration.  For the people who were there, for those in the organization who went through that time…it remains seared and fresh in their memory.  An elephant that can’t be ignored.  Inability to attend to our organizational memory will build, eventually causing further problems and frustrations, especially if the leadership has a less than real reflection of what has been done in the past.

While the first elephant can be found in the room (problems), the second in our mind (memories)…the third is often served up on a plate.  You might say this is the authenticity elephant.

When leaders truly attend to the first two elephants…sometimes they have to admit that mistakes, poor choices and even bad decisions were made.  And whether these were within the leaders control or outside their sphere of influence, often makes no difference.  Sometimes, leaders need to own up and eat the elephant…and very often one bite at a time.  Neither pleasant nor easy…yet, often necessary for an organization to clean the slate and move forward in a positive way.

Leaders don’t get a choice on which elephant they want to tackle…they have to be willing to wrestle all three.  And sometimes, simultaneously.  

Which is why the real work of leadership is neither glitzy or glamorous…it is often the very opposite.


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