Last night I had a peculiar dream.
I was driving on a wide, two-lane commercial road near my home. Suddenly, in front of me, there was an elephant. I mean a real honest-to-goodness live elephant. He was in my lane, staring straight at me, and he did not look happy.
As I slowed down and shifted into the left lane to go around the elephant, he decided to move into that lane as well, maintaining his position directly in front of me. Then I started to move back into the right lane again, and this time he stayed where he was. But, I found myself hemmed in as a car that had been behind me attempted to go around me on my right.
What was wrong with the driver of that car? Could they not see that I was attempting to avoid an elephant in the road? Why could they not just hang back while I dealt with this problem?
I wanted to get around and far enough away from the elephant so that I could be safe while I called someone to report it. But to my dismay, as I again tried to move forward and to the right, this time behind the car that had just passed me, I found myself squeezed between the elephant and the stream of cars which were now passing on my right.
I believe this is about the time I woke up. Immediately I wondered what an elephant was doing in the northbound lane of Route 53 in Hanover. Just as quickly, I wondered what in the world such a dream could mean.
I don’t know what the dream meant. But, this morning, my elephant in the road reminded me of a concept that I often speak about with leaders, particularly leadership teams. That is, the “Elephant in the Room.”
The elephant in the room. Surely, you’ve heard of it. It’s that big huge “thing” that everyone sees but no one will talk about, or even acknowledge. Like my elephant in the road, it’s an obstacle. It’s in the way and needs to be dealt with.
But often, people simply pretend not to see the elephant. Dealing with it seems too hard – It seems easier to just pass it by like it’s not there.
Why we ignore the elephant.
- Calling out the elephant might upset others. Harmony seems more important.
- It’s too much work. Once we note the elephant, we will be obligated to do something about it.
- We lack courage. Tackling elephants seems really scary.
- Everyone knows about the elephant. Why should I bother to mention it?
- We think that it is someone else’s job. After all, we didn’t create the elephant.
- It will take too much time. It will be faster just to avoid the elephant and move on.
- We might look foolish. Perhaps it isn’t such a big issue after all.
The problem with ignoring the elephant. While we are busy looking the other way, of course the problem doesn’t go away. Usually, it gets louder and more destructive. While we avoid discussing the problem:
- Everyone maintains their own version of ‘the truth.’ Each assumes that everyone else’s version is the same as their own.
- Accepting the problem becomes a way of life in the organization. People begin to see it as “Just the way it is here.”
- Tension may be hidden, but it doesn’t go away. The issue still causes anxiety and divisiveness.
- We fail to learn more about the issue and, therefore, fail to figure out how it was created and how it could be resolved.
- We develop (and neglect) more and more elephants that run rampant in our organizations, causing general mayhem, as well as a lack of productivity and forward motion.
Do you have elephants in the room that you don’t talk about? Do you simply drive around them and pretend they are not there?
Or do you tackle issues with courage, making sure that you take personal responsibility for identifying those things that must be discussed for the good of the organization?