I wondered if we were going to be able to talk about the problem everyone knew faced us, but no one wanted to mention. Then, one of the members of the leadership team looked at me and said: “We have an elephant in the room, and we better deal with it.” I wanted to give him a high five on the spot. He had the courage to acknowledge that he and his colleagues, who run their company, had a serious problem they had to face head on.
An “elephant in the room”, a really intimidating problem you would rather not talk about, can kill a business if it just sits there, unmentioned and unaddressed. It takes courage on the part of a leadership team to state the problem clearly, discuss it openly, and then solve it. Face the elephant, and chase it out of the room, and you can really strengthen your business, and build tremendous trust and health on your team.
And they did it – as tough as the issue was. They faced the fact that a member of their leadership team, who had been with them for some time, no longer fit in the culture they are striving to build. They had committed to each other and their fellow employees that they would grow their business aggressively, and they knew it would require them to change their behavior with their customers and their fellow employees. In their market (an intensely competitive one), the team realized they had to listen much more effectively, respond faster, and get everyone in the company involved in creating new services that would differentiate them.
They knew that their colleague had no intention of abandoning his long established management style, which was more directive and less collaborative. He was comfortable with his style—it had been his key to success for years as he had helped drive the company to its current level.
By deciding to face the “elephant in the room” head on, my friends opened the door to a fundamental change in their colleague’s role. They had the courage to talk with him about the disconnect between his leadership style and the culture they are striving to build. After a very tough discussion over several weeks, he agreed to step out of his leadership role and focus on a key project where his skills are a great fit. I admire their candor and courage in facing their elephant, and their compassion in helping him define a role that will work well for him and for the company. And I admire his willingness to change his role to help the company grow.