I spent the majority of my career in the people business: helping executives to grow, to manage change, or to manage high stakes conflict. A commonly used phrase was “the elephant in the room.” Either someone was brave enough to acknowledge there was an “elephant” in the room or some people tried not to see the “elephant” at all. The “elephant” was the uncomfortable, the issue that, if not addressed skillfully, could blow up around the board table or in the conference room.
My job as a skilled facilitator who was often called upon to not only support executives and managers to see the “elephant” but to also help them smell it, touch it, name it, and reframe it. In essence, it was to ease executives from an avoidance perspective to having the skills and courage to do something about “the elephant.” Many times, the “elephant” highlighted an area of diversity. Diversity of thought, perspective, experience, and/or values. When layered with diversity of race, gender, role, status, sexual orientation and, sometimes, location–since a teleworking culture was evolving–things could get complicated.
In today’s workplace, “elephants” are parading everywhere we turn. We are bumping up against divides that require leadership at the highest level, the CEO, to be aware of the cultural shifts, more cognizant of how people are showing up to work. A recent Harvard Business Review survey (https://hbr.org/2017/10/a-survey-of-how-1000-ceos-spend-their-day-reveals-what-makes-leaders-successful) of 1000 CEOs revealed that a significant part of their day is spent alone or with one other person. This number varies by industry but the point is this: the wise CEO may want to really know the temperature of employee morale to prevent a virus of negativity permeating the organization. Elephants are big. To control them from taking up too much space and sucking all of the air out of the workplace, the CEO may need to become the organizational doctor and check on the well-being of employees.