Leader: Address the Elephant in the Room

elephant in room

Years ago I was serving on a team where there was a consistent idea killer. Whenever anyone on the team presented an idea, regardless of the idea’s merit, this person would shoot it down. He always saw the glass as half empty and was negative about everything. It’s okay to have someone who asks questions to make things better — but this guy was a doomsayer in the room. It wasn’t helpful.

It was annoying, but was allowed to continue by leadership. Everyone talked about it outside of the meetings, no one respected the idea killer, and even the leader admitted it was a problem for the team, but he insisted he had counseled with this person privately, and it never seemed to improve.

It led me to the conclusion:

Sometimes, as a leader, you have to address the “elephant in the room” — in the room.

Everyone knows it’s there.

You can’t miss an elephant.

It keeps being repeated.

You’ve handled it individually.

Nothing has changed.

It may even be getting worse.

At some point, the leaders may have to address the elephant in the room.

You can’t ignore the elephant.

While everyone is in the room, address the elephant.

You may have to call out the person causing the disruption in the presence of everyone else in the room.

Yes, it’s hard, uncomfortable, and you don’t want to do it often, but it may be necessary.

If you don’t:

  • Everyone will assume this type performance is tolerated.
  • The negative actions will be copied by others.
  • Team dynamics will never be healthy.
  • Respect for the leader — with this issue and others — will diminish.

Address the elephant!

You must. Everyone already knows it’s there. The best excuses won’t hide an elephant. And, elephants don’t often leave the room on their own.

Have you ever served on a team where the elephant wasn’t addressed and it negatively impacted the team?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Leader: Address the Elephant in the Room

  1. As a leader, that's the thing I struggle with most. I agree with all your points about how important it is to address the elephant in front of the others. I often have to tell the conflict averse part of me to just chill out while we deal with some conflict.

    Have you ever served on a team where the idea killer in the room is the leader? That's something our team is going through now. It's a very difficult situation for sure.