“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”

John Kenneth Galbraith, U.S. economist, “The Age of Uncertainty”




I am not sure if this is becoming a characteristic of this generation of business leaders or I never noticed it in the last generation of business leaders.

“This” is the inability to deal with the elephant in the room.

Or … even worse … is the ignoring of the “herd of elephants” stalking through the organization.


Being a leader of an organization (and size almost becomes irrelevant) is difficult and comes with challenges.


Leaders shouldn’t ignore the elephant in the room or the herds of elephants wandering the hallways.



There are so many to choose from I couldn’t list them all. And no leader in their right mind will do an “employee survey” and expect to uncover the elephants that are seemingly walking invisibly through the hallways and offices of their company. Why?

No one <employees> trusts internal surveys any more so they typically do not answer honestly <particularly on bad leadership things>.



Here are the ‘big 3’ elephants I see leaders kind of having their head up there ass on:


–          Senior manager flaws.

For some reason leaders are becoming blind to their semi-peer flaws. I don’t know if it’s the “kinder gentler” management of this generation or if they are just focused on what is being done well because it is one less thing to worry about. I don’t care what it is … but it is elephant numero uno.

Here’s the deal.

People have higher expectations the bigger the title. And they should. A bigger title means a higher standard to live/work by. A leader HAS to set his management team to a higher standard. They cannot be expected to play by the same rules as the rest of the organization. Oddly <despite having been in so many executive meetings I am surprised I haven’t had a natural lobotomy> I have seen more times than not … leaders want to set up a standard of stricter rules for junior people and more flexible standards for senior.

It’s wacky.

Senior people are supposed to be role models <at least that is what I thought>.

The trickledown effect if you permit senior people with obvious ‘flaws’ is lack of respect, a belief that management is flawed, and a belief that anyone can be a senior manager (which isn’t true) and, well, confusion on how “they” (employees) can see something that should be obvious to a leader.


–          Making specialists generalists.

The way today’s business seems to work is no matter what your responsibility is in your ‘growth’ stages you get promoted (assuming you do well) and get rewarded with a generalist management role.


I am not suggesting specialist cannot become generalist nor am I suggesting that a specialist cannot assume some responsibilities as executive leaders, but I do see organization leaders permitting the title/responsibility role reward based on merit not on ability to do the reward.

And the trickle down to those decisions (beyond the obvious that many just don’t deserve that role and mismanage) is that the organization staff see it and get confused (and join the herd of elephants wandering the hallways). They get confused because it almost appears that ability doesn’t matter to ‘move up.’


–          Inability to deal with younger employee dissatisfaction.

Whew. This one is a humdinger these days. This elephant isn’t even invisible and it gets ignored. In fact, many leaders just stare at the elephant and shake their head and go “oh well, there’s that damn elephant but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

It’s crazy. I have written about this before and, yes, I am going to generalize … but … this doesn’t have anything to do with “this generation’s work ethic” or “young kids just don’t have the same attitude as we did” (gosh, anyone reading that I would hope would feel old if they know they have said it themselves) … this is about leadership.

It’s not about being cool or wearing flip flops to work to show you ‘relate’ to the generation.

In fact, dear leader, they don’t want you to relate … they want you to lead.

A leader doesn’t have to be a ‘giant’ like I have written about before but they have to be a leader. Employees don’t have to like you (although it helps) they have to respect you. And that crosses any generation at any time with any age employee.  Being a leader (and however that particular leader utilizes leadership-like charisma) will overcome 90+% generational issues (flip flops in the office should take care of the rest).



Those are just three.

But I would imagine the point here is that I tend to see a diminishing ability in leadership to effectively deal with the elephants within their organizations.

They are either oblivious, ignore them or accept them. Any of the three are unacceptable.


Ah. The biggest argument I get from senior people? I have other things more important at the moment, I am simply prioritizing.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm …. I have a tendency to want to point out that an elephant is … well … an elephant. And they are big.


Deal with it.



This is just a trend I seem to be seeing these days.

One last thought (because some of the elephants live outside the office building but come in attached to employees when they come to work every day):

Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca Cola Enterprises from 1959-1994
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends, and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”


Nice way of looking at it if you ask me.


In the end <bottom line>.


My advice to leaders?

Go elephant hunting.

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Written by Bruce