Thursday, December 6, 2012

Footprints in the Butter

How do you know when there is an elephant in your fridge? There are footprints in the butter of course.

Obviously! Why didn't we notice that?

Whilst this is supposed to be a lame joke, it replicates so much of what goes on in organisations and many personal lives today, it’s actually not funny.

Whilst we might refer to elephants being "in the room" we may actually have put some in our fridge. It’s as if by preserving them in the cold and dark for long enough we think they won't stink or simply people won't be aware that we have this great big creature in residence.

We forget however that like our culture, the fridge is a little thought about, but essential element of our lives we visit every day, and every time we open the door, there staring us straight in the face will be those large "footprints in the butter".

The first thing to take into account about elephants is that they are big and take up a lot of room leaving no space for anything else. Such things as fruitful discussions, meaningful planning and problem solving have no room to progress or breathe whilst discussed in the shadow of suppressed challenges or issues.

As leaders try to motivate and encourage organisations we try to also ignore the issues in our strategies and corporate messages. It’s like trying to add stuff in the fridge when it’s already full and it’s why so many organisations fail to move forward.

How can you expect your organisation to energize itself or your family or colleagues to show enthusiasm, whilst they feel the weight of barriers that block the way?
No amount of positive thinking will get you going if an elephant is standing on your foot.

The second thing about elephants is that they are not naturally aggressive. In most parts of the world they are used as a valuable tool, providing a strength in moving otherwise immovable objects and have assisted in building lasting landmarks. In the same way, ignoring the elephant may mean denying yourself the greatest opportunity for achieving the results you’re looking for.

An idle elephant only gets in the way, but a working one "paves it".

A third thing about releasing an elephant is that to move it, use it or get it out, it will mean moving or removing some of the other items to make sufficient room for the elephant to get out. So who is going to move first? It won't be the elephant. It may need to be you!

Most people don't want to be the one to refer to the elephant as it’s not the elephant they fear but the owner who appears to want to let it remain frozen. These are the leaders who only work on the paradigm of positive thinking and who reject references to challenges and blockages as weakness and suppressive.

By identifying and “naming” the elephant however you will be able to harness its power. Instead of being afraid of its size, see its strength. Leaders who actually engage with the elephant find it not only friendly but very useful. Obstacles also disappear as the tension is released.

A standing agenda item of mine is "the elephant". It actually becomes the most fruitful item as it clears the way forward in any discussion. It engages the people and it engenders trust and collective strength.

Are you denying yourself and your people the greatest opportunity for success?
Are you unable to move?

Are there "footprints in your butter?


  1. I'm a freelancer working from home on my second career.

    My problem is effective marketing knowledge, and working with a small fixed income.

    1. Bob the question i ask is who do you invite into the room to have the discusion. if you ponder the elephant by yourself it becomes too big a meal