We often see elephants in the room as
interruptions when, in reality, they are
gifts and opportunities. Elephants are
those inappropriate or immature
behaviors that remain unacknowledged
and unaddressed on our teams. Dealing
with elephants is a central part of what it means to be a Leader. Of course, elephants show
up on our teams. The higher up, or deeper in, people progress as leaders, the more their
immaturities and gaps reveal themselves. Simply think of Jesus and his team of disciples.
These are God’s gifts for us to invest in our team members and shape the culture of the
ministry or organization we lead. I have over 30 years of wrestling with elephants and have
made innumerable mistakes. Nonetheless, out of these failures, and some successes, five
elements on how to deal with elephants have emerged for me.
There are often multiple large and small elephants that show up at the same time. We may be tempted to ignore the situation, blame someone or attack the person out of our frustration. Holding each situation before God, listening and waiting on him, is our first work. We need grace to calm our anxieties and hear: “Be careful, keep calm, and don’t be afraid” (Isa. 7:4). We need discernment about which elephants are most important to deal with now and which ones God is inviting us to leave in his hands—at least for now.
We need space to think. I refer to time to determine your goals, consider different ways to approach the situation and ask questions such as: What is the right environment and timing for this conversation? Is there anyone else I need to include? Are my steps clear? How did we get here? What did I miss along the way? Where have I contributed to the problem?
3. Wise Counsel
Learning everything by mistakes is a very painful way to lead. Search high and low for wise mentors who have been through these situations before. This can save you a lot of unnecessary anguish and chaos.
God gives us spiritual authority as a covering, not a smothering. When I have included and trusted the counsel of those God has placed around me, and over me, this has often changed the outcome for good. It has also slowed down my process and offered a larger, more accurate perspective of a problem.
Confronting elephants is hard work. It often feels awful—especially when you begin. I frequently write a clear outline of my main conversational points in advance. And I pray for God’s grace to be courageous and to “stand firm in my faith, lest I not stand at all” (Isa. 7:9).