Taking on the Elephant in the Room

Are you willing to exercise your risk muscle to address an elephant in the room?

Recently I facilitated a workshop on power and influence for a group of high potential women and minorities working for a Fortune 500 firm.  During a discussion about the push/pull polarities of influence, a participant commented that the core issue for her was the willingness to influence.

Do you do it or not? How much do you use your influence for change when what needs changing is the long-cherished yet out-of-touch-with-reality status quo?

Her courageous workshop take-away was to take the risk and use her thought leader status to begin influencing new directions. She said she believed she owed it to her colleagues, the organization and herself to do so.  What a powerful moment.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.  ~Leo F. Buscaglia

Round peg in the proverbial square hole

The risk is being the square peg in the round hole, wearing kelly green when colleagues are wearing charcoal grey, daring — albeit politely — to be the corporate contrarian.

Risking your secure place in the corporate food chain by questioning new practices that run contrary to stated values is a high stake gamble.  Will you be rewarded, take a small hit or lose it all?

According to Julie J. McGowan, professor at Indiana University,

Risk taking is hard to adopt among leaders, because recognized leaders have the most to lose and aspiring leaders may be discounted as lacking in knowledge or common sense.

Risk-taking can yield both great rewards and create possibilities for growth provided you do your homework ahead of time.  Assessing your tolerance for workplace risk-taking requires you to know yourself and understand the work environment . 

Do your homework

To get grounded and be prepared, consider:

  • Historically, how has your corporate culture reacted to those who challenged the status quo? 
    • Are you prepared to accept the possible outcomes?  Are you willing to have your credibility eroded? Are you equipped to lose your job?
  • Is this an issue that’s important to you alone, or do others share similar concerns?
    • Will others who think/feel/believe the same speak up after you’ve led the charge, or will your voice be the only one that’s speaking? Are you ready to forge ahead regardless?
  • Are you willing to be the center of attention if your topic goes viral within the company? 
    • Are you primed to be emulated and/or attacked? 
  • Do you have solid solutions and/or alternatives to offer? 
    • Are you disposed to collaborate with others and devise a solution that integrates the views of many?
  • Have you brainstormed possible unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the stand you’re championing?
  • Are you OK, mentally and emotionally, with the possibility of failure? 
    • Will your self-esteem survive the hit?  Can your ego resist the adulation of success? 
  • Do you have the will to see it through?
    • Do you have a support system that will nurture you throughout, regardless of the outcome?

Taking on the elephant in the room is a personal choice.  Only you can decide if high risk/high reward is your métier or if low risk/low reward represents the boundaries of your comfort zone. 

Be prepared. Be thoughtful. Do what’s right for you.


7 Responses to Taking on the Elephant in the Room

  1. If you risk nothing you gain nothing.

    I love the way your blog looks very profressional looking.

    My feeling is if you never take on any challenges, especially at work, you will never advance.

    Degrees and letter soup behind your name dont count for much with out any courage.

    Thanks for the post


  2. From my experience, I have some of my greatest successes and some of my worst nightmares from speaking up about certain issues. Taking risks though are part of being a leader. However, your checklist under doing your homework was excellent, and asks those questions one must ask themselves in order to be prepared for any fallout or to what degree of fallout they may expect.

    Great post,


  3. One must be careful to fully assess the corporate perception of the status quo in these moments. If one has not fully and adequately analyzed the consequences, one may be shown the door. Little influence may be provided by one from “outside the corporation”.

  4. I googled and this page came on. Refreshingly surprised. I work in a government controlled organisation in Cyprus. Recently there is an opening for the head of my department. Political favorism is something very common in Cyprus and in my company. I do not have it. This morning I have shared with my wife the thought of applying for an opening - middle - upper management. My wife things I am crazy. She thinks I lack EQ and it would be detrimental to my status and good name in the company. It will demonstrate arrogance and superficiality on my behalf if I express interest. There are other people she says that will eat you with the bones. I am the most qualified (MBA) apart from the professional- technical skills and experience that everybody at my department has. I really believe that I could make the difference…I feel like I am stranded because of stagnation in my career and lack of opportunities for advancement. Regarding the checklist… I have to admit I do not pass on all items. Married with two kids, the salary is very good, my financials are bad (due to bad investments), the company is not doing well at all… could go down over the next two years. To find the same salary I have to leave Cyprus which I do not want to because of family restrictions. Thank you for your time and consideration. Leon

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