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Elephant in the Room: How Relationships Make or Break the Success of Leaders and Organizations Hardcover – August 9, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (August 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118015428
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118015421
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"Grounded in years of research and consulting, Smith's frameworks are complex yet intuitive. Once you understand the basics of her lens and tools and work with them, they will grow into a fundamental element of your leadership practice. This is a big claim. But read on, and see for yourself."
Peter Senge, from the Foreword

Since time immemorial, relationships have determined the fate of leaders. But today they are more critical to success than ever. No longer can leaders count on slow markets or sloppy competition to make up for the inefficiencies that poor relationships create. Leaders must make decisions and take action quickly and well with people who have little in common—perhaps not even a time zone. This new world puts relationships at the center of what leaders must understand and master in order to succeed.

The Elephant in the Room offers a compelling and systematic look at how relationships determine the success of leaders and their enterprises. Written by business-relationship expert Diana McLain Smith, The Elephant in the Room draws on the author's clinical research and a wealth of in-depth observational studies to explain how relationships at the top of organizations work, develop naturally over time, and with effort, can be transformed. By revealing the hidden patterns underlying relationships, Smith shows how some relationships systematically drive growth, learning, and innovation, while others just as systematically stifle it. Then, by outlining a time-tested method for assessing and strengthening relationships, Smith shows how to build relationships strong enough to accelerate and sustain growth, even under the most intense pressures.

Armed with these powerful tools, leaders will be able to discuss, strengthen, and even transform their most important relationships. No longer powerless to confront the elephant in the room, they will be able to harness relationships to drive growth, learning, and change.

From the Back Cover

Praise for The Elephant in the Room

"Smith brings to center stage the three R's of leadership: relationships, relationships, and relationships. One of the most brilliant and original books I've read, illuminating a theme almost universally ignored, and, ironically, the indispensable core of successful leadership."
Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Management, University of Southern California; and author, Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership

"If you're burned out on business books, this one will wake you up. Its non-intuitiveinsights are as refreshing as they are useful. You'll savor The Elephant in the Room from first sentence to last."
Douglas Stone, lecturer on law, Harvard Law School; and coauthor, DifficultConversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

"Pick this up and you won't want to put it down. This fascinating book combinescommon sense, great stories, and practical advice about how to approach relationships in the workplace. While my job is to provide healthcare for two million people, all the interactions that matter are one-on-one."
Nick W. Turkal, president and CEO, Aurora Health Care

"Leadership is a relationship. And it's the quality of your relationships that will ultimately determine your level of success. No one understands this better than Diana McLain Smith. Her new book, The Elephant in the Room, is extraordinary. It's one of the most insightful and discerning examinations of interpersonal relationships at work I've ever read. Buy it, read it, use it."
Jim Kouzes, coauthor, The Leadership Challenge; and the Dean's Executive Fellowof Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University

"An exceptional book about how to navigate a terrain most leaders leave to intuition,and few know how to discuss. No leader, or aspiring leader, should operate without it because, at the end of the day, every organization's success is due to the people within it."
Alan E. Lewis, chairman and CEO, Grand Circle Corporation

"Smith could help the proverbial three blind men not only correctly identify their elephant, but engage it, teach it to talk, and transform it into an organizational asset."
Roger Schwarz, author, The Skilled Facilitator

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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I recommend the book as a challenging but worthwhile read.
John Gibbs
I found "Elephant" an overall worthy read that brings to light a variety of useful insights... Put Relationships in Perspective.
Brent A. Kedzierski
One of the reasons it's a great book is because it attacks a soft problem that most business books fail to attack.
Jim Estill

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jim Estill on September 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
One of the reasons it's a great book is because it attacks a soft problem that most business books fail to attack. Of course it's easy to attack numbers and statistical problems, but something as soft as relationships tend to be more difficult.

One thing I liked about the book is that at the end of every chapter there's a section on key points. Seems like a best practice for a business book.

The book has three parts and ten different chapters. The first part is on understanding relationships. I particularly like the third chapter that talked about perspective in relationships.

The second part talks about strength in relationships. It discusses how to invest in relationships to make them work better.

Part three was about transforming relationships and how to change them over time and how to reframe them.

Although the book is over three hundred pages, the appendix takes 70 pages of those, so it's actually not an overly long book.

The second appendix talks about the ladder of reflection and it's definitely worth reading. (Ladder of reflection includes evaluate, predict, explain, describe, select)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JT on August 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Thoughtful business leadership requires skill in a great many areas. As we progress, we practice continually, learning and then succeeding each step along the way. One of the most important areas we need to succeed in, yet seems often ignored or overlooked, is relationships.

The Elephant in the Room is an excellent look at how relationships make or break the success of leaders and organizations.

I personally enjoyed reading this book. It is a good blend of first-hand experience (she's a studied practitioner); real-world case studies (e.g. Steve Jobs & John Sculley at Apple); and, instructional processes aimed at enabling the reader to assess their own relationships.

My favorite part, the most inspirational and self-reflective are the first two parts: Understanding Relationships and Strengthening Relationships. The third part Transforming Relationships, requires the most effort as Smith takes us through the actual mechanics of the process.

The Elephant... clearly illustrates the need for everyone--especially in the heat of the moment--to take a step back. When things are starting to spin out of control, freeze the moment (capture that 'frame' in her terms), and try to engage the other party in understanding why they're responding the way they are. In example after example, Smith walks actual participants through their way of thinking.

New ways of thinking are important. New ways of thinking about your relationships also important--especially if they might make or break you and/or the business.

More often than not, the participants might not even know why they're responding a certain way. For instance, one CEO exhibits irritability and anger, adopting a professorial manner, whenever he's feeling anxiety.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Gibbs TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 11, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While many leaders believe relationships are important, few can tell you much about the patterns of interaction that define how their most important relationships work or fail to work, according to Diana McLain Smith in this book. Relationships between people in organisations have predictable patterns which can be analysed and altered.

The book goes on to analyse why some relationships grow stronger over the course of time and why some grow weaker. By taking a relational perspective and reflecting and reframing, leaders are able to overcome differences and strengthen working relationships. Through observing and analysing patterns of interactions it is possible to transform the underlying structure of a relationship. The author provides tools and techniques for doing this.

Much of the book is taken up in describing particular relationships in detail. Chapters 1 and 2 chronicle and interpret the breakdown in the relationship between Steve Jobs and John Sculley leading to Steve being fired from Apple. I must admit that I found these chapters somewhat uncomfortable reading, partly because I do not enjoy reliving the minutiae of a dispute, and partly because it seems presumptive to pronounce judgment on supposed personal interactions based purely on information gleaned from secondary sources.

Nonetheless, the book provides useful advice about ways of managing interpersonal relationships that are not going well. Most organisational leaders develop ways of coping with dysfunctional inter-personal relationships, but this book suggests techniques which are likely to provide a higher level of success. I recommend the book as a challenging but worthwhile read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By K. E. Taylor on January 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Diana McLain Smith's "The Elephant In The Room" builds on the excellent foundation she constructed in "Divide Or Conquer," a fine and useful book about business relationships in its own right. But where "Divide" tended to lean toward the analysis of team dynamics, "Elephant" focuses more succinctly on one-on-one relationships between leaders and the people who inhabit their inner circle.

This to me is the book's strength... there are a whole lot of books out there about the glories of teamwork, but "Elephant" uses real-world examples to demonstrate the critical importance of building a handful of strong personal relationships between leaders and those who share their vision and direction, and will evangelize that vision... not as "yes men," but as partners who recognize and embrace both commonalities and areas of conflict.

Particularly informative is the analysis of the Steve Jobs/John Sculley relationship. Smith deftly dissects this partnership (without whitewashing in the least) to demonstrate that what's important in building powerful business realtionships among leaders is not merely drum-beating of a shared vision, but understanding at the outset where differences lie, and how these differences can either sow the seeds of disaster or lead to a better understanding of common goals through mutual understanding through resolution of differing points of view, as well as differing understanding of individual roles.

Given the plethora of "how to succeed" business books glutting the shelves, it's nice to find one that I can recommend unconditionally as a truly useful tool for application to real world situations. Light on theory and heavy on practicality, "The Elephant In The Room" has helped me in concrete, day-to-day ways in my own work environment that few other books of its ilk have before. This is a keeper. Read it, at least twice.
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