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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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From the Inside Flap
—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
"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
Top Customer Reviews
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)
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.
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.Read more ›
Most executives tend to see themselves as individuals who build their personal capital by dominating (or avoiding domination) in order to achieve their goals. The author provides an alternative view that individuals are more effective in reaching goals when they focus on creating relational capital by creating human connections and investing in relationships.
After reading the book I talked to a CEO I work with who told me his company had just brought two new directors into his board seeking to address the balance of power in a group that for all its superficial conviviality, was a dysfunctional
I called the CEO on the phone and said, I you can bring new board members into the room but it doesn't address The Elephant In The Room, particularly the hostile relationship he seemed to have with some of the board members
The CEO instantly grasped the point about the Elephants in the Room that while he had "hit it out of the park" in terms of the company's financial performance he had failed to meet one of his goals, which was to create a high performance board.
Similar to the people Diana MacLean Smith used in her book he viewed one of the board members , "Ralph" as having nasty motives, which lead to both hostile behavior, and were at the heart of the groups dysfunctionality. The CEO said "He wanted my job, didn't get it. " He is known as being one of the most vindictive people in our industry.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The content of the book is comprehensible and relevant; however, it does not concisely and clearly provide guidance to the leader or potential leader. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
This is an excellent resource to help improve relationships. I started following the guidance provided in the book and have already seen evidence of success in what was previously... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
As an avid reader struggling to re-engage my business counterpart, the book seemed promising. Upon reading however, I felt that the story components tended to be very verbose, and... Read morePublished on September 18, 2013 by Chris Hartley
This book brings a new and interesting way office thinking organizational relations. It is important to construct relations and review wrong outcomings.Published on January 27, 2013 by Ciro César
Diana's book is so insightful and a must read for anyone who works with others (which is pretty much everyone!). Read morePublished on February 6, 2012 by Emily Cherniack
The Elephant in the Room is a must read for anyone in the business of training leaders, those aspiring-to-be leaders, and definitely for those in high level management positions. Read morePublished on February 4, 2012 by R. Meagher
For my entire career, bosses have assigned and I have read the latest, hottest business success bibles. Read morePublished on February 2, 2012 by Coastal Hostess
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... Read morePublished on January 30, 2012 by K. E. Taylor
The Elephant in the Room will change the way you see and use what until now you've probably only vaguely felt: the power of relationships at work. Read morePublished on January 23, 2012 by Tim Murphy