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

4.2 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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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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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 (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
I think Diana M. Smith Book The Elephant in the Room makes a powerful and profound contribution, and as an CEO coach, I was able to practically and immediately apply it. "Elephant" is one of those rare books tha will change the way you think about relationship problems forever.

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.
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