Of Moose and Managers


My blog, Moose on the Loose: Boeing Panic Over Quality and Safety, explained how I started using the moose-on-the-table metaphor. It also linked to a few excerpts from my only work of fiction, Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communication at Work.

The following few excerpts are from Chapter Four: Of Moose and Managers. It centers on a workshop the central character, Pete Leonard, is forced to attend to improve his leadership as a manager in a tech services company. The workshop is led by Jason Reynard, a consultant and facilitator with experience and approaches suspiciously like yours truly…

“A key theme of today’s session is courageous leadership. That’s having the courage to navigate changes we don’t want. It’s having the courage to strengthen our leadership in the face of daily management crisis and technical issues pulling us down into the minutiae of details. It is especially about having courageous conversations. That means having the courage to talk about sensitive issues we’ve been avoiding and having the courage to listen to what we don’t want to hear.”

“It takes much more courage and effort to fight against the natural gravity that is pulling us down and climb back up above the line. A popular party pastime is playing The Blame Game. Like that old 1960s game, Twister, this game involves getting bent out of shape as we avoid taking any responsibility and denounce everyone else for the state of our affairs.”

“Now we’re going to deal with courageous conversations by discussing moose-on-the-table. This is where everyone in a meeting knows there is an issue or problem, but no one is talking about it. It’s like there is a large moose standing on the meeting-room table and no one is saying a word about it as if it’s not there. The problem is that the longer the moose is ignored, the bigger it grows. Then it’s joined by other moose attracted to the conspiracy of silence — the perfect habitat for these moose to thrive. And they start to have babies. Pretty soon moose are everywhere as everyone does their best to ignore them.”

One participant near the front of the room observed that she had heard this phenomenon referred to as “elephant in the room.” Jason agreed that it was the same idea.

“The consequences of not having courageous conversations that identify and address moose-on-the-table can be quite serious. A major pulp and paper producer had a chemical cleaning procedure that was not being followed properly at one of its facilities. A worker raised it twice with management and was ignored. So, he reported the environmental violations and spills to the government. They investigated and levied a ten-million-dollar fine and put two managers in prison for three years. The supervisor’s defense was the ever-popular and cowardly cop-out — ‘we always did it that way.’”

Jason went on to give a few more dramatic examples of how silence killed organizations — or even literally killed people when safety issues weren’t addressed. “When moose run wild in an organization, it leads to a myriad of problems,” he said. “Some of the more common ones are listed in your workbook.”

Pete turned to the page and read through the list:

  1. Hiding/suppressing information
  2. Minimizing or avoiding big problems/issues
  3. Learned helplessness, cynicism, and apathy
  4. Turf protection and silos or departmentalism
  5. Team members dislike and avoid each other
  6. Blame storming, fault finding, and sniping (often wrapped in “humorous” zingers)
  7. Lower respect for self and others
  8. Mediocre meetings
    1. Mainly progress reports and updates
    2. No real discussion, debate, or dialogue
    3. Too much time focused in and not enough on the business
    4. A few people dominate while the rest are spectators
    5. Confusion between Command, Consultation, or Consensus decision making on each agenda item
    6. Meetings lack clear agendas, strong facilitation, ground rules, conflict resolution, regular summaries of decisions/progress, clear action planning, and follow through
  9. Messengers are shot and wounded, never to make that mistake again
  10. Lobbying, politicking, and decision making are done outside the meeting
  11. The boss makes decisions, then uses meetings to “hold court” or “discuss” what’s happening
  12. “Are there any questions?” is really a dare from a boss to say anything that’s considered to be disagreeable

Yep. Our company has got pretty much most of those covered Pete thought. Especially points 2, 4, 8, 9, and 11.

Jason asked the group how people were punished for naming the moose in their organizations. Many participants were keen to share their experiences and perspectives. Responses included being suddenly excluded; branded as not a team player; anger or irritation from the boss or peers; put downs — often disguised as humor; reassignment to less-important roles or projects; not being promoted or taken off the fast track; and even being fired or “downsized.”

“Good organizations confront brutal facts and weak ones avoid them,” Jason said. “Avoiding moose issues is short-term gain for long-term pain. Courageous leaders navigate above the line and find ways to contribute to authentic conversations to address the moose. Cowardly leaders feel victimized by the moose and powerless to do anything as they wallow in the swamp.”

How many of Jason’s moose problems are lurking in your organization? How are you going to reduce the moose?

During a summer family vacation in Prince Edward Island, my wife and business partner, Heather, purchased a fridge magnet for me. It couldn’t have been more timely or appropriate since I was just finishing the Moose on the Table manuscript.

A cartoon on the magnet showed two moose sipping brews (likely Moosehead beer) in a bar. One of the moose is pointing at a moose’s head mounted on the wall behind them. The bubble above his head reads, “Hey! Wait a minute! That’s Jim!”

What are the odds? It moose have been more than a coincidence…

The post Of Moose and Managers appeared first on The Clemmer Group.

For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentations, workshops, management team retreats, seven bestselling books, articles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations. Check out www.clemmergroup.com for upcoming webinars and workshops.

Website: http://www.clemmergroup.com

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