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At 41, Tara lived the longest of any elephant ever kept at the Toronto Zoo.

The Executive And The Elephant

By Richard Daft


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324 pages, $33.95

The executive is our higher consciousness, the CEO of our brain, intent on controlling what we do. The elephant is the unconscious systems and habits that seem to run wild with our thoughts and impulses, defying the orders of our intentional mind.

We're all highly familiar with this concept, from the daily battles between our inner executive and inner elephant (even if the names may be new). But we may not realize how important this unending tussle between elephant and executive is to our career success. "To become better leaders, we must learn to manage ourselves, by developing our inner executive to direct and guide our inner elephant," Vanderbilt University leadership professor Richard Daft writes in The Executive And The Elephant: A Leader's Guide To Building Inner Excellence.

His premise is that managers often know what they should do, and why and how to do it. Yet too often they don't, because their inner elephant's unconscious desires and habits are too strong. In essence, their inner elephant won't follow directions because their inner executive is not sufficiently developed to take control. "They have not learned to lead themselves," he states.

Your elephant mind often distorts reality, leading you to act on inaccurate information. In this regard, you need to be alert to three predictable tendencies, which he dubs your internal judge, internal magician, and internal attorney.

The internal judge is the tendency to be excessively negative, as you judge people, viewing things from a selfish point of view with little consideration or empathy towards others. Your internal magician leads you to fill in gaps with mental fabrications - experiences and interpretations - that you believe are true in the hunt for simple explanations. He suggests, for example, President George W. Bush sometimes tended to make gut decisions and then, with his advisers, developed justifications that they later came to believe. Your internal attorney is the defence mechanisms that try to protect you from the pain of rejection, failure, loss and other misfortunes.

Add to those the following six mental mistakes that leaders are prone to: Reacting too quickly, inflexible thinking, wanting control, emotional avoidance of some things or people and emotional attraction to others, exaggerating the future, and chasing the wrong gratifications. Those may ring some bells for you.

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It's very interesting, of course, but what do we do? And that's the charm of Prof. Daft's book: About four-fifths is devoted to practical solutions that you can try to gain control of your often-rampaging inner elephant.

He starts with engaging your inner elephant in your ultimate intentions. Athletes employ that when they try to visualize themselves on the winner's podium. Salespeople can successfully fight their inner elephant by visualizing the successful sales process.

Instead of visualization, you could try to verbalize your intention with a repetitive self-instruction, or pep talk. For example, a medical resident came up with the phrase "I am right here, right now," to keep her mind focused on the present when dealing with patients. A military officer chose the phrase "I am loving people more" to help him appreciate others.

Once you pick an autosuggestion, repeat the phrase 20 times in the morning and the evening, when relaxed. Say the phrase out loud, until your mind learns not to jump away, repeating the words slowly and focusing completely. Look for other opportune times to repeat the phrase, such as when driving or exercising.

He urges you to stay in the present tense with your phrase, rather than the future, preferably choosing the progressive form of the present tense, which involves using an "ing" on the verb. So: "I am lightening up," or "I am becoming more outgoing." He contends that awakens the inner elephant to move from now toward the desired future state. Also, remember to say the words as if you mean them.

His book has a pile of suggestions but he says if there's a silver bullet it would be these autosuggestions or, a variant, mantras that you repeat throughout the day. "I have been pleasantly surprised at this technique's wide application to various people and the array of issues that a frequent, intentional repetition of a carefully chosen phrase will ameliorate. Autosuggestion seems relatively easy for many people, and it has been a powerful way to lead their inner elephant toward new intentional behaviours," he notes.

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The book is terrific - it identifies an important issue for leaders, and tackles it in a very practical way, with plenty of techniques to choose from and many examples of them being used successfully. We all struggle with our inner elephant, and if you want to help get more control by your inner executive, this book would definitely help.

In addition

Management consultant Suzanne Turner gathers 94 essential tools for managers in The Little Black Book of Management (McGraw-Hill, 194 pages, $23.95). You won't find mantras or autosuggestion, but there are techniques such as competitive product placement, cultural audits, just-in-time procedures, scenario planning, and stakeholder analysis, each briskly presented with an example in two pages. It's a useful handbook, but no more than that - not something you would necessarily read in one or two sittings or actually use as a guide in trying one of the techniques, but a helpful place to turn when you want to discover or clarify a possibility.

Just In

Lan Liu, an adjunct professor at the Beijing Peter Drucker Academy, interviewed a series of prominent theoreticians on management - including Peter Senge, Noel Tichy, John Kotter, and Howard Gardner - and reproduced the transcripts for Conversations On Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 272 pages, $35.95).

Consultants Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, and Geno Church and writer Spike Jones explain how to ignite powerful word-of-mouth movements in Brains On Fire (John Wiley, 184 pages, $29.95).

You can try building conflict resolution skills with The Big Book Of Conflict Resolution Games (McGraw-Hill, 230 pages, $28.95) by consultant Mary Scannell.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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