Belinda's Bash

Belinda Naylor-Stables

Belinda Naylor-Stables

Training that elephant

This month I’m looking at that common artistic nightmare – the elephant in your head.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love elephants. I like the fact that at one moment they seem majestic – and yet they can swiftly switch to bumbling and lovable. They seem slow, and yet they cover ground fast. They can seem placid, yet change to highly strung in the wink of an eye. They are loving to other members of their family, particularly the little ones with long lashes and dimples. Yet, I’ve seen first hand the devastation they can wreak when they rampage through a forest tearing up great trees by their roots. After all, they are wild animals.

So when I started reading Richard L Daft’s book, “The Executive and the Elephant”, I was particularly interested in the elephant side of things.

He writes, “A human being seems composed of two selves – one that is habit bound, impulsive, emotion driven and the other more thoughtful, circumspect, and rational.” Throughout the book he uses the metaphors of the inner elephant (the bigger personality of the two) and the inner executive (the man-sized  sensible one) to describe the arguing personalities in a typical human head.

To test out whether you are inhabited by these two characters Richard Daft suggests you try to sit for ten minutes without thinking – and watch what happens. Most probably your inner elephant will start to worry about what you’re doing next, what’s for dinner, what you’re doing at the weekend and one hundred and one other things. The inner executive will try and get the elephant  to focus. Do you find they argue back and forth with excuses or other ideas?

Highly organised individuals are good at controlling their elephants. Others would probably like to waste less time and energy and get down to what’s important. Richard Daft says, “… learn to use your conscious intention or will when you want to perform some task that your inner elephant wants to avoid.”

The thing to remember is that you’re dealing with a wild, though lovable, animal. So your elephant can only be won over by small manageable requests, baby steps and pleasant visions of the task well done.  It’s very important not to make it nervous, worried or confused. Very kind, gentle self talk helps. Internal shouting, abrupt orders, swearing or the wielding of a metaphorical whip are not allowed.

So, that’s my article finished. I’m pleased to say my elephant has behaved well throughout. Perhaps because since reading this book I do understand my elephant – and other people - a lot better. We still often pull in different directions – my elephant and I - but that’s elephants for you.

The Elephant Post Script

I need to walk down to the shops now and my elephant doesn’t want to go. Actually I think I have more than two voices – between the elephant and executive there is me too. So I say to my elephant, ‘I agree with you entirely.  It’s far too cold and the forecast says it might snow.’

The elephant says,  ‘Put the kettle on then. Let’s have a cup of tea.’

The executive says, ‘ That’s why we’re going out. We need to get some milk don’t we? And it's a well known fact you’ll feel more creative after exercise.’

The elephant suggests, ‘We could quickly nip down in the car and be back in time to watch Home and Away.’

I chip in, ‘You’re a very lovely elephant, but we will both put on weight if we don’t do this daily. Imagine being svelte.’ (I ignore the Home and Away comment entirely - we don’t have time for daytime TV.)

‘One missed walk won’t matter.’

‘OK… we needn’t go for a walk, but for the heck of it, let’s just put on our boots and coat and gloves and muffs and scarf.’

‘You could look at emails instead – or The HVA Blog ...’

I refuse to be talked round and raise my eyebrows at the inner executive. He chips in. ‘ Well, I tell you what, we can just stand here by the door for a bit.’

It dawns on the elephant that now we are ready and by the door so we may as well go. I feel fairly confident when I say, ‘Shall we go then?’

The fashion conscious amongst you will probably understand when I say that walking with my elephant down the High Street, past all the dress shops, is extremely difficult. My elephant loves pretty tops…

Wayward elephant in flowery dress, with pink daisy earrings and green handbag

The Executive and the Elephant – A Leader’s Guide to Bulding Inner Excellence’ is by Richard L Daft (Jossey-Bass, 2010). If you have any tips and tricks for training your elephant do share! Thanks…