I once talked to a group of employees about the one leadership skill they felt was absolutely essential to be an effective leader.

They said, “Handling the tough stuff – the situations that keep us from doing our job.”

This immediate feedback was amazing. I was thinking, okay the tough stuff, like the challenges managers face on how to competitively run the business, or coming up with new products and services to take market share.

Nope. That wasn’t it.

The employees stated what drives them crazy about their managers is they do not deal with the most important situations that are impacting their business.

“Like what?” I asked.

The Smelly Moose

Here is a partial list of situations employees said were going on:

  • Tensions between key employees go unresolved
  • Personal relationships override business decisions
  • Little communication occurs between departments and locations
  • People are rewarded for the wrong reasons

“Why would a manager be afraid to address these situations?” I asked.

One of the employees quickly responded, “Because when a manager starts to, he is viewed as the bad guy – the trouble maker. It simply doesn’t pay off. He tried to do the right thing, but it ended up backfiring on him.”

“Now, I get it.” I replied. These are examples of a smelly moose, which is a really big animal that decays and chips away at the bottom line over time.

You know, those situations that affect productivity, everyone in the organization knows about them, but they end up not being discussed with the people directly involved.

Because your managers don’t know how to handle the smelly moose, they end up doing nothing. This happens out of frustration, and no one wants to be viewed as a negative troublemaker.

Tackling a Smelly Moose

I’m not sure who coined the term “smelly moose”, but it is quite appropriate when it comes to what prevents people from being good leaders.

Who wants to deal with a situation that has gone on so long that it is now blown out of proportion?

Here’s the good news. Tackling a smelly a moose is a much better choice than not. By allowing tough situations to exist under your watch, you are impacting your credibility.

Is it easy? No. But leadership isn’t for wimps. Leadership takes courage to do the right thing.

With that in mind, here are 4 steps to follow:

  1. Expose a potential smelly moose. As a leader, you know in your gut those situations that are affecting productivity that need to be handled. Do it now. Don’t wait any longer than 24 hours. to have a conversation with the people involved. Do it now, do it now.
  2. Take the negative reactions that people initially have toward you as a positive. When people react negatively, they are considering your point of view. Do not misunderstand people’s reaction to uncomfortable situations as being directed towards you. Leaders know to not take lashing out personally. This principle is very important as people that are fearful are testing you to see if your intent is to help them, not harm them.
  3. Brush up on how to facilitate a smelly moose conversation. Follow the Conversation Map process for all smelly moose discussions. Refrain from skipping steps or not following the process as the purpose of the map is exactly what is intended – to get you from where you are today to a new location in the most expedient manner.
  4. Relax. Have fun helping people succeed. Those members involved in a smelly moose situation will be most pleased that you have helped them bury the stinky moose. Those people that are not please are most likely smelly moose creators which lets you know who is interested in being on the team and who is not.
Related:  Leaders, It Takes Courage To Talk About Safety

Action Plan

Think about the smelly moose situations that you have going in your area of responsibility. List them. Take action using the map. Enjoy the rewards of helping others experience a positive outcome.

How Do You Avoid the Smelly Moose?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Free Report: The Accountability Checklist

This guide includes a performance test to determine if an employee is on or off the team.

Dr. Mary Kay

Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and founder of the About Leaders community and drMaryKay.com. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Online course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


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