The Gorilla In The Room

We don’t see it – the gorilla. The obvious thing that no one notices. Gorillas undermine, distract, mislead, yet they hide so well they are not seen or heard.

54% of motorcycle accidents are caused by  a car turning left in front of an oncoming motorcycle. The cyclist hits the passenger door. When asking the driver why they turned left in front of an oncoming motorcycle, what do they say? “I didn’t see them.” And they are being honest. They didn’t see the oncoming motorcycle. Why? The answer is simple – they were looking for cars.

We miss really obvious things as our mind makes certain assumptions about expected patterns of behavior and doesn’t see the obvious things like oncoming motorcycles, because we are conditioned to look for cars. Dan Simon’s research at Indiana University refers to this as ‘perceptual blindness.’

The gorilla in our business and personal life – the thing we can’t see and yet is very present – is fear. The fear of being wrong, or being ridiculed. Fear of not being smart enough or pretty enough. That fear dominates our thinking and fear is hard to express, since that opens up the very weakness in us and the factors of ridicule we are trying to avoid. Fear hides.

The 3-part Fix

As leaders, we must recognize the gorilla in the room. We must make the environment a safe one to encourage honesty, and put fear in the sight of everyone so it can be addressed.

Imagine a business environment where you functioned with no fear. Where there is no chance of being embarrassed, talked about after the meeting, wrong, dumb, or less attractive. If all of that was gone, how free and truthful you would be with everyone?

The gorilla of fear hides and great leaders are doing all they can to tame the gorilla. Here are 3 keys to great gorilla taming:

1. Praise people more – and not just their actions – them. Praise their character, honesty, effort, courage etc. Tie praise to values and actions, not just a passable “good job.”

2. Gain trust through empathy – walk in their shoes and listen to their underlying motivations and convictions, not just the story of their explanation. Get to know the person, not just what they did.

3. Stop being so right – you will look more kind, which is very motivating. We have learned that to be the boss is to be right about everything. That creates a blaming or corrective environment. It’s good for protecting kids, but not for building adults and future leaders. Correct those things that harm the team or the greater good – the other stuff that you say “isn’t the way I’d do it” – just let it go.

You can’t control or correct your way to greatness.

Gorilla be gone!


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