7 Ways to Eat an Elephant

7 Ways to Eat an Elephant


At one stage, very early in my career, I was privileged to work alongside an amazing manager from whom I have learnt a great deal. What particularly impressed me about him, was the way he steered his team through challenging times. A few things in particular stand out in my memory:

1) Early warning

Whenever we were facing a challenge ahead, he would warn us. He never left us to take a hit by surprise. This enabled us to prepare ourselves mentally for what was coming our way and to plan for different eventualities. This contributed vastly to the amount of trust we had in him to lead us.

2) Encouraging unity over disparity

Throughout challenging times, he would constantly remind us that conflict is much more likely to arise more frequently when we are challenged by our circumstances. In the same breath he would encourage us to pull toward each other, look out for each other, encourage and support each other. We needed these reminders.

3) Managing overwhelm

One of his favourite sayings during times like these would be: “How do you eat an elephant? … Piece by piece!” It is easy to become overwhelmed when faced by the insurmountable mountain ahead to be climbed, but what I have found is that if we can just focus on the very next little step to be taken, we are often surprised at how much easier it was to get up there and enjoy the view.

4) Keep the balance

As important as it is to keep focus when facing a challenge and not to get distracted by easier or more enjoyable tasks, it is critical that you manage your own stress levels throughout. Maintaining your balance is a critical element of your resilience.

5) Let go

You do not need to do everything. We all have limited time available and if you want to work through everything yourself, you will find that you need more time than that allowed by the deadline. It is therefore critical that you learn to spend your time wisely.

Spend your time where you can add the most value – manage the most critical risks, provide input into the most critical and value adding projects. If a ball needs to fall, make sure that it is a very minor one.

6) Get it all out

It is good and sometimes needed to voice your frustrations and get it out rather than allowing it to build up inside of you. The most important thing however when you finally decide to “get it all out” is to make sure that you do it in a safe space.

For us, that safe space was (believe it or not) our manager’s office. We could go there at any time, close the door and just “get it all out”. He never thought less of us for doing so and he never held anything said there against us in future. “Getting it all out” in an unsafe environment can be extremely detrimental to your professional image.

7) Keep your eye on the goal

Focus on the required end result, the reward when everything is finally said and done. Our manager kept us energised and excited about what we could get to when we have successfully managed through the challenge. Maintaining that positive attitude kept us motivated to continue forward and obtain that winning result!

We regularly work with clients facing continuously changing and challenging times and to do this day, we apply these lessons with great success. May these 7 tips also encourage and guide you as you and your team face up to eating your metaphorical elephant… piece by piece!

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Su-Mari Du Bruyn
Su-Mari Du Bruyn is co-founder of Adapt To Change. She is a qualified HR practitioner and logistics specialist and is passionate about Continuous Improvement and people development. Through Adapt To Change she assists businesses to improve their business performance and better engage their staff. Su-Mari also recently launched her e-book business guide, The Power to Ignite. Available exclusively on Amazon.com for Kindle, The Power to Ignite is a practical guide to the powerful art of Continuous Improvement, sharing proven methodology and highlighting important dos and don’ts in engaging staff and improving business results. Find her on Google+