May 25, 2024 in Leadership & Responsibility

The Power of “Don’t Feed the Elephants” and the Full Spectrum Leadership Manual

Uniting Forces

In the ever-evolving landscape of leadership and organizational dynamics, two seminal works stand out for their profound insights and practical applications: Sarah Noll Wilson’s “Don’t Feed the Elephants” and the Full Spectrum Leadership Manual. Each of these books offers unique perspectives and tools that can transform leadership practices. When combined, they create a synergistic approach that enhances leadership effectiveness, promotes healthy workplace environments, and drives sustainable success.

Understanding “Don’t Feed the Elephants”

Sarah Noll Wilson’s “Don’t Feed the Elephants” addresses a critical aspect of organizational life: the unspoken issues, or “elephants in the room,” that can undermine trust, collaboration, and productivity. Wilson emphasizes the importance of recognizing, addressing, and resolving these issues openly and constructively. Her approach is grounded in psychological safety, empathy, and effective communication, all of which are essential for creating a transparent and inclusive workplace culture.

The Full Spectrum Leadership Manual

The Full Spectrum Leadership Manual, on the other hand, provides a comprehensive framework for leadership development. It encompasses fourteen distinct leadership styles—Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, Directive, Coercive, Servant, Transformational, Transactional, Charismatic, Laissez-Faire, Situational, and Adaptive Leadership—each with its strengths and applications. Additionally, it highlights four primary tenets: Emotional Intelligence, Ethical Decision-Making, Inclusivity and Diversity, and Social Responsibility.

Combining the Two: A Synergistic Approach

Enhanced Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

“Don’t Feed the Elephants” encourages leaders to address unspoken issues with empathy and understanding. This aligns perfectly with the Emotional Intelligence tenet of the Full Spectrum Leadership Framework. By combining Wilson’s techniques for identifying and addressing elephants with the development of emotional intelligence, leaders can better understand their team members’ feelings and perspectives, fostering a more empathetic and supportive environment.


Empathy in Action: Leaders can use the tools from “Don’t Feed the Elephants” to actively listen and validate their team members’ concerns, while the Emotional Intelligence framework helps them manage their own emotions and respond appropriately.

Creating a Culture of Psychological Safety

A key component of Wilson’s approach is creating a psychologically safe environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up about issues. This directly supports the Inclusivity and Diversity tenet of the Full Spectrum Leadership Framework. When employees feel safe to express their thoughts and concerns, it leads to a more inclusive and innovative workplace.


Inclusive Leadership: Leaders can integrate practices from both books to ensure all voices are heard and valued. Regular check-ins, open forums, and anonymous feedback mechanisms can help in maintaining psychological safety.

Ethical Decision-Making and Transparency

Addressing elephants in the room requires transparency and ethical behavior, which are also central to the Ethical Decision-Making tenet of the Full Spectrum Leadership Framework.

By combining these principles, leaders can make more informed, fair, and ethical decisions that are transparent to their teams.


Transparent Leadership: Leaders can adopt Wilson’s strategies to surface and discuss hidden issues openly, combined with ethical decision-making processes to resolve these issues transparently and fairly.

Adaptive Leadership and Flexibility

The Adaptive Leadership style within the Full Spectrum Leadership Framework emphasizes the need to be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. This is particularly relevant when dealing with elephants, as these issues often require adaptive solutions that are not one-size-fits-all.


Adaptive Problem-Solving: Leaders can utilize adaptive leadership techniques to address elephants by tailoring their approach based on the specific context and needs of their team, ensuring that solutions are both effective and sustainable.

Building Stronger Relationships with Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership focuses on serving others, prioritizing the well-being of team members, and fostering a supportive environment. This aligns with Wilson’s emphasis on addressing issues with empathy and support, enhancing the overall team dynamic.


Supportive Leadership: Leaders can use servant leadership principles to support their team through the process of addressing elephants, ensuring that everyone feels valued and supported throughout the process.

Practical Steps for Implementation

Identify and Acknowledge Elephants

The first step is to recognize and acknowledge the elephants in the room. This involves creating an environment where team members feel safe to voice their concerns. Leaders can use tools from “Don’t Feed the Elephants” to facilitate these conversations.

Develop Emotional Intelligence

Leaders should work on enhancing their emotional intelligence by understanding their own emotions and those of their team members. This involves active listening, empathy, and emotional regulation.

Foster Psychological Safety

Create a culture of psychological safety where team members feel comfortable speaking up. This can be achieved through regular team meetings, open forums, and anonymous feedback mechanisms.

Ensure Ethical Decision-Making

When addressing elephants, make sure that decisions are made transparently and ethically. This involves considering the impact of decisions on all stakeholders and ensuring fairness.

Adapt to Changing Circumstances

Be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. Use adaptive leadership techniques to tailor solutions based on the specific context and needs of the team.

Serve and Support the Team

Prioritize the well-being of team members by using servant leadership principles. Provide the necessary support and resources to help them navigate through the process of addressing elephants.

Case Study: Integrating “Don’t Feed the Elephants” with Full Spectrum Leadership

To illustrate the power of combining these two approaches, consider the following case study.


A mid-sized tech company was experiencing high employee turnover and declining productivity. Upon investigation, it became clear that several unspoken issues were causing tension and dissatisfaction among employees. The leadership team decided to implement strategies from both “Don’t Feed the Elephants” and the Full Spectrum Leadership Manual.


Identifying Elephants:

The leadership team conducted anonymous surveys and open forums to identify the elephants in the room. Key issues included lack of communication, unclear expectations, and perceived favoritism.

Developing Emotional Intelligence:

Leaders participated in emotional intelligence training to better understand and manage their emotions and those of their team members. This helped them respond more empathetically to employee concerns.

Fostering Psychological Safety:

The company implemented regular check-ins and open-door policies to create a psychologically safe environment. Employees were encouraged to speak up without fear of retribution.

Ensuring Ethical Decision-Making:

The leadership team made a commitment to transparency and ethical decision-making. They communicated openly about the steps being taken to address the identified issues and involved employees in the decision-making process.

Adapting to Change:

The company adopted an adaptive leadership approach, allowing them to be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. Solutions were tailored based on the specific needs of different teams.

Serving and Supporting the Team:

Leaders used servant leadership principles to prioritize the well-being of their team members. They provided additional support and resources to help employees navigate through the changes.


As a result of these combined efforts, the company saw a significant improvement in employee morale, reduced turnover, and increased productivity. The open and transparent culture fostered trust and collaboration, leading to a more positive and productive work environment.

To Wrap Up

Combining the insights and strategies from Sarah Noll Wilson’s “Don’t Feed the Elephants” with the Full Spectrum Leadership Manual creates a powerful framework for effective leadership. By addressing unspoken issues, fostering emotional intelligence, ensuring ethical decision-making, adapting to change, and serving the team, leaders can create a healthier, more productive workplace.

This holistic approach not only enhances leadership effectiveness but also promotes a culture of transparency, inclusivity, and sustainable success.

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