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The elephant in the room

Maureen Jordan
Thursday, December 17, 2009

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It’s hot in Dubai in June, equivalent to a scorcher here in Australia in January or February. You get fried staying out too long in the unrelenting sun. So having spent enough time in the comfort of air-conditioned souks, I decided to take my reserved place at a conference in the wing of the Hotel Jumeirah, where Peter (Switzer) was MC. The speaker line-up was great, and as a business owner, I’m happy to listen and learn. The take-home messages were excellent and here’s one I found particularly worthwhile.

I’m recalling the image of this speaker right now. He struck a fine figure of a man, tall and imposing. He had no notes but stood there, preacher-style, wanting to connect with the audience. Some of it didn’t get me in but this message did.

Describing his trip to India in some detail, he said he was determined to get a picture of himself with an elephant. He set this up well, showing slides of him on this safari. He wanted to send his sons a picture of him with the elephant, wanted to brag about it to his friends “look at me, close up to an elephant in the wild”. You know the type.

Then the magic moment happened, with the prized herd appearing out of nowhere. Amazing creatures. He was on the hunt for this trophy picture. He stretched his arm forward so he could take the photo of himself with the elephant in the background – proof he’d done this trip into the wilderness. But every photo he showed us on screen was one of him, big cheesy grin and no elephant. In each, you could detect a grey colour in the background but certainly nothing that could be identified, beyond doubt, as this extraordinary mammal. Every photo was the same, his beaming face all over the screen.

The moment had past. The elephant had gone. And all he had were photos of himself.

He said he reflected on his failure over the coming months. He wanted this photo but failed to get it. He couldn’t understand why. And then it struck him like a lightning bolt.

“You see,” he said reflectively, “I wanted this proof so much and I kept pushing myself into the picture, pushing me into the frame, smiling, intent on getting what I wanted. But while taking the picture, I forgot to focus on the elephant. I pushed myself forward so much that I was too big in the frame. My ego was dominating the frame, leaving little room for anything else.”

There’s nothing wrong with a healthy ego. The word ego comes straight from Latin and means ‘I’. Ego sum is latin for ‘I am’. Ego is not a dirty word, but what this safari man had was an ego out of control – he was egocentric, an egotist. And his dominant ego ended up denying him exactly what he wanted.

When you decide to go into a partnership – whether that be a personal relationship or a business – you have to be careful not to be too big in the frame. It’s possibly a lesson Tiger Woods is currently pondering. It’s part of the NSW Government’s problem – these so-called leaders have themselves too much in the frame and have forgotten about the voters who they’re supposed to represent and who they’re letting down. Same goes with sporting players who do things that not only ruin their own reputation, but their out-of-control ego does damage to their club, their fans and the game.

The moral, I guess, is if you want to be a loner then be that, but don’t purport to be a team player, don’t try to lead others or don’t try to create a family if your level of self-importance puts everybody in your life out of focus.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published: Thursday, December 17, 2009

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