Photo courtesy of flickr

Once upon a time, five blind men came upon an elephant.

“What is this?” asked the first one, who had run head first into its side.

“It’s an elephant.” said the elephant’s keeper, who was sitting on a stool, cleaning the elephant’s harness.

“Wow, so this is an Elephant!  I’ve always wondered what Elephants are like.” said the man, running his hands as far as he could reach up and down the elephant’s side. “Why, it’s just like a wall, a large, warm wall!”

“What do you mean, a wall?” said the second man, wrapping his arms around the elephant’s leg. “This is nothing like a wall. You can’t reach around a wall! This is more like a pillar. Yeah, that’s it, an elephant is exactly like a pillar!”

“A pillar? Strange kind of pillar!” said the third man, stroking the elephant’s trunk.  “It’s too thin, for one thing, and it’s too flexible for another. If you think this is a pillar, I don’t want to go to your house!  This is more like a snake.  See, it’s wrapping around my arm.  An elephant is just like a snake!”

“Snakes don’t have hair!” said the fourth man in disgust, pulling the elephant’s tail. “You are closer than the others, but I’m surprised that you missed the hair. This isn’t a snake, it’s a rope.  Elephants are exactly like ropes.”

“I don’t know what you guys are on!” the fifth man cried, waving the elephant’s ear back and forth. “It’s as large as a wall, all right, but thin as a leaf, and no more flexible than any piece of cloth this size should be. I don’t know what’s wrong with all of you, but no one except a complete idiot could mistake an elephant for anything except a sail!”

And as the elephant moved on, they stumbled along down the road, arguing more vehemently  as they went, each sure that he, and he alone, was right and all the others were wrong.  Whereas the truth is that an elephant is… an elephant.

How many times do we argue about the details of things when back to get a bigger picture would save a lot of debate?

Great leaders are able to bring people with diverse perspectives and personalities together to help them understand that although they may only experience a certain part of the elephant, it’s still an elephant.

The next time you debate with someone at your work, check yourself to make sure that you’re not at the trunk end when your peer is holding the tail.

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