Elephants and Executives

Shortly after walking into a big new assignment, I received a phone call from one of our top executives. He said, “Ann, I just want you to know how very grateful and impressed I am with all that you have done for the company so far and I know that you will do a great job in this new assignment as well.”

Many levels below him at the time, I was more than surprised and flattered by this call. I thanked Exec X and assured him that his confidence was not misplaced.

He continued on to say, “You do need to know that you have an issue on your team. I expect you to take care of it. John (not his real name) needs to go!”

When I asked him what John did that brought him to that conclusion, he answered without hesitation, “Twenty-six years ago, he pissed me off.”

John, I found out in my first conversation with him, had sensed for years that he had fallen out of favor but no one would confirm it or tell him why. He had been a good performer for almost 30 years, earned the respect of his peers and his managers, and enjoyed his career but always felt it might have been more. I asked him, “What might you have done twenty-six years ago that would have “pissed off” one of our executives?”

I sat and watched as his thoughts journeyed back. The moment it hit him was apparent and he said,“Twenty-six years ago Exec X was a new manager. Twenty-six years ago is when I decided to leave his team.”

Two years later, when I moved on to my next big assignment, John was still performing well in his position. Two years after that, I had the opportunity to attend John’s retirement party. The huge room was filled from wall to wall with all of the people who appreciated him for all that he contributed throughout his career, showing him that the truth is, it is only a few who ever forget.

As you can tell from the bit I have shared, I did not fire John and I did move on to be promoted again (and several times more after that) even though I did not do what Exec X told me I must do. Once I understood the issue to be Exec X’s issue only, I never raised it again.  I did not call Exec X on his inappropriate request and he did not call me on my “disobedience.”  I gave him the gift of forgiving and forgetting just as he must have forgiven me my not doing what he told me to do.

Forgiving and forgetting unfortunately are rare gifts amongst elephants and executives.

I would love to hear your long memory stories!

About the Author

Ann Farrell

Ann Farrell, Corporate Success Coach, retired from corporate in 2006 to launch, Quantum Endeavors. She is distinguished as the only woman in her Fortune 100 Company’s 150-year history to rise from entry level to the top of the house. Her trademarked coaching programs are used by 35 corporate coaching firms. You can connect with Ann on Twitter as @AnnFarrell and on LinkedIn.


Ann Farrell


I could not agree with you more! Also critical for us as HR leaders is to recognize this when it is impacting someone’s career and support them and the organization through doing what is right.


Lois Melbourne

It is amazing to me who forgives and who doesn’t. I don’t think anyone forgets. I have people that we have released from the organization and they have continued to be friends of the firm or even strong supports later in their career. They recognize where they have may have not fit in the organization, but it doesn’t mean the organization is a bad place.

Others can be far less gracious over a perceived slight or a petty disagreement.

It is critical to ‘just let it go’ when people are not mature enough to be professional.


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