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How to Confront Gray Rhinos: Interview with Michele Wucker

By Anthony Taylor - May 13, 2020


On this episode of the Strategy & Leadership Podcast we're joined by Michele Wucker, CEO of Gray Rhino & Company and best selling author of The Gray Rhino. Michele has defined a gray rhino as a problem large and obvious staring you down, pointed right at you, and probably about to trample you.


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Michele and her firm seek to help countries, organizations and individuals confront these gray rhinos and figure out how to better manage such risks.

With a range of different experiences in financial journalism, media management, think tank management and policy writing, Michele certainly brings a unique and valuable perspective to the podcast.


Some of the topics Michele explained in our discussion include:

  • Why do people ignore glaringly obvious, large problems?

There are numerous human behaviours and biases at play when it comes to staring down large problems. Michele details why we use denial as a defense mechanism, and why it's often easier to look away then confront a gray rhino head on.

  • When people organize into groups

It's clear that when people gather in groups, such as in a workplace, human behaviours and biases are magnified. Poorly organized corporate governance and office politics too often discourage people from dealing with gray rhinos head on, taking risks or speaking up in meetings. 

  • When incentives can hurt us

In most western democracies, leadership terms are short. This means elected officials are incentivized to create short term 'sugar rushes' instead of dealing with large, obvious gray rhino-type problems. Pressure from shareholders, investors and boards also perversely incentivize people, making it harder to select the right decision.

  • The 5 stages of dealing with a gray rhino

Michele defines and explains the 5 stages of dealing with gray rhinos, including denial, muddling, diagnosing, panic and action. It's important to be aware these stages, even if they occur in a different order, so you can put yourself in a better position to make a good decision.


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For more on Michele's work and how you can get a hold of her:

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