“The Wild Boars are a definitely an absolutely unique sponsoring opportunity”, states Nip, your marketing consultant from “The Fine Art of Transforming Emotions” (f.a.t.e.). Earlier this summer, after thirty years of your company supporting your city’s female cross-country kite flying team (“The Daredevil Wasps”), the team’s management cancelled the contract. The younger players, they said, refused to receive money from a company which had not yet published its “no plastics” strategy. Rumors say that the Wasps are just about to close a new sponsoring contract with a French producer of reusable period underwear.
“So the Boars are not worried about plastics?”, you ask. “They play online hamster battles”, says Nip. “Supporting them will give you access to a multi-million fan base of dedicated online video watchers willing to spend thousands of euros a year on virtual hamster equipment. Do you think anyone of them ever thinks about plastics?”.
You shrug your shoulders and look around the board room. Your colleagues are leafing through Nip’s presentation. Nobody looks at you. You sigh.
By default, like everybody, leaders are limited in what decisions they can make. Some limitations are physical: Apples fall from trees, water flows downhill, ice melts at 32° Fahrenheit, most days have 24 hours, and profit is revenues minus costs. Some limitations are legal: Killing and stealing are not legitimate means of making business, taxes and trade tariffs have to be paid, and monopolies are likely to get blocked at some point. In general, there’s very little point in fighting these limitations.
However, there are also other limitations – fuzzier, less straight-forward, with more shades of grey: Public opinion swinging from pro- to anti-consumption (and back again), politicians changing their toolkit from democratic to autocratic (and back again), press and publishers shifting blame and praise from left to right (and back again). A quote from Siri Hustvedt’s “The Summer Without Men” crosses your mind: “Correlation is not cause, it is just a ‘music of chance’”. What if Nip from f.a.t.e. is not listening to the music?
Recognizing limitations is one of your primary duties as a leader, neither sending the organization after feats that are physically, legally, or otherwise impossible – nor missing out on opportunities because you remain bound by the memory of limitations which have long dissolved.
You mumble to yourself: “We are all dying one by one. We all smell of mortality, and we can’t wash it off”. Then, you speak up: “What if we first finalize our ‘no plastics’ strategy? And then go and talk to the Wasps again? Maybe they change their minds”.
* This is the fourth of a series of blog posts exploring some uniquely motivating mindfully elaborated ramblings (s.u.m.m.e.r.) of mine, written during my summer vacation in 2019, investigating topics and trends relevant for leaders in today’s multilayered world. All persons, situations, and dialogues quoted are purely fictional, albeit informed by what I see happening in companies I work with. If you want to know what I do when I work, read more here and here [retrieved July 9, 2019].