Alongside many other things, as many of you know, I’m also a parent. The fact that I live with my 5-year-old son does shape a fair amount of how I structure my days, how I prioritise what I do, and how I think about life and its manifold meanings. Now, every day, all the time, all around me on social media, in newspapers and magazines, and in books, movies, and television series, intelligent (and less intelligent) things are being said about parenting. Many of them are true; many of them are nonsense; many are a bit of both, and many are neither.
These days, everybody wants to inspire. For some, this is a job necessity, such as for those leading handfuls, hundreds, or thousands of others who regularly need to be cheered up and motivated. For others, “being inspiring” is today’s equivalent of what was once called “being famous” or “being popular” and therefore a purpose in and of itself. For still others, to inspire means to realise the dream of transmitting their own dreams to followers waiting to be woken up from their respective dreams (or nightmares). Whether any of these descriptions fits your motivation or not: You probably wouldn’t mind becoming an inspiring person, would you?
I have a judgmental mind. As soon as something appears at the edges of its apprehension, it sets into motion its ceaseless mechanics of (re-) cognizing, classing, assessing, perceiving, exploring, absorbing, ruminating, embracing, consuming, (re-) forming, shaping, and spinning its tales of past, present, and future lives. And comes up with a firm understanding of the “something” that, just a moment ago, was nothing but a spark, a glitter, and a dewdrop.
Each of us is unique. Fortunately, many of us dwell in times and places where this uniqueness can be acknowledged, nourished, expressed, and honoured in manifold ways without us having to fear threats to our happiness, well-being, health, or lives: We can be left-handed, red-haired, or blue-skinned; we can drink red wine with fish, water with steak, or white wine with porridge; we can wear miniskirts, burkas, or tiger skins; we can write letters, type text messages, or send smoke signals; we can read newspapers, social media timelines, or tarot cards
I’m a huge believer in diversity. Not only because I’m convinced that the universe is a better place when there’s a balance between sports cars and handbags, soccer and yoga, trousers and skirts, swords and flowers, skilful means and wisdom, and whatever other dualistic distinctions we might want to come up with. But also because I’ve witnessed countless examples of discussions and decisions getting better when more perspectives are brought to the table, more critical questions are asked, and more counterintuitive suggestions are made.
Now, this is exactly where the problem starts
Earlier this week, I spent a day with more than 200 entrepreneurs. You’ll not be surprised to hear that they had picked beyond hip locations (including a conference hotel with – among other amazing features – guitars for rent), organised superb weather (including a light breeze to keep people chilled), designed a program that effortlessly outperformed any global corporation’s top management meeting’s very special edition (including a give-away backpack the usefulness of the content of which tricked me into thinking I had accidentally stolen somebody else’s), and chosen a motto that could’ve been taken straight from Plato, Dante, or the Buddha.
Life is a string of choices. Some are very intentional, like selecting ice-cream flavours on a sunny day, some are relatively deliberate like picking a job, a mate, or a car, and for some, our rationales appear blurred and we ourselves doubt our influence on our decisions, so for lack of better explanations, we call it fate, destiny, karma, or science. Still, for most situations, most of us have figured out how to make our choices in ways that make us feel consistent with who we think we are (or who we want to be).
Today, I’m not going to talk about the seemingly “big” choices in life (or business). Instead, I want to talk about a particular kind of choice that presents itself the moment we deeply care about an ideal, a cause, or a principle.
A few day ago, I had dinner with friends at an Indian restaurant in Hamburg. In the center of the restaurant looms a larger-than-life Buddha statue. A little into our meal, one of my friends pointed out that somebody from the party sitting right next to the statue had deposited their computer bag on the Buddha’s lap. We all turned our heads, smiled, and frowned. We had a brief exchange about the reactions that might be seen in a Bavarian Biergarten in case a visitor from Asia would hang their camera onto the crucifix on the wall.
A few years ago, “every one of us a leader” was the motto of the annual Values Day at McKinsey. Of course, the concept behind this phrase raises some practical questions of internal organisation (which might be the reason why it was only chosen for a day). More importantly, however, these days, the idea expressed here seems to be omnipresent in books, articles, blogs, and titbits of advice on social media platforms that deal with questions of organisational or personal development aka “Leadership”.
Every human being is born from a mother. By consequence, one could assume that relating to mothers is the most natural thing on earth. The dire fact it: It isn’t. Of course, there’s Freud and the Oedipus complex, there are the Beatles and Mother Nature’s Son, and there are mothers’ days, mothers’ little helpers, and mothers’ curses. A universe of stories and reasons why relationships with mothers can be – and often are – difficult. This is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about why so many of us are scared of working with mothers in a professional (business) environment.