I have worked with business leaders who take the trouble to talk through alternative scenarios with their teams, to discover what others imagine could happen, and to think through ways of addressing the issues that might arise. That is one reason that these leaders are more effective than those who don’t think ahead in a rigorous way. In business, as on a boat, one can never know fully who is aboard and what they will be capable of as challenges mount. As conditions become difficult, people will hit limits within themselves, which will limit the entire team if the leadership does nothing to address them. Therefore, leaders who engage others to think through the extremes in advance, to help clarify their intentions and their capabilities, will allow people under duress to accomplish what otherwise seems beyond them. This is particularly important for enterprises in early 2006, a propitious time for venturing, when capital is cheap and unprecedented technologies and networks are available to be leveraged. The potential scope and impact of individuals, as well as the enterprise, are limited largely by imagination, courage, and the capacity to execute.
Looking back at my role aboard Coeur de Lion off Mexico, I realize that rather than struggling for hours with the computer, I could have been a more attentive and engaged captain, talking openly about my own background and risk tolerance, making it clear that I wanted to test the ship, and preparing the crew for whatever conditions we might encounter. When I take crews into dangerous territory in the future, on business or a boat, I will avoid behaving like a solo sailor, who willingly takes on risks himself but does not need to take others into account.
Maybe this trip only proved the Rolling Stones right: You can’t always get what you want. But I came to something more profound in the end — that the capacity to execute is limited by the risk tolerance not of any individual, but of the full group together. And if we do not find ways to take the greater risks together, we can never expect to achieve the rewards we hope for.
Reprint No. 06203
Eric Best (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the president of Best Partners SC (www.bestpartners.cc) and a former managing director of Morgan Stanley, where he was a global scenario strategist from 1996 to 2006.