Giraffes, Context, and a Diversity of Voices - Part 2

After the US men’s soccer team beat Ghana in last year’s World Cup, Delta Airlines posted the above photo on twitter.

Cue twitter backlash pointing out the fact that giraffes do not live in Ghana.

As a result of this incident, Delta was accused of being everything from laughably naive to blatantly racist.  I don’t know what Delta's intent was in posting the photo, nor do I have intimate knowledge of their internal process for vetting social media posts. I do know that it was ignorant, offensive to many people, damaging to their brand, and completely avoidable. 

In part 1 of this series, I introduced this formula to reframe and simplify how we think about leadership: 

Understanding x Influence = Leadership 

In practice, this looks like actively learning about yourself, the people you interact with, and the context in which you operate, so that you can say and do things that generate value for each. 

It’s through this practice that you develop a critical aspect of your leadership capacity - your voice.

Your voice is what you choose to express to others.

It's based on your story and your perspective. You see, feel, hear, and perceive things. You learn things over time. You build knowledge and form your worldview. This is what informs your voice. 

As you form and understand your perspective, it’s your responsibility to find the most authentic, appropriate, engaging, and effective way to share it with others. 

Keeping the concept of voice in mind, there are three scenarios that allowed Delta Airlines to post this photo: 

1. No one who was responsible for creating and publishing this content knew that giraffes do not live in Ghana and that this post might be offensive. 

2. Someone did know that giraffes do not live in Ghana and that the post might be offensive and didn’t speak up. 

3. Someone did know and did speak up but was disregarded. 

Each of these scenarios are equally dangerous, and each points to probable systemic challenges at Delta:

1. There is a lack of contextual understanding. 

It’s really important that your team has the contextual understanding of your organization and the market it serves. Delta flies to Accra, Ghana.

2. Certain individual(s) lack(s) the capacity to speak up when necessary.

It’s critical that your team members speak up. This responsibility falls on each individual as well as the team, collectively. 

3. There is a lack of regard for certain voices on the team.

It’s crucial that all voices on a team are heard. It’s in the best interest of those who are tasked with making decisions to listen to the voices in the room. 

I’m not arguing that decisions must be made by consensus - I am arguing that in a diverse and complex world, valuable creative output depends on diverse and complex perspectives that are voiced and regarded. The success of creative teams depends on the ability of individuals to understand and influence.

Does your team have a diverse perspective? When’s the last time you wish you had spoken up? Are you listening to all the voices on your team?


This post is the second in a series that explores the relationship between leadership as a practice and the health of creative organizations.

Part 1: Why Leadership should be a Core Discipline of Every Creative Firm

Caleb DeanComment