In closing my series of posts about leadership, I’d like to share some suggestions coming from my personal experience which may turn out useful to those who would like to set themselves on the path to change into better leaders.
There is even too much literature about these topics. As the intent here wasn't to write a book, I have finally decided to to speak from experience, and to start by sharing just a simplified path forward, which I feel like recommending especially to young developing leaders:
1) Study with great intensity and work... also with great intensity.
2) Pick a few ideal leadership models by whom you might get inspired, and follow their examples.
I suggest that, first of all, you be inspired by great ideals and great leaders: e.g., the Pope, Lee Iacocca, Rudolph Giuliani, Gorbachev.
Secondly, pick some role models whom you may be able to observe more frequently and closely, in order to get concrete examples for your daily lives, and get inspired by them in your own actions and decisions. I can still vividly remember a number of great leaders whom I have had the privilege to see behind the scenes and to work for: Lucio Stanca, Elio Catania, Luigi Freguia, Marco Comastri, Erich Clementi, Mark Ferrer, Dave Donatelli, Greg Lock, Sam Palmisano, Bruno Di Leo, Rafael Brugnini, Jean-Philippe Courtois, Simon Witts, Ned Lautenbach, Nancy Hayes, Jan Beauchamp, Steen Lomholt-Thomsen, Loic Le Guisquet, Annie Eyt, Dave Callaghan, and many others.
3) Prioritize training experiences and change jobs - and even Company - frequently enough, in order to get to know different Industry Sectors, Nations, businesses, etc.
Personally, I have been really impressed by a recent speech by Oscar Farinetti (the founder of Eataly), who reiterated that:
• Optimism means thinking that everything can change.
• You must guide the paths of change, shifting the value of change from a sense of duty to a pleasure: we must change because by doing so we could really improve our lives.
• Highlight our uniqueness.
• Spend our life changing, because change is good, and make it possible.
I’m frequently mentioning the metaphor of the “relocation”. Making a move means losing something and gaining something else: getting used to sacrifice, to change.
We will never learn different cultures or ways of working, unless we go through the (initial) pain of living in a different Country or working for a different Company. In today’s globalized world, the “price” we pay for a relocation is enabling a unique learning experience, which may be worth pursuing several times throughout our lives.
This metaphor applies to investing in new skills - maybe through international experiences -, as well as to learning new cultures or different business practices.
In general, you need to work very hard on "you" by trying to transform yourself, adapt, learn the fundamental human virtues (industriousness, courage, perseverance, etc.) that are the basis of the three key pillars in the world of work: loyalty, reliability, professionalism.
Our world of work - as well as the future one! - is presenting new challenges which can be properly tackled only by having the right attitude towards life and work. We are in fact living in a world that is requesting us to be "always on", and this requires a continuous re-balance between work and family, to which we must dedicate quality-time, but also, selectively, quantity-time, making sure we do not miss the most important events in our family (births, large or otherwise significant family events, etc.), treating them as important business appointments.
The topic of the work-life balance is one I’m truly passionate of, and I will definitely dedicate a specific post to it.
Why is it so important to set a path forward? Everybody, but especially the younger generations - who typically claim everything at once -, should accept that the ability to get recognized and rewarded is a direct function of how much value they will be able to generate. This value is typically coming from two sources:
1) What is learned (e.g., products / services).
2) and especially what we become (personal skills).
As you may guess, the former is a necessary condition, but the latter is the one making the difference, and it’s about learning multiple skills: e.g., selling, recruiting great (and possibly loyal) people, organizing, promoting, communicating, etc.
This will make you a successful leader.
Once you are, you’ll then need to work on your “longevity” as a leader.
Peter Drucker’s golden rule applies here: "Management is about doing things right (being efficient), while leadership is about doing the right things (being effective).”
Among all the possible recommendations, leaders should remember they will never be perfect: the leader wins the trust when does not hide his/her doubts, according to Tim Leberecht in "Leaders Win Trust When They Show a Bit of Humanity”.
“Leaders were taught to hide vulnerabilities, minimize risks, to be coherent and balanced and to have everything under control at all times. But it is impossible to trust someone who is always rational, serious and controlled. If you want to earn the trust of subordinates, peers and superiors, you have to have the courage to present you as a person more complex. Which it means not having trouble expressing doubt. An intelligent leader knows that the right answers are more than one and therefore once a decision is taken, is not afraid to backtrack and change it if necessary. Especially when you move in complex and uncertain situations, adopt the mantra: "strong opinions, weak beliefs". Do not try to always be the visionaries and try to be more human. Express doubts, solicit different or otherwise alternative options and be willing to change your mind, even several times if necessary.”
I also believe - although I am not personally practicing it enough - in the importance of physical exercise. To simplify your lives, you may want to integrate exercise into your working routines, by, for example, reading "Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job", by Ron Friedman.
“Regular exercise can bring many benefits, from better concentration and more efficient memory to an increase in creativity and a decrease in stress; these, in turn, enhance work performance. And yet many of us think they have the time to do physical activity. Then, instead think of it as something you do for yourself, consider it part of your job. Here are some ways to incorporate a larger amount in the daily routine:
- Identify a physical activity that you enjoy. It is more likely to persevere if it amuses you. If the treadmill is not for you, try the tennis, swimming or dancing.
- Invest in improving your performance. Not only plan to "do some 'motion". Aim to become experts in an activity. Hired an instructor, enroll in a course and purchased clothing and special equipment.
- Become part of a group. Find an exercise regime involving other people. It can be more fun and sustain motivation.”
The good and bad news about becoming better leaders is that it’s a journey - as much as any path to self-improvement - which will take our entire life, and many discouraging experiences which we can learn from. As a great leader, Mahatma Gandhi, put it, we should try to “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”