Three steps in our journey towards building fruitful relationships

In her thought-provoking “For a Career that Lasts, Build Real Relationships” Harvard Business Review post, Whitney Johnson made the following comment (emphasis is mine):

As we connect and collaborate, give and take, we are evolving, emerging stronger and more capable. … as we invest in connecting, … we’ll be reminded that people are not only a precious commodity, they are a renewable resource.

I favour the concept of “Invest in connecting” strongly. #ConnectingWisely has been one of my favourite Twitter hashtags for long now. How do we select, amongst the thousand people we’ve known in our life, those that we like, those who can inspire us, those we find satisfaction in connecting with?

I had already written about writing those few names (10 to 20) down, in a moment of rest.
Whitney posted a stimulating reply to this point of view and a question to her Twitter audience:

This is about the very concept of identifying people we like and being open to the fact that everyone we meet might turn into a fruitful relationship, as long as we pay attention in choosing.

The following are just three steps in a journey towards relationships that are most likely to bear fruit:

  • connecting through someone we trust: a good starting point is when we connect with someone through someone else we trust and who likes them. People may ask to see me as they seek advice, or want to share advice, as well as thoughts and opportunities, as a result of someone else we trust who addressed them to me. In other words, someone else has acted as indirect builder of a bridge of trust towards us. Most often, this gives more than a reasonable chance that the relationship of trust we enjoy with that former person can easily be transferred to the latter person. If this is the case, this opens up the possibility of building a new and fruitful relationship which will give excellent results and satisfaction over time;
  • listening to others effectively: alternatively, we might have good feelings about people we’ve met, for what they have said, for what we have listened from them. This is more difficult, as there is no bridge-building of trust. Moreover, this requires us to be able to listen to our counterpart, leaving proper room for them to express their needs and feeling. This is lot more difficult than in the previous case. Our ability to listen can be practised and trained but it requires time, effort and willingness. Not least, we are exposed to the risk of making significant mistakes;
  • listening to ourselves effectively: the whole thing boils down, in the end, to a more general, and much more difficult point: learning how to listen to ourselves and understanding whom we like. What we need is self-awareness, the ability to look deeply inside ourselves, even before than into the other person. Identifying fears, emotions, what and whom we love, what and whom we like and what and whom we don’t. This can only be earned individually, through our own introspective work over time.

In all cases, cultivating and building fruitful relationships requires a combination of leveraging on existing trust, as well as on the ability to listen to others, and finally, but most importantly, the ability of listening to ourselves and to whom makes us happy.

Tommaso Arenare

Three things to look for in a successful Non Executive Director

All of us working for a better corporate governance have often been asked such questions as these:

How can we tell who is right for which board?

What are the key competencies that make a newly appointed Non Executive Director succeed?

Of the many talented people we can come across, who will make exceptional Non Executive Directors?

In most cases, the answers will depend on a number of circumstances in the kingdom of Obliquity and Black Swans, i.e. totally unpredictable events. Yet, identifying a candidate for a board search and assessing them against a specific situation can make the likelihood of success significantly higher.

What are the three things we look for in a Non Executive Director candidate?

With the risk of over-simplifying it, I would like to elaborate a bit on the following:

  1. Credibility: no candidate can have positive impact on a Board unless they rapidly build credibility with all relevant stakeholders. Credibility is built through a combination of the candidate’s collaboration and influencing skills, on the one hand, with their “harder”, non-people-related competencies, such as their technical background, their ability to contribute additional market knowledge to the Board and to the strategic orientation of the board itself on the other. Even if a candidate has already exceptional reputation to bring to that Board, they will need to build credibility with all relevant stakeholders, starting with fellow board members. to appreciate and combine the knowledge and experience of individuals with different backgrounds and viewpoints.
  2. Listening & trust building skills: this is an additional and crucial component of a candidate’s ability to succeed on a Board. Listening means, amongst other traits, the ability to suspend one’s agenda and judgement, making room for other people’s thoughts. In the life of a Board, listening means being able to remain silent for long, in order to gather sufficient elements for making up one’s own opinion. Also, listening means being capable of asking proper, effective, most of the time open-ended questions, both during the Board sessions and, even more importantly, between them. Listening implies the ability to wait and select proper timing to act, avoiding the risk of early reactions which may jeopardise long-time effectiveness.
  3. Independence & Integrity: once credibility has been built, through a process which can last from a few seconds in the initial meeting to a longer period of several Board sessions, the Board member will need to be able to use their judgement and speak up, possibly standing against the Board’s prevailing opinion in an effective manner. This is what we call integrity and independence. Being independent requires the ability to influence the Board’s decision making process both ethically and effectively. It requires, amongst other things, the ability to establish effective communication channels with fellow board members and, most importantly, with the Board’s Chairperson.

Credibility, listening & trust-building, independence & integrity are three of many aspects we see when we meet exceptional Non Executive Board Members. They may not be sufficient, yet they represent a strong signal of an emotional intelligent person, most likely to succeed even in a very demanding Board.