About Tommaso Arenare

Based in Milan, I help investment banking, retail banking, infrastructure, and financial services clients reshape their businesses. I advise on CEO succession, leadership development, corporate governance, and board consulting. I am passionate about creating an impact and changing the world for the better. My work is a phenomenal way to do that. Before joining Egon Zehnder, I had nine years of corporate and investment banking experience, first in corporate banking with HSBC in Milan and then as part of Citi’s Global Relationship Banking team in Milan and London. Within Citigroup, I was part of Schroder Salomon Smith Barney’s European Investment Banking business and contributed to equity capital markets transactions for Italian companies. I then moved to the Equity Capital Markets desk of JPMorgan and continued to focus on IPOs, rights issues, and convertible bonds for Italian companies. I earned a cum laude Degree in Business Administration from Bocconi University in Milan. I am an Italian Chartered Accountant and have completed the International Executive Programme at INSEAD. I am passionate about improving corporate governance and board performance. I am married to Francesca and father of Benedetta (2005), Riccardo Giorgio (2007) and Vittoria Camilla (2016). I was born in Florence and currently live in Milan. You can also find me on Twitter and LinkedIn. Through my work, I have been privileged to connect with a large number of exceptional individuals. With those people, I share thoughts and keep a constant dialogue on themes I like and consider connected to my satisfaction: Leadership, Corporate Governance, the benefit of gender diversity (I have pioneered the #diverseboards hashtag on Twitter), unconscious misconceptions when talking about "career" and much more.

Three things a CEO need to consider for early integration and longer term success

A CEO’s integration in a new role is a crucial challenge, a key pre-requisite for longer-term success. Way too many CEOs have failed, with other CEOs succeeding only with far greater effort than they would have needed.

Most companies have huge room for improvement, in supporting the process and creating the conditions for a fertile integration. Yet, rather than focusing on what companies can do, I want to focus, briefly, on a few key things a CEO in a new role could do in order to maximise chances for a successful integration as well as increased personal fulfilment and satisfaction (most likely, also that of their shareholders over time).

Possibly even before accepting a new role, in any case very early on after accepting, a new CEO will want to do the following:

  • Identify key relevant stakeholders: so many times would CEOs succeed if they managed to identify key stakeholders in their new role. We need and want to map all relevant influencers that impact on the CEO’s chances for success significantly. Normally, this will range between ten and twenty people. Examples would include the Chair, most if not all board members, a few senior executives as well as some external constituents such as key shareholders. The CEO will need to map them carefully, in order to focus their efforts effectively and efficiently;
  • Connect with them, listen to their spoken and unspoken messages and prioritise them: connecting with relevant stakeholders helps the new CEO identify all key challenges of the new role. Listening to their spoken and unspoken messages will require shifting the focus from the usual, overwhelming attention to short-term, “harder” results to the longer-term, softer interpersonal skills, a crucial component of leadership. In addition, connecting wisely requires us to be able to listen to our counterpart, leaving proper room for them to express their needs and feeling. I have separately written about my view that 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. If CEOs manage to listen carefully to key stakeholders, they will also lay the foundation for successful and rewarding mentoring, for peer & board support, as well as for effective networking & introductions of relevant people. Building a fruitful relationship with relevant stakeholders will be the crucial gate towards a successful integration;
  • Define their own success, agree on a roadmap involving them as necessary and follow up: the final, easier element, once the above steps are well under way will be for the CEO to build a fuller, more effective “definition of success” which will include how the CEO sees own success over time, also on the basis of how stakeholders have interacted with them. That definition of success will be the result of such questions as: “In order for you to consider me successful in 12 months, what would you like to happen?”. Once this is clearly stated and in place, the CEO will need to seek for regular feedback from the very same stakeholders overtime, minimising the risk of negative surprises happening.

By connecting with key stakeholders and receiving feedback early on, the new CEO is fully prepared to align to an effective definition of success and start shaping the company’s dynamics successfully.

We will easily find out that for a CEO to build their own success over time the key is effective use of interpersonal skills, as well as cultivating and building fruitful relationships with a combination of leveraging on existing trust, 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

Leading by example, managing by command

A quick post, in response to this HBR post by Vineet Nayar.

Leaders lead by example, whereas managers manage by command.

In addition, a leader does not need to sit at the top of a hierarchical pyramid. Rather, a leader can even be “behind the scenes”, inspiring the team “from the back”.

Also, leaders tend to listen much before they speak. Leadership IS listening, rather than just telling. Most importantly, growing into leadership requires gradually rebalancing one’s set of competencies, being able to more than compensate with growing soft, influencing skills what we lose, over time, in terms of more “technical”, harder skills.

I might elaborate more on that. In the meantime, more on this, for a different look at leadership, can be found here: http://wp.me/p2mHJv-Y

Three useful thoughts so as not to avoid that difficult conversation

I wrote somewhere else in this Open Thinking that conversation is from the Latin word Cum-versare, literally turning (“versare”) together (“cum”). The goal of a conversation is being in sync with one another, physically as well as metaphorically. When this happens, a conversation bears fruit, as well as meaning and satisfaction.

At times, though, we fear to hold meaningful conversations. This happens just when those conversations would be needed the most.

A lot of conversations that need to happen simply do not happen as a result of fear.

We fear to disappoint, we fear to deceive, we fear to let someone else down. We feel that what we need to say may make the other person diffident, when not fearful. We feel we might jeopardise the relationship. Most of the times, this happens unconsciously.

When we feel we are postponing such a conversation, there’s a couple of things that could come our way to help us out of this unpleasant dilemma:

  • Listen to our emotions and “label” them: the first element is to acknowledge our own emotions. What is our fear? What is that can happen that we would like to avoid? What level of awareness do we have? What combination of feelings do we evidence? We want to “label” our emotions, give them a name. A lot of our tension will just ease out as a result of this acknowledgement;
  • Listen to the other person’s emotions and acknowledge them: listening is such an act of attention and generosity. Listening to the other person’s emotions means “making room” for them, letting them explain. This implies that we avoid interrupting, as well as that we  empathise with them even physically and with our body language;
  • Most importantly, we need to lead ourselves into assuming the other persons’ good faith. Very rarely do we doubt of our own good faith. Hence, when having a difficult conversation, we would be better off if we learnt how to assume, if only for the sake of the argument, the other person’s own good faith. In most instances, feelings are real, good faith is real. In other words, in most cases, when we think that the other person is not in good faith we are wrong.

The above three steps can do much to establish a proper ground for real empathy. When this happens, having “that difficult conversation” may in the end turn out so much easier than we had thought. A difficult conversation can result in a the key building block of a relationship of trust.

Trusting someone means relying on someone’s ability to hold even that difficult conversation instead of avoiding it.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

A few thoughts on leadership in a collaborative world

In a context of collaborative innovation, how does leadership change? How does leading interfaces with collaborating?

I look at leadership as a sum of hard and soft skills, which evolve during our life. Competencies are behaviours, ways of doing things.

In theory, we can do things with or without other people’s involvement. This is a first, important point. We can have non people-related (which we often call hard) competencies, where our ability to do things does not necessarily depends on interacting with others. For example,orientation to results (how determined we are towards achieving our goals) could be measured in situations where interaction is absent, if only for the sake of the argument. Other hard skills include all sorts of technical skills required for our job, plus a number of additional competencies such as market knowledge and even strategic orientation. In abstract, again, one’s ability to craft a business’ crucial strategic lines does not necessarily require immediate collaboration with other people. Implementing the strategy does.

Then we have what we often call soft competencies, or people-related competencies. These are ways of doing things which can only happen through relating to other people. It can be through collaborating with colleagues or influencing them (what we call collaboration & influencing) or leading and motivating a team (team leadership), or changing the way a group of people works (change leadership).

One of the simplest, perhaps most banal yet best kept secrets is that after a certain point, rather early on in life, hard skills start to decline in absolute terms. The very same me today is clearly far less results-oriented, all things being equal, than I was ten years ago. It takes me more effort to be updated, to reach a similar level of knowledge.

At the same time, “social”, interpersonal skills, by then, take off. For best-in-class talent, they continue to grow over time. From that point onwards, growth in soft skills more than offsets the decline in hard skills. The same me today, all things being equal, can be far more effective in interacting with others than I was years ago.

The sum of hard and soft competencies is a proxy for leadership, as well as for one’s satisfaction, and can be measured.

Both our leadership and our satisfaction grow, from a certain point in time on, if we are able to more than compensate a decline in hard skills through an increase of hard in soft skills. In other words, all of our incremental satisfaction, from a certain point on, depends entirely on our ability to grow interpersonally.

The key message of all this is the following: what we do is important, that’s clear. More important, though,is for and with whom we do what we do, whose needs we address through what we do. This opens up an entirely new element, which we’ve kept unconscious for so long. We live a life of overexposure to connecting, not the opposite. How do we sharpen the focus, then?

Growing interpersonally means becoming better at leading a team, but, even before that, better at collaborating and influencing people. Collaborating means connecting effectively, persuading, understanding, listening to their needs, identifying needs and selecting those we like to satisfy. All of this requires the ability to connect, and to do so in a wise manner, through careful selection. Selection is choice. Choosing whom we like requires thinking, open thinking, and listening, making room for other people’s needs.

Most of us would highly benefit from broader focus on relationship and connection.

Tommaso Arenare 

 @tommaso_arenare

This post is my contribution to “Making Weconomy 04 – Human (R)evolution“, an open access paper which can be found here.

Three dimensions for more effective leadership of #diverseboards: rethinking the role of the Chair

Even if with a margin for improvement, yet Boards are diversifying rapidly – in terms of gender, nationality, culture and outloook. The Egon Zehnder 2012 European Board Diversity Analysis signalled that the number of women Non Executive Directors had increased four times across Europe over the prior eight years. There are large countries (Italy is an example) where the number is growing even further. We believe this trend will also affect the US and gradually other countries globally.

In addition, we have observed that a significant increase in gender diversity typically translate into further diversity: diversity of backgrounds, diversity of geographies (with an increase in international board members), diversity of age (generally, younger board members sitting at the table will also increase the variety of perspectives).

As Boards become more diverse, differences create a huge opportunity for those very Chairs to leverage on them, learning additional competencies to draw in diverse Board members, build on their insights and ensure livelier debate and board leaderhip. In addition, new Non Executive Directors, joining Boards with ever broader diversity, carefully scrutinise how Chairs leverage their additional, diverse capabilities and competencies.

This change is rapidly making an impact on all key competencies of a good  Chair, even more so than on all other Board members.  Running the risk of oversimplifying, a Chair will need to adapt along the following dimensions:

  • Inclusive leadership & team effectiveness: in the new, more diverse environment, in addition to key interpersonal skills (such as collaboration & influencing skills, but also their Board Leadership, as well as their Coaching & Developing skills), a Chair will need to work towards greater inclusive leadership and team effectiveness. Leaders with a diverse team will face viewpoints that have not been expressed before. New generation Chairs will need to facilitate an inclusive environment in order to appreciate and combine the knowledge and experience of individuals with different backgrounds and viewpoints;
  • Listening & trust building in a more diverse environment: this is an additional and crucial component of a Chair’s ability to succeed when leading a diverse Board. Listening means the ability to suspend one’s agenda and judgement, making room for other people’s thoughts, ever more so in a more diverse environment. In the life of a diverse Board, listening implies 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. A diverse set of perspectives requires the Chair to be more skilled at facilitating discussions and soliciting input from members of the team that come from less assertive cultures or personalities. Chairpersons will find that they will have to seek the opinion of more introverted colleagues and they will need to facilitate and navigate the more complex discussions into a conclusion that all members respect, if not agree with. In some instances, this will imply the seeking out of a point of view, its recognition, and then the ability to keep engaged even those colleagues whose point of view might not have prevailed. Discussions among diverse groups will require higher energy to lead them successfully, avoiding excessive confrontation;
  • Dealing with unconscious biases: the Chair will need to influence the Board’s decision making process with the ability to establish effective communication channels with all board members, no exception. In order to do this,  broader diversity of the Board will also require that the Chairs learn how to identify and deal with two crucial unconscious biases which can hamper effective, independent decision making at Board level. They will to tweak some consequences of two unconscious biases through a little nudge. Similarity bias happens when we select people that are more similar to us, as opposed to people who appear more different. Evolution has fostered this trait, as a key manner to survive ever since the difficult times when we would live in the savannah, trying to escape from animals and all sorts of dangers. A “similarity bias” results when individuals are more likely to imitate cultural models that are perceived as being similar to the individual, based on specific traits (such, for instance, age, gender, geographical location and so on…). Similarity bias is even enhanced by our other bias, which we call snap judgement, whereby we unconsciously make up our mind on someone during the first milliseconds after we meet. The combination of snap judgements and similarity biases is the one reason why gender diversity (but also age diversity, geographic diversity and possibly many other aspects of diversity) is so difficult to happen without a little nudge. Effective Chairs will learn to nudge themselves towards overcoming both unconscious biases.

All the above requires growing levels of self-awareness from Board members and Chairpersons. The journey towards the benefits of greater diversity and inclusion at Board level has started. I am convinced that it will continue to be a satisfying and rewarding experience.

Tommaso Arenare

A quick thought on People and Purpose

A great  piece, by @TonySchwartz, about “What Gets You Up in the Morning?”, focuses on building our life full of “purpose”. It asks a challenging open question, with a comment:

So why are you doing what you’re doing? Few of us have ever been encouraged to ask that question. Why not make it the new mantra in your life – a question to which you return, over and over, as a compass for making better choices.

“What makes our life full of purpose?” is as good an open question as we can get.

People, not what we do, is my answer. Better, “Invest in connecting with people we like”, is my answer.

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

1. connecting through someone we trust: a good starting point is when we connect with someone through someone else we trust and who likes them. 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;

2. listening to others effectively: 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;

3. 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. 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.

Tommaso Arenare

“Senza dolore ma con tenerezza”

Quote

Cari amici, quelli di sempre
e quelli dei tempi recenti,
È l’ultima volta che posso dirvi
qualcosa, e lo faccio soprattutto
per dirvi grazie dell’affetto
che mi avete dimostrato.

Mi avete dato una gioia grande,
una forza che da sola
non avrei potuto avere.

Considero un grande dono
aver condiviso così tanto
della mia vita con tante persone,
è un grande dono essere parte
di questa comunità che mi ha
insegnato a credere nel Signore
e a farlo non da sola ma insieme
a tanti che come me cercano
negli incontri e negli avvenimenti
della vita quotidiana,
il segno della presenza di Dio.

Vi porto tutti e ciascuno
nel cuore, e confido di rimanere
nel vostro, senza dolore, ma con
tenerezza, perché la morte
è parte della vita e questa appassionante
avventura, che è la vita,
è il dono più grande
che ci è stato fatto.

Ricordatevi di me, davanti
ad un campo fiorito, a un fondale
marino, a una rosa d’inverno,
a un passerotto sul balcone:
sono tra le piccole cose che più mi hanno parlato di Dio.

Vi voglio bene, Elisabetta

Elisabetta Banchi Arenare
17 settembre 1944 – 13 maggio 2013

Buffett: “Women are a major reason we will do so well”

With the benefit of time, we might discover that Warren Buffett’s investment in the talent of women will be his easiest, safest and most rewarding.

Unconscious biases are the main reason to overcome if we want to reap all the benefits of gender diversity.

We have the “wrong” brain and the “wrong” education. We need a little nudge, to help us positively deal with the combination of snap judgements and similarity biases.

Great that Buffett is on board.

Tommaso Arenare

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