Identify, Involve, Inspire: How Successful Leaders Build an Effective Relationship with Stakeholders

In my profession, I have been privileged to see many great business leaders succeed in their role.


Many traits mark a great business leader. This one I want to explore now:

How can successful leaders establish a fruitful relationship with all key stakeholders, which will in turn determine their own success in a new role?

We have already written that, in many ways, the week before a new job starts is crucial for its long-term success. Preparing our own analysis of the role and the company’s situation and mapping the stakeholders is the basis of a pre-work that anyone appointed in a position of leadership will need to do before the new job even starts.

Doing this effectively and with purpose requires, in essence, the ability to build effective relationships with the relevant stakeholders through identifying, involving and inspiring them. Let’s see how.

1. Identify

Let us ask ourselves first of all this question:

Who are the people that have a clear say in determining whether I am successful in the new role?

Part of them will be shareholders, part of them will be team members, part of them will be peers in and outside the company. In most cases, a significant group of those will include external stakeholders like influential journalists or industry experts.

When it comes to identifying stakeholders, a typical mistake would be to focus exclusively on colleagues or people that may have a sort of guidance or leadership role towards us. So, for example, a Chief Executive would only focus on the Chair of the board or on other fellow board members, as well as stakeholders, but without paying attention to their own team members. Instead, including our own direct reports is crucial. So many CEOs have lost their job as a result of not identifying crucial stakeholders amongst their own reports.

We want to map them carefully, thoroughly and prioritise them so that we get to a list of no less than ten and no more than about twenty of them. I often recommend a very simple spreadsheet, listing all of them by name, role, with one line of comments and “next actions” just next to their name. Most importantly, I recommend one column with a priority number next to each of them. This is a very simple tool which will help us keep our list fresh, change it, re-prioritise it, always making sure that we can add new stakeholders, remove some old ones and manage their expectations effectively and timely.

2. Involve

Once we have identified and prioritised them, we want to involve them, by doing the following:

  • Listen to them carefully. We want to learn from them and to make them feel involved in our own success. This implies, before we start in the new role, that we take the time for a personal interaction with each of them. We need to sit with them and ask such questions as:

If you were to consider me very successful in my role, what would you expect to happen within the next 12 months?

  • Inform & involve them regularly: as all of us, stakeholders want to feel involved and do not like surprises, ever less so if negative. Keeping them involved will require regular “check-ins” with each of them separately. This can happen by a conversation in person as well as by phone or other form. Yet, it will all depend on what type of relationship we’ve been able to build with each of them. Hence, the more we invest in building trust and relationships upfront, the better and the easier it will become to keep our stakeholders involved. Also, the type and form of involvement will depend on the level of priority that we will have been able to attribute to each of them.

3. Inspire

Great leaders become such also as they are able to inspire their own stakeholders. A very prerequisite for accepting a new leadership role is that the overall group of stakeholders who’ve engaged us needs to consist of people we like and we can inspire. Otherwise, we would have rather not taken the job in the first place.

Hence, building a relationship of trust and substance with them will need to be something we aspire to do as well as something we like to do. Inspiring our own key stakeholders will take our greatest ability to build bridges of trust with them, as well as nurturing our relationship with a regular dialogue of substance.

We will inform them, but we will also seek their advice when appropriate. In some cases, it will  be crucial to be able to show our own vulnerability, which can result into a sign of greater strength. As we dialogue with them, we will realise that we will also strongly contribute to influencing and defining the very same criteria they will use to define our own success. This will lay a much more solid foundation for our long term future in the role.

It is difficult to overemphasise how many great people have failed as Chief Executives (and even more so in different roles) for lack of thorough identification, involvement and inspiration of key stakeholders.

As we do the above, we lay the foundation for a much easier and more secure path to our own success as executives and leaders.

Tommaso Arenare

This post was also published on LinkedIn.

“Four reasons to quit your job” (& a fifth to find and keep a good one)

This is Jack & Suzy Welch’s “Four reasons to quit your job”.

It makes interesting reading.

Featured Image -- 861

I would add a fifth, perhaps even simpler thought, by just reversing the point. We want to achieve, and keep, a job that helps us address the one fundamental question, which I call “the positioning question”:

“Who do we want to be, and, most importantly, for whom? Whose needs we want to address in what we do everyday?”

This, we know, will relate ever more to “people”. We want to keep a job where we address the needs of people we like, as this will, almost inevitably, turn out to make us happy.

Good luck with that.

Tommaso Arenare

How a few weeks of vacation can turn into greater long-term happiness & focus

For many of us, August is a time for some rest, time to cast off.

How about making good use of those few weeks? How can we use our break in order to benefit the most and return to our daily work re-energised, happier and able to connect better and more wisely?

IMG_1728 Here, I want to focus on a few things that can stimulate our thinking and increase our focus (and happiness) once we’re back to our daily work after the break:

  • Think “people”, not “activities” or “things”: as we spend time to re-assess what we do and how we do it, the summer break gives us a wonderful opportunity to re-think our lives in terms of “people“, not “things”. It’s not what we do that matters the most. Rather, it’s whose needs we address, who we do what we do with. “It’s Not the How or the What but the Who“, as Claudio Fernández-Aráoz’s most recent book summarises so well.
  • Re-think our connections and make a list of people that inspire us the most: I often enjoy discussing with my guests about this and ask them: “How many people have you known, in your life?”. Answers to that vary from “A few dozen” to the bravest, who dare say “Maybe a thousand?” Reality, though, is a lot more. Most of us highly underestimate the value of relationship and connection. Someone living their life in professional services, since their mid thirties, is more likely to have known, in the broadest sense of the meaning, between four and in some cases as many as ten thousand people (think about all the people we’ve known during our school life, then the university, then our colleagues at work…). CEOs of large companies have known several tens of thousands of people. We live a life of overexposure to connecting, not the opposite. Hence, we need to sharpen the focus:“How many, of those thousand people, are those I like, those who can inspire me, those I find satisfaction in connecting with?” Let’s write those few names (10 to 20) down, on a piece of paper, in a moment of rest.
  • Act on this list and those people, connect with them, let them know they inspire us (and we care): that much smaller and more precious list is a starting point for greater focus (and happiness) in our daily life.  I want these people to know they are on my list. These are people I want to connect with regularly, people whose advice and inspiration I want and need to seek regularly, as soon as the break ends if not now. The few weeks of our summer break can thus open up an entirely new element, which we’ve kept unconscious for so long.

People, not what we do, will make us happy. If these few weeks of vacation help us realise this, they can highly increase our long-term happiness and improve self-awareness for many years to come.



Tommaso Arenare

Why the week before a new job starts is crucial for its long-term success

I have a week left to prepare before I start in my new CEO job, what’s the best way for me to prepare?

Many times have I faced extremely bright people, with a new appointment already in their hands, and such a question in their mind.


“I have been chosen, the Annual General Meeting will appoint me to the Board a week from now, I will be appointed Chief Executive, what’s the best way for me to use this week in order to hit the ground running?”.

Integrating in a new role happens as much before we start in the new position as it happens after we’ve started.

The answer to that question is then “Use that week you have in order to accelerate your integration as much as you can”.

These are the things I would do the week before my new job starts:

  • Prepare your analysis of the situation: think of how you see your new job. Prepare a thirty seconds description of your plan, what an investor would call your “equity story”. Clearly define the pillars of your strategy in simple and effective terms. “When I start as CEO, we will focus on … Our strategy will be based on… Make sure your message is viable, clear, simple and effective. Communicate it thoroughly, repeatedly, simply. Do this alone, in a time of relax and with your mind empty and free, but then discuss it with a couple of people you trust the most, who will act as your mirror;
  • Map your key stakeholders: ask yourself this question:

    Who are the people that have a clear say in determining whether I am successful in the new role?

    Part of them will be shareholders, part of them will be team members, part of them will be peers in and outside the company. List them, up to around twenty of them. Map them carefully, thoroughly and prioritise them. I often recommend a very simple spreadsheet, listing all of them by name, role, with one line of comments and “next actions” just next to their name. Most importantly, I recommend one column with a priority number next to each of them. This is a very simple tool which will help you keep your list fresh, change it, re-prioritise it, always making sure that you can add new stakeholders, remove some old ones and manage their expectations effectively and timely. You will dialogue with key stakeholders a lot more effectively if you do so. As you dialogue with them, you will realise that you strongly contribute to influencing and defining the very same criteria they will use to define your own success. This will lay a much more solid foundation for your long term future in the role.

It is difficult to overemphasise how many great people have failed as Chief Executives (and even more so in different roles) for lack of thorough identification and understanding of key stakeholders at the onset of their adventure in the role.

In doing the above, get some help from advisors you trust. You need a mirror that helps you focus on both. As you do the above, you will realise that a number of simple actions and decisions come to the surface of your thinking. This is what we call “Day One Decisions“. The few key decisions that will help you “hit the ground running”, and do so effectively, rapidly and securely.

These few days before we start, if we spend them well, will be a key foundation for long term success in the role. Be it a Chief Executive role, as well as any executive role, or, even, a Non Executive Director position. Working on accelerating integration in the role is key to succeed in the end.

As someone said, we only have one occasion to make a good first impression.




Tommaso Arenare


This post was also published on LinkedIn.

Egon Zehnder turns 50

This time is more personal. This time is about us.

This time is about a man, an entrepreneur and a professional who, on the 4th of July 1964, 50 years ago, at the age of 34, decided to set up his own business and established a Firm which bears his name.



My selfie with Egon, June 2014

50 years on, the story continues.

Many things make me proud to be part of our Firm. I won’t discuss them here. Those who know me would know.

I want to spend a word of thanks to the remarkable dedication, spirit and vision of Egon and all the Partners who have come before us.

Our Firm would be different without them, I would be different without them and without Egon’s decision, over 50 years ago.


Tommaso Arenare



The “Who” element, the “Female Opportunity” and a matter of pride

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz published “Great People Decisions” in 2007. The book has achieved global fame with fifteen international editions, emphasizing how important people decisions are for the success of one’s personal life as well as for the broader impact of leadership in the world we live in.

Claudio Fernandez-Araoz

I have been a proud Egon Zehnder colleague of Claudio since 2004. I am now ever more proud as I hold in my hands “It’s Not the How or the What but the Who“, Claudio’s most recent book that was released at the beginning of June 2014 during the celebrations for Egon Zehnder’s 50th anniversary.

It's not the How or the What but the Who

More will follow on the extraordinary leadership insights that Claudio’s forty-four short essays can provide the reader. If only for a short minute, in this post I want to focus on Essay 34, where Claudio describes what he calls “the Female Opportunity”:

Over the past few years, as I’ve traveled the world to speak with senior private and public leaders about talent issues,… I am often asked where I see the most opportunity. My answer is never a country, it’s a gender: women.

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, “It’s not the How or the What but the Who”, Harvard Business Review Press, p. 160


A couple of pages later, Claudio, whom we at Egon Zehnder had the privilege of seeing in action speaking at our Milan office to an audience of 80 women leaders in 2012, ends this chapter on the Female Opportunity quoting one best practice: Italy.

Italy as best practice for the "Female Opportunity"

Italy as best practice for the “Female Opportunity”

And he does so with specific mention to the recent history of Italy’s most effective legislation in favor of diverse boards, arguing in the very same direction (indeed quoting this very Open Thinking) as we have for a long time.

Women mean talent, positive change, better corporate governance and endless possibilities.


Tommaso Arenare

Sow seeds, give, build bridges: networking our way to happiness

I receive many questions about “networking”.

How can we make good use of our network?

What’s the best way to connect?

What  makes connecting an experience that leaves us happy and satisfied?

One of the fundamental misconceptions about networking is on its very purpose. Many if not most of us think networking is about “asking”, “exploiting” our relationships. At times we think we want to network in order to receive a benefit, we want to ask favors from our network.


IMG_3847 This very purpose is flawed.

Networking is about giving.

We give and receive happiness through giving to people we like and trust.  Networking is always about what I can do for my network rather than about what my network can do for me.

How can I help people get better, happier, more satisfied?

Good networking is like sowing seeds. When we sow seeds, we don’t know whether nor do we know where they will turn into plants and fruits. Yet we know that the more openly we will be sowing seeds, the more openly we will reap rewards in return.

We won’t know where, nor when: the fruits of networking happens through “obliquity” and “black swans”.

Black Swans (…) are large-scale unpredictable and irregular events of massive consequence—unpredicted by a certain observer.

Nassim N. Taleb, “Antifragile, Things that Gain from Disorder, Prologue, 2012.

Black Swans can be negative as well as they can be positive. Limiting the exposure to negative Black Swans and increasing our exposure to positive Black Swans is the challenge, then.

John Kay describes obliquity as follows:

If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another. This is the concept of ‘obliquity’: paradoxical as it sounds, many goals are more likely to be achieved when pursued indirectly. Whether overcoming geographical obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting sales targets, history shows us that oblique approaches are the most successful, especially in difficult terrain.

Obliquity implies that future opportunities can best be pursued indirectly. Black Swans imply that the only safe thing we know about our next occasion of happiness is that we don’t know what it is going to be.

Here are a few of the things I do when I want to make good use of my network:

  • write a letter to a friend or to someone in my network, just a note, a quick note, maybe a “thank you” note after a lunch together. Perhaps something else, yet something worth putting my handwriting on paper. This gives me an opportunity to reconsider that specific relationship, to enjoy the very fact that this person is part of my network;
  • consider something positive about someone I like in my network and call that person, write her an email, or maybe even just use Twitter or Facebook to show my positive feeling of appreciation about some achievement or some quality that the person has. This is another easy way for me to benefit from reconsidering and nurturing a relationship I have with someone. At the same time, this helps me connect with that person, help them realise how I appreciate some positive things about them;
  • build a bridge across two people I likeI might simply decide that I want to help two people in my network connect. This is one of the most fundamental things one can do the network. Bringing two people together, creating bridges across them is a great way of nurturing the network. But let’s be careful: this does not happen as a result of someone asking. This happens as a result of my desire to give. For them, for the two people I have helped connect, it equals to receiving, yet  not because they asked. Rather, just because they are part of a network where someone gives.

I have noticed this already: the wiser we are in connecting with people we like, the more will we be exposed to positive (and oblique) Black Swans. That person we like, whom we regularly talk to, seek advice and inspiration from, at a given, unexpected moment will come out with that fantastic thought, with that inspiring question, which will lead to our next opportunity, perhaps to our next job.

There’s no predictable limit to the power of relationship, the power of connecting wisely.

Tommaso Arenare

FT Innovative Lawyers 2013: Claudia Parzani

The FT Innovative Lawyers is a great award. I am so honoured that our “In the Boardroom” program was part of the reason for Claudia Parzani’s being acknowledged by the FT. In addition, I love to think that how women are changing Italy is only a beginning of how they will keep transforming the world for the better.

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: