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.

Live from Planet Paola

Claudia ParzaniOne of the ten winners in this year’s FT Innovative Lawyers survey, among over 600 participants, is Claudia Parzani of Linklaters, chair of corporate association Valore D and co-creator of In the Boardroom, an initiative she developed with GE Capital and Egon Zehnder to provide training and skills to prepare women for boardroom positions. Claudia also created the Breakfast@Linklaters network, featured in this year’s Client Service category.

Kudos to Claudia! I am proud to be participating in her boardroom program and honored to be in her circle.

Update & Correction (Oct. 17, 2013): post corrected to clarify that In The Boardroom was developed through collaboration among Linklaters, GE Capital and Egon Zehnder. The supporting member companies of Valore D can be found on this page.

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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

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 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.

How about a coffee together?

Shall we meet for a coffee? Or for lunch, even?

So many times are we all faced with those questions. In my profession, as a management consultant focusing on leadership, board and executive search, selecting how to allocate one’s time is a daily as well as a lifetime priority.

I find reading Sarah Peck extremely inspiring. This has been since the first time I came across one of her posts, several months ago. Her “itstartswith.com” is home to a number of very thorough and thought-provoking thoughts. One of Ms Peck’s recent posts, when she first tweeted it, sounded as follows:

Her argument: if I say “yes” to all the requests to meet up face to face, this will disrupt my time, making it hard for me to do what I like. Her argument continued, as follows:

I’d much rather do a phone call. 15-20 minutes, tell me what you need, let’s jam while I walk to my next destination. Better yet, send me all the research you’ve done in an email, let me skim it, and specify exactly what you want in clear language and how I can help you. If you tell me what to do, I can help.

My immediate reaction was agreement with how Ms Peck described the challenge (how do I say “no” when needed), in combination with a radically different additional point: more than just learning how to say “no”, our real challenge is learning when and how to say “yes” to that coffee.

Face to face interaction can be so much more effective in establishing trust and building relationship. This, however, on condition that we connect with people wisely. Hence, in a number of occasions, a face to face coffee would end up to be so much more fruitful than a 20 minute call or an email. The tricky aspect, though, is how to detect those instances. I have already written separately that 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 you’ve known during your school life, then the university, then your colleagues at work…). We live a life of overexposure to connecting, not the opposite.

Let me share three thoughts about how I try to decide when it’s time for that coffee:

  • We might have connected with those people asking for a coffee, as it happens most often, 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 asking for a coffee. 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. Hence, let’s find proper quality time and have that coffee;
  • Alternatively, we might have good feelings about them, 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;
  • Finally, though, there’s a more general, and much more difficult point. How good are we at listening to ourselves and understanding whom we like? What we need is full awareness of what and whom we like and what and whom we don’t. This may require a thorough introspection, years of psychoanalytical work or else. I have written a number of times about how we need to increase awareness of our choices and our inner feelings. This can only be earned individually, through our own introspective work over time.

In all cases, there’s 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.

There’s a lot, indeed, before sharing that coffee.

Tommaso Arenare

A year ago and another good example

It was a year ago, 24 August of 2011.

Steve Jobs wrote this now famous letter to the Board of Apple:

To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know.

Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

Steve

A year has gone. Three sentences strike me when reading this today:

  • “If there ever came a day (…), I would be the first to let you know”
  • “I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple”
  • “I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it”

Here’s an excellent “Progress Report”, one year later, by Fortune’s @adamlashinsky.

So many times we realise how difficult it is to be an example in stepping down after identifying and growing a successor.

Leadership succession is yet another area where Steve Jobs has reshaped existing paradigms, for the better.

This deserves to be remembered.

Tommaso Arenare