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

The tech industry in the US, #diverseboards and fostering merit in its own cradle

I am particularly glad to read this great article as it relates to the US and the tech industry, both rightly considered a cradle for merit and competency-based choices. In fact, focusing on increasing gender diversity at board level would be greatly beneficial for merit. Let me briefly comment on a couple of aspects:

  • In addition to valid and interesting research, as that from Credit Suisse and several more examples, selecting talented women for Non Executive Director positions is a phenomenal way to emphasise merit in the selection of Non Executive Directors.
    Even in countries like the US, or sectors as tech, which have considered “merit” as a driving compass in selecting people, the percentage of women on boards has barely moved past the 15% mark.
    Focusing on selecting more women can be purely revolutionary, as it will increase choices based on leadership competencies.
    Let me bring in the case of Italy. We have recently introduced a law, in essence requiring, since 12 August 2012, Italian listed or State-controlled companies to appoint a fifth (to become a third at the following mandate) of board members as part of the “under represented gender”. This law has been implemented earlier by a number of Italian corporates, during the Annual General Meeting season of 2012: exceptional women were selected. As shareholders were nudged by the law towards changing some board members, they realised they would be better off by selecting them on the basis of merit and competency;
  • Another great result was that overall corporate governance improved. As this law mandates for shareholders to change a number of board members, Italian companies have rightly taken it as a great opportunity to make better use of their Boards. Hence, some leading Italian global companies, such as Fiat Chrysler for example, implemented a smaller board, with a view to fostering its effectiveness.
  • As a final remark, let me repeat one of my mantras: exceptional female talent is ever more crucial, in one of those defining moments, as difficult as they are, where proper and effective use of talent and leadership can, and will make a difference for the better. More on this here: http://wp.me/p2mHJv-28 .

Tommaso Arenare
http://www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

Gigaom

In the mid-1950s, economist Harry M. Markowitz first described how investors could reduce their overall risk by filling their portfolio with securities that do not usually move in the same direction. As with all significant economic research, Markowitz (who was later awarded a Nobel prize in economics for his work in portfolio theory) proved mathematically what every good grandmother has known for centuries — don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Or, if you prefer to listen to your Sunday school teacher, take a look at what King Solomon, one of the richest men of his time, wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.”

Now what does this have to do with your boardroom? Plenty, if you read the new report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute. The…

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In praise of effective leadership and CEOs who can cast off

A stimulating and thought-provoking piece of Andrew Hill in the Financial Times aims at discussing “Rules of engagement for leaders on holidays”.

I particularly favour his view that

CEOs who do succeed in casting off (…) will benefit not only from the holiday, but from the improvement in mutual trust with their senior team when they return.

Establishing and fostering mutual trust amongs senior team members is a crucial mark of distinction for a successful CEO and a capable leader. Taking a good couple of weeks off can actually do a lot of good to colleagues if the CEO succeeds in empowering them properly and making them feel so.

This needs to happen, however, during the CEO’s entire tenure. Building a sense of delegation within the CEO’s team is at the same time very critical and quintessentially distinctive of a great leader.

I would even go as far as to say that the ability to take a proper break and cast off successfully (including properly facing emergencies or surprises) is a great indicator of someone capable to delegate and perhaps even someone good at devising, in proper course, a successor.

In addition to building trust amongst team members, Hill also very properly points out, in order for a CEO to be able to take a proper break, they will also need to be well-informed, so as to face emergencies effectively. Selecting how they can be well-informed is another more general competency of a good CEO. It is always a fascinating experience to see how good CEOs succeed in accessing an effective selection of instruments to guarantee they are informed. In this respect, personal relationship with key influencers is always a great tool for great leaders to ensure they access relevant info at the relevan moment in time. In every CEO’s relevant information space, we want to rapidly identify people we like and we trust, also as crucial sources of information, even in case of emergency.

In summary, delegation and personal relationship are key to a CEO’s ability to be a great leader, as they are for the CEO’s own ability to take a restful, effective and fully satisfying vacation break.

Disrupting wisely

Disruption as a source of value in someone’s professional history has been the subject of a number of recent HBR posts, including one from Whitney Johnson and one from Claudio Fernández Aráoz, an undisputed thought leader on the subject of making #greatpeopledecisions.

Disruption requires the ability to create a disconnect, learn and benefit from it.

Creating a disconnect requires awareness, courage and empathy: it requires awareness of our feelings and fears, as we initially often fear disconnects,  while we like dealing with the same and again; it requires courage to recognise our fears and move on, temporarily leaving our comfort zone, so as to grow it over time; it also requires empathy so as to put ourselves into somebody else’s shoes, being able to share our thoughts, listening and learning.

Creating a disconnect requires unconventional wisdom, being able to pause and think, taking the time to find people who inspire us, connecting with them and sharing thoughts with them.

Disruption is listening, creating room for those we like, asking open questions, then keeping silent so as to absorb as much “open thinking” as possible.

Disruption is being as innovative and open as our ability to connect to people who can contribute, share their voice, and again inspire us.

Disruption is luck, being open to luck, knowing that luck will play its role and not fearing it. Disruption is dropping “career” for “choice” or, as Gianpiero Petriglieri puts it, creating your own “work of art”.

Disruption is knowing how to look for the next positive Black Swan, as good as the people we like. Disruption means dealing with Obliquity, or looking for our next move knowing in advance that the only thing we know is that we don’t know what’s next.

Disruption is finding satisfaction in people we work with, rather than in what we do.

Disruption is connecting wisely.

Tommaso Arenare

Snap judgements, the Savannah and that “reply” button we hit too quickly

This is about identifying and avoiding wrong judgements we make as a result of an unconscious bias, dating back to millennia ago.

Such as when we say…

How come I was so wrong in assessing him when we first met?

Or even:

I wish I had waited a bit longer before replying to that email…

These and similar questions and observations come across so very often, when I talk with people about mistakes we make when we interact with people, select them or react to them.

Humanity is thought to have taken its modern form some 200,000 years ago. Back then,  when we used to live in the Savannah, in small closely knit family groups, most of our key decisions where about a “Fight or Flight” dilemma, when we would face dangerous animals or other dangerous human beings and we had to decide, in as little time as possible, if the best way to save our life was to fight or flight away.

A snap judgement, as the word implies, is our habit to make a decision about people, or reacting to people, unconsciously, in a matter of very few seconds (I would better say milliseconds) after we meet with that someone or we face a situation we consider as a challenge. A snap judgement is a very precious and important habit, which we have developed over many millennia. Over time, though, it has become highly dangerous if we can’t identify and address it properly.

We can change this to our benefit.

Let’s remeber that our brain has largely remained the same, after millennia of evolution. It’s the same brain which helped our ancestors make the right “Fight or Flight” decisions.

Think about today, though: our immediate reaction to that bad email we’ve received, or to that difficult situation we had to face during a meeting, or many similar situations, they all bring our brain back to the Savannah and our fight for survival.

But now we know.

We know that’s exactly when we need to acknowledge our inner feeling of fear, pause and take the time to decide differently. This may require, for example, postponing our decision to the next day, or perhaps involving a friend or colleague we like in re-assessing the elements with us, before we decide.

All of this can be far better than a snap judgement.

Let’s think about it next time we make a judgement about someone we meet or when we decide how to respond to a challenge we face, or when we select leaders for our organisation, as well as when we choose friends or partners in our daily life.

Yet, we may just need some extra time.

That little extra time will result into us reacting more effectively to challenges or selecting better, more talented people, who complement us and bring the added value of difference and diversity, as well as the benefit of far greater personal satisfaction.

Tommaso Arenare

 
 

Leadership, one Marshmallow and emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.

This is about Emotional Intelligence as a key factor in ensuring our success as leaders and in making “great people decisions”.

The marshmallow experiment is a test conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University and discussed by Daniel Goleman in “Emotional Intelligence”, his 1996 book. In the 1960s, a group of four-year olds were given a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not.

The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait, or to postpone gratification, hence with greater emotional intelligence, had a far happier and more successful existence by many different measures (starting, for example from scoring an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test).

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz is a great colleague and a top global expert on hiring and promotion decisions, repeatedly chosen by Business Week as one of the most influential search consultants in the world.

In a keynote speech at the World Business Forum in New York, Claudio demonstrated the importance of emotional intelligence in making great people decisions.

Inspired by the ‘Marshmallow Experiment’, Claudio presented the results of his own analysis of the three most important characteristics in potential job candidates. While the researchers from Stanford found a correlation between grabbing a marshmallow at the age of four and having behavioural problems in school or drugs problems in later life, Araóz focused on characteristics such as previous work experience, emotional intelligence and IQ.

He discovered that the best predictor of successful hiring was actually strong emotional intelligence. Even more so, lack of emotional intelligence was a very strong predictor of failure.

Awareness of oneself and one’s relationships is more important in being successful than either previous work experience or IQ. Emotional intelligence can help us predict failures in relationships, selecting the right people and in identifying great leaders.

Emotional intelligence is what we need to foster in ourselves and to look for in other people.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

In praise of asking open questions

This time, it’s about the privilege of asking good questions. It’s about the privilege of building trust.

Conversation is from the latin word Cum-versare, literally turning (“versare”) together (“cum”). It indicates the ability to sync with one another, physically as well as metaphorically, when we talk and communicate.

A good conversation happens through questions and answers. Too many times either we struggle to ask questions or, when we do, we ask wrongly.

We can change this, to our greatest advantage.

Closed questions, for example, are those which can be answered with either yes or no. Do you think I could do better? is a closed question

Open questions require a broader answer than just yes or no. How do you think I could do better? What do you think I could do better? are both open versions of the same question.

Any time we ask a closed question, we pay the price, the opportunity cost of not asking an open question. Only very rarely, in fact, does asking closed questions foster fruitful answers.

We’d better think carefully, before asking closed questions.

The opposite is also true: good, open questions are a prerequisite of many good, inspiring answers.

Our conversation partner will feel encouraged to open up, disclose more, share an indication as to how effectively I can do better. An open question and, more in general, an open way to communicate, facilitates satisfaction through effective and rewarding conversation, as we open up, we avoid feeling defensive, we share our thoughts and emotions more easily.

A good answer to a good question is the key building block of a relationship of trust. When I receive a good answer to a good question, I start building trust with my conversation partner.

Trusting someone means relying on someone’s good answers to our questions.

 

Tommaso Arenare

 

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare