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.

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

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.


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

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.