“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.

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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 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

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


A much smaller, yet more precious list

In his thought-provoking HBR post, “Turn Your Career into a Work of Art“, Gianpiero Petriglieri sets the tone for real progress in how we all look at a radical re-thinking of what we would call “career”:

Whose life am I living? I’m sure you ask yourself that kind of question from time to time. What am I really good at? What is the purpose of my work? These are not new questions. Sooner or later, we all seek answers to them… Not only when we are struggling, but, paradoxically, when we are succeeding.

The challenge, then, is to find an “identity workspace“, where what you do “resonates with an audience”.

Audience is people. Again, 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.

People, not what we do, will make us happy.

Finding people we like, finding our “audience”, people who inspire. Nurturing relationships which give us pleasure, stimulate our thinking…

All of this requires the ability to connect, and to do so in a wise manner, through careful selection. Selection is choice. Choosing who we like requires thinking, open thinking.

When I face people who come to discuss similar matters with me, I often ask a simple question: “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 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.

Hence, an important next steps towards a world of connecting wisely is that of sharpening 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, in a moment of rest.

That much smaller and more precious list is a starting point for connecting wisely, a good base for building our audience, these are people I want to connect with regularly, people whose advice I want and need to seek regularly.

I want these people to know they are on my list.

Tommaso Arenare


What we talk about when we talk about “career”

image“How about my career? What’s my next career move?”

So many times are these the sort of questions I am faced with. We talk about “career choices”, “career planning” and so on.

When I reply to this, people listen with curiosity. “Do you know where the word “career” comes from?”, I ask so often.

I want to share a different perspective.

“Career” is from a Spanish word, “carrera”, initially from “carro”, which is “carriage” or “cart”. Hence, “carrera” makes me think, originally, of “the road for carriages“. A road for carriages has two tracks, dug by the continuous pressure of the carriages’ wheels. Two tracks, like a railway line. Out of the tracks, trains derail. No freedom to leave the tracks.

Let’s look back, now. Often, when we talk about “career”, we talk about a road we haven’t really, consciously selected. More than a road, a “track”. A very tight one, though: our parents started by selecting the “right” school for us, often from the nursery on to primary. Then, we believe we are the ones who choose, all the way through to college. Then, what? Our tracks lead us to the “right” undergrad, then the right MBA, double degree or else. All this, then, translates into the “right” job, with the proper “bulge bracket” Investment Bank, or Firm, or what.

At some point, though, our railway tracks end. We feel this, when we start talking about “the next career move”, when we feel we are not in control. “Why is it that no one calls me?”

We feel lost.

That’s where the element of “choice” steps in.

Choice means freedom. We are free to choose what we want to be and, most importantly, for whom.

All of us, particularly those who work in the field of professional services, we all need to ask ourselves this question. 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.

People, not what we do, will make us happy.

We can then forget about “career moves”, and the uneasy, fixed tracks, dug by carriage wheels doing the same, time and again. A world of possibilities opens up, the world of selecting the right people, the world of connecting wisely.

Tommaso Arenare