Three steps in our journey towards building fruitful relationships

In her thought-provoking “For a Career that Lasts, Build Real Relationships” Harvard Business Review post, Whitney Johnson made the following comment (emphasis is mine):

As we connect and collaborate, give and take, we are evolving, emerging stronger and more capable. … as we invest in connecting, … we’ll be reminded that people are not only a precious commodity, they are a renewable resource.

I favour the concept of “Invest in connecting” strongly. #ConnectingWisely has been one of my favourite Twitter hashtags for long now. How do we select, amongst the thousand people we’ve known in our life, those that we like, those who can inspire us, those we find satisfaction in connecting with?

I had already written about writing those few names (10 to 20) down, in a moment of rest.
Whitney posted a stimulating reply to this point of view and a question to her Twitter audience:

This is about the very concept of identifying people we like and being open to the fact that everyone we meet might turn into a fruitful relationship, as long as we pay attention in choosing.

The following are just three steps in a journey towards relationships that are most likely to bear fruit:

  • connecting through someone we trust: a good starting point is when we connect with someone 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. 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;
  • listening to others effectively: alternatively, we might have good feelings about people we’ve met, 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;
  • listening to ourselves effectively: the whole thing boils down, in the end, to a more general, and much more difficult point: learning how to listen to ourselves and understanding whom we like. What we need is self-awareness, the ability to look deeply inside ourselves, even before than into the other person. Identifying fears, emotions, what and whom we love, what and whom we like and what and whom we don’t. This can only be earned individually, through our own introspective work over time.

In all cases, cultivating and building fruitful relationships requires 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.

Tommaso Arenare

“Never burn a bridge. Ever”

“Never burn a bridge. Ever. This world is small. That bridge will crumble you later if you burn it”.

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This quote from “Stop with the BS” sums up well why I liked reading this book and recommend it: it’s about “relationships” and how we can all benefit from pursuing what we like.

Shane Mac, the author, wrote it on a train ride from Seattle to San Francisco and back, over two days in March 2010.

In my profession, I have been privileged to connect with a large number
of exceptional individuals. With those people, I share thoughts and keep a
constant dialogue on themes I like and consider connected to my satisfaction: leadership, relationship, unconscious misconceptions when talking about “career” and much more.

In reading Shane Mac’s book one gets a feel of refreshing “Gen Y”
approach to life (“Don’t settle”, “Learn, learn, learn”…) and a bit of the
great pleasure of travelling on a train across America.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/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

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.

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

My next move, through Black Swans and Obliquity


What do you think I can do next? What “career move” do you recommend? How can I land that fantastic CEO job at company (or bank) XYZ?

Again, those are some of the questions I am faced with daily.

As simple as they are, they cannot be answered seriously.

Let’s see how we can take a different angle, open up a different perspective, by combining a few separate thoughts: that of a “Black Swan“, that of “Obliquity“, and that of a “much smaller, yet more precious list” I have discussed separately.

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 thy 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 move is that we don’t know what it is going to be.

Remember, though, that people, not what we do, will make us happy. Finding people we like, people who inspire, is therefore as unpredictable and as uncertain as the combination of Black Swans and Obliquity. Yet, finding and nurturing relationships will give us pleasure, stimulate our thinking, open up endless possibilities.

Hence, that “much smaller and more precious list“, our path to connecting wisely, is our way forward. 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

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare