Leadership and communication

Communication is paramount for a leader. Good leaders have always been excellent communicators. In the previous chapter we touched the essentials of communication: we know that your personal leadership style, and accordingly your personal communication style, are the only possible models for leadership and communication, not because leadership is divine and unrepeatable but because leadership is uniquely individual and despite the many modern attempts to sell you styles and methods, it remains uniquely individual. Exactly like a beautiful love story cannot be repeated, a magnificent leadership story cannot be repeated. However, what makes a leader can be learned so that it will produce innumerable unique leadership stories.

     Yet, once we have understood the leader’s higher approach to communication in which the leader basically has to communicate inspiration in order to create that deep trust and relationship that will eventually fully involve people in the leader’s vision, we can now observe what is leadership communication in an organization in the day to day running activity. Being communication such an important aspect of leadership, it is beneficial to dedicate some time to this level of detail. Communication is so important for an organization that I should dedicate an entire book only to this theme, but I will try to condense here a few principles.

     A high level of communication in an organization is an advantage, both for internal processes and for external relations. Whatever the message, it passes clear and strong, whatever the brand, its identity and role are well defined. A high level of communication is an advantage also because it secures that the leader’s vision is clearly understood, discussed and shared, it tightens the bonds between leader and team, it accelerates the team’s ordinary activities and problem-solving processes and it facilitates the organization’s adaptation to constantly changing environments and situations on the way to the goal. 

     While communication was initially considered by many a soft skill, today communication skills are becoming a major criterion to evaluate a leader, starting from the hiring process. A leader with a high profile of communication skills is capable of motivating, inspiring and generating trust within the group. These three vital elements for an organization require from the leader both action and adaptation. 

     The adaptation effort of the leader requires constantly taking into account the emotions, the acumen and the knowledge level of the receiver in order to align the communication level to the receiver. Further effort requires the leader to constantly keep all doors open, no matter the communication or non-communication level of the receiver. The leader needs to learn to listen. Listening doesn’t mean simply giving time or words to the other, it should instead be considered a technique. Listening means letting the other understand that you are thoroughly following their approach and that you do not have preclusions or pre-judgements. Listening also means that you have time to take mental (or physical) notes of the relevant points arisen by the other, understand how the other structured his or her approach to the situation, and dedicate your answer not to the details but directly to the structure of the other’s reasoning. The listening process allows the leader to observe attitudes and behavior, ideals, anxieties of each member of the team, aligning the leader’s message accordingly. The adaptation effort by the leader relevantly contributes to building trust between leader and team. 

     The leader’s action is based on the information the leader acquired during the listening process and during the process of connecting the team to himself or herself and to the vision. By observing the team’s reaction to this ‘stimulating’ process, the leader can obtain relevant information regarding the team, their approach and competence.

     The leader’s action consists in establishing and nurturing appropriate principles, discipline and develop a sense of belonging to the organization and responsibility toward the project. The leader’s tools here are trust and appropriate communication. A leader should never aim at communicating principles, responsibility or belonging as concepts. In fact, they should never even be mentioned. They are the natural consequence of a team tightly running toward a common objective. The leader aims at the final result, the vision and the action necessary to reach that target and the common effort to reach it. 

     The leader’s action requires controlling that the communication process is continuous, ensures the correct atmosphere to promote and facilitate understanding and constantly alternates both a formal and informal approach: while the formal approach is a slow process that regards planned moments of sharing of the information, the informal approach is a fast, direct approach that often brings to surface issues difficult to communicate in formal situations, both ways. The leader should always encourage and accept informal communication and, if possible, use his or her communication skills to convey the issues at a higher level in the formal communication. 

     The distinction between formal and informal communication, though still valid, is progressively phasing-out in favor of a unique, essentially direct, communication approach, which does not consider useful separating levels. This phasing-out is accelerated by new communication technologies. Institutions or Governments are slower than organizations to follow this change even though they are relying more often in new technologies and social sites, adopting accordingly their peculiar language. The language of communication technology and software tends to uniform everybody to this simplified and direct communication style, removing the formal/informal distinction.

Virtual teams’ communication

     Virtual team are growing fast and spreading in organizations. Leadership of virtual teams should have a separate consideration. Virtual teams or organizations face particular challenges, the most relevant being in my view geographical, temporal, cultural and organizational challenges. It is clear that the leader cannot guide the team in the same way as a traditional group.

     A virtual team has the advantage that members can be picked up anywhere in the world. Sometimes high-profile competencies have higher negotiation power with the organization and are less available to move. This in fact brings an advantage to the organization which, through a virtual team, is able to hire the best competency in the world and appoint a high-profile team, on the other hand the disadvantage for the organization is that the team ends up scattered around the world. This disadvantage can be transformed into an opportunity for the organization. The geographical challenge brings a temporal challenge which limits the team’s interaction opportunity to each individual’s time zone. These two challenges bring along the question of the availability of the leader: traditionally the leader should be available to the team and in regular contact. I don’t see any problem in these challenges since they can be compensated with a strong and enhanced focus on the objective and the charisma exerted by the leader. As for cultural diversity this is an issue that, for instance, top US organizations already addressed effectively and that can be further addressed by a leader supporting a strong organization, or project, identity. This develops a sense of belonging and recognition in all members of the team, potentially solving the cultural gap generated by a virtual team. The gap can also be addressed by a company policy that pushes for an enlarged multicultural team that definitely smooths out cultural diversity. Finally, organizational challenges should be addressed by the leader using his or her charisma and vision: the leader should project all team members towards the future and the objectives. This approach moves everybody’s focus in the appropriate direction, compensating organizational challenges. In conclusion, the reinforcement of relations through a stronger feeling of focus, a stronger project identity, a stronger sense of belonging and cultural inclusion, actually determine an advantage for the project and for the organization.

     Communication is always interrelated to leadership and a leader should always have an open and fluid approach. Communication should always adapt to the intellectual level of the team but should consider this level is constantly changing – maturity of the team, ability to handle complex situations, understanding of the target and difficulties related to obtaining the target, ability to respond to emotional influences, dedication, reaction to new variables in the team’s balance, and so on – communication should adapt constantly and accordingly to the situation. Taking into account all the above, it is clear that one major skill of the leader is improvisation: it allows the leader to handle all the possible variables, expected and unexpected, that occur during the journey. Improvisation is a world in itself that requires high competency and knowledge of communication skills from the leader, coupled with self-confidence. A leader using appropriately improvisation is able to communicate with an authenticity that no other communication technique can reach, deeply involving all the team.

     Leader’s confidence should be considered a major driving force in communication. The receiver immediately senses this and the foundations for an open and correct communication process are laid. 

The Change factor

The keyword in the activity of a leader is ‘change’. Actually, the very secret of leadership is all in the leader’s knowledge that the world is permanently unstable, moving, changing. For so many people this understanding is unbearable, going along seeking stable landmarks and often setting up a steady life is a comprehensible and legitimate lifetime goal. A well anchored yacht in the middle of the bay during strong winds is mostly associated with a feeling of safety. Whereas the leader would head for the open sea, adapting his or her sails to the wind’s conditions (in heavy weather a boat is always more secure in blue water rather than near the coast, even if at anchor). If the desire of many is finding steadiness in life, the leader knows this is an illusion, life is constantly changing. Some of this permanent movement can be predicted but a good part of it is completely unpredictable. What makes the leader different is that he or she has found strong personal stability. There is an inner stoutness in the leader that allows the leader to accept the everchanging life and feel at ease in this setting. How leaders relate to change is key to understanding how deep and qualitative their leadership is, for a thoroughbred leader sees change as a natural element, permanently affecting his or her life. Change is good for a leader. From an evolutionary perspective these individuals that have found a strong inner stability and self-consciousness are in fact the best equipped to take on an ever-changing environment, to immediately detect the specific characteristics of that particular environment and change, and to enact an adaptive strategy and behavior. This is what the wild and winning animal constantly does, this is what the prehistoric and winning man constantly did and this is what the modern leader constantly does as opposed to those unable to detect and adapt sufficiently fast to change. Probably for this reason destined to lose and left behind in the evolutionary process. Of course, this attitude from a modern leader, directly shapes the future of an organization.

     Endurance to change is the most attractive and necessary characteristic of any leader. Like a sailor in rough seas – you will forgive me this last comparison with seamanship – moves completely at ease in the midst of a tempest as if it was the most natural of things to do, exactly knowing what he has to do and totally undisturbed by the roughness of the situation, the leader is perfectly at ease in a changing environment, planning and anticipating each move based on the existing conditions, undisturbed, swiftly taking moves onboard the organization, with an unparalleled elegance which comes directly from relaxedness and spontaneity. 

     Endurance to change, whatever the conditions, is probably one of the most charismatic aspects of a leader, this attitude attracts people who see in the leader a strength of its own, an inner stability and a consciousness, that triggers the beginning of the leader-follower relation and process. This relation starts not only because the leader has a clear vision but also because the leader acts like someone who has a clear vision, and everybody is immediately attracted by this possession of qualities, self-confidence and absence of hesitation. As a consequence, they want to go the same direction.

     But charisma is not an item you find in a museum. It is an active feature of everyday life. People sense charisma at all levels starting from the language of the body. Charisma dialogues directly with instinct but still, it needs to dialogue, otherwise it would be useless like sending out a message in a bottle with written ‘I am leader’. 

     The charismatic attitude of the leader needs to communicate. No doubt here is a solid link between leadership effectiveness and the leader’s communication ability. After all, leadership involves a relationship between individuals and this relationship is put into practice through communication.

     Charisma attracts and influences, qualitative communication seals the bonds. We have talked enough about charisma. Influence is, quite simply, the direct effect of the leader’s charisma. The word influence comes from the ancient Latin influĕre, whose meaning is ‘flowing inside’: the attitude of a charismatic leader flows inside people, enlightening them to the leader’s vision. It is a completely natural process that begins as the relation between leader and follower bonds. this process can be learned but, as we’ve seen, not with external influencing techniques which are marginal, rather by developing one’s own inspiration and pursuing one own’s vision, which will eventually make the leader charismatic and thus influencing. Communication is key to leadership, there is no leader without communication. 

     The leader should have two communication aims and in relation to these the leader should develop the communication strategy:

  1. Communicate himself or herself;
  2. Make others participate to vision, action, passion.

     A leader’s communication constantly works on two separate levels: a primary level which expresses essentially the leader’s inspiration and a secondary level which expresses strategy and action. Whatever the situation and the ongoing discussion these two levels should always come out clearly at the same time. For instance, if you’re discussing with the team of a technical issue, nonetheless the primary level will be clearly conveyed along with the technical discussion. A good leader communicates at both levels anytime, even during a coffee break talk. The primary level communication is essential, it is a mind opener, it inclines the listener toward your course of action, it prompts the listener to move autono- 

mously along that course. 

     Communicating the self means being fully transparent at any cost and at any risk. Simply be yourself. Not a friend, not a father, not a colleague but a leader, separate from the group but involved in the group. Genuineness is the fastest and most effective communication technique. This will bring your inspiration exactly at the center of the floor and will naturally attract and arrange the team in a circle around your inner stability and the truth of your project. Your words will then only confirm to listeners what they are already understanding. The team will constantly find in your approach to the discussion and through the words you use a ‘continuity’ an ‘attachment’ to your vision and the course you decided, which they will want to share. Any discussion, obviously including critique or doubt, will then be positive and functional to implementing the project. It all starts from your inspiration.

Communicating your vision, making others participate to your action (the second communication aim), means constantly relating any conversation at any level to the wider project. Everybody involved needs to know they are working for a change that requires several steps, not only the one currently in discussion. In a way, the duty of the leader is to take the inspiration of each individual in the team away from the single issue, by giving the example personally. As the single issue is being discussed, the souls of the team should all be projected forward towards the achievement of the project, they need to constantly see the whole project, to share maybe with less overview but still share as much as possible of the vision. This completely changes everybody’s approach to each step, improves by far the organization’s results, sets the mood of the discussions at a fully shared level, directs thoughts towards the results. This approach is also effective in terms of removing common high-level communication problems. The leader’s vision can be flawed by background noise (contingent problems which alter the message to the team), bias, uncomplete understanding (for example cultural differences within the team) or misunderstandings determined by personal issues of each member of the team, operational or technical misunderstandings. In these cases, it is always the leader’s responsibility to make sure that the message reaches out exactly as it was intended and if it does not, it is the leader’s responsibility to reformulate or adapt the message so that his or her vision clearly reaches each listener. This is a game changer but can only happen if the leader constantly exerts a silent influence on the team, taking everybody towards his or her vision and the change it brings. 

     Enthusiasm is the key instrument both for the primary level communication and the secondary level communication. When an influential leader speaks to you, even before you begin listening and rationally render the thoughts expressed, you feel chosen and you understand that you have been given a special opportunity to go along with the leader. One of the key elements of involvement is enthusiasm. A leader is enthusiastic and sparks enthusiasm in those participating to the project. The word enthusiasm comes from the ancient Greek ‘en’ and ‘theos’ which means having the gods by your side, inspired by the gods. Here god is intended as spirit. Enthusiasm has nothing to do with optimism, which is a sort of smiling confidence on the future and hopefulness in the success of a project. On the contrary, enthusiasm often bears no smiles and no expectations. Enthusiasm is a strong, sometimes even frowned, determination in a leader’s actions, that arises from a vision. That vision gives motivation and inspires others to roll up sleeves and get to work because the idea is right, the change is good. Risk is always involved in enthusiasm because an enthusiastic leader knows he or she is taking a new path and is moving in uncharted territory. But it is not a gamble, it is the uncertainty of pioneers on their way to the shining sea. Enthusiasm bears the spirit of adventure. And that is why it is a trait of the leader.

The Personal communication Model

     The above arguments inevitably bring us to the choice of communication model for a leader. Productive com-munication is not a one-way process. It is a trust building operation that progressively brings each listener toward you, in terms of opening their ears to your words and sharing your concepts. Your message should not only be received, it should be shared. The leader should always be direct, there should never be any filter in the words of a leader. Pass your vision straight as it is. The optimum in communication is the transfer of your thoughts and emotions, without any possible filter, from one individual to another individual. Let them react with surprise to your words for straightforward as they are even when describing emotions, let them think ‘what is he saying? What is he doing?’. Let them remove all barriers by them-selves as they instinctively realize you are talking your soul. They will be drawn towards you and will want to stay with you and understand what you are saying. Then you can explain as much as is necessary, you can adapt your language to the other as much as it is required, but always start straight, unfiltered. 

     We know that there are different leadership styles. We know that leadership styles are mainly defined by the way the leader relates and communicates to the team. The effectiveness of the transfer of information from one individual to another determines the effectiveness of a leadership. Throw away all you have learned about leadership styles, behaviors and techniques. Your style, your model, is you. The moment you approach somebody fully direct in communication, is the moment your leadership is mostly effective.


We have seen that vision is actually the very first step of a leader’s action, it is the moment in which all energies come together for a common mission: the accomplishment of the project. There are three elements that go tightly together in the leader’s action: Charisma, Influence and Communication.

     The word charisma derives from the Latin charisma, which in turn derives from the ancient Greek χάρισμα, from the word χάρις ‘Grace’, and indeed charisma is essentially a state of grace in which an individual may find himself or herself. It is a sort of supernatural, enlightened, connection with life that has its origins in the full consciousness of self and full awareness of the journey to take that the leader developed. This state of grace, despite the importance of the word, is not at all a theoretical status, rather we are talking here of a very practical condition. Everybody has felt this grace at different points of their life, it is a sort of supreme well-being or happiness originating from the feeling that you are connected with the world, that you understand yourself and feel fit for what is around you. It maybe starts around your twenties and it happens a number of times in your life, occasionally, unexpectedly. On the way to become a leader, it also happens at the end of the ‘awakening process’ I’ve described in the first chapters of this book, when you learn to remove the unessential, begin to look inside yourself, find your connection to the world and direction of your journey. 

     The other side of charisma is the unique connection between the leader and his or her ‘followers’ that can yield extraordinary performance and accomplishments. This level of performance is however not reached or controlled by the leader, but rather is the result of the ‘special relationship’ that builds between the leader and the followers, of which both the leader and the followers are equally responsible. This special relationship begins with a behavior by the leader and an instinctive recognition by the follower, who immediately recognizes a set of attractive values in the leader’s behavior. These values determine an opening towards the leader and the development of a first connection which will then progres-sively develop into the leader-follower relation as the follower shares and makes his or her own the leader’s values.

     Typical charismatic leadership behaviors are: a strong identity which descends from having a vision and a clear idea of the journey towards the attainment of this vision; willing to take calculated risks that go beyond the status quo; openness to transfer his or her identity into a comprehensive and value-bearing collective identity; high confidence in him or herself to accomplish the vision which passes on to high team confidence to reach objectives; high performance expecta-tions. These behaviors are indeed attractive to followers in the sense that they instinctively attract attention and interest from the follower, who is then inclined and willing to establish an open communication channel with the leader. Starting from this precise moment the game is not anymore exclusively in the leader’s hands but a relationship building process begins, in which leader and team put equally important efforts. This process will go through a number of steps, mainly by instinct, that begin with listening to each other, having an empathic attitude from both parts, displaying reciprocal recognition including the recognition of each other’s limits, sharing of values. When this process completes, the leader-follower relationship moves to a higher level, which is affinity: a spontaneous liking between the two, based on sympathy intended as it is in the original ancient Greek meaning of συμπάϑεια, composed of σύν ‘same’ and πάϑος ‘feeling, passion’. The common goal is the base for the development of affinity. That is the time leader and follower relationship crystallizes into a unique relationship in which both fight for the same vision and although this vision was originally inspired by one, it is in fact not anymore the leader’s vision but it is the team’s vision and while the leader will be considered as the originator of a project, in fact the project becomes the team’s, who will fight for the accomplishment by themselves. 

Visionary genius and Operative talent

     Charisma has a particular feature, it is fluid, constantly and dynamically changing to adapt to the situation. It moves and evolves with the owner’s inspiration. An individual who exerts his or her charismatic effects on others will constantly change behavior during the process of crystallization of the relationship with them, without being affected in identity, values and vision. When a new vision is instilled in others to the point that they see it and fight for it as if it was their own, also the leader moves forward to a new stage of the relationship, becoming the element of the group who not anymore seeks recognition, no matter how much he wants to change the status quo, but that inspires, guides, maintains the team’s cohesion and adjusts the course when necessary. Similarly, also for the follower the relationship is fluid. If in the first instance the attraction towards the leader’s charisma constitutes a stimulus to activate the whole process of building the relationship with the leader, in the second instance the followers ‘acquires property’ of the leader’s vision and project, to the point of not only fighting for the accomplishment of the project but also actively and constantly contributing to the course of the project and the possible adjustments it requires. But it has to be made clear that, despite the attempts of certain recent literature to lessen differences and establish a sort of equivalence between the two, leader and follower will never operate, and will not even ever feel, on the same level. There will always be a ‘vertical’ alignment between the two and of which the two will always be conscious, otherwise they would break the effectiveness of all the relationship. The leader is and will remain the ‘visionary genius’ that inspires charismatically a project, while the follower is the ‘operative talent’ that accomplishes the project. 

The Charisma factor in sailing

     I am aware that sailing for instance a 60 feet sailboat may sound very intimidating to the novice sailor, but it really shouldn’t be. Let’s take a brief look at the nine key roles on board, considering that each role is vital to the performance and safety of the yacht.

     The boat Captain has the overall responsibility of the boat, its rigging and equipment. The captain is responsible for taking the whole crew through the maneuvers, boat performance, crew’s security. The captain always has the final word in any situation, after having discussed it with the rest of the crew when necessary. The captain is not necessarily the Helm on a racing yacht.

     The Tactician’s role is to evaluate sea and wind conditions and take the boat around the racecourse as fast as possible according with the weather conditions. The tactician takes into consideration several factors as wind and sea conditions, crew’s and competitor’s ability, tide, boat’s characteristics and more technical details such as Vmg (Velocity made good), the speed and the angle at which the boat runs downwind on the racecourse.

     The Helm conducts the boat through the racecourse, taking into account the tactician’s suggestions and the captain’s evaluations, ensuring the boat performs at its fastest at all times.

     The Main Sheet is the person that trims the main sail and makes sure it deflects wind constantly with the best angle, in order to produce maximum power at all times.

     The Head Sail Trimmers, one per side of the boat, tail and trim the head sail (front sail) constantly seeking the most efficient angle to produce maximum power. When the boat goes through the tack, they are also responsible for releasing the sheet on one side and loading it on the other, as well as maneuvering more technical sails like the Gennaker.

     The Bowman is the person in control of all the sail hoists and drops.

     The Pitman is an extension of both the bowman and the mast man and is responsible for all the running rigging which comes into the cockpit.

     The Mast man, usually physically very strong, has the duty to assist with the fast hoist of sails during maneuvers.

     The Ballast are crew members that move from one side of the boat to the other to maintain the boat as flat as possible, you often see them sitting on one side of the boat with legs outside the hull.

     What has all this to do with leadership and charisma? Each crew member in a racing sailing boat has enough knowledge to cover whichever role required. They anticipate the captain’s thoughts, the tactician’s choices, the helm’s fine trimming of the boat’s course. They know what the leaders are doing even before the leaders start doing it in almost all situations. Of course, the captain, the tactician or the helm will add that extra value which is that particular intuition no one else could have had and that may be the gamechanger that defines the winning crew. But again, all the crew knows exactly what the leaders are doing and could easily substitute them, if not for that particular intuition that’s only in the pocket of the leader. The same is with the leader-follower relationship once the process is crystallized and they are heading towards the finishing line. The leader’s charisma is all in his or her visionary genius, which has the respect of the rest of the team, just as much as the follower’s talent to translate into action and operate towards the shared goal has the respect of the leader. Both know they can interchange roles to some extent, and both know they are necessary parts of a whole.  

     No matter how talented the followers, the leader will continue to be considered apart from ordinary men. The leader has exceptional, even supernatural powers, that enlighten others through his or her charisma. These supernatural powers should not only be preserved by letting them untold and surrounded by their natural magic, but they should be pursued by sort of shedding a mystery aura around the leader. The leader’s ‘distance’ should always be appreciated and preserved for the benefit of the whole team. A leader awakens others, shares a vision and takes them towards boundaries considered impossible before. The leader has a romantic role that should not and has not to be diminished because it sets a high benchmark for the team that influences their performance. 

     It should be noted that society’s values and expectations constantly change and evolve every few decades and we should always be committed to truth even if this may cost us dislike or aversion from the many. My commitment to truth requires to highlight that if we have passed several decades around the 1970’s in which standing out, exceptionality and anti-conformism were an ambitious value to pursue, we are now traveling through a few decades in which ‘standing in’, being good and conformists has taken over as a predominant ambition and maybe the excesses of the previous inclinations determined and justify the excesses of the current inclinations. Yet these are ordinary fluctuations of society’s values that constantly occur each few decades. Scholarly research, often involuntarily and unconsciously, adapts to these fluctuations, in recent times determining for instance a particular attention to a mitigated and lessened role of the leader and his or her primary attributes such as charisma. Literature subtly reflects this tendency but don’t let yourself be misled by trends destined to disappear in a few years. Trends are always interesting but should not be taken too much seriously. 

     Charisma is a predominant definition of a leader. It is tightly connected with the ‘awakening process’, which is that individual initial process that takes a leader to remove the unessential, look inside, find the connection to life and find inspiration. This process triggers the others’ sixth sense and activates an irresistible attraction. Charisma dialogues directly with instinct.

The Journey to Leadership

Leadership begins inside yourself. That is where we are going to focus our attention. In North America we use the word ‘longing’, which means yearning, an intense feeling or desire for something. Longing is an invitation to move forward, to travel to reach something. In Portugal and Brazil, for example, they use the word ‘saudade’, which means again a vigorous desire for something, but with a special emphasis on the idea of missing something, melancholy here dominates. Saudade is an invitation to search for something inside of yourself. In the first case we are seeking to move somewhere, in the second case we are seeking to fill or fulfill something that is missing. Whichever the case, both words have a magic quality. They project you forward, they urge you to progress towards the future, either in terms of movement or in terms of inner quest. Yet, both words also share the notion of missing something, as if you will never really feel complete and fulfilled without this progression to a new and far away frontier. 

     I call this the melancholy of leaders. It is, in fact, one of the very few common traits you will find even in the most diverse leaders of any time of history. A sort of surge towards an undefined horizon, a need to fulfill something inside, that a leader recognizes so fundamental as to become the meaning of a lifetime. However we should be clear on the meaning of melancholy: in the case of the leader it is not a state of reflective sadness, but it is a state of active and positive ‘restlessness’ that urges you to move forward and pervades you of a feeling of sadness and incompleteness until you have started your journey and move towards your horizon. The leader dedicates each single part of his or her life to this inspiration but, you should know this since the beginning, the leader is not working in a clear and identified direction. An inspired leader is a leader that is seeking a direction yet to understand. 

     Inspiration is what makes the leader and it is an intense desire for action that develops strongly around the longing for something. Inspiration gradually crystallizes into a vision and eventually into a decision.

     Leadership is not for all, true, but the good news is that leadership is not divine, it is something you will find and build within yourself. In the next chapters we will move forward together in this unchartered territory.

     The way to start our journey into leadership is the simplest: take a walk. If you like trees and forests I would suggest to buy yourself a fine pair of outdoor shoes. Leather, fabric, whichever material you like. Put on your new shoes and head out for a long walk through the woods, for instance a full day by yourself. Don’t worry if you have no trees near your place, the point here is nature. Take your time. Listen, smell, touch, look (let’s keep behind taste for the evening when you get back home). You are a part of all this nature. Breathe. Stay focused on nature and free your mind. 

     The very first thing to understand here is you are walking by yourself in unchartered territory. There are no formulas, no instructions, no secret alchemy to become a leader. And there are no rules. Trust me, the more you will understand about leadership and the more you will read about leadership, the more you will realize that there is very little information you need. It’s yourself, only yourself you have to concentrate on. You need to understand this very clearly because that’s where you are heading.

     Leadership begins inside ourselves. Hence, the first thing we need to understand is that in order to see clearly inside ourselves we have to get rid of the superfluous, the background noise. It is of vital importance to understand that we need to leave behind our shoulders the dust of life, the wake of our past experiences and head forward. It’s not an easy task.

     Michelangelo Buonarroti, protagonist of the exceptional Italian High Renaissance period, lived through the late 1400 and the first half of the 1500. Michelangelo was an incredibly versatile artist that produced some of the best artwork of all times along with his contemporary Leonardo da Vinci. Just take a moment to think that the wonderful David sculpture that you see in Florence, probably the most famous of all times, measures 4.34 meters in height and is made out of a single block of white marble. A single block. As for all his works, Michelangelo was renowned for dedicating time to carefully choosing the right block of marble in the small town of Carrara. The reason for dedicating so much time to the choice of the block, is in Michelangelo’s own words: ‘The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material’.

     And this is exactly what we are doing with leadership, we have to chisel away all the superfluous and leave it behind to bring out the essence, our inspiration. What is it that you really want? Where is it that you really want to go in life? Who are you? These are some of the most difficult questions that you can ever ask yourself, just consider that for so many people these questions go unanswered for an entire lifetime. The significant element here is not the answer – because it’s not that leaders have answers that others don’t – the point here is the questions and the inspiration you find in them. The clarity, the ability to clearly see what is life. You need to remove the superfluous and look straight at yourself in the eyes, that is the moment in which you will be able to break the glass of conventions. Behind that glass there is life, in all its unpredictability, in all its mystery, in all its rawness. That is your field of battle, that is the place where you will be fighting for your vision. In this field you will find no instructions, no established practices, no guidelines. You are in the territory of pioneers, a leader fighting for his or her vision. When you begin seeing those unanswered questions before you, that is the moment your inspiration starts, your desire for action begins.

     What is it exactly that we are leaving behind, that we are removing as superfluous? Conformism. All those accepted behaviors and established practices that make the world what it is, that run your life as it is. One thing you should really understand is that the world has nothing to give you. There is no hidden secret to pursue. Don’t fall in the mistake many fall in, to think that somewhere there is a magic splendor in life and that if you keep on searching you will ultimately find it and grab it. It doesn’t work like that. It never worked like that. The magic is inside of you and your inspiration, and it is when you begin to transform that inspiration into action, into change, that the world begins to reward you with all the magic. Find courage, believe in yourself and pursue your own myths. That is exactly the moment in which nature, the universe, begins to gather around you and helps you achieve your inspiration. Its then that you will discover the magic of life.

     Remove accepted behaviors and established practices and you will discover that your mind will almost be born a second time, there are almost unlimited new ways to see what is in front of you and that is the moment in which you begin to transform yourself into a leader, into someone that has a new vision and that sees life for what it is and is conscious of how it works, that wants to bring a change. 

     Leadership is a process that takes you to a new interpretation of the context and a new ability to pursue your vision. Leadership takes you to unconventional understanding and makes you think different.

     When your journey takes you to that clarity of mind where you begin to see the other side of things, and you begin to look inside yourself, not around yourself, for the solutions, then you will discover that leadership is fluid and everchanging. It is not a status, a way of being. It is a constant challenge within yourself to remain free and see clearly.

     But it all begins with that undefined inspiration and that feeling of longing.

     The journey to remove the superfluous and clearly see inside yourself is probably the longest part in the process to leadership. You have to accept that there is more in life than what you see and that ‘more’ is not somewhere in the world, it is precisely inside yourself. You are called to bring that ‘more’ to the world. 

“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” 

William Shakespeare – Hamlet

     By the way, the first time you will participate to a high net worth individuals business meeting, – it’s always a business meeting even when it’s not – one of those meetings where you may expect to find one or two authentical leaders, take a look at the shoes. You will be impressed by the enormous, excessive attention given by leaders to shoes. Almost as if they symbolize the effort, the road each leader had to travel inside themselves before reaching the freedom of leadership. They all have a love story with shoes. Don’t go for fancy or too classical shoes, try straightforward and elegant English or American shoes, they have the magic to catch a complacent smile and open doors by themselves for you.

Humility and leadership

Humility, still today, is a challenging topic when it comes to leadership. A muscular and masculine, fearless, risk-taking leader is still what is widely recognized as an ideal leader by many. The winner shines at life, has the ideal look, touches perfection; the loser is humbly dark, looks hesitant and doubtful, knows perfection doesn’t exist in this world. In a competitive corporate environment, especially when we talk of the Western approach to business, this simplified version of the winner, all muscles and independence, more easily represents the Darwinian positive selection of leaders. Additionally, popular press seems to have a passion for the leader intended as a superhero figure in a solitary role, that gave rise to the success of a company. It’s understandable. In the essentials of survival, since prehistoric man, if I beat fists against my chest and talk aloud, there are more chances that I will convince everybody I’m the big bad guy, the one who makes it. It appears however that some evolutionary time has passed since prehistoric man set the rules of the game and maybe an astute, less muscular guy has already made it while I’m still there beating my chest to show everyone I can make it.

     Humility can be considered a positive self-awareness and desire to pursue personal development in the wider context of life. Humility implies the individual has consciousness of a greater whole than the personal accomplishments and the individual has consciousness of interdependence with others. The consequence of this is a heightened sensibility about oneself and the relations with others as well as an active engagement with the context.

     Reading carefully the above paragraph you actually find the definition of a winner, not a loser. Humility is in fact an element of strength not weakness. 

     The fact about humility is that it opens the doors to seeking and consider the opinions and ideas of others as well as constantly taking into account the context. This has consequences on the behavior of the leader and the relation with the team. Humility ensures the authenticity and the reliability of the leader’s vision, which is anchored to reality and has appropriate expectations; humility ensures that the leader relates with the team open-mindedly, asserting and pursuing the vision but also involving others and valuing their opinions; humility ensures the leader understands each member of the team and dedicates time accordingly with each member’s requirements, in a constructive dialogue aimed at improving the project’s efficiency; humility ensures that the leader is consciously acting as a role model to the team, enabling the team to have an always available mentor and enabling the team to emulate the leader; humility ensures the leader is always responsive to the team’s issues or viewpoints; humility finally ensures that the leader, having a high level of knowledge of the team’s capabilities and of the project in the context, is able to strongly motivate each member of the team, stimulating exactly where is needed. 

     There is a strong nexus between humility and leadership. A humble leader has a very precise cognition of his or her strengths and weaknesses and this cognition, as we saw, opens to a wider understanding that is useful to the leader. However, humility should never downgrade to modesty: the leader is not on an equal footing with the team, leader and team play on separate fields and both need to know this. The improved availability of the leader, the leader’s understanding of each member and the fact that the leader’s behavior is free from excessive self-consideration and excesses in general, must not trick the reading of the situation: humility enhances the leader’s sensibility but this enhancement is strictly functional to the requirements of the common project. The leader is not a friend nor a father, the hierarchical relationship is fully maintained and communicated. 

     The leader’s humility is perceived by the team as an additional quality of their leader that activates better understanding and better relations. The effect on the team is an improved commitment to the project and improved receptiveness to the leader’s requirements, improved trust in the leader’s authenticity. One of the most important effects of the leader’s humility on the team is trust on the leader’s competence and probability of success: a humble leader is nor a dreamer and neither someone who is overestimating a project or the group’s capabilities, a humble leader is someone who has put the project into reality, has previously evaluated the project’s feasibility in the context and understands the team’s capabilities in relation to the project.

     In conclusion, humility is a higher sensibility to the context, to the self and to the team and in this sense, it is actually a tremendous advantage for the leader. Nevertheless, humility should be used very carefully, the medicine should be dosed with care, especially to those that still associate humility with some sort of weakness, totally missing that it actually is a very powerful ingredient. 

     From the leader’s side humility is healthy, it helps recognize leadership as an ongoing development practice. A leader has the humility to realize that learning and development is never done and that not all answers are there with the leader. This approach encourages the sharing of ideas and advices also for the personal benefit of the leader. Furthermore, humility encourages that you search for solutions outside the organization and the project, opening up a whole world of possibilities.

     A leader is entirely and personally involved in the organization he or she is working for. Tackling the most demanding situations requires that you draw on everything you have learned in your life. Sports, personal experiences, interests, emotions and intuition are all on the table, personal involvement is inevitable. And when you draw from such a broad field of experiences there is a very high probability to strongly innovate processes and solutions. This approach is extended by the leader to all the team, who is encouraged to bring fresh solutions drawn from personal experience. This in turn generates a positive environment where people are encouraged to share capabilities that originate in the personal realm, adding passion and enthusiasm to the project. 

     There’s something more to humility and this is what ancient Greeks and Latins taught us: humility should be intended as a virtue. It is a person’s tendency to relate to others with a desire for learning through others, thus involving curiosity and determination to grow. It is the consciousness that all we do is important but still we are a small, very small spot in the planet and although we are an active part of the flow of events, no one of us knows where we come from and where we go. 

     For this reason, the virtue of humility should never be associated to some sort of weakness, but rather to a strong self-awareness, openness and faculty to look beyond usual limits that positively stimulates others and organizational outcomes. Since people with humility are actively engaged in utilizing information, they set higher standards for themselves and the people they interact with and are more determined to reach them. Humility sets the conditions for the evolution of a leader.

Trust and leadership

     Trust is a primary attribute of leadership. It has a central importance in effective leadership processes. There are two aspects of trust that need to be taken into consideration: trust in leaders as knowledgeable individuals (Personal trust) and trust in the context of leadership processes (Leadership trust). 

Personal trust, when referred to leadership, means the recognition of the leader’s personal inspiration and charisma. This trust begins with the leader’s attractiveness exerted as a winning individual with a winning vision he or she wants to accomplish, as we’ve seen in the previous chapters, and progresses through the constant teamwork between the leader and the rest of the team, intensifying and sharing the leader’s inspiration and vision. This initial trust is purely instinctive and is absolutely necessary to activate appropriately the leadership process. It brings to surface the leader’s individuality and puts it in connection with each member of the team’s personality. Personal trust is a rather immediate process.

     Leadership trust on the other hand is the study of those processes and behaviors that contribute to building trust in the organization’s environment, provided that numerous social studies identified and confirmed trust as an essential element in the leadership activity and organization development. There is plenty of research regarding trust as related to leadership, almost all research shares the common assumption that trust is a psychological state, involving several cognitive and affective aspects. 

     Time generated trust. Among the many trust-building behaviors a leader can develop, historical interaction is one of the strongest. It is also one of the simplest because according to this model, trust is more or less strong depending on the length of time and the positive or negative interaction experience between the leader and a team member. When we refer to the duration of the interaction, usually trust builds up on two separate factors, the first being the expectations one has on the trustworthy behavior of the other and the second factor being if the length of time of the experience together confirms or not this expectation. Building trust through time is natural and happens by itself.

     System generated trust. Trust builds up around the role rather than the individual qualities of the leader. The assumption here is that if an individual was chosen to occupy the role of leader, this individual is trustworthy because the organization chose, tested and approved this particular individual. The team trusts the system and accepts the leader as trustworthy unless this leader behaves otherwise. Here the individual becomes secondary to the system. The leader can however benefit of this initial ‘blind’ trust.

     Membership generated trust. The leader has an initial trust credit that derives from being member of a social or organizational category. The only fact of being accepted in one of these associations generates trustworthiness because, similarly as the system generated trust, the system has selected and accepted the leader, in some way confirming the leader’s qualities.

     Rules generated trust. Here trust in the leader is generated by the respect and compliance the leader has for the system of rules. When the leader, as much as the team, demonstrates continuous respect for the shared rules, this builds trust.

     Procedural competence generated trust. A leader that establishes and shows respect for procedures that are considered fair by all the team, will be considered trustworthy. Consideration and respect for procedures relaxes the environment and activates trust, each member of the team feels to be part of a system that works and that protects them. This model requires that the leader discusses with the team in advance, and if necessary, adjusts the rules.

     Neutrality. This behavior suggests a fair and impartial leader. We are human beings and obviously there are situations or people that stimulate in us reactions that are all but neutral, positively or negatively. What matters here is the leader’s effort to be neutral not to obtain a perfect neutrality. As a leader you are relating to other human beings who will sense this effort more than an ideal, depersonalized, neutrality. This approach greatly contributes to generating immediate trust, because it is considered authentic.

     Authenticity generated trust. There is no rule here. Authenticity is a vitally important factor in leadership. Just be yourself and never forget to always be yourself. One of the truly common factors of any high leader, beyond what scholars and social studies say, is the courage to be oneself. Let it out and your leadership will generate impressive trust.

     Culture generated trust. Cultural generated trust is one of the most difficult of this series for a leader, but it also is a proactively generated trust, thus stronger than Time, System and Membership trust which are essentially generated automatically, without involving the individuality of the leader. organizations face multicultural environments and leader high in cultural intelligence is the one who can relate to differing cultures, avoiding barriers, opening doors and building trust. A leader succeeding at focusing the entire team on the project, will build trust in the team who will recognize the leader as someone with knowhow of the project and relations. 

     Competence generated trust. The effect of competence on the team is high and durable in time. With competence comes one of the highest levels of trust. Competence generated trust opens doors to productive teams with efficient relations. The leader’s knowledge and activity move the project in the wanted direction, issues are addressed without hesitation, relationships within the team are fluid and functional to the objective. There are clear benefits when all members of the team, starting from the leader, relate with appropriate levels of trust. A trustworthy environment encourages collaborative behaviors, extra role support and the team’s mutual commitment to the project. Competence is constantly observed and tested on the field, both the leader’s and the team’s, and any errors are easily overcome, often attracting positive collaboration to find a solution. There is a general feeling of honor to participate to the project and respect for the leader. 

     Inspiration generated trust. Goes along with competence generated trust and is the highest level of trust. When the leader is capable of passing his or her inspiration and passion for the project to all the team, you have a positive, collaborative and productive environment all the way to the achievement of the goal. Everybody works with the objective well clear in mind and often brings innovative solutions. Each step is made in accordance with the activity of every other individual in the team. Productivity is at maximum levels, trust is undiscussed. However, inspiration cannot survive alone, it needs to constantly run on competence. Having an inspired team is what leadership is all about, the duty of the leader is to constantly keep high the inspiration in order to stimulate innovative solutions.

     Feeding trust to the team is the essential work of the leader. A team, however good it may be, is a dynamic phenomenon that constantly interrelates, adapts, changes. Satisfactions, delusions, issues constantly change the context. The high leader has a constant feel of the context and adjusts his or her behavior or intervention to the real situation. Trust must be maintained as a key element of relations and the leader must have complete knowledge of the context by talking with each team member, observing, interpreting situations and relations. The leader’s intervention here may go from fine tuning to stepping in strongly. Sometimes the strongest action is to disappear for a short time or, by converse, to strongly impose the leader’s individuality in order to reset a situation. Whatever the choice, nothing should be left to chance, each decision must be anticipated, taking context into account. 

Curiosity and leadership

‘We run this company on questions, not answers.’ Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO from 2001 to 2011

     Leading at a high profile, managing an organization, whether large or small, has its own poetry. This poetry has nothing to do with bossing around. Rather, it has to do with putting the hands deep into the mud, just like children do, and molding it all day, getting terribly dirty and satisfied. The desire to play and curiosity, again just like children, are major drivers in this game. Once you start molding, you will want to continue all day and you just can’t wait getting back to office the following day to start all over again. 

     Molding a visionary project requires curiosity at all stages. As you work the mud (which basically is the same of working the project) with an idea of your direction and objective, you constantly mold and remold searching for better alternatives, exploring for better solutions. That is the most exhilarating and exciting stage of the project: all doors are still open, curiosity drives actions, observing the team’s and each team-member’s personal approach, can influence a new and different direction, expectations correspond to the objective of the project. Dirty hands (in the positive meaning) and high expectations, this stage is all it’s worth being a leader for. 

     Curiosity is an exploratory behavior that permits to investigate an environment and orientate in that environment. An exploratory behavior is of ancient and vital importance because it allows to gain information about an environment and ensure survival. However, this behavior is not abandoned when the environment becomes known. An intelligent human being, just like animals, will persist in an exploratory behavior, obviously not anymore seeking information about the environment but to maintain constantly updated this information and to examine and consider possible alternatives, reduce uncertainties, improve conditions. 

     Curiosity benefits the organization’s performance, by improving experience and knowledge thus reducing decision-making errors, by improving innovation and positive changes, by improving team performance and relations level.

     Businesses and organizations, because of their nature, constantly change and transform in the quest to better adapt and perform in the market. When you begin a growth path and you expand this tendency to a global level even a high-quality leader may face issues like lack of experience and knowledge. This gap in turn impacts the decision-making process and the leader’s effectiveness. Curiosity fuels observation and learning and as a result it in fact offers the foundation for leadership improvement towards a better knowledge and decision-making. Curiosity stimulates attentiveness and investigation, revealing to the leader’s sensibility where he or she is lacking, encouraging the leader to seek specific support or find adequate information.

     Curiosity impacts innovation and positive changes. No matter if the job is creative or not, curiosity actually leads us as leaders and the team to generate alternatives, which can be discussed every once in a while, for example by setting up a cyclical ‘curiosity session’ where all the team participates. This becomes a sort of focalized brainstorming session, by a competent group who is dedicated to one single objective and thus, having a high level of knowhow, which may truly offer surprising and effective solutions, based on each single’s experience and creativity. It will be the leader’s duty to put the final word on the most effective solution and adopt it or continue on the path taken. Curiosity also generates workplace improvements. It should become a habit to set aside a few minutes each week dedicated to the question ‘why?’ and what can be changed in the workplace for the better. We are talking here of positive suggestions that the team should be always allowed to propose and exchange. This affects directly the overall efficiency of the ongoing project.

     Curiosity improves team performance because whatever the dedication of each member of the team to the project, once the spark of curiosity is ignited in the team, their involvement will be considerably heightened. In this case curiosity generates participation and observation at a higher level and is a direct and simple way for the leader to make the team feel the property of the project. Seeking alternatives to a known path also ensures that each member of the team sees the project from an overall point of view and, as they try to find alternatives, realize the intrinsic characteristics and difficulties of the project. Whether an alternative solution is found or not, curiosity has helped better understand the project, the team’s work and, to a certain extent, also the leader’s work. Ideas are shared and each member of the team is now able to see the project not only from their own perspective but also from a different perspective. This tones down conflicts, generates better team relations and ultimately better results. 

     There is a direct relation between curiosity and creativity. A curious approach will enable more creative alternatives.

     Curiosity is an exploratory behavior and an individual’s positive approach to new information that recurs in high quality leaders. Observing is an art and asking the right questions can make the difference from failure to success, no matter the stage in the career of the leader. In fact, curiosity is one of the best tools a leader has. It can be used not only day by day, but it should become a general mindset of the leader and the team. Results are surprising.

     Probably the most interesting aspect of taking curiosity into an organization is the establishment of a new company culture that directly affects the company’s efficiency. Curiosity changes the mindset. It acknowledges there will always be problems, most of them hidden from the view of the leader and the team. This approach raises the level of attentiveness of all the working group allowing not only to uncover problems that arise during the journey but even to anticipate them with the attitude that a problem, in fact, is not a problem moving the team away from the objective, it is on the contrary a new solution approaching the team to the goal and giving the team new and better tools for the next issue. This mindset greatly increases company performance, lessens aggressivity in a stressed or difficult environment, transforms a defensive reaction to a difficulty into a creative reaction, to the benefit of the project. 

     Wonder is that feeling of surprise mingled with beauty, unexpected and inexplicable that comes with inspiration. It is exactly what a high leader feels after he or she has a vision for a new solution and activates a project to make it real. Wonder is the primary motivator of a leader; it is what fascinates and attracts others toward the leader, as part of the leader’s charisma. Wonder keeps alive the entire process of leadership, enlightening it with enthusiasm, and frequently passes on, to a certain extent, to the team. In this sense wonder is a very strong bonding element that should always be encouraged. It opens a direct channel of communication within the team and often leads to the use of specific words or concepts that only the team is able to understand and share, in a spirit of belonging and exclusivity towards a shared goal. 

     ‘I have no special talents I am only passionately curios.’ Albert Einstein

The sunrise of leadership

Leadership is a concept that has been evolving in time. It has been initially considered as a personal quality and this concept lasted for a long time. Scholars progressively understood that leadership is not an individual trait but rather a process. This process is characterized by influence (not just the influence of the leader upon the followers, but rather the interactive influence between the leader and the followers sharing a common goal) and context (when the context changes, also the leadership process changes).

     Apart from this, generally accepted, evolution of the concept of leadership, we have very few written accounts regarding leadership as opposed to the last hundred and fifty years of abundant and ever-increasing information. This poses a problem because the ancient historical narration we have on leaders is the information that the winning part wanted to convey us. Leadership is often associated with success, intended as achievement of the intentions, so it is not a disadvantage that what we know from history mostly comes from the winners, however we have to be conscious that what we learn from history is firstly a point of view probably redacted that deprives us of the point of view of the losers. These points of view are not at all secondary because, as we will see in a dedicated chapter, vulnerability and failure is an extremely important side of leadership, especially in respect of awareness and self-awareness.

     For instance, we know so much about Julius Caesar and his conquests but much less about Spartacus and his conquests (Spartacus was the most famous of slaves, a gladiator that fought in ancient Rome’s Colosseum and eventually led a major slave uprising). How many other slaves’ revolts leaders and losing part leaders we know so little about? On the other hand the British Admiral Horatio Nelson was renowned for writing the accounts of his battles and then have them signed by his subordinates as if they had written the accounts, before sending them to the British Admiralty as well as the newspapers of the time: in such way he could control his own image as an hero. 

     When we look at prehistoric men, we see innumerable finds that tell us a story of leadership. In hunter-gatherer societies and tribal societies this behavior appeared in vital activities such as warfare, forging political alliances, order maintaining within-group, big game hunting, and moving camp. Leaders usually were men rather than women, even though women could influence considerably men in all affairs. Leaders rose and exerted their power over the group based on achievement, the most significant qualities being physical force and ability to impose one’s view. Expertise in any one domain such as managing relations, hunting, medical, bravery, communication and so on could rise the individual to a leadership position. Leadership was merit based, not inherited. 

     Hunter-gatherer societies really had no leaders some say, rather there were shared codes of conduct within small and probably also larger groups. These groups were egalitarian as in no other time of history men have ever been. No one in the group had access to anything different that all the others of the group could have reached as well: there was no particular knowledge, no particular tool, no particular awareness, no particular secret that one could possess and others not know of. Daily life was promiscuous, time was mostly dedicated to food and shelter, all of which were shared or at the least anybody would participate to, and thus could observe, the techniques of anybody else.

     Many years ago I had the opportunity to travel through the Sahara desert in North Africa, a partner of my foundation was running an anthropological research and there was no better occasion for me to know more of that long forgotten area of that desert, than siding their expedition. We travelled for over one month throughout the desert with nothing in view other than the horizon. We reached an area where you could see small rocky hills a few hundred feet high, ten to twenty miles one from the other. I climbed one of these hills and, to my surprise, on top there was a flat sandy terrace, protected all around by stones a couple of feet high. You could stand in the middle of a terrace looking over towards the sandy horizon and feel completely protected, having control of all the surrounding area. The place was full of primitive choppers – a pebble tool with an irregular cutting edge formed through the removal of flakes from one side of a stone – clearly showing it had been inhabited by a primitive clan.

     Sitting for just one second in that primordial silence you could immediately feel all that raw land unfold before you. The desire to discover, the necessity to survive, the mystery of the meaning of life unfolded right in front of your eyes and you could almost see one of these prehistoric men looking out there, trying to give an answer to all this. It is unavoidable: whether that man asked himself more questions than others and to the point maybe of drawing this mystery on the walls of his cave, whether he was so wise to choose the place most fit to protect his group, whether he plainly was physically stronger than others, whether imagination gave him more bravery or aggressiveness, whatever it was, you could feel the presence of a leader and his followers. In a basically egalitarian group where behaviors were always functional to survival and everybody shared a code of conduct out of necessity, still the leader stood out, at least as much as to determine the group’s decisions and take a direction into history. Things got a bit more sophisticated in time, but the core of a leader remains that of someone who will stand out from the group, with the approval of the group, ready to fight to the end for his vision and bring with him his group. 

     The practice of leadership, especially in its early developments, has always been connected with fighting and war. Effective leadership determined survival, domination and expansion. Peace was rare in ancient societies. The perception of life was different: men and women experienced battles recurrently in a lifetime. Only in recent times we began to shift the fight for survival from the battlefield to politics and economy. After all von Clausewitz called the latter ‘the continuation of war by other means’. A leader was in fact a military leader. It is highly probable that in ancient times there were other forms of leadership (philosophy, the arts, behavior) however these were either grouped under the military leader, which was considered out of necessity the highest form of leadership and the only worth writing about, or the information and narration got lost through the dust of time as it did for many other ancient books, only the very essential books being considered worth to survive time.

     Leadership was a natural phenomenon, instinctive, effective, immediate. There was no elaboration, it simply proved effective in terms of evolutionary advantage in prehistoric human relations and it continued as an indispensable part of the prehistoric life. The idea that leadership was some kind of behavioral process that humans progressively elaborated on is off road. Leadership has to do with instinct, inborn complex patterns of behavior.

The approach to leadership

Our journey to leadership requires a preliminary under-standing of the words and the approaches regarding leadership that have been used throughout time. 

     Leadership is a concept that attracts people since a very long time, it saw a growing interest in the last one hundred and fifty years, with an impressive progression with the development of the Western world after World War II. In the last decades a monumental number of words have been spent regarding leadership in academic studies, articles, blogs, websites and so forth. 

     The interest surrounding leadership is understandable, after all the actions and choices of a leader determine the level of efficiency, if not the success or failure, of productive processes and industrial projects across the globe. 

     Less understandable is the approach that literature, at all levels, has to leadership. There seems to be a dyscrasia, a sort of imbalance, between the truth of leadership as leaders know it and what readers and academics are willing to accept and write. The prevailing approach when tackling leadership is that of social sciences. Proceeding rationally, academics and authors of various standings and knowledge brake down the concept of leadership into innumerable categories that represent leadership styles, leadership skills, leadership traits. The approach produces new categories each year, more and more detailed. The result is an abundance of categories, styles, skills, traits and new theories on leadership which, imaginatively combined together, end up in disarrayed conclusions or at least have a very distant relation with living leaders actively operating in the real world.

     While leadership is a status, a way of being, very dear to Western culture, while leadership has been one of the most prominent aspects in human relationships throughout history and in prehistoric times as well, it is unusually surprising that leadership has never really been treated as a subject in its own right. The attempt of understanding leadership is rather recent. In the past we maneuvered around the idea of leadership mainly associating it with war and politics, but never really elaborating it directly. Only in recent times social sciences tried a direct approach to leadership. 

     A stream of scholarship dedicated to the understanding of leadership has clearly emerged in contemporary society. If the second part of part of the twentieth century was concentrated on hordes of contingency and behavioral theories, scholars now seek new approaches to the topic of leadership, which however remains most elusive. The exploration of leadership, which relied heavily on the methodologies of social sciences, is now looking towards a wider horizon, turning for example to philosophy to enhance its understanding of leadership.

     However, again surprisingly, it seems that scholars and authors went from one extreme to another: if in the past leadership was the consequence of some kind of classic or romantic wholeness, today it is addressed as if it was a new and unknown Martian rock discovery, that needs to be studied and broken down in its minutest geological elements and interactions, rigorously, strictly applying the scientific method and its derivatives. Considering the human, emotional side of leadership, seems offensive. Useless to write that this excess of analysis of leadership produces redundant concepts, saturates discussions, concludes nothing: most papers, literally hundreds of pages, remain suspended in the thin air, pushed away by the sighs of their readers. Additionally, the way you approach leadership also determines the very same understanding of leadership, if you pretend to approach leadership strictly with a scientific method, you will have in return hundreds of ordered concepts which will only scratch the surface, just like if you tried to grab the essence of, let’s say, beauty or love, with the same method. The problem is not with leadership, the problem is with the approach to leadership, which is wrong. There is much more to leadership than the scientific method.

     There are as many definitions of leadership as there are leaders, because when we try to catch the meaning of leadership we are, in fact, trying to catch the meaning of the life of a man or a woman, which is one of the most difficult things ever.

     Leadership belongs to the realm of essential human activities and emotions. Leadership shares with love a plain difficulty to be defined by human beings. The attempts to reach a definition rather than defining are interesting for highlighting the tendencies and the approach of the era in which these attempts were made. A classical definition of love as opposed to a romantic definition of love as opposed to a scientific definition of love, just to make three examples of three different eras, go along with similar approaches to leadership. This is important to understand because it gives you the limits of what you will find in much of the literature dedicated to leadership.

     Leadership is the Totem of Western culture. A totem is usually an animal or other natural figure that spiritually represents a group of related people such as a clan. It is a spirit, a sacred object, a symbol that represents a group of people. Leadership and the concept of success or, better defined, the idea of endeavor independently from success, are a core value of our society. So, there has always been a sort of extreme respect when facing the concept of leadership. And it is surprising all the more so to consider modern difficulties in fully interpreting leadership if you reflect that our entire civilization evolved and moved forward steered by recognized leaders. 

     For a very long time we associated leadership to a sort of divine attribute; we then began to study man and his behaviors (unfortunately not woman because a woman leader, with very few exceptions, was almost an heresy in the past); we finally began to directly address the concept of leadership rather than the deity or the man.

     What are the traits of these leaders? What do they have in common? What is the pattern of their behavior? What were their aims and scopes? The answer is we don’t know. We never tried or I’d better say we have never succeeded in a comprehensive study surrounding modern and ancient leaders’ behaviors that goes to the core. Nonetheless literature dedicated to leadership flourishes especially in the last decades and, despite it essentially misses to capture and understand leadership, it keeps on thriving. Some may ask why this is happening? Values is the answer. In times when our values falter and are strained to a greater extent, we end up seeking for an answer from the core values of our society and so, never it has been more important than in any other time in history to understand our positive totem, our encouraging myth of Leadership. There is nothing wrong in doing this, actually it is the right thing to do. But the problem is that our way of investigating has limits. Our obsession with categories prevents us from understanding leadership in its entirety. We have to remove these lenses to begin to find wisdom.

     Leadership is a complex phenomenon and of course we will go through each and every ‘mechanical’ part of leadership: it is my declared aim precisely to unveil to my readers the single parts of leadership in this book but let me also assure you that you will never understand one single thing if you don’t accept that the mechanism is human, so much human that it needs to be addressed as a whole. 

     In the film ‘Dead Poets Society’ students are encouraged by a farsighted young teacher to rip out the introduction of their poetry books which explains through a mathematical formula how to rate poetry. The more you try to explain poetry, the less you will understand of poetry. Leadership, like love, poetry and the most essential aspects of our life cannot be defined, captured by a formula or a definition. The more you are trying to define it, the more you feel you are losing something. I understand this takes you out of your comfort zone. It would be great if we could break down a leader into lists of traits, styles, definitions, even rules. Unfortunately, it’s not like this, you’ll have to learn to give up many habits and rules, to head towards the territories of leadership. This is another game we’re playing. But don’t worry, I’m here to help.

What is leadership

A leader is an inspired individual with a vision for change whose action and endeavor is so strong as to involve others to participate.

Inspired individual

     A leader is human, intensely human. It is an individual who encompasses the whole range of emotions, feelings, desires, weaknesses and strengths, kindness and aggressiveness and so forth. The reason why I define the leader ‘human’ is because this individual dared to look inside and the story is not that this individual understood something that others don’t understand, the story is not that this individual saw something that others don’t see. This individual simply dared to look inside. This individual probably found the chaos and the desire for order, the urge to move forward, the call for action that is part of human beings. This looking inside, this seeing ourselves for what we are, which could be defined as an enlightened or awakened status, thrusts us toward action. This is inspiration and this is why, at the core, I call a leader an inspired individual. The word ‘individual’ is necessary because the core of a leader is precisely a personal and subjective balance of so many things that there is not a single leader identical or comparable to any other leader. The word inspired pulls together the strings of all the process here described and finds its output in being inspired. Inspiration comes after you have looked inside yourself and you have a clear view of yourself and the surrounding world. We could say that a leader is the least dreamer or idealist you will ever meet and is the most practical individual you will actually see in action. A leader’s inspiration is perfectly balanced with the practical characteristics and requirements of the world he or she lives in but this inspiration is so strong as to offer a solution that establishes a long leap forward into the future. Often a leader is so forward bound that he or she is the only one to see the solution and the project is so long termed that others will have plain difficulties to understand the journey. 

Vision for change

     Inspiration is directly and inevitably connected to action. Because we are living beings moving in a constantly changing world, we always transform our inspiration into action. Furthermore, our inspiration already contains the seeds of action, it is always projected towards the future. When a leader blows the wind of inspiration a vision is born, inspiration has become real and tangible. Vision, for a leader, is the awareness of a direction, a purpose. Vision means taking the road towards making inspiration real. I call that moment ‘crystallization’: inspiration begins inside but the moment a leader begins to see an output for his or her idea, the moment the leader has a vision for how that idea could become real and sees the direction to take, that idea has crystallized into action and is set to become real. 

     There is no vision without change. Vision always brings forward new ways to do things. A visionary individual is someone who is changing things for the better, who is bringing forward a new point of view.

     Leadership is human, deeply human. It involves the ability to look inside, get involved and participate in the events of our time. Ensuing this awareness, leaders have the potential to think different. Why? They wonder (this single word is essential to leadership). Imagine being pervaded by a strong awareness of the natural environment, reality, from the ground below your feet to the stars above your head. Imagine a clear, bright, consciousness of yourself, your inner self, as part of this. Imagine your talent to wonder all this and actively participate to the evolution of all this. This is a leader and this has nothing to do with a superior deity, it is the result of a hard work, it is the result of the courage to chisel away all the superfluous to clearly see our inner self, and to break free from all the conformism the tells us what is right and what is wrong. It is the result of the hard work of a free individual standing up and looking at life straight in the eyes, ready to

move forward.

Action and endeavor

     I think of the American poet William Carlos Williams: ‘No ideas but in action’. Is there something else we need to say about this? What would life be without people daring to live, having the courage to transform ideas into actions? Action is inbred in human beings. Everything is determined by action.

What makes a leader is endeavor, the persistence of action. A leader is not aiming for success (success is always a consequence of something else), I would go a little further and say a leader is not even aiming at the perfect result.  A leader endeavors. It’s in that determination and insistence that you see the enlightened individual that went through the whole process of daring to look inside, of finding inspiration, of developing a vision and taking a direction. Endeavor is what makes a leader interesting to others. Because someone endeavoring is someone living, genuinely facing the battle of life, which ultimately means bringing something of us, of our inspiration, to the world.


     People sense the effort, the endeavor. Just like animals in the daily effort for survival, everybody recognizes the winning animal, the one with a strong idea and a clear direction, endeavoring to obtain what he or she wants.  Instinct tells that the individual who moves to action is the strong one and the individual who endeavors is probably the winning one. A leader draws participation and collaboration when he or she enacts a strong project. this is the essence of followership, which however I prefer to call teamwork. This inner force, certitude, typical of the leader is the definition of charisma. An irresistible attraction that the winning leader, endeavoring for change, exerts on others. And let me be very clear: this leader I am describing is not at all sure to succeed, this leader has even doubts as to what is the right road to take in order to succeed. This leader is pioneering and like all pioneers he or she is heading forward in uncharted territory without any certainty as to what he or she is doing. Still, the leader is heading forward. This makes the difference. This makes the leader. Despite having no certainty as to the destination, people are striving to build a team with this leader and head forward together.

     As leadership is not a solitary affair but a very real social process, others are always involved in the leader’s journey. What makes a leader interesting is that he or she wakes our most savage and uncultivated instincts. When someone approaches an inspired leader, they are immediately attracted to the leader’s project and want to get involved. It is usually an instinctual process that subsequently sparks rationalization then understanding and, finally, participation. A leader drives other’s instinct and always brings you to a very natural ground. That typical feeling called charisma and that typical attraction that people have when facing a true leader comes exactly from the fact the people recognize inspiration in a leader and not in a philosophical sense but what I call an involved inspiration, fully aware of reality. It is exactly this that makes a leader irresistible and develops the leaders’ followership: people sense this individual understood life and has a vision to change things, to move forward for the better. You actually get in love with a leader, your instinct immediately tells you this individual is bringing you something positive, is carrying you somewhere with him and happiness is part of the journey. Working with a leader means riding the positive side of life for a follower. The leader is empowering people of his or her inspiration.

     Participating to the leader’s project is considered a privilege by the team because they rightly know their participation empowers their lives, actually lifting them up and taking them away from the role of mere follower.

     A leader positively attempts to change or modulate differently the existing status of things, is fully aware of the context and is capable to inspire others to the point that they feel empowered to stand up and walk with the leader throughout the journey. 

The primeval battle

     Give me a leader and I will show you a uneasy and restless man or woman. A leader is someone who sustained a violent battle. I’m not writing here about the challenges as a leader, I am writing here about the primeval, original battle that took place in the first years of his or her life. It may be a story of poverty, solitude, violence, indifference. Darkness may come for many reasons and take many shapes. It’s that original decision to stand up and fight for survival that crystallizes the core of a leader. There is always a human story of suffering behind a leader, whether it is faced brazenly or an entire life of success and power is dedicated to hiding and healing what’s inside. Don’t expect a leader to be a demigod that crosses your sky like a brilliant meteor burning out intensity with the lifestyle of a minor deity. A leader springs from suffering and is human, so ordinarily human. A leader is someone who had to fight for survival.

     It’s when you stand up and fight for yourself that you find that guiding light which we call talent. You don’t need to search for this, it will come by itself and all you’ll have to do is to recognize it at first and hold on to it for the rest of your life. Talent comes in many ways, the most unexpected, it may be in business in military in sports, in art, it doesn’t really matter. It’s Michelangelo’s vision of beauty and talent to define it, once you have removed the superfluous. People immediately recognize talent and have respect for it, because they instinctively know that it is the result of a far-away confrontation for survival that brought that talent. You have learned to become a leader. 

     You will always carry with yourself the scars of that original battle. Leadership, once you understand its origin, always brings along vulnerability. But those scars will make you stronger when you accept them. We will dedicate further on a separate chapter to vulnerability in leaders.

     Leadership is a precisely intimate phenomenon that has to do with an individual’s longing, or yearning if you prefer, and 

a personal journey to fulfill a vision. This phenomenon is not theoretical, it is an active process that always involves self-awareness, awareness of the context and involvement of others. There is no leadership but in action. 

     Leadership is a social process with a learnable set of practices that has always been part of human activities and traces back to the origins of human beings. It governs the relations between humans in almost all aspects of our lives: military, business, politics, religion, sports.