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. 

Quotes regarding leadership

“Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.” James MacGregor Burns

“Courage is the ‘x’ factor that can make or break corporate America” Warren Bennis

“Leadership is taking people to places they’ve never been before.” Marie Kane

“Leadership is the process of influencing the activities of an organized group toward goal achievement.” C. F. Rauch and O. Behling

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill

“The leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leaders and followers. Leaders, followers, and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.” Garry Wills

“Great leaders rally people to a better future.” Marcus Buckingham

“Leadership is enacted through communication” J. K. Barge

“I don’t like to boss people around. I don’t get motivated by telling people what to do, I don’t take any pleasure in it. So, I manage with curiosity by asking questions.” Brian Grazer

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” Ernest Hemingway

“Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.” Abraham Lincoln

“Difficulties exist to be surmounted.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The fundamental purpose of leadership is to produce useful change, especially non-incremental change.” John Kotter

“Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a 

group of individuals to achieve a common goal.” Peter Northouse

“When you hire people who are smarter than you are, you prove you are smarter than they are.” R.H. Grant

“Leadership is successfully creating positive change for the common good.” Todd Sorensen et al.

“He who moves not forward goes backward.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.” Edward R. Murrow

“Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.” Richard Branson

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin

“Great leaders drive change.” Jeff Immelt

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Socrates

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” Socrates

“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think” Socrates

“What is an intelligent man? A man who enters with ease and completeness into the spirit of things and the intention of persons, and who arrives at an end by the shortest route.” Henry Frédéric Amiel

“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” Socrates

“To find yourself, think for yourself.” Socrates

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” George S. Patton

“Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline … Reliance on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness. Fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty. When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, then one can be a leader.” Jia Lin

“The measure of a man is what he does with power.” Plato

“Leadership is not a ‘mystical or ethereal concept’. Rather, leadership is an observable, learnable set of practices. Certainly, leaders make a difference. There is no question about that.” Bernard Bass

“There are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept” Stogdill

“the process (act) of influencing the activities of an organized group in its efforts toward goal setting and goal achievement” Stogdill (1950)

“interpersonal influence, exercised in a situation, and directed, through the communication process, toward the attainment of a specified goal or goals” Tannenbaum, Weschler, and Massarik (1961)

“Leadership requires using power to influence the thoughts and actions of other people” Zaleznik (1977)

“Never discourage anyone…who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.” Plato

“the process of moving a group (or groups) in some direction through mostly non-coercive means” Kotter (1988)

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” Napoleon Bonaparte

“leadership is an interaction between two or more members of a group that often involves a structuring or restructuring of the situation and the perceptions and expectations of members…Leadership occurs when one group member modifies the motivation or competencies of others in the group. Any member of the group can exhibit some amount of leadership…” Bass (1990)

“A leader shapes and shares a vision which gives point to the work of others” Handy (1992)

“Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes” Rost (1993)

“Leadership is the capacity to create a compelling vision and to translate vision into organizational realities” Bennis(1995)

“The only definition of a leader is someone that have followers” Drucker (1996)

“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein

“Leadership is the process of interactive influence that occurs when, in a given context, some people accept someone as their leader to achieve common goals” Silva (2016)

“there is too much mathematics and not enough wisdom” Maurice Godelier

“from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule” Aristotle

“A gentleman first wins the trust of his people, and then he can mobilize them. Without this trust, they might feel they are being ill-used. He first wins the trust of his prince, and then he may offer criticism. Without this trust, the prince might feel he is being slandered” Confucius

“The qualities of social leaders are wind, the qualities of the common people are grass; grass will always bend in the wind” Confucius

“Cultivated people seek from themselves; small people seek from others” Confucius

“The concept of a leader cannot be defined independently of what a ‘good’ leader is expected to accomplish.” Kodish

“A man who has the knowledge but lacks the power clearly to express it is no better off than if he never had any ideas at all.” Pericles

“I don’t know any other way to be than a leader by example.” Fat Joe, rapper

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult.” Warren Bennis

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” Ronald Reagan

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

“We run this company on questions, not answers.” Eric Schmidt

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Warren Bennis

“Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.” General George Patton

“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” Ken Kesey

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Peter Drucker

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy

“I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.” Queen Elizabeth II

“When I give a minister an order, I leave it to him to find the means to carry it out.” Napoleon Bonaparte

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” John C. Maxwell

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” Eleanor Roosevelt

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” Ken Blanchard

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” John Maxwell

“People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” Theodore Roosevelt

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” Jim Rohn

“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.” Herbert Swope

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.” Estée Lauder

“I have no special talents, I am only passionately curios.” Albert Einstein


Authority is the power or right to make decisions, give orders, obtain obedience.  In a hierarchical system, a system in which people or groups are ranked vertically one above the other according to their status or level, authority is an important value that ensures decisions, orders and responsibilities are constantly respected. All organizations, pursuing efficiency, have, more or less intrusive, a hierarchical structure. Based on these premises we can say that the system invests the leader with authority and, at least within the boundaries of the organization, everybody complies with the rules and respects the leader’s authority. The leader’s power is not in question here, it is something given by the organization and unless for rare serious cases, no one should put it into discussion. How the leader exercises power is however an interesting matter of discussion because, in fact, a leader has multiple choices when it comes to exercising power, which broadly go under two main alternatives, the authoritative and the authoritarian manner. 

     Let’s start by clarifying that not all good is with one and not all bad is with the other. Both styles have a grey area. Both styles are, to some extent, efficient. Organizations should be considered as living structures, that don’t respond always at the same model but that dynamically change model based on the needs of the moment. Organizations pursue efficiency and effectiveness and these two words are the rule, whatever makes them happen is good for an organization, unless it implies other consequences that bring again inefficiency and ineffectiveness. 

     An authoritative leader engages the passion and competence of individuals to accomplish organizational goals. This is a leader that transfers inspiration, vision and passion to the team and establishes a collaborative climate in which every component feels the property of the project. The authoritative leader is appreciated and respected for his or her competence, motivation and commitment to the project. Following the leader, contributing to the project, bringing in personal competence is considered a privilege by the team. The leader never needs to exercise power because it is implicit and widely accepted, everybody understands the leader’s line of reasoning and his or her orders are shared by the team and functional to the goals of the project.

     Authoritative leaders are the ones who exploit to the full the potential of the team. They are not obtaining obedience because they command, they obtain obedience because people surrounding them sense their personal path to leadership and are subject to their authenticity. True authority comes from the inside and people recognize this by instinct, they are fascinated by this inner power, they want to be included in the leader’s project. An authoritative leader will obtain things out of respect and will never have to impose decisions if not rarely, and if such a rare occasion arises, a look and a brief private talk, will be sufficient for others to realign with the leader. An authoritative leader is humble and available to discuss his or her decisions, provided that the final word remains to the leader. A high leader is authoritative, always.

     An authoritarian leader takes decisions and gives orders. This leader is convinced to have a higher-level vision and approach to the project than anybody else. Authoritarian leaders have a traditional idea of leadership based on obedience and respect for position and status, they are high on demandingness and expect compliance from all concerned. The authoritarian leader is focused more on procedures rather than people, factors like control, order and high degree of dependency on the leader are typical. The authoritarian leader usually has a certain degree of appreciation by some because it gives the false idea that the leader knows what he or she is doing and has full control. It is a hard but reassuring figure. Teams and organizations led by authoritarian leaders run smooth and are characterized by low risk taking and relatively low involvement by the team which is mainly dedicated to execution. However authoritarian-led teams and organizations typically have enormous potential not yet exploited and that will never be. The authoritarian approach inevitably leads to an ordinary leadership.

     In particular circumstances, when the situation requires extreme measures, it may be useful to adopt an authoritarian approach. The advantage of this approach in extreme situations is that decisions can be made quickly and actions activated immediately without the time required to involve others. Since the leader is the most knowledgeable individual in the team, it is his or her duty to take over full control in extreme situations. 


Creativity and Innovation

Creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas to modify and innovate processes. Creativity is an essential prerequisite of a high leader. In fact, the boundary between leadership and art, the art of human relations and remodeling reality in this case, is very thin. High leaders are considered artists in that they introduce creatively new methods and processes based on an original intuition. 

     A leader’s intuition brings forward something new that was never seen and recognized before. The leader develops the intuition into a vision and the vision into a project that involves people, investments and efforts to transform that original intuition into reality. The leader is working to make real something that is not real, convincing people of the reality of something they never really saw and collaborating with a team that has never done it before. The situation is not easy. Creativity here is the element that brings it all together. 

     A leader is always attracted by innovation and is disposed for innovation, just like, for instance, a writer is attracted by new languages and expressions. I had innumerable, fascinating, exchanges with my friend novelist, who has a deep knowledge of language and writing forms. Incredibly, we have always been aligned on this issue. Language can be stretched, modified and innovated to meet new expressive forms and to convey emotions, in the same way as organization processes and methods can be stretched, modified and innovated to meet new leadership forms and convey solutions. In fact, if you look at the history of writing, major authors always introduced new styles to refresh the language and obtain new communication heights, the history of literature is there to show this. Organizations, on the other hand, always try to innovate either through the development of execution capabilities throughout the workforce or by enhancing the use of creativity in processes. 

     Innovation is the action of changing something estab-lished, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products. The shift to an innovation-driven economy was determined by globalization, increased competitive pressure, quick changes in technology. Executionary capabilities, developed constantly throughout the years the quality and reliability of products and services, and are today widely shared by organizations or at least can reach similar levels. Creativity instead not only remains a central issue, that not all organizations can ensure, but has also grown into a major solution to competition’s new goal: innovation. 

Creativity is essential as a mindset for the leader and for the project

     Creativity is essential because it establishes an appropriate mindset for the leader. A creative approach puts aside rigid structures and looks into things in a new way. A leader is always creative, it is part of his or her distinctive characteristics. The quest for new roads, more efficient and competitive solutions, the search for higher outcomes requires a constant confrontation with creativity.  A creative leader is seeking something, is looking around for something. We are not talking here of a settled, satisfied leader, who is enjoying his or her success and essentially repeating a method. We are talking here of an unsettled leader, restless, completely open to observation and life, even private life, enjoying the mystery of living and engaging in a vital challenge to solve a problem or find a new solution. It is an incredibly exciting mindset, typical of the leader, but it should not be confused with those individuals perennially unsatisfied who go looking for challenges only to occupy time. A high leader is perfectly able to sit by the poolside and enjoy himself or herself doing nothing a full day. 

     Typically, this wonderful leader (I mean exactly what I wrote, that is: a leader full of wonder) will carry along his or her challenge about anywhere they go. There really is not anymore, a distinction between private life and work. The challenge is just as fun and stimulating as any other part of the private life. And this does make a difference because the most creative solutions come when you begin to blend all aspects of life and maybe you suddenly see in something you would have never expected the solution to your challenge. 

     There is no possibility to be a leader and something else, when you are a leader, you lead throughout your life.

     Creativity is essential because it establishes an appropriate mindset also for the organization. The creative mindset of a high leader eventually transforms the entire organization. That is why organizations that want to innovate are spending more and more time on the choice of the right leader and are dedicating more and more attention to the creative aspects of the candidate. The leader’s creative approach extends to the whole team who, without prejudice of the peculiar abilities of each team member, is encouraged by the leader to let free creativity. Having regular meetings during which everyone is encouraged to change point of view and propose a completely different road to the solution or inspiring everyone to bring their personal life, their personal passions, into the discussion, are two interesting solutions that help free creativity and open up the road for innovation. Such an approach is creative in itself because it innovates interrelations, by creating a more intimate relationship between the members of the team. a leader that manages well this aspect will eventually lead the team to create an intra-organization lexicon, which is a complex term to say a personalized use of words and style of language: within the team everybody finds a new very personal language, for example using some words typical of a private passion of each member of the team, just to give a very basic example a baseball passionate member of the team will use words like ‘center field’, ‘catcher’, ‘shortstop’, ‘pitcher’ when describing a new idea. These words will eventually become part of the team’s daily language when working and when relaxing, so that if you happen to look at the team from the outside, you will not understand what they are actually saying but you will have the impression there is some sort of fellowship going on. This lexicon (wordbook) greatly enhances motivation and sense of belonging to the project and the team, bringing in open mindedness and creativity.

Creativity in organizations

     Creativity in organizations is not just an exercise to generate ideas, it is part of an accurate process aimed at bringing about the potential for innovation. This process, in respect of other creative activities, usually has well defined boundaries so that the creative process is not really completely ‘creative’ but it goes in a precise direction as defined by the organization’s leadership. Applied creativity means understanding and knowledge of what surrounds you, awareness of yourself or your organization goals, ability to think out of the box, courage to take alternative directions, identification of innovative solutions, use of a defined method to bring these solutions to reality and obtain positive results. 

Here the leader is critical because, as explained in the chapter dedicated to humility, the leader’s role is initially to set the boundaries of creativity and, more importantly, decide to what extent let the team force the creativity limits set by the organization. This requires the leader to have his or her feet well on the ground. An organization is not an art shop and, however obvious it may seem, it frequently happens that boundaries are unclear and creativity trespasses the allowed limits. 

     The leader sets the limits and, while encouraging creativity, supervises that no one exceeds the limits. But what are exactly these boundaries? Creativity in organizations should encompass a creative approach to ideas and a creative approach to problem-solving aimed at generating viable and original solutions to complex problems. Creativity’s goal is innovation and innovation, we know, means changing for the good or simplifying something by introducing new methods, ideas or products. The creative approach in an organization addresses directly and exclusively this. The pragmatism, the sense of reality and of limits of the leader is essential to steer the creative process through the potential risks of imagination. The influence that the leader has on the team ensures creativity is kept within boundaries without the team losing enthusiasm or motivation for the project. This is a particularly delicate work for the leader, who has full responsibility of this process.

     Additionally, it should be considered that the most creative individuals in the team are, typically, also the most independent. When the leader encourages creativity in the team it is inevitable that these creative elements will take an as much as independent as possible stance. The creative individual, who necessarily has to see the entire project to propose a viable solution, tends to take possession of the entire project and the leader is the only factor that can prevent this behavior from getting out of control. 

     Finally, organizations usually have a complex relationship with creativity. On one side they need it to pursue innovation and they search for creative leaders, on the other side organizations need to take into account the risks, costs and time consumption that creativity gives rise to.

Experimental creativity

     There is another side to creativity that high leaders use abundantly but is less talked about: the experimental side of creativity. If we assume that creativity involves changing point of view and finding new routes in function of a determined goal, then a creative team is an excellent instrument for the leader to obtain a number of experimental solutions. These solutions are developed by the leader and the team in parallel to the main solution and are constantly used to test the main solution. Sometimes the experimental solution proves better than the main solutions and substitutes it or becomes a feasible Plan B to the main solution.

     In conclusion creativity has a major role in an organization and leaders should always encourage it. However, it poses two relevant problems to an organization: management and uniqueness. As for management, it requires a considerable effort from the leader in terms of managing the team’s creativity, this in turn requires a leader with an excellent knowledge of what is creativity and its limits within the organization, as well as a leader with a sound balance in managing the team’s creativity. As for uniqueness, creativity does not follow a standard model and the pattern of the creative process is rarely methodical. This makes the creative process a rarely if ever repeatable process, while organizations do seek repeatability in all processes. This requires an additional effort from the leader who should record all the creative process and at least try to define a pattern, not much in the process that lead to the solution (which will probably be unrepeatable) but rather a pattern in the approach that the team used in the creative process. The ideas, the way they were encouraged and stimulated, the way in which they were shared and the way they were enforced to get to the solution, are repeatable processes that bring enormous value to an organization.


Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

While the first connection between the leader and the team is based on a purely instinctual component, the subsequent reinforcement of the ties depends on subjective factors, especially empathy and emotional intelligence. The reinforcement step is very important as it sets the quality of the relationship between leader and team, the group’s commitment and ultimately the performance on both sides of the relationship.

The reason I don’t like the word ‘follower’, but I prefer to use ‘team’ or ‘participants’ is because in fact there is no such thing as a follower with a high-profile leader. The leader actively transforms the chosen team by transferring them inspiration and knowledge and bringing them up to a level where they can operate independently from the leader. This is the most effective leadership and it draws high performance levels. Unfortunately, it requires a truly high leader, because only a very strong leader with a strong inspiration and control can afford to promote and actively teach the development of inner independency by the team. The team will feel the ownership of the project and eventually contend choices and decisions of the leader as to how to manage the project. A strong leader will always be recognized as such, even by an inspired team with knowledge. The separation between the leader and the team will always be there as everybody recognizes a sort of superior inspiration and robustness in the leader, a deep understanding of things that only the leader has, the capacity of the leader in difficult times to control and manage the unexpected, the certainty that the leader will reach the objectives no matter what. All these elements put the leader in a positively superior position and bring respect from the team, whose abilities, even though of high profile, still recognize the leader as the original inspirator of the project with a superior capacity to reach the target. In conclusion, the leader here is handing over inspiration and knowledge to the team because the leader’s strength, inspiration and respect affords him to do so. Such a team has a high performance because each individual is working supported by his or her own inspiration and believes in the project to the extent of making it a personal endeavor. This is the team which is available to work overtime when circumstances require but this is also the team that openly raises to contend a move of the leader, but again this is the team that constantly recognizes the leader’s charisma and inspiration and while contending a move for the sake of the project is also ready to shut up and give the last word to the leader, positively convinced that the leader has the final word because the leader knows better.

Growing up such a team requires considerable effort and management by the leader but ensures exceptional results. In my experience these have always been the best performing teams. And don’t forget that if you want to understand the quality of a leader at any level, often just look at the first level of people the leader chose to work with him or her and you will have a pretty clear idea.

Empathy is the projection of the self onto the others so that you can almost identify with the other’s feelings and thoughts in a sort of emotional communion. It is a deep understanding of the other and it requires a certain capacity of compassion and humanity. Empathy is typical of a high leader. Because the leader has gone through a number of experiences – investigating the self, understanding life and inspiration, fighting for a change, believing in a project – the leader usually has a broad empathic capacity. A leader missing this feature should be looked at with suspect. Empathy is used by the leader as a tool: firstly, to choose the team and secondly to understand the team (if the leader is not given the faculty to choose the team, then empathy is used to ‘change’ the team). 

Empathy defines the bonding of the team, it is introduced by the leader who sets the example by demonstrating the worthiness of this attitude, and it should be used, at least to a certain extent, by each participant of the team. There will clearly be differing degrees of empathy in each member of the team or differing degrees of engagement to use empathy. Nonetheless an empathetic approach, in a high-profile team, should always be looked for and promoted. 

Empathy takes us to emotional intelligence, a wider approach to the understanding of things and setting of relations. Emotional intelligence, broadly defined, is the ability to use not only reasoning or to follow known patterns in thinking but to involve also instinct and emotions in this process, thus expanding your knowledge and understanding of situations and hence extending opportunities and possibilities. There is a direct relation between emotional intelligence and leadership: the high leader uses intelligence and uses emotions to the same degree.

Intelligence comes from the Latin verb intelligere which means ‘reading inside things’, not only observing life and its innumerable phenomenon but also understanding life in all its aspects. Emotional intelligence is, in a way, a redundant concept as intelligence, being the reading and understanding of life, already encompasses the various aspects of life: an intelligent individual would never rely exclusively on reason to comprehend life but would obviously involve emotions and much more. ‘Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it’ said French philosopher Blaise Pascal. So, when we talk of emotional intelligence, we are basically saying that in our comprehension of life we are including emotions.

Emotional intelligence was defined, by researchers Peter Salovey and John Mayer, as ‘the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior’. This definition was then further split in perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions. I tend to give much relevance to emotional intelligence, as long as it is considered part of the basic empathic behavior of an intelligent individual. Emotions should be accepted as a standard requirement in leadership.

Emotions should never be left out of an organization and a project. Technical proficiency should always be balanced with interpersonal competence and emotions. Additionally, it is only a strong emotional relationship that can develop higher leadership and team effectiveness and that can solidly withstand, and above all recover from, difficult times or failures that may be encountered during the various stages of a project.