Musings from an Italian Coronavirus Red Zone (Part 2)

20200310_163214To my tribe around the world – thanks so much for reaching out and checking in. What times we are all living in!

When last I wrote about this, Monza (my town) was in a yellow zone, still able to move around, although in a limited manner.  Now, all of Italy is in a red zone – complete lockdown of 60 million people, not just for now, but for at least a few weeks. The number of infected, and worse, dead, because of the disease continues to rise.

I would venture to say that, for me, the biggest difference is how we all for the first time, at the individual level, have started to realize that the stay at home directive is one of resilience and capacity of the health system. As many of you know, I am a big fan of the Italian health system, which is high quality, fair (for the most part) to all, and human focused.

The issue is not the quality of care but a real capacity issue.  We are now in a situation in which hospitals’ infected patients are being triaged because we don’t have enough beds, ventilators and other items to care for those who need it. We simply cannot help all those who need it because the rate of spread has well superseded the capacity. So to all of those who are still wondering if we are over-worrying by asking people to stay at home– look at the math!  (if you PM me, I’d be happy to send you information).

So what’s my take?

Social Media is a powerful weapon, whether intentional or not.  I see “anxiety posts” which often serve to stir up and promote more anxiety. But I also see those who are trying to quell the surge of panic/hyperbole and are voices of reason. For someone in my line of work, it’s fascinating to see this and is a constant prod for me – how am I choosing to behave?  Based on what I feel or based on what outcome I would like to have?

People (and organizations) who are wisely using this time to reflect and renew seem to be the most grounded in these uncertain times. Whether spending time with children, reading books or, in the case of companies, offering a variety of professional and personal growth on-line learning options. We can be wise about how we use our time.

How much technology can help – from smart/remote working to “virtual coffees” (or in my case “virtual aperitivos”!).  Those who are comfortable with and have access to various platforms are benefitting and feel less isolated.

Truth be told, I wonder if the universe is sending us all a message to slow down; to understand that in the grand scheme of things, we are only under the illusion that we have everything under control when really, it’s just busy-ness.  There are so many things bigger than us and our individual projects.

We are truly in VUCA times (high Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) – these are the times for each of us to reach down inside and get grounded.

My two cents worth. What do you think?

Musings in a Time of Coronavirus

I write this sitting in the warmth of a bright April sun in February. I have just come back from the outdoor Monza market, which was packed. So, I ask myself, what is all the fuss about? 

For those of you reading this from abroad, as a precautionary measure against the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus in our town, Monza has been categorized as a yellow zone. This means that schools and universities are closed, all public places are shut, restaurants, bars and pubs have a curfew between 6pm and 6am, and any form of public or private assembly is discouraged.

Initially people panicked, but now most are settling down and getting on with it. After the raid on supermarkets on Sunday, resulting in bare/empty shelves, things are stabilizing and stores have re-stocked. Hand sterilizer and masks have sold out, but we have our tangerine scented sterilizers from CVS, so we’re OK!

To be honest, it feels like a really long snow day.

But I have been reflecting:

  • How much a crisis brings out the best/worst in people. It really is amazing to see how people react – it’s completely our choice how we gather information and think about our actions.
  • How different Leadership styles come out in a crisis – and how communicating is the gamechanger (or the cause of chaos). From government authorities, to health authorities and “experts”, to fake news – it’s all out there. It gets so hard to differentiate experience and knowledge from the rest. How do we, as leaders, get better prepared for this?  But also, how do we, as individuals, react and behave?
  • How clients who have implemented smart-working are really benefiting from the flexibility of already knowing how to work/collaborate/move forward without all having to be in the office. Other companies are struggling to understand how to handle/categorize employees, particularly those with little kids who are home from school. For the first time, many companies are seeing first-hand how technology really can support humans.
  • The world, in the face of uncertainty, disengages fast. I am seeing this first hand: I have been very excited to moderate and be on the panel of two International events taking place here in Milan. However, they have both been cancelled, because organisations are wary of scheduling major events in Milan, even for April/May. I have had several business trips and one much needed vacation cancelled/postponed because of the uncertainty of quarantining. While flights, buses and trains are still coming and going (in an increasingly limited manner), everyday more countries are imposing restrictions on Italian travelers, and the last thing I would want to do is carry/spread anything or be quarantined outside my home.I feel enormously grateful that I have the resources to withstand the negative economic impact of these semi shut-downs – I worry about all the hourly wage workers who will have to survive weeks of not earning. Italy is a country of small businesses who will feel this hit drastically.

It’s easy to be scared with all the hyperbolic media coverage surrounding us. AND the contagiousness of this coronavirus means we have to take the spread seriously.  It’s a matter of mathematics.  But really, who do we want to be in a time of crisis?  This too, shall pass.


Learning Agility – How skilled are you?

Like many of you, I’ve just jumped right into the new year, with all the intricacies of adapting to the constantly and rapidly changing world of today. One of the thoughts that keeps turning up for me is how much learning agility – the ability to learn quickly in situations that are new and/or changing – is becoming increasingly valuable for experienced Leaders as they try to adapt and upgrade themselves in an onslaught of changes.

Unfortunately, learning agility gets much harder to acquire as you work your way up the corporate ladder; it’s much easier to cultivate and develop when you are younger. First off, as you get older, you get more set in your ways of doing and thinking. It gets harder to change (and to actually realize that you are the one that needs to change). Second, most leaders are used to being experts and they lead from experience – it’s what got them to where they are. But in such a high paced, changing world, no one has the experience to lead. Therefore we have to develop the ability to learn “on the fly”. This can be hard to accept.

Of course being intrinsically smart (learning ability) is important in navigating a constantly evolving environment. But today, being smarter and smarter is not always better. When entire paradigms of working and leading are changing, deep knowledge and cognitive depth can be less important than the ability to change perspectives, to explore new ideas. You can see how knowing how to learn quickly becomes absolutely essential to handle the many curve balls life hands you.

But all hope is not lost. Behavioral aspects of learning agility can be developed. Here are some ways you can get better:

  • You can get better at dealing with uncertainty – put yourself in new situations and environments (both at work and at home) and learn to navigate them.
  • You can get better at seeing mistakes as learning opportunities – we are usually very good with getting things done well, but how are we when we get things wrong? Start to reframe and embrace, or you’ll never fully take risks.
  • You can get better at knowing yourself– start observing when you shut down to ideas and people, and when you open up to them. Study yourself so that you can spot patterns of automated behavior and use that knowledge to get better at listening to others.

The world dynamics of today require higher degrees of learning agility. If we improve our abilities in this area, we are well on our way to start unleashing the capabilities of both ourselves and those around us.

My Wish For You

Even though I am a child of the tropics, to me, this part of the year is magical. I find it comforting to watch the trees and the earth settle down and inwards for a period of quiet and hibernation, cocooning within themselves, waiting to be reborn. I am moved by this.

I am always inspired and energized by stories of resilience, stories that show the profound ability of people to reinvent themselves, to stretch themselves to be the best they can, while still keeping grounded and rooted in their true selves.

Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, says that the state of actively being inspired is something to cultivate on any leadership journey. I couldn’t agree more, although I believe it to be true for all the journeys we take in life. Being inspired energizes us, it lights us up and it keeps us moving forward, ready to go the extra mile. I’m lucky that in my work I am inspired often and regularly by all the people for whom I serve as witness and partner as they change their lives and the lives of those around them. I see people pushing themselves to stand their ground, to give themselves permission to show up as they are, but also to struggle, strive and change. They create a sense of possibilities for all of us.

For me the above video directed by talented photographer David LaChapelle, embodies the essence of why I’m so inspired and moved by beholding resilience and rebirth.  Besides the utter beauty of the unusual space, grace and music combination, “bad boy” ballet dancer Sergei Polunin’s intensely personal interpretation, his simple and unvarnished presence unleashes a powerful sense of authenticity, self-expression and achievement. I am moved and in awe everytime I see this video, and trust me, I’ve seen it many times! And every time I find it inspiring.

So this year, my wish for you is that you find YOUR stories of inspiration. The word inspiration comes from Latin, and means to inflame or blow into you. So what moves you at your core? What ignites you? I wish that you find those things and that you let them cocoon and develop deep within you so that, when ready, they will help you unfurl a stronger, ever more authentic you in 2020.

All the very best,

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What my smart phone has taught me about perspective taking.

What my smartphone has taught me about taking quick snapshots of anything: You’ve got to experiment with different angles.

It all started when I was complaining that my photos were all the same: front facing, looking out from my direct point of view, and taken at eye level. My kids said (with that slight note of frustration kids seem to have towards their parents’ approach to technology):  “If you want another perspective, you’ve got to try and actually experiment with different angles – move behind, over, higher, lower your subject, and choose before you just snap the shot!”

Wow. Isn’t that true also of the pictures we create in our minds of people and situations?

Often, and in most circumstances, we just go with our first reaction. It’s easier to accept what you see immediately than to actually take the time to explore the situation from different angles. Rarely do we intentionally put the effort into getting different perspectives on something.  How much better would our judgements and ideas be if we formed our thinking and feelings based on an expanded view and understanding of any given situation?

I think of a quote by the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw:

If a man sees with only one eye, the world appears flat to him, objects and people become mere two-dimensional images. And he cannot discern any meaning in life beyond the crassness of superficial existence.  If he uses both eyes, he gains perspective and can perceive a third dimension of depth, ideas and activities assume relative importance and value, and he understands that there is now more than one way of living.  How deep his understanding and how acute his perception, then, if he sees through four or six or seven different eyes, each distinct and yet each focused on the same situation and the same conflict.

What would change if we tested different perspectives before making a snapshot?

All the Best,

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Why You Shouldn’t Neglect Building Trust.

A few weeks ago, while preparing for a talk, I reached for Amy Cuddy’s book Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges. Cuddy speaks about how,  in sizing others up as credible leaders, people ask themselves two questions: Do I trust this person and Do I respect this person?  In the parlance of psychology, these two aspects translate into “warmth” and “competence”, and there is a vast body of research that shows that trust and competence are the two main drivers of credibility.

In the corporate world, we tend to focus primarily on how to become better experts, and much less on how to gain and keep the trust of others. Most organizations are geared to exclusively value competence — it’s how people get promoted, get listened to and gain influence.

But in a world where disruption and constant change is the new normal, agility and the ability to react quickly is just as important. In that case, it’s the leaders that people trust who will be more likely to quickly and effortlessly mobilize people to change, adapt and follow them into unknown territory.

Experience and knowledge are important, but if you want people to follow you, you need them to trust you first, so that they can benefit from your competence.

Knowing this and putting it into practice, however are two different things. And, in fact, while I see that most of my clients understand this, it’s hard for them to pay as much attention to cultivating and developing social connections as they do to the rest of their work.

Why? In a world where we are all constantly busy, it’s hard to slow down to take time to focus on the things that build trust:

  • Listening deeply
  • Taking the time to communicate effectively, authentically and strategically
  • Getting to know people individually as people (I like lunching or coffeeing with people)
  • Practicing kindness and respect towards everyone
  • Developing empathy

What are you doing to actively cultivate and work on your trustworthiness?

All the Best,
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