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Engaging Hearts and Minds: A Leader’s Challenge'

Leadership is anything but authoritarianism and decisions made alone: rather it has to do with generosity, respect and compassion. In English, with the word “grace”: this is the extremely particular point of view of John Baldoni, an American executive coach and leadership educator with clear Italian ancestry.

The first thought regarding leadership is that “Sometimes it occurs to me that nothing has changed, as some principles of leadership are timeless. From the moment we live in communities, we have leaders. I think what has changed is the context, which is what it really means to be a leader, especially in these times that we are living in. If before a leader possessed decidedly harder characteristics, now in my vision he is a compassionate person, who believes in people and has empathy, which for a leader means being able to perceive the difficulties and suffering of others. A leader tries to make the lives of the people he collaborates with better, if he has the opportunity ”.

The consequences of the pandemic

Obviously leaders and organizations have been fully invested in this last year and a half of the pandemic and now, once the vaccination campaign is over, they are once again faced with a new change, which could lead people to see each other more often in the presence.

“The big question is: what caused the isolation? From my point of view it was certainly a period of reflection, for leaders, but also for all people. In this context, many leaders understood that maybe they were in the right place, but they had to rethink. I talked about these things in my recent book Grace notes. Which is centered on the affirmation of the human spirit despite adversity. I think we have to sit down for a moment and tell ourselves: we survived, it was a very heavy year, but we are here, as well as our business. So we have to reflect on what we have learned and on what we could do better, as leaders, as business people, on how we can move people together, on how we can make their dreams go forward”.

The lessons for Italy

How does all this apply in the Italian context, characterized by the presence of many small and medium-sized enterprises?

“I had the opportunity to speak to Italian business leaders, some of them lead real excellences, sometimes with experiences that have lasted for hundreds of years. Everyone has the potential to be a leader. You need to have a sense of autonomy, responsibility and also the ability to accept the consequences. There are leadership development programs that can help the people who lead this type of business. In any case, we need to understand what consumers, customers and stakeholders want and understand what I can do to best serve them as a leader ".

Space for creativity

Among the things that will have to be rethought in the future there is undoubtedly the organization of work, destined more and more to move in hybrid mode:

“I cannot give definitive answers, but my hope is that in the future we will be much more flexible. There are a lot of positions in the company, but the important thing to remember is that we work for the same company, so we need to learn to share their goals. The challenge is how to connect these people and, in reality, it all depends on the ability to develop the right degree of collaboration. Furthermore, it must be said that in this year and a half we have learned a great lesson: resilience, that is the ability to absorb the blows from Ko. As I write in Grace Notes, the world has changed, we are no longer in January 2020. I think and hope that the values remain the same, but people have changed, we learned to do things in a different way, to work anywhere, which means more freedom but also more responsibility. I think people have learned new ways to share ideas and work together.

On the other hand, when you were always in the office there were often a lot of interruptions, while now you understand how to be more productive: you will need to combine these aspects with the advantages of being present in the office, once or more times a week. Another important issue is the ability to experiment: we must always be prepared for change ".

The ability to involve

All this, of course, also closely affects leadership skills: “In this context, we need to ask ourselves what is the best way to be productive and involved and I believe this is the keystone for any leader. On the contrary, I believe that engagement is the key: we need to involve people and make sure that they like their work. Another important point is Collaboration: you need to have an open mind, be ready to learn from others, as well as have an open heart. All these qualities, of course, must be put into one's work. The leader must allow his collaborators to do the job in the best possible way ".

Then there is an aspect that Baldoni considers extremely relevant, that of involvement and a sense of belonging. According to the executive coach, in fact, when people feel they belong to something, or have a shared purpose and motivation, they tend to engage more in their work. And the leader has a responsibility to involve minds and hearts, so that people understand what they belong to and why they really work.

More reflection and less action

By curbing the impetuousness typical of the old way of understanding leadership: "Undoubtedly the key component of leadership is action: as a leader you need to move from one point to another and be able to bring people with you, but if there you move too much you forget to think. A balance must therefore be found between action and discussion. As leaders we have to discipline ourselves: think first and then act and I think the pandemic has given us an opportunity to do so ”.

This new concept of leadership has a lot to do with the contribution that younger generations can make to the fortunes of companies:

“We are used to a traditional concept of mentorship, in which older employees teach younger ones. Still, it is possible to go in the opposite direction, with younger employees teaching older ones about aspects like technology, media, etc. I believe that a young person knows these things better than those of my generation: therefore, even if they do not have the same experience behind us, they still have something important to teach us ".