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Letter of gratitude. Or: top 3 leaders who inspired me.

A Harvard Business School article – based on a survey of 838 managers, 6 multinational companies, 3 continents, reveals their views on 11 characteristics of a leader: he looks for opportunities to learn; acts with integrity; adapts to cultural differences; seeks   to make the difference, seeks to understand the business,  gets the best from people, looks at things from a different perspective, asks for and gives feedback, learns from mistakes, has the courage to take risks, is open to criticism.

I don’t want to make a plea for leaders, their exceptional qualities, definitions, concepts and models of leadership, but rather to make a soul confession:  an approach perhaps too sentimental, but extremely heartfelt.

When I decided in 2008 to give up the corporate career, after 13 years of intense activity in different geographic areas, industries and corporations, being as they said “in full glory”, I stated that I would never go back to the “system” and that for me exaggerated career was a mistake. Much later, the arrogance of my previous statements was pretty pale when faced to evidences: corporation was challenge, adrenaline, professional motivation that I tried to compensate with my new consultant career, in the newly acquired silence of coming back to family. It was a moment of balance, I tried to find reasons for all the transformations that I had voluntarily done, and inevitably I thanked all those who had made me a lucky man in different moments of my existence. I rapidly get the enthusiasm of those passionate about what they do, those with visions and dreams, those with memorable experiences of life, being more than a model leader. For me these are my leaders, being more or less public persons. Their recollection is a constant which motivates me and challenges me at all times. Their name is not so important, but the effect they created is.

September 2003 – a full agenda day in the life of a professional at the beginning of the road. A call from the management of the company where I was working permanently changed my career. “The news is, you are the new purchasing Director starting tomorrow. Any questions?” After a long break, I whispered shily: “Are you sure? What if I cannot do it”” “You can do it, you are certainty to me, not a question mark!” Everything has changed since then. That leader saw beyond what I knew, invested time and inspired my desire and ambition to do more and better. He could be your friend and leader at the same time, taking risks and building trust. Approachable and human, he knew when you need beat on the shoulder and to tell you where you are wrong with a smile on his lips. Then he left you alone on the best path. A whole generation grew up with that leader, and they identified themselves with him, no matter where he is now. Some might say he is an “old school” leader. I call it simply the man from whom my career started.

2007-2008 – one of the 2 years of EMBA, an acute feeling of guilt towards my family, which I treated as second place for years, and professional  ambition of creating a personal business, at least at the same level as what I created in the corporations in which I used to work. The inspiration came from a genuine leader, Member of the EMBA program team, pragmatic and very optimistic. Without knowing it, she changed the roads for some of us. She always challenged us, luring us into discussions aimed to show the huge differences between us and the benefits of diversity. Very dedicated to her work, attentive to details and keen observer, speaking with conviction, she gave us the chance to validate our knowledge and skills, together with our project colleagues from different business backgrounds, as individuals in the first place. The most important lesson learnt:  the success is meant only for those who believe in their strength, no matter what they want to do. That is how I founded my own consultancy company.

January 2008 – towards the end of EMBA program, a few months before a possible long-term corporate relocation abroad. Fatigue, doubt, uncertainty, upheaval and desire for balance between private life and profession, which friends gently suggested as necessary. All these being confessed to a group of good EMBA friends, before another authentic leader from a service company in the industry. A strong and inspiring person, with memorable life experiences, with a tremendous intuition, leading with passion and empathy. He helped me to see that there is nothing wrong to change the career radically, to find the desired balance without making it a failure. Thanks to his advice, I got back to simple values of life, simple joys, I learned to accept changes as a normal part of life, I learned to cherish the loved ones more, I learned to be myself!

I allow myself to believe that the model of leadership is not an article to “wear” because it is fashionable at some point, no matter how much would it be preached and communicated as “trend”. The leader who inspires you must give you first of all a state of mind at different times of your life and help you not to forget that “the whole life is a state of mind” (author’s note: Jerzy Kosinski, “Being There”).