The man that listened to my heart

Travelling by foot with a rucksack on my back and a mask on my face is not easy. Restaurants are shut, buses make their own schedules and arbitrarily decide not to run if there is nobody around despite advertising their services and selling their tickets online.

I look weird and people look at me with suspicion, i am at peace with that, i am properly starting to not give a fuck about it, it is liberating.

Sometimes, when i show up at a bar, people get startled, they are not used to seeing people travelling alone, in particular in this lockdown time. People these days are afraid of everything and they combat their fears by buying the latest gadget or that book that promises huge improvements by following 5 easy steps. Patience and slow learning is no longer of this world.

Cecina is a lovely tuscan village north of Rome and home to some great people i met while working in Dublin. I was returning to the continent from Sardinia and as my ship to Genoa got cancelled for 2 full weeks due to the pandemic, I decided to sail to Livorno and go visit Cecina and my friends on my way to Genoa.

One early morning i walked from the main village to the marina through the fields. It was beautiful to watch the sun rise from the Apennines in total silence with only 2 builders on top of a roof calmly staritng their working day.

The pine forest that precedes the beach is really beautiful, well kept and with a 5k track to exercise, for free. I was the only one, everybody else at home hiding from the pandemic. I had a great time doing the track, in silence, with the noise of the rain dropping softly on the maritime pines that protected me.

Then I went to the beach. Wild and full of tree trunks, in front of an agitated sea. More silence, more nobody around. Best place for stretching and exercising, using the different rocks to do all the “weights”, it just takes patience to look and find the right one for the right thing to do.

By 11 am i was hungry but all the restaurants were closed and all i could get was pastries in the kiosks at the sea and little pizzas. I wanted something better, so i found a fish shop and got 3 beautiful French oysters that the owner kindly opened for me so that i could eat them in front of their shop. Oysters for breakfast is my favourite thing, they are super tasty and full of energy.

Then i decided to walk back to Cecina and i wanted to find a fountain to drink some water. I asked and some people gave me directions but i could not find it. I saw a man, that later i will learn was called Leo, next to an ice cream little shop working patiently on fixing a bicycle. I moved closer and i asked if he knew where a fountain was. He turned and told me, “here’s the key, the bathroom is at the back, you can wash yourself.” I thought it was a bit weird but I was in need of a quick wash after all the walking and exercise and decided to take on the offer.

I went at the back, washed myself and filled my bottle with water.

I went back to give the key back to Leo and thank him and so I did. I told him that i was very grateful because he not only helped me fill the bottle with water but also offered me something i needed. He looked at me quite puzzled and asked me if i had filled the water bottle in the bathroom. I said yes and he said, “don’t drink that” and he handed me a water bottle from a selection he had in front of him.

I was confused and wanted to pay for it. He said i didn’t need to pay. So i decided to spend some time talkjing to this strange kind man, more or less my age. I had assumed that he was being kind because he saw i am an amputee and sometimes people give me extra care due to that, but what i found out is that Leo is partially blind and didn’t even notice i was an amputee. What he told me is what hit me, he said “I heard it in your voice that you needed help, and i gave it to you”.

I might be walking alone, but with people like Leo I will never be lonely.

Thank you Leo, i will come back when your ice cream shop is open this summer to repay your kindness, or just for a chat.

Sometimes there is a woman

Our world disappoints me in many aspects. I fail to deal in an orderly manner with law and regulation when it impacts my ability to be free and let my mind fly.

I can’t deal with capitalism, i am poor at dealing with low empathy people, I am only starting to learn how to forgive the people that hurt me.

But then sometimes there is a woman, that makes the learning and pain worth it.

A woman that, on her own, decided to leave it all behind to go up in the Alps to run a 18th century built hotel, restaurant, pub in a 17th century sanctuary. She got beaten up by COVID-19 that forced her to close off her business, she raised up and called for help, she called me and she helped me deal with my demons of the past.

Sometimes there is a woman that is worth worshipping for the rest of my life.

Promise: I will never ask you for a CV

Over the years i have applied for many jobs, sent many CVs. I have also read many CVs and hired hundreds of people. That’s it I’m done with it.

Working with somebody is a very important human relationship, I am not going to ask you to describe yourself on a piece of paper because i am too lazy to take my time to know you.

Not only i am too lazy to get to meet you all, I also am so arrogant that i expect you will want to work for me. This is ridiculous. Why would i assume that you want to work with me without meeting me first?

Is it because i offer you a salary?

Well if that’s the only reason you want to work with me, then i might not want to work with you in the first place.

I’m done with CV’s. Keep an eye for job postings where i invite you ALL to meet me for a stroll on the beach, for a drink in a pub, for a meal in a restaurant, for a walk in the park.

If you think you want to, come over, let’s meet and see what we can do for each other.

Dear leader: can trust be earned? Should trust be given?

Over the years I have spoken to hundreds if not thousands of leaders and there is a fundamental aspect that differentiates them and their effectiveness: how they handle trust

Category 1 – The Micro Manager: “Trust must be earned, I am not giving trust to people that i just hired, they need to earn it”

Category 2 – The Servant Leader “I trust my employees, until i don’t trust them anymore”

It goes without saying that leaders in Category 1 suffer because they are always checking on their employees due to lack of trust. They become swamped and slow down their people and organisation with their obsession for checking work done by others.

Category 2 leaders get the full strength of their teams by allowing them to make mistakes. This can only happen when people are trusted.

I have met some inspirational category 2 leaders, if you are reading this one you know who you are.

I have also met many Category 1 leaders and if you are reading this I am really sorry you tied yourself into a knot because you can’t trust your people, maybe a non leading role is better suited for you.

But i love you both regardless and i will help both regardless if you hire me

The socratic Paradox and the enemy of learning

Socrates (c. 470 BC), once said “I know that I know nothing”. Plato (α 428/427 or 424/423 BC – ω 348/347 BC) told us the story when The Oracle of Delphi stated “Socrates is the wisest.”

I dedicated my life to learning and like a fire in the sky i followed Socrates advice, at first getting it completely wrong, then unlocking a little meaning from it, and eventually being able to live it fully without thinking in any situation I am in.

My starting point for any conversation and discussion has been “I know nothing, let’s try to learn something”.

Did it serve me well?

Yes.

It helped me learn much quicker than most of the people i have seen around me and ironically enough, this is not my ego talking because as i said before “I know that i know nothing”.

Most people around us are driven by ego. If we are driven by ego, we will never learn one important thing in life. When we are driven by ego, we start conversations from a point where we believe that our knowledge of the other person’s reality is more than zero. This is always wrong, unless you have been in somebody else’s mind from the very moment she was born to the exact moment when the conversation starts.

Paradoxically if that was the case, we wouldn’t need the conversation because the thoughts of the two individuals would be the same.

Our ego is the worst enemy of learning, because he doesn’t allow us to get rid of our preconceptions and biases about the person we have in front of us hence making us unable to learn anything at all.

If our life is driven by our ego, we will distance ourselves more and more from the world of the other people we want to interact with because throughout our life our ego has been telling them “i know your stupid mind, shut up, I’m telling you who you are to help you”.

How sad is this? We already are so lonely in a life where we spend all of our time in the only seat of the best movie in the world, our life.

It is even sadder because the day you realise that it is worth finding out what people think is the day we unlock our learning superpower, asking powerful questions 🦄

Socrates does not want to know, he wants to learn from the people around him and nature, the ego wants to know and doesn’t want to learn from anybody or anything.

Do you want to be wise, or learn? Intentions are everything

Do you want to be Socrates the learner, or do you want to be the Oracle?

The choice is yours 🍄

The sunrise and the Indian Girl’s gift

Once upon a time there was a business consultant that travelled the world every day of every week of every year to follow his path.

When he was young, he loved travelling, but after over 10 years of that routine, he started to even finding the thought of yet another check in queue, delayed flight, angry passenger and 3 am alarms going off disturbing.

That morning his heart was serene, he was going to his favorite destination of them all. He was flying from Dublin to Europe. The destination he liked was not a specific country, it was an experience that he still loved after so many years. When he travelled to mainland Europe, he knew that if the flight was early enough, he would have met the sunrise over the left of his plane keeping him company for those magic minutes, when from darkness, a small speck of light appears to become a soft halo before exploding into a red ball of fire that colours the skies in front of any attentive left window plane passenger.

He craved that feeling every time, it seemed it was the only thing that kept him doing that job he didn’t love anymore and those trips he was starting to hate.

That morning he walked on the plane at 5:20 am full of excitement and anticipation for yet another unparalleled show of beauty, another sunrise from a flying plane, his job’s most loved perk.

When he walked to his window seat, he saw a young Indian girl sitting on his same row on the aisle side. There was something in her eyes that suggested sadness and unrest and he thought, “let me help her, she needs the sunrise more than me” and told the girl “good morning, I am on the window seat, but if you prefer it to your seat feel free to swap with me.”

The girl nodded and with a little smile she moved to the window and thanked him.

He knew what was going to happen soon, and the thought made his heart warm a bit. Wasn’t it beautiful to be able to donate a sunrise to a sad girl to brighten her eyes? He thought that the gesture was romantic and rejoyed of it.

He sat and waited.

The girl appeared to being nervous and alternating from reading something on her phone to look ito a copybook to find something to change in what she had probably written before. She was in pain, he didn’t know what it was but he could see some it.

And then it happened.

From a corner of her eyes, the beautiful red shades of the sunrise distracted her from the mobile phone. She looked up and her eyes were captured. He could see her attention had shot open and her sadness disappeared. Soon after she started taking pictures with her phone to try to capture that eternal beauty, that, for the first time, had met her sight on a plane.

She was happy like a little girl playing in the Indian sun he thought, and his heart was filled with joy for the fact that a little gesture of love had made her forget her reason to be sad. It was pure joy, he thought that he was seeing the sunrise he’d given up for her in her eyes, he was content.

With so much love in his heart he decided to send her a message, to be understood either now or one day in the future, so he turned to her and said “Did you like my beautiful present?”

He was taken aback when he saw that the girl’s eyes were now filled with sadness again. Did he distract her from the beauty of the sun back to her sadness? The thought terrified him. He had spoiled the moment he had helped create and he felt like shit.

She went back to taking pictures of the sun, he let her, because her eyes were newly happy, he would not risk destroying them again.

And then it hit him. He could give more love, a love without a trace of self, a true generous love so he went ahead and did it.

He said to the girl: “do you mind taking a couple of pictures of that beautiful sunrise for me?”. She didn’t hesitate this time and with a smile she reached for his phone. She took it and started pointing it to the sun, making sure she found the right angle and the right timing to try to show the devastating beauty of that sunrise. He watched interested, she was showing love for him, she was trying to give him the best sunrise she could get, he felt so happy.

She handed back the phone with a smile and the consultant looked at the last picture she took, still on the screen and said “Wow, thank you so much for taking this picture for me. Isn’t a sunrise so beautiful? Isn’t the knowledge that there will be another one tomorrow reassuring?” She looked at him with eyes that didn’t know if they had to be happy or sad and said “I love this sunrise, because it reminds me of the sunset of my youth. When I was a young girl I used to go meet my father returning from the sea and help him carry the fish back to our house for my mum to cook. That Kerala sunset on the Indian ocean is what i miss more about my father that is not with me anymore”

The consultant looked at her with a smile and a tear in his eyes and told her “Thank you for sharing your sunset with me, if you are ever sad again, share your sunsets with the people around you, you are giving them joy”

She smiled

Leaders, do you understand the impact of your conversation style on your team?

dilbert

In today’s connected world, we are continuously witnessing or being directly part of conversations where there are two positions/ideas defended. Usually it is one side that supports “A” as the good option and the other that supports “B”.

These conversations become quickly polarising and even though A and B have a lot in common, what the 2 parts focus is on the differences and for the first section it would be something like “B includes X that is terrible because blah blah blah” and on the other hand somebody will respond “Well, A also says Y hence it is wrong because blah blah blah”.

If you are a twitter user you will know exactly what i’m talking about, if you’re not I’m sure you can relate it to live conversations you have had in your life.

One thing that these conversations have in common is that they never bring anybody to any sort of agreement. Focussing on what’s wrong in somebody’s idea is the easiest way of making an enemy. All we hear is “you’re wrong” and as humans that carry an ego, this is the worst way of starting a conversation.

Relationships deteriorate.

Twitter and social media can be turned off, conversations muted at cetera so we have a safe place to go when something becomes too much for us.

A place we cannot escape as easily as that is our workplace.

Leaders have a big role to play in creating an environment where polarising conversations don’t happen and a search for the beauty in our interlocutor’s ideas is part of how we communicate.

My experience with leadership on this context is quite disappointing. A lot of leaders I have worked with consider being right the most important thing and will do anything it takes to make sure nobody proves them wrong. I can’t start to say how bad this is for the people that work with this type of leaders. Beyond not being listened to as soon as the leader has something to object, people quickly decide not to talk about what they believe in. This obviously causes the loss of perspective coming from these people and quickly the team becomes an impersonation of the leader and his ideas, some supporters (we won’t dwell on the reasons for support here) some compliant silent members and the ones that comply but deep inside would want to tear their skin off every time the leader talks.

A leader of this type will never create an environment that foster innovation and free thinking and the team will be as good as the leader, no more, no less. People won’t feel motivated to follow a purpose because it is not their purpose, it’s their leader’s and the team will be at best unhappy.

Some leaders consider this simply a side effect of the fact that they are more experienced, hence more likely to be right and don’t see the impact on their people. Furthermore, when polarising conversations happen within the members of their teams they often use the same approach, choose one side and demolish the other, nothing better if you not only want to diminish the innovative power of your team but you also want to ruin the relationships between the people that work in your team.

And many leaders are really good at it.

Is creating good relationships something as important as delivering the next piece of work in time? Less important, equally important, more important?

To finish I want to ask leaders two potentially uncomfortable questions.

Do you understand the impact of your conversation style on the relationships you have with your team?

What do you do to improve the relationship between you and your people?

 

 

Leaders and bullies

Many moons ago, my confidence was at its lowest. For a few years my leader had convinced me that I was worthless. I remember the feeling of hate I had for my job and at the same time how lucky I felt to have that job, because I was so useless that nobody in their right mind would give me another chance.

If you know me well and read this, you’re probably thinking that this is a fictional story, in fact I am an extremely (too much some say) confident person. But no, this is the truth, I was at my lowest and the reason was that my leader had bullied me into a ghost.

When, after years of pain, through the help of a colleague and the support of my friends I saw what was happening to me and realised the psychological violence I had been subjected to, I decided that leaving the company was not enough and I wanted to do the right thing by coming clean on what had happened.

I went to talk to my leader’s boss and explained what happened. By then I had an overwhelming amount of data that unequivocally proved that systematic psychological warfare had been used against me. Not only me for that matter, other people were receiving the same treatment.

My leader’s boss was very sympathetic and said that I was not the first one that reported that behaviour. He also ensured he was going to act upon my complaint.

Little I knew, he was playing a game. He delayed and delayed his intervention, once even faking that his flight had been cancelled on the day we were meant to meet Human Resources (I checked with the airport and no flights had been cancelled that morning). That Same day i had to go to a doctor, because my depression had reached a point in which I was unable to face going to work.

Eventually, tired, disappointed and broken, I decided to simply leave it as it was as I knew i was trapped between a bully and a spineless bully enabler.

That was that, i left and life went on.

Nobody loves a bully, bullies are massive problems for organisations, but worse than bullies are unhelpful knowing managers that by not acting and stopping the bullying perpetuate a culture that accepts it.

If people are afraid to talk about things, true leaders will investigate and find out why it is happening and when they find out that the problem is a bully, they will act promptly. If I found out that one of my people was a bully, i would try to help him trough coaching, and if it didn’t work I would have to defend the other people and the bully would have to go, no two ways about it.

When a leader does not act firmly, also sends a signal to his people that bullying is ok. When this happens, bullying becomes part of the organisational culture. Leaders, it is your responsibility to make that not happen.

 

Collaboration and roles, learning from Rugby union

rugby

I keep on hearing team mates say things like

“it’s not my job to test, I am a <insert_role>” or “It’s not my job to design the product, I am a <insert_role>”

and I am quite tired of the behaviours caused by the message when left unchecked.

A team is more than the sum of its parts, a team has the power of collaboration.

When I was young I used to play Rugby (union).

Rugby union is a highly specialised sport, in fact the 15 players on the pitch are divided in 2 main silos, “forwards” and “backs” and within the silos there are these following roles:

Forwards: 1. Loose-head prop, 2. Hooker, 3. Tight-head prop, 4 and 5. Lock, 6. Flanker, 7. Wing Forward, 8. Number eight, 9. Scrum half

Backs: 10. Fly half, 11 and 14. Wing, 12. First centre, 13. Second centre, 15. Fullback

WOW 13 different roles for 15 people in the same team, more than the usual PO/BA/DEV/TEST/UX etc. we find in modern agile teams. How come they are able to collaborate so effectively?

The difference is that nobody in a rugby team will ever use a sentence of this type:

“I am not doing X because my role is Y”

In fact the very best rugby players are not the super specialists but the ones that are good at every different skill and activity required to play rugby. (Research the case of Brian O’Driscoll to me the synthesis of excellence in collaboration skills)

When there is a ruck 2 meters from a goal line you will see the ten stone (63Kg) Scrum Half stick his head in and push the 15+ stone (95Kg+) players away from his goal line.

He won’t say, I’m a scrum half I don’t do rucks, I guarantee 100% he won’t, because if he does he will lose the respect of his teammates, his coach and his fans and never play the game again.

Why do rugby players collaborate so well even though they are such a specialistic group? Because they have one clear goal, the clear goal is to score more points than the opponents. They all get that and do their utmost to help their teammates achieve it.

Why are agile teams not collaborating like rugby players?

One of the reasons is that they don’t see a common goal in the customer value to be delivered but see the beauty of the “elegant code”, “smart test strategy”, “beautiful solution”, outstanding “user experience” and so on.

So if you want to get your team to collaborate better together you got to give them a common cause to fight for. And just to save you time, it is not lines of code, story points, tests passed, number of bugs or lack there of, it is something bigger and more important.

Discover what it is together with your team.

 

Back to school at 49

In my efforts to help organisations gain business agility, I have through the years, tuned my approach continuously, using small experiments based on what I learned on the job, the people I spoke to, the books I read, the blog I visited and even the conferences I attended.

I have had thousands of teachers and I thank you all.

At the end of 2018 I sat down to retrospect on where I am on this journey and this is what I currently do when I work at a client.

chart

This is my current approach that is the result of years and years of small improvements.

For 2019 I want to do 2 things.

First of all I want to stop Telling people what to do completely, this in turn will free 10% of my time and I want to dedicate it to connecting with people on a personal level.

This is an area where I don’t feel completely confident and I fear I might be doing something wrong to the people I connect with.

For this reason I decided to go back to college and do an Advanced Diploma in Personal, Leadership and Executive Coaching.

I am very excited and proud to go back to school at the age of 49.

Wish me luck 🙂