Influential Lessons from Italy

Susan S Freeman Blog

ItalyThis week I have had the privilege of traveling in Italy for a conference and taking a few days of vacation before the meeting.  Although the weather was at times atypical (cold and rainy), it did not adversely affect the warm and generous spirit of the Italian people.  In fact, it caused me to make some observations about leadership and influence.

As an American, I especially noticed the “old-world” hospitality, warmth and authenticity of people with whom we came in contact. Although they did not all have traditional “leadership” positions, they nevertheless had influence.  Interacting with tourists afforded them a power, even a responsibility to represent their organizations, villages, and their country.   Everyone in organizational life has that same opportunity.

ItalyThere was a difference in how people interacted based upon whether their organization had an empowered culture that encouraged problem-solving “on-the-spot.”  They did not need permission to make something right; they just did what needed to be done.  This is effective leadership in any culture or organization.

Secondly, what was remarkable was how the Italian people took time, especially in the middle of the day, to fully be present and experience each other and themselves.  As an American it is easy to scoff at an entire village closing for a 2- hour lunch in a country that is in severe economic distress.

However, if we were to measure GHI or Gross Happiness Index vs. GDP or Gross Domestic Production, which country would be higher ranked?  There is something to be said for slowing down and simply taking the time to slow down every single day.  Look at the Italian face carefully and you will most often see a smile from the inside.

Villa BalbianelloThe other thing I noticed was the enviable preoccupation with beauty.  In fact, in one place in particular there was so much beauty, both natural and man-made that it brought tears to my eyes.  Built on a promontory jutting into Lake Como, surrounded by water and mountains on three sides is Villa Balbianello.  It was purchased in 1978 by Alberto Manzi, a wealthy Milanese businessman whose taste in reading, adventure and collecting was inspirational.  He was the first Italian to ascend Mt. Everest and he trekked to the North Pole.  Although his business acumen was obvious, what impressed me most was his foresight to leave his summer and weekend estate to the Italian National Trust to share with the public in perpetuity.  Because of his care that it be enjoyed beyond his lifetime, he left the resources for it to be maintained and opened to visitors so that we could experience a piece of this heaven on earth.

Of all his many significant and legendary accomplishments, including a case full of medals for being the “first,” I most appreciated his creation of a living legacy for others to enjoy. By doing this, we get to experience indescribable beauty in which time stands still and we just are.  Natural and Art and natureman-made beauty fused into one feast for the senses.

Although most of us will never own a villa in Italy, we do get to choose how we want to influence others and therefore be remembered.  Every day we get to choose and within each choice we create our own living legacies.   What will we choose?  Efficiency, results, team building, productivity, winning, relationships, generosity, intellect, adventure, accomplishment, beauty?

My frustration was that in maintaining a tradition of closing mid-day for over 2 hours to savor life’s sweetness, it is difficult to have an effective, efficient economy in our 24/7 global world.  I don’t see this as an all or nothing choice; I see it is possible to do both; it requires a commitment to do so.

We don’t have to choose between accomplishment of results and joyful connection.  We can create legacies in work and life.  Both are possible if we choose to live and lead as joyful, empowered leaders.  If you are tired of working harder and harder to get routine results, but finding yourself drained rather than invigorated, you may be “stuck” with your own brilliance yearning to get out.

Here is what you can do right away.  Sign up for my free audio download, “Five Secrets Every Effective Leader Should Know,” Take the Step Up Leader I.Q. (Influencer Quotient) test and sign up for a free 30-minute “Breakthrough your Barriers Strategy Session.”

In the meantime, we welcome relevant comments.

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