All posts by Francesco Barbera

Inner Foundations of Entrepreneurial Leadership

Venture capitalist John Lilly gets pitched for funding by 400 entrepreneurs a year.  Here he is explaining how he evaluate the candidates:

You start to expand the scope of the questions to try to see two things. One is the quality of their thought process. And the other is how they interact with you. Do they become defensive? Do they become aggressive? Are they listening?  You’re trying to get a sense of whether, in a complicated situation with a lot of things going on, can they be honest and candid and still get to a productive place. Sometimes you get honest and candid, and sometimes you get antagonistic or defensive.

The qualities he describes here — clarity of thought, emotional balance, non-reactiveness — are hallmarks of what I call grounding.

Grounding is the capacity to remain centered amid complexity and challenge; to think with clarity and flexibility in the midst of flux and uncertainty; to avoid over-confidence and rigidity while remaining detached and impersonal, even when the stakes are high.

Entrepreneurship involves treading uncharted terrain and tackling challenges that haven’t been tackled before.

I have never seen an entrepreneurial path without unexpected setbacks and unforeseen obstacles.

The entrepreneurs that succeed are those manage to remain centered, balanced, thoughtful and reflective as they navigate these uncharted waters.

Grounding is what makes that possible.

So how do you develop or improve your grounding Most believe it’s an inborn trait or the product of long experience.  The truth, I think, is simpler and somewhat counter-intuitive.

Grounding arises from a good understanding of how our mind works: when our mind is clear and when it is cluttered; when to trust our thinking and when to be cautious; how to respond when we lack clarity or when insecurity or strong emotions overtake us.

Just a few key pieces of wisdom about the human mind can be transformational in deepening our grounding.  For example:

  • Understanding that we have rising and falling moods enables us to ride the emotional rollercoaster with grace and constancy and with far less exhaustion and fallout
  • Understanding our perceptions shift along with our moods (i.e., people and circumstances will look very different over time) introduces an enormously helpful degree of patience and curiosity
  • Understanding our mind continually produces new ideas and fresh insights on a continual basis frees us from obsessing or ruminating and allows for a more consistent engagement with the tasks at hand.

Leaders with grounding have an uncanny ability to keep calm and carry on, to remain relatively unswayed by the slings and arrows of circumstance, to seek and respond to feedback and take difficult conversations in stride.

They steer clear of counter-productive (inner and outer) drama. And they value the clear mind and reflectiveness that are the sine qua non of good leadership.

From a grounded place, things tend to go more smoothly. Work gets simplified. Performance hums along. Solutions arise.  And it all feels natural and ordinary: responsive, drama-free productivity.

In other words: Every investor’s dream.

White Paper: State-of-Mind and Organizational Performance

In the attached article, my co-author, Paul David Walker, and I explain the role that individual and collective states-of-mind plays in organizational performance.

State-of-mind is the prevailing feeling-state embodied in an organization.  It is the lens and filter through which leaders and teams view their organization and their work.  It is a largely-invisible variable that profoundly shapes virtually every element of organizational performance.

Leaders with a deeper understanding of this variable have greater capacity to raise the prevailing state-of-mind in their organization.  By doing so, they address problems when it matters most: before they even arise.  At the same time, they unleash new levels of vitality, creativity and goodwill that are intrinsic to high-quality states-of-mind and that fuel genuine leaps in organizational performance.

Click here to download and read:  State-of-Mind and Organizational Performance

Audio Program: Humility and Leadership

In his business classic Good to Great, Jim Collins describes his astonishment at observing the humility shared by the chief executives profiled in his book.  Expecting flashy, celebrity-style leaders, Collins’ instead found what he called “Level 5 Leaders”  — low-key individuals who credited others for wins while taking blame for failures; who welcomed feedback while shunning the spotlight; who listened closely to others and respected their contributions; who favored workmanlike focus on the business over publicity and media events.

Such humble leaders have a special ability to bring out the best in people.  They enable those around them to rise to the occasion.  They create space for fresh ideas and creativity to infuse and energize their organizations.  They adapt with nimbleness to changing conditions and respond effectively to new opportunities.

In the audio program below, I share more in-depth reflections on exactly why humility in leadership is so helpful in creating healthier, high-performing organizational cultures.  I also share some anecdotes that revealed to me how the opposite of humility — a rigid or closed orientation marked by unwarranted certainty or self-righteousness — can have disastrous consequences for organizations.

Click here to download and listen to this 40-minute audio program.

Audio Program: The Missing Key To A Fulfilling Career

Most of us want to be fully and passionately engaged in our working lives, dedicated to positive impact, committed to building value.

Yet studies suggest most U.S. and global workers are actually disengaged in their jobs.

Why is this?  What’s responsible for the gap between our desire to be engaged and the reality of widespread dissatisfaction?

In the audio program below, I suggest the answer lies in a basic misunderstanding of why people are engaged — or not engaged — at work.

Most of us assume engagement will come when we find the right work or circumstance: a job that matches our strengths and talents, that pays well, at a well-run company with mission and purpose, for example.

Seems logical enough.  Except it’s flat-out wrong.

Engagement is not a product of circumstance. It’s an orientation that we bring to our circumstances.

It is a state-of-mind or a way-of-being that, in its most powerful expression, utterly negates the power of external forces to determine how fully and passionately we engage with our life and work.

Often it seems that the most highly engaged people get that way because they have great jobs.

In truth, it is our capacity for indiscriminate full engagement, an orientation to give our best no matter what, that leads us to learn, grow, develop, take on bigger challenges, find solutions, and ultimately, enjoy more high-impact and fulfilling working life over time.

By contrast, when people are struggling in their working lives, it is often because they see external factors — the job they have, their boss’s behavior, the amount they are paid — as causes for their disengagement.  They have not yet embraced this awesome capacity we all have for full engagement in the moment.

Full engagement is within all of our reach.  It just requires that we stop looking for reasons to be fully engaged and see that full engagement is always possible, no matter what.

Click here to listen to or download this free 40-minute audio program.