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The GondoLeader

Posted by Maurizio Morselli on March 4, 2013 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (0)

The GondoLeader: Nine Lessons in Navigation for Leaders


By Maurizio Morselli

“El mondo xe fato tondo: chi no sa navegar presto va in fondo” (The world is made round: if you cannot navigate, a sinkin’ you shall be found”) –Venetian Proverb

It’s been a little over two years now: living and working in Venice. Being that most of my commute is over water, the deck of the vaporetto is a perfect moving observatory. I appreciate this city and its ability to adapt, survive and thrive: perhaps the quintessential expression of the meaning of: “going with the flow”. I’ve also developed an appreciation for the work of the ubiquitous gondoliers; I observe them; I watch them daily and am in awe of their navigational agility, their energy coupled with a unique joy of living, working under all kinds of atmospheric conditions and their vernacular playful exchanges; so I often stop and speak with them about their craft, their workday, the weather, the unique situations, adventures and success on the water, as I also improve my “venexian” language (no, not a dialect!); I have now a mini arsenal of so many stories and experiences that one could write a book on any one of these wonderful navigators! Reflecting on my conversations, besides being entertained and amused, it occurred to me that I have a lot to learn from them and that many of their simple lessons are not only life-on-the-water lessons, but are a neat distillation of the characteristics of an effective leader, who must navigate currents, winds, people and cultures while keeping fit and joy filled.

I am happy to learn from the gondoliers and want to share my “lessons learned” and how I feel they apply to all those of us, who are constantly trying to enhance our effectiveness in the rough unpredictable waters of work, often in less than steady vessels and “climates”:

Balance: just as it is important to keep balance for proper seamless navigation on a gondola, for the safety of the vessel, it is also important to do so for the safety of the passengers/employees/colleagues/organization; your cargo (people) is of utmost importance. A gondolier is always ready to jump in the water to save a passenger although it is rather rare that someone falls. So, as leaders we cannot just say that “our people are our most important asset”, then at the first sign of a storm we throw them overboard (aka downsizing)

Currents: just as in the canals and as in the open sea, it is not always smooth sailing; knowledge of the currents, tides, is essential to staying not only afloat, but to maximize your time with your passenger and to ensure the full productivity of the day. Know what’s pulling you away; you cannot let the currents of the day lead you away from your objective. You will lose time and money

Instinct: the waters of the canals are incredibly busy and turbulent, bustling with boats, ferries and various crafts; the gondolier must make quick decisions and turns without the aid of electronic guidance (sonars/depth finders etc.); he must be assertive, self-reliant and go; leaders too must make quick decisions even in the absence of data, navigational coordinates. Reliance on instinct is a key to staying afloat, both in the gondola and in the office.

Simplicity: the gondola is a simple wooden craft, ONE color, guided by ONE person and ONE oar; that is all that is needed to glide efficiently, elegantly and effectively; a leader too must strive to guide her/his organization with simplicity and if possible with simple elegance.

Multiculturalism: every gondolier with whom I have spoken knows how to communicate in at least two other languages and some impressively well. They are also familiar with each culture, either having visited different places or having learned from their customers. I believe that every leader today must be able to communicate not only in his native language. Leaders must learn from their customers. I am surprised at how many leaders today do not.


Strength & Kindness: needless to say, a gondolier must be physically fit and be able to navigate all day long. At the same time they must tend to the needs of their customers, be customer sensitive and gentlemanly in their behavior (granted, some are more so than others); every leader must take care of their health, and transmit energy, even when they are tired.

Keeping the course in bad weather: the gondolier is always available: rain? Wind? No problem. The gondolier is always on the job regardless of the weather. The gondolier, as a leader knows how to navigate and maneuver in all weather conditions and communicates with the passengers in terms of balance and movement. A good leader accepts the storms and weathers them with renewed learning and experience.

Leverage: having leverage is about simplicity; that is once you know the fulcrum. The gondolier uses the “forcola” (the unique, removable, wooden oar rest) to effortlessly use leverage for propulsion, movement and steering. To steer an organization towards success a leader needs to know where the fulcrum resides and use it to steer the organization and guide it to its destination. Know your “organizational forcola”!

Knowledge and Storytelling: gondoliers know Venice, its waters, its currents, its history, its architecture, its peculiar legends and have mastered the art of retaining and recounting the information to their clients. The best gondoliers, as the best leaders, engage their audience by sharing knowledge and telling compelling stories (in a second language, quite often!) from a very personal and human point of view.

What I’ve described is a summary of the key characteristics I see gondolier live every day and my wish is that every leader becomes an excellent GONDOLEADER! To ensure that their vessel stays in tip top shape, its passengers remain safe and protected, and that their leadership through navigational ability creates a most “serene*”legacy, for others Leaders to follow.


The “Forcola”


*Venice was once called “La Serenisssima” (The Most Serene

Are You a Facilitator? A Leader? Or Both?

Posted by Maurizio Morselli on October 31, 2012 at 7:50 AM Comments comments (0)


By Maurizio Morselli

Being a good facilitator is at the core of being a good leader. A true facilitator-leader creates a community, centered around learning, sharing and open communication. This is the essence of strength in the classroom/meeting room/boardroom, which can then be pragmatically transferred to the work at hand and to future professional and personal endeavors.

A strong facilitator-leader should exude genuine passion: the facilitator-leader’s actions should speak loudly to her/his participants(team, students, colleagues…), thus creating an environment where team members trust each other and are empowered to make decisions, to ask questions & to actively participate — even in the absence of the facilitator-leader. An effective facilitator-leader engages the group continuously. People feel part of an empowering environment where mistakes are part of a constructive, dynamic learning process and not part of a boring, destructive, unilateral process.

An effective facilitator encourages teams to be honest, to be responsible and to take risks and to seek mutual understanding. The facilitator-leader, together with her/his participants or team contributes to

1. positive outcomes

2. incrementally better results and

3. high value for participants , organizations and their clients.

Successful lessons/workshops or meetings should engage the whole self and be empowering.

I have found (from participants’ feedback and from my own field experience as facilitator of leadership and of language learning experiences) that success is mostly dependent on the following 10 factors :

1 CLARITY: you must be clear about the objectives of the course and of each lesson (and related tasks). This helps you stay on track and it also ensures that participants understand expectations.

2 PRE-PLANNING: one must have a detailed “roadmap” to facilitate the group through each session. Creating a logical, intuitive roadmap/process requires time: hours or sometimes days but, with a detailed roadmap, you’ll be able to maneuver well and not get lost. Plus think of the confidence you’ll have in knowing your do have a clear roadmap.

3 FLEXIBILITY: be ready to switch gears mid-stream when your process is not meeting the needs of the group; it is quite possible that the objective for your students(or organization) has shifted (no matter how many hours went into the planning). Your students are your customers and you must meet THEIR needs. Remember, it is not about you!

4. FACILITATION SKILLS: an understanding of group dynamics is a fundamental, essential factor; knowing when to work as a large group, in small teams and as individuals; knowing when to seek consensus and when majority or an individual take precedence. Knowing how to engage the whole group in healthy discovery and discussion. Know your participants; know your class!

5. ENGAGEMENT AND BRAINSTORMING: Understanding the idea generation process, including how lateral thinking occurs and how to design & adapt exercises. You might have a nicely pre-printed leader’s guide but be ready to adapt exercises to new insights and emerging new, relevant ideas.

6. CONFLICT MANAGEMENT ABILITY: if and when it occurs, an effective facilitator nips conflict at the bud, addresses it and defuses it. Also remember the 4Ps of good management: Praise in Public and Punish in Private, which means provide praise in front of the group but corrective feedback is best, more respectfully given privately, one on one.

7. IDEA JUGGLING: The ability to keep/accept multiple ideas in your head(to juggle), bring them together succinctly and play them back to the group; the ability to summarize the group’s progress towards the goals and explore the road ahead.

8. RECORDS MANAGEMENT: The ability to capture notes /record of the session’s strengths and weaknesses as well as individual student needs. Follow up on any pending items/promises to students. Keeping orderly filing and follow-up systems.

 9. TRUST PARTNERSHIP: knowing how to help groups build trust; beginning with setting agreements in advance and at the end of every meeting. Maintaining confidentiality and professionalism at all times. Knowing when to laugh with the group and when to refrain from making any judgmental comments.

10. SUBJECT MATTER MASTERY: unless you know the subject thoroughly and have the confidence to tackle most questions and/or emerging issues on the subject, you should not be facilitating it and should acquire additional knowledge and or seek the guidance of an experienced mentor. You should be thoroughly familiar with all the resources you recommend, with the exercises to be executed and with any technology you are suggesting your participants use as part of your class/meeting/workshop. Furthermore if you are facilitating in another organization (school/institution…) ensure you are also familiar with key information about that organization.

Naturally these ten factors of success are only a distilled set of guidelines, which should serve as a living roadmap. Let’s also remember that the oxygen of any “living” set of rules and guidelines should always be common sense! I hope these ten quick suggestions, do, in fact, make sense and that “common sense” becomes “common practice” for all of us as Trainers and as Leaders. Happy and productive facilitating!


Help Leaders Reach Endless Skies

Posted by Maurizio Morselli on October 4, 2012 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (1)

Help Leaders Reach Endless Skies: Remove their Propulsion Blockers!

By Maurizio Morselli

To achieve their maximum potential, executives should revisit their house of talents and experiences and focus first and foremost on the “attic” of their "potential triumphs" rather than on the “basement” of "passed tribulations(aka development needs)"


In my work with executives, I am often asked to work with executives on specific "development needs". And, while the analysis, discussion and dialog with each executive yields important points of introspection and “home improvement” areas (… development needs), it is my view that this approach also keeps the executive in a retrospective vortex of negative reflection. It slows down forward, creative, passionate propulsion.


Naturally most mature executives will indeed be able to work on their “development needs”, albeit with different degrees of commitment. Moreover, in my experience I have also found that the very discussion of a manager’s shortfall(s) reappears subconsciously in their ongoing self-analysis, thus hindering optimum, joy propelled peak performance. In fact I have coined a word to describe this phenomenon: the “propulsion blocker”.


I have found it a lot more helpful to focus, instead our work on the exciting prospects of the potential leaps that fuel and propel the engine of a person's joys and positive energies.

Oftentimes executives, in an attempt at conveying their self-awareness have said to me things like : "I know I am a terrible delegator"; "I am a terrible presenter" when in fact, "they" are not: a terrible delegator; "they" are not: a terrible presenter, for the expression "I am…(whatever)", implies one’s identity, and indeed a tragically mislabeled diagnosis; the reality is, instead, that: "they have had difficulties" in delegating, “a tough time” presenting or have experienced other situational challenges. But important to note that those situational challenges are not what the person IS!

Could this be viewed as a subtle, academic/semantic difference? I really don’t think so because when false identifications are perpetuated, it can make a world of difference in one’s self-perception, thus blocking the momentum of self-correction and healing.


Recently I attended a most interesting talk on "Psychosynthesis", by Dr Alberto Alberti. He eloquently and plainly explained his work. This branch of psychoanalysis focuses on just what I mentioned: on the positive architecture of one's abilities; that which allows a person to migrate from a basement of accepted grief to an attic of constant state of joy, of self-contentment and thus new, energy filled, forward looking discoveries. Haven’t we all heard the old adage, after all: “focus on the positive!”? Which leads me to Psychosynthesis.


Psychosynthesis was first formulated in 1910 by the Italian psychiatrist, Roberto Assagioli(1888-1974), a pioneer of the psychoanalytic movement in Italy, and a contemporary of both Freud and Jung. Early in his work he observed that repression of higher, super conscious impulses (later known as "repression of the sublime") could be just as damaging to the psyche as repression of material from the lower unconscious.


Assagioli’s work has application to all of us, as WHOLE human beings. As I listened to Dr Alberti I couldn’t help but think about my own work, our work as teachers, the work of HR professionals, leaders and anyone interested in facilitating growth.


In our work with Managers and organizational Leaders we often work on correcting the “basement” of their being, the impulses and drivers at the lower, humid, musty floors of their “architecture” when in fact we should be looking at the “top floors”, the attic from which we can observe the stars and the endless skies. The focus here is more on leveraging joy and maximizing curiosity, and less on the identification and correction of the lower material. In other words: maximizing propulsion of our joyful self, not blocking it!


Psychosynthesis is explicitly growth-centered.

With the insight of a prophet, Assagioli declares: "Only the development of his inner powers can offset the dangers inherent in man's[sic] losing control of the tremendous forces at his disposal and becoming the victim of his own achievements. ... This is indispensable for maintaining the sanity and indeed the very survival of humanity."(1)

Essential to this involves learning the central process of "dis-identification" from all that is not the self, and from stereotypical labeling; and centering on "self-identification," or the realization of our true identity as a center of awareness and joyful will.


In its most basic sense, psychosynthesis is simply a name for the process of healthy personal growth: the natural tendency in each of us to harmonize or synthesize our various aspects at ever higher levels of organization by focusing passionately on our strengths.


And facilitating that wonderful discovery process is a learning journey in which all of us as HR professionals/Teachers/Facilitators/Coaches, can take part.


I encourage every HR professional, Coach, Organizational Development Specialist, Organizational Psychologist, Career Advisor to explore the work of Dr Assagioli and consider incorporating it into their work; it will make a difference!


Venice, April 2012















1. The Act of Will (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1974), p. 6



The DNA of Effective Management : The 16 Building Blocks

Posted by Maurizio Morselli on September 27, 2010 at 5:11 AM Comments comments (4)

What do effective managers do?

I believe they essentially do two things extremely well: 1) they motivate by example and 2) they manage consequences for productive and unproductive behaviors.

In dissecting these " two  things" (which I call the double helix of management), I have found found that they are linked by 16 well known vital components or building blocks that impact managerial success.

I thought that it would be helpful to take these 16 building blocks, analyze them and combine them to create a curriculum to develop healthy, effective managers. Naturally, I realize that there is no such thing as a management success panacea/single formula: these are just 16 links I find to be present in the DNA of the effective managers with whom I have worked and with those with whom I continue to work;  so I have created such a workshop in an e-learning format and already delivered it with very positive results; Clearly one could add or delete according to organizational/cultural/personal/development needs. 


 Understanding the Management Matrix (The How[Outcomes]and What[Behaviors])

• Recognizing Behavior vs. Non-Behavior

• Managing Consequences (Categories; Effects; Sources)

• Unleashing Discretionary Effort

• Evaluating Performance

• Giving and Receiving Feedback

• Setting Clear Goals

• Our Intention vs. Our Impact

• Measuring Performance and Results

• Delivering Reinforcement ; The R Gap

• Reward/Reinforcement Traps

• Shaping Behavior

• Facing and Resolving Conflict

• Active Listening

• Public Speaking Skills

• Cross Cultural Awareness


 This is working; I would love to hear your views and experiences and feel free to share with others. Always take care and share

Writing Effective Performance Objectives

Posted by Maurizio Morselli on July 29, 2010 at 12:53 PM Comments comments (0)

Writing Effective Performance Objectives



In most organizations, people are asked to write performance objectives -- for themselves and for others -- as part of their organization’s performance planning and appraisal process. It is an important directional compass. For some, this is a new experience. For many, it is a difficult one. The goal of this self-guided learning reference tool is to help make the task of writing Performance Objectives more informed, easier and more productive.


It Isn’t Easy

Writing good Performance Objectives is not easy. This is true whether you are writing them for yourself or for someone else. Getting at meaningful content for a work objective requires you to think at length and in depth about the work to be performed. It is unlikely that you will be able to sit down and dash off a set of finished objectives. Instead, you will have to write them, think them over, rewrite them, then rewrite them again. (Frankly, if you find writing good work objectives a very easy task, chances are you know something the rest of us don't and would you please share it?)


It Is Manageable

Although writing good work objectives is not easy, it is a manageable task. The function served by Performance Objectives is to clearly communicate (a) the nature of the work to be performed and (b) guidelines for determining if its results are satisfactory


Results Orientation and other qualities to strive for in writing Performance Objectives

Objectives must always be Results Oriented ; they must also be clear, measurable, and time-oriented.


Focus On Results vs. Activities

Whether routine or non-routine, recurring or situational, all work may be viewed as a process having a result. Results are the outcomes of activity, the effects of actions taken. Performance objectives should reflect, in measurable terms, the results expected, not just the activity to be performed.

Placing measures on activity is not the same as developing measures of the results of that activity. For example, focusing on keystrokes per minute is a measure of a data entry or word processing system operator’s activity. A useful measure of results might be the percentage of documents correctly keyed or typed.

What Are Results-Oriented Objectives and from where do we derive them?

All Performance Objectives are derived from a clear understanding of your Organizational Goals; they also derive from a process of reflection and analysis. Some of the more common areas or aspects of the workplace where reflection and analysis will yield objectives include problems, processes, practices and people.

Problems (Or, if you prefer, "Opportunities"): Although many people prefer to label discrepancies in results as "opportunities" instead of "problems," the facts are that the workplace is full of such discrepancies, no matter how we choose to label them. Discrepancies in results offer fruitful ground for the derivation and subsequent specification of objectives

Processes: Work processes also offer fruitful ground for deriving work objectives. This is particularly true regarding any kind of ongoing or continuous improvement effort. Consider the manager of a fairly sizable call center. Each year her objectives include one or more objectives related to achieving specific, measurable improvements in some aspect of call center performance.

Practices: Practices, also known as methods and procedures, offer a third area where reflection and analysis can produce meaningful objectives. These might quality as incremental improvements, work simplification or even that dreaded word, "reengineering." A simple example will illustrate the kind of payoff that can be found here. A manager whose unit periodically distributes printed materials to hundreds of sites throughout the continental United States (and overseas as well), was charged with reducing the costs of providing these materials. It turns out the materials were regularly reprinted and redistributed in their book format. A simple shift to loose-leaf binders enabled the printing and distribution of only the changed pages, greatly reducing cost and waste.

People: People, too, can be a source of objectives. For one thing, their developmental needs and requirements provide one source of objectives. For another, they can generate objectives related to other matters. In other words, people can set their own objectives. 

A Caveat About Measuring Work and Performance

You get what you measure. Before instituting measures of work and performance, you should think through the consequences of measuring what you contemplate measuring. If you do not, the results you get might be far removed from what you are after. For example, measuring average call length could indeed lead to reduced costs per call. But it can also lead to a situation where customer service representatives inappropriately cut calls short. Generally speaking, some mix of measures is needed to balance the pressures exerted by a single measure.

Identifying Results

To get at the results an employee is expected to produce, it is necessary to give thought to the outcomes or effects sought from the employee’s work activities.

Consider, for example, a few of the results a coordinator might produce: questions answered, data entered, errors corrected, materials shipped, and callers, potential customers satisfied (perhaps even delighted). A researcher’s results might be measured in terms of the number, quality, or value of studies conducted. A program director’s results might be measured in terms of the performance of the program, financially, operationally, or on both counts.

The attainment of results always consumes resources, either in the form of actual consumption of materials or simple wear and tear on technology, equipment, and people. The consumption of resources incurs costs. Work objectives might also reflect the cost of the results to be achieved as well as the results themselves. The results sought from operations/facilities/office managers might take the form of reductions in unit costs.

Use Common Sense

Temper the focus to view all objectives in terms of results instead of actions with common sense. It is indeed useful to think things through and make sure you are clear about the results to be achieved. On occasion, however, the result to be realized is the execution of a previously determined course of action. In other words, work objectives sometimes focus on the ends to be achieved, and they sometimes focus on the means to be employed. Ends and means are relative terms. The flawless launch of four new on-line tools/programs within a one-year period might be the end sought by an IT development supervisor but, for a senior/National executive, it is the means to new revenues.

The point being made here is that the content of performance objectives should focus on the work to be performed. Work is a process and it has a result. If the work is best expressed in terms of results, fine; if it is best expressed in terms of the process to be carried out, that is fine, too…as long as it produces tangible results.

A Process for Writing Performance Objectives

1. Spend some time initially thinking about  your organization's objectives and your work unit. What are the problems it faces? What processes are in need of improvement? What practices need review? What are the developmental needs and requirements of the people?

2. Think about what the person for whom the objectives are being prepared is to do. Here, you might be thinking about someone else or you might be thinking about yourself.

3. Draft a verb-object or action component.

4. Think about why that action is wanted. What results does it produce? What outcomes will it have? What effects will be created? Why are those important? What is their value? Will it bring us closer to a cure?

5. Modify the verb-object component, if necessary, to emphasize results instead of activity.

6. Think about ways of measuring the work you have begun to specify.

7. Draft some measurable standards the work must satisfy. How could you tell whether or not the work or results occurred? What is the measure of those results? Quality? Quantity? Speed? Money? Frequency? Ratios of some kind?

8. Specify some deadlines, time frames, due dates, etc., in which the work is to be accomplished

9. Ask the person who is to be accountable for meeting it what he (or she) thinks it means. Or, if you're writing them for yourself, ask your boss to tell you what she (or he) thinks it means.

10. Rewrite it again if necessary.


• Writing good objectives is not easy.

• Reconcile yourself to writing, reviewing, rewriting, and then rewriting again.

• Think of a good objective as having two components: a verb-object, indicating what is to be done, and a standards component, indicating how well.

• Work objectives may be broad or narrow in scope, short and sweet or quite lengthy, address financial or operational matters, and pertain to routine, repetitive work or to special, situational work.

• Work objectives may be solicited from the person who will be responsible for their achievement, specified by that person’s supervisor, or developed jointly by the two of them.

• The mix of routine and non-routine work should play a key role in determining the respective roles of the employee and the supervisor in determining the substance of the work objectives.

• In all cases, work objectives should be clear, measurable, time-tied statements of the work to be accomplished and the results expected from that work.

1. Drucker, P. F. (1954). The Practice of Management. Harper & Brothers: New York.
2. Mager, R. F. (1961). Preparing Instructional Objectives. Fearon: Belmont.
3. Odiorne, G. S. (1965). Management by Objectives: A System of Management Leadership. Pitman: New York.


Posted by Maurizio Morselli on July 9, 2010 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (2)

Think about this and answer: How Do YOU feel About Your Work?

"When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. To love life through labor is to be intimate with life's inmost secret. All work is empty save when there is love, for work is love made visible."

Kahlil Gibran

The idea of "right livelihood" originally comes from Buddhism and refers to work that is consciously chosen, performed with full awareness and care and leads to enlightenment. It means we show our love for the world through our work and should avoid work that hurts or exploits others. Work provides us with an opportunity to put our beliefs into action.;)

How do you feel about your work?

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