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The GondoLeader

Posted by Maurizio Morselli on March 4, 2013 at 8:35 AM

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”

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

Categories: Leadership

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