The 5 Leadership Lessons I Learned in Tuscany
During my 15 days in Tuscany, I journaled daily, created stories through video and photos of my experiences, smiled under the Tuscan sun for countless hours daily, shed tears of joy and of loss from my past and was greeted daily with the discovery of new, and fell in love again in many ways. It was a journey that changed my life, and I’m still a bit in awe of the wild and incredible opportunities and lessons that unfolded while I was there.
I’m one of those people who believe that things don’t happen by accident, so I take very seriously the events and relationships I built during this trip through Florence and the many small villages surrounding my home base of Sinalunga. I learned some powerful lessons that, as an Executive Leadership Coach, I need to share. This blog post is a little longer than most I have written, and certainly more personal and raw than any I have published, but it’s 100% from my heart for you, for all of the leadership roles that you play in life at home and at work.
Lesson #1: Find the courage to face your fears.
Stepping over the edge puts you into an entirely new realm, filled with gifts you never knew were there waiting. Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about the “what if’s”, daydreaming about the possibilities of things, but never quite let ourselves slip over that edge. We may peek over it, or even hang one of our limbs over it for a moment, but we pull back, onto safer land. Without facing your fears you will never know your potential. This isn’t a dress rehearsal. This is your one precious life. Don’t you think it’s time to leap?
How does this apply to Leadership? Follow your dreams! If you don’t do it, who will? I’ve been dreaming for years about returning to Tuscany and finding some way to spend time there on a regular basis. Following my dream and making this trip happen (Traveling alone!…something I’ve never done in Europe before) changed my life! I met some amazing people, had some incredible experiences and have figured out a way to create meaningful and fulfilling work that will be based in Tuscany, which will allow me to actually live there part-time in the future! Finding the courage to rent a car alone for 10 days, driving the backroads of Tuscany, often with no GPS to guide me, was scary as hell!! And it took me on some incredible adventures, including getting lost and taking a wrong turn into someone’s property that led to a tasting room entrance…run by a family that owns a pristine organic winery on the edge of San Gimignano – my new friends, and colleagues. Having courage to step into the unknown creates new opportunities. What a delight!
Lesson #2: Open your heart and receive.
People in Tuscany simply love Love! Italians articulate what they feel, and they mean what they say. They are transparent, direct, and passionate. They kiss, they hug, and they love with authenticity. They admire beauty; beauty in the landscape, beauty of architecture and art, beauty in one’s presence, the sunset.
Anyone who has gone through a hard breakup or lost someone they loved understands what it means to close off your heart. However, we are creatures designed to be in relationships, to love and to give of our hearts. And we are lovable, capable of receiving love. What a terrible waste of physiological energy to close off our hearts when we have access to this incredible gift – to love, and be loved.
How does this apply to Leadership? Business owners also can have closed hearts. I meet them every day. Someone does them wrong; lies, cheats or steals from them, “breaks up” and just quits…and it can break their hearts. It’s an intimate thing to open your heart and your business to a stranger who wants to come work (live) there…and it’s heartbreaking when you put everything you and your team have, into cultivating a relationship with someone, who ultimately leaves you. Bruised ego, bruised heart.
However, you will never really transform relationships with your employees and colleagues if you can’t open your heart.
Love. Be open, be vulnerable. But also be transparent, direct and passionate. Be authentic. Be the same person you are on the playground with your kid as you are with the people you work with every day and Lead. Open your heart, and you can begin to break through relationship barriers so you can truly align with your people and your team.
Lesson #3: Being still can quiet the chatter in your head so that you can complete your thoughts and notice the details.
My journey through Tuscany was filled with many moments where I could hear myself think, I could hear my breath. I thought about my family, and how very blessed I am to have them all. I thought about my marriage that didn’t last a lifetime, like I had dreamed of, and I thought about the love I received from him and his family for so many years, which shaped me and changed my life. And I felt grateful. I thought about my children, and some of the challenges I have had raising them, and how both of my boys have grown to be amazing, talented and kind young men who have worked hard to find their way in this life. And I realized, through these connected thoughts, how much potential they both have for happiness and love in this lifetime. It warmed my heart. It brought me to tears.
Quieting the chatter in my head helped me to focus; focus on who and what I have been called to be and do with my life. A beautiful realization that I am precisely on the path that I have paved for myself. That everything I do and everything I don’t do matters. And that I am complete. And that I am not done yet.
How does this apply to Leadership? Quiet time is centering and can bring you “home” to your personal “home base”. From this place we have great clarity, about so many things. The things that matter most come to the forefront of your mind when you silence the chatter in your head. We get interrupted all day long, at work and at home, and some days it feels impossible to quiet the chatter. There is no way to be proactive and creative when you are in this state. And it can break you down, wear you out. You can not be an effective leader in this state. Your business and your people are counting on you to be clear and be intentional about everything you do. And it’s so easy to see the path before you when you get out of the fog and the noise.
Lesson #4: Sometimes you need to just STOP talking, and spend more time noticing and listening.
When you stop talking, you are able to take in the world around you. You begin to realize that there is so much to learn. You can’t learn when you are always the one doing the talking! What an incredible reminder for anyone leading a family or leading a business. And when you are dealing with a language barrier, it’s even more challenging. You have to actively listen and watch one’s body language to get the full message and intent. This takes time, commitment and a lot of mental energy, and is the only way to get to the truth in any situation.
Anyone who knows me will understand why I call this one a lesson. I’m a talker. And I have created a career for myself that involves a lot of talking. My job involves asking powerful questions, listening, and then a whole lot of talking. On the stage I’ll spend 1-2 hours talking! On the phone, 60-90 minute coaching sessions asking questions, listening…and talking! Sometimes back to back meetings all day long. I don’t take enough time to sit and notice, and listen. Someone recently told me that when I am quiet I am “dangerous”. (implying that I’m thinking, noticing…it’s a bit comical that it scares people when I am quiet.)
How does this apply to Leadership? I see business owners and team leaders lead interviews and team meetings on a regular basis where they do all the talking! How can you learn anything about someone else when you are doing all the talking? Here’s an idea: Shut up! Ask a few powerful questions and then STOP TALKING. You can learn so much from someone when you notice, listen, get curious, and stop talking.
A valuable coaching structure that I learned years ago, and give as homework to all of my clients on a fairly regular basis, is to get good at just noticing what’s going on in any situation and be curious about it, rather than create your own story around what’s happening. When someone does something or says something that we don’t understand or don’t agree with, our instinct is to go on the defense, often with judgement, and immediately make up our own story about it! This is exhausting, and frankly a waste of our time. Staying curious, noticing and actively listening to the person and circumstances around you is powerful, because in this process we learn the truth. And from this place, it’s much easier to lead and inspire and support others.
Lesson #5: Stay clear about your vision and follow your dreams, no matter how crazy it might seem.
There’s something wildly compelling about having dreams and goals that seem at times impossible to attain, and finding yourself taking a leap of faith to make them happen, without permission. I have had a vision of a trip like this for years, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect so much richness of content and incredible experiences to come out of it. To me this was validating that we all need a vision about our dreams and aspirations, and do whatever it takes to execute your plan. However, we can’t be too tied to any particular roadmap to get there, because sometimes we have to take a side road, or the long way, to get there. Letting the process unfold is part of the journey, and letting people help you get there is part of the fun. Whatever your dream is, you need to write that shit down! Say it out loud to anyone who’s willing to listen, welcome the players in your life who unexpectedly show up and guide you along, and trust the process. There are so many right ways to accomplish something when you are determined and willing to do the work it will take to get there.
How does this apply to Leadership? What I’ve discovered is that there are unlimited options for success, however you personally define it. Who cares what anyone else thinks – this is your journey, it’s your life. Be grateful that you have dreams and a vision for your future at any stage in your life, because I meet people all the time who are late in their life and are still seeking happiness and have no idea what success looks or feels like. They gave up trying. They lost their vision and “settled”. And it breaks my heart. Until you’ve taken your last breath on this earth, you can still dream of possibilities and use your creative resources to make them come true.
We all balance leadership roles in every aspect of our lives, at home, at work, in our relationships. We have to start owning this fact. We all have an opportunity to lead, inspire and engage the people we care about the most, and we should. This is the stuff that matters the most to me when it comes to being a great leader; to not be afraid to have crazy dreams, shout them out for the world to hear, and then make them a reality. Even if your actual dream doesn’t come true, you might find yourself on a journey that exceeded all expectations, and was even richer and more fulfilling than the original vision. What have you got to lose?
To sum it up, I took myself to Tuscany to pick up some crumbs I may have left behind 11 years ago, with a strong desire to see if I could retrace my steps and reclaim that younger, vibrant, anything-is-possible woman who was a bit unsure of herself and changing at a fast pace. Tuscany greeted me with love, light, passion and plate after plate of incredible pasta, beautiful wine, and some life changing experiences that have helped me step boldly into the next phase of my life. I am ready to put these lessons to work for what is unfolding, and I can’t wait to launch this new work in 2018 – a leadership retreat that will be based in Tuscany. This will be a game changer for me…will it be for you, too? Whatever your leap is, I call you forward to take it with me. This isn’t a dress rehearsal, this is your one precious life – commit to it. Commit to you. That’s the best leadership lesson you can give anyone.