Sometimes thoughts might tend to be too abstract, not taking into account the reality of the moment or, vice-versa, too pragmatic without a breadth of vision. I remember when I first started campaigning for a different, better way of work it was very well received by employees, especially under the idea of producing the same results in less hours. It was a great ideal, but that’s not how their managers would see it (or believe it). At the opposite side of the spectrum, going very practical in the field there was not enough visibility beyond “things are like this and there is nothing we can do”. It took me some time to blend the theory with the practice, understanding what is important for Executives and Business owners to run the company smoothly, increase productivity, and at the same time integrating a better way of work for the teams. Ensure to cover both the theory and the real world, and, most importantly, embody the connection between the two!
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Giulio Zecca.
Giulio is passionate about productivity and optimization; he has a knack for spotting patterns in companies and works with them to achieve long-lasting profits and fulfillment.
He believes that our society is experiencing a revolution that changed the perception of the way we live and work; this is a huge opportunity to elevate the humankind towards a better society.
He observed some patterns that impact the productivity of companies and that — in similar ways — repeat themselves in different countries and organizations.
For these reasons, he now works with C-level executives, Managers and Business owners to optimize the productivity of the managers and of the company.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/3af0447d04687c74cf4a9714062d5723
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
After graduating with a masters in Computer Engineering (with Honors), I was part of a pioneering team researching the Internet of Things, Home Automation and robotization. I saw the huge impact these will have on the workplace, so I made a career until spending several years in Project Management, relentlessly growing into Leadership to have a way of improving the future of work.
My desire to have an impact on these topics brought me to leave my wonderful city (Rome) and the possibility of comfortable secure jobs, in order to experience diverse cultures, live in four different countries, and grow my expertise about great Performance.
During these years, there have been many challenges, a lot of learning, quite a few amazing places visited — and definitely too many pictures taken!
I started spotting patterns of inefficiencies and dissatisfaction that are very similar in different companies; this, combined with the rise of exponential technologies, is having a huge impact on the workplace. Technology and Innovations should serve a greater good while Education and Leadership should be used to create better working conditions. However, this is not how most companies are used to work, so I now run a consultancy and coaching business for people and companies to achieve better productivity, more fulfilment and higher profits.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
What is going on globally is that people are looking for more purpose, sustainability, automation. In order to fully appreciate this and steer it to improve our conditions, it needs to master three different areas: Society, Technology and Leadership. I have a natural ability for spotting patterns, and this proved extremely interesting in all three areas. Years of studies, travels, experiences and work, allowed me to see a direction we might choose to take to redesign the working conditions and elevate the human being towards a better society.
I started talking about my ideas with people I knew: some had (verbal or non-verbal) reactions like “it’s too good to be true”, but most of them were really intrigued. So I started presenting these ideas in workshops with startups, talks, and articles mainly on Linkedin.
I started from zero putting my vision out there with strong passion and commitment; people see the value and the benefit of these ideas and follow, amplify, share them. Most of all, it gives some “constructive disruption” and food for thoughts, to approach things in a different, better way.
When I attended a thought leadership course by Denise Brosseau in summer 2020, I had a realization that I was already living and embodying most of the concepts: I had already built myself into that.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One HR responsible contacted me as she was trying to set up workshops to optimize performance and productivity in companies. She saw my publications and was really interested in getting some insights and feedback on her work; I saw her genuine willingness and passion so I decided to support her in my free time. During one of our calls, she told me “someone asked me who is giving me these good hints… I told them I am in contact with a productivity guru!”
Well, honestly that made me laugh, but it also gave me confirmation that all the thoughts and work that I had been putting out in the world are really resonating and having an impact even on someone outside of my direct circle of influence.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started, I believed that good entrepreneurship was the key to having a better future of work (I only later grasped that this is just one part of the whole ecosystem). I had my mind full of ideals and my brain packed with concepts I learned in management certification, in online entrepreneurship courses at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and at the Wharton University of Pennsylvania, and from business coaches/experts.
During a picnic in a park, full summertime, I started sharing these new “enlightened” ways of being an entrepreneur with a friend of a friend I had just met; the more I talked, the more his facial expressions showed disbelief and disconnection. Only later in the conversation I got to know that he had been to the USA for a business and entrepreneurship master, had tried a couple of startups, co-owned a small company to import/export special beers and also co-founded “4 Islands” a microbrewery producing amazing peculiar beers between the USA and the Netherlands. How embarrassing! I felt like in one of these sit-coms where all of a sudden it gets revealed how the person was silly and naïve.
So much passion and ideas… but not very pragmatic; this also taps into one of my five points further on.
You know how it is when you got something you are so passionate about, we want to speak that out to the whole world! Well, that’s a good vibe; at the same time, also listen, and let the conversation flow. Mostly, that thought me to be (even more) aware of the people and the situation around me.
Not sure this was funny at that time, but now when that happens to cross my mind for whatever reason, I shake my head thinking about my exuberance and it gives me a small laughter.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A Thought Leader is someone who has a vision that sets apart from the status quo, the current way of thinking, and projects his/her innovative ideas with passion towards improving their field of expertise.
While leaders have the ability — and charisma — to lead others towards a goal, Thought Leaders can see the direction the reality is taking today and pave the way for the world of tomorrow. The goal, in this case, is a new pattern of thinking. Which is akin to what separates a Thought Leader from an influencer, at least in the way the word is intended today; influencing others about something does not necessarily bring along a component of groundbreaking concepts or specific expertise in the field.
Of course, the three components are oftentimes blended and people embody different nuances of each.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
Thought Leaders deeply believe in ideas that can reshape the world for the better; the gain is not personal (in some cases, this can even backfire). The benefit is in seeing their vision being accepted, implemented and improving their area of expertise. Imagine seeing people engaged by your ideas, discussing them, sharing them, each time spotting some flaws and opportunities, thus making it better. The fulfilment that derives from that, and from making the vision come true, is priceless.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
When you look at solid entrepreneurship, their core is into serving an unserved need, by either offering a new service, or providing an already existing service in a novel way. It’s basically about looking into the future for innovating the existing reality: leverage some specific expertise to come up with groundbreaking concepts. And, in this, Thought Leadership can help for two different aspects:
- Anticipate the occurring changes at the horizon, to be ready for the (continuous and inevitable) transformations and pivot moments;
- Be the carrier of those changes, instead of waiting for the disruption to happen: shape the reality and be the disruptor.
The same approach is true for companies that keep flourishing for decades: they disrupt themselves and their way of doing things, before someone else disrupts them
This is one of the keys that will make your business stand solid and last; who best than thought leaders can spot — or create — these opportunities?
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
1) Have your own, original vision but don’t strive too much to find it or chase it because you want it to be recognized and validated; it’s a process. I remember a story my mum told me: a bird got into their country house, and it couldn’t find its way out, so it kept on slamming against a big window, the type that can’t be opened. No matter how much effort it made, it couldn’t go through. It didn’t even notice that my mum had already opened a window just a few meters away, so it continued to obsess in that direction. Until it finally raided its head, saw the open window, and was able to fly towards freedom in less than a second. We all have these moments in life; remember to always take some time to pause and look around. Staying in a tunnel-vision mode to go after your great thought or big idea would actually hinder the progress and make you miss the big picture. Lead your thoughts, give them space and time to expand, and they will start to attract and lead people.
2) To come up with a novel approach, get to know the great work already done by others — you never want to have an “original” thought that was already proposed by someone else. Don’t you have some examples when you are in a conversation and somebody claims to have a great idea? In some cases, they are also reluctant to tell it for fear someone might “steal” it. I experienced quite a few of these with apps, products, services, theories about economics, society, and you name it. When they finally share it, one person in the group goes “oh, yes, there is a woman in Canada who does exactly this, it’s actually great!” And there your super-original concept goes. (By the way, it can still be a viable business plan — don-t be stopped just by the fact that someone else is doing it, but be aware that another similar approach already exists). If others have some great points, you can acknowledge them and integrate them, then generate a fresh perspective; that’s evolution. Study both the classic sources and the most recent trends, keeping actively updated at least every quarter, even better every month.
3) Back in 2007 I took an elective course in Ambient Intelligence; the expert was a visionary thought leader at a Think Tank. The topics meant to show how, in the next future, we would have devices everywhere to assist us in all tasks. We would not need to carry around CDs, DVDs, USB drives, because data will be stored “in a cloud on the internet”, and people would have a handheld device always with them, with the capacity of doing with a single device most of the work that required different tools. I cannot tell you how strong the rejection was, with reasons ranging from the social impact of a dystopian future to concerns about the privacy and security of the data. The ones of us less concerned about that, kept on wondering about the feasibility of such approach on a large scale. A couple of months later that year, Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone; you know how the story went from there.
I would like you to consider one thing: that was a room of a few selected people about to have their Masters in Computer Engineering with specialization in Distributed Systems and Artificial Intelligence; as such, when it comes to technology, probably more knowledgeable and aware of the potential progress than the majority of the population. But, still, our mind could not accept the solution because — to use Raymond Loewy’s words — it “implied too vast a departure from what they have been conditioned into accepting as the norm”.
Loewy is the father of industrial design; he created iconic logos and products following what he called the MAYA principle: Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable. Something that is novel enough to be considered innovative, and yet familiar enough so that people can associate with that.
So, be disruptive and innovative — but not too much too soon. Your vision as a thought leader is by nature creating a new path, often looking far into the future; that is what sets you apart. If, however, your concept is too different from the reality people see and experience, there will be a disconnect, and they won’t be able to associate with your idea. Would your impact be the same without followers?
4) The point above about your concept calls for another essential tenet: communicate your ideas in a way people (as many people as possible) can understand! It is great to have or to start with a clique of like-minded individuals: you understand each other, you speak the jargon and you self-reinforce the concepts. Being recognized as a leader goes beyond that, as you will need a large audience to resonate with your ideas and amplify them; if they don’t understand your concepts in the first place, how can they absorb them and believe in them? People who know me could tell you how complex my thoughts are sometimes and in those cases is good to have them around to remind me that I should ease them into the comprehension rather than expecting everyone to follow the flow of my convoluted and multi-faceted theory. This doesn’t mean that you cannot have a deep, intellectual, rewarding conversation; quite on the contrary. You would see me (even more) passionate when I realize that the person in front of me is engaging in the intellectual challenge, sometimes correlating different fields and sectors. If you allow other people to grasp the building blocks and show them a way to build a bridge between them, your audience will surprise you. After all, if you are the thought leader, it’s your responsibility to share your message in a clear, understandable and inspiring way.
5) Sometimes thoughts might tend to be too abstract, not taking into account the reality of the moment or, vice-versa, too pragmatic without a breadth of vision. I remember when I first started campaigning for a different, better way of work it was very well received by employees, especially under the idea of producing the same results in less hours. It was a great ideal, but that’s not how their managers would see it (or believe it). At the opposite side of the spectrum, going very practical in the field there was not enough visibility beyond “things are like this and there is nothing we can do”. It took me some time to blend the theory with the practice, understanding what is important for Executives and Business owners to run the company smoothly, increase productivity, and at the same time integrating a better way of work for the teams. Ensure to cover both the theory and the real world, and, most importantly, embody the connection between the two!
To provide you with as much value as possible, I also created a mini-masterclass for Authority Magazine to complement these points. It’s in the form of a conversation in a crescendo of insights, starting from the foundations up to the most complex aspects: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xs31WPM2Hw
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
There are few people that immediately come to my mind, like Clayton Christensen for his model of Disruptive Innovation, or Seth Godin for his campaigns to constantly add real value through good marketing. There would be more, but one that stands out above all for me is Richard Branson: he repeatedly managed to set a vision for the future and to make it real through adventurous entrepreneurship. He started at 16 with articles that challenged the status quo, then moved forward with Virgin Records to sell good music at affordable prices. He is currently still active with an ultra-high-speed vacuum train and spaceflights. He has been providing forward-thinking points of view, and endeavored to put them in practice. He now campaigns for a better way of work: more fluid and more effective, with less working hours per week. How could I not resonate with this?
What we can learn from Richard Branson is his relentless momentum to move things forward and his great attitude to take on new challenges. From his positive sides, we can all learn how to live and enjoy life as an adventure!
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
Now that you mention it, it’s true that I see the term used to label (or self-proclaim) people without that great thought or revolutionary idea or innovative concept. Like someone having a social media account where he/she gives advice and sells training to inexperienced people on how to do a podcast. It is also true that some people have the big idea and vision but they do not have a huge follow or resonance yet, so how do you define those thought leaders that are getting there?
That made me think of other terms that have been marked as marketing style, like opinion leader or guru. Avoiding the term would just shift the focus in my opinion, as we should come up with some new catchy one, and then we will see the same pattern repeating again. It will be considered elite at the beginning, and then it will follow the usual pattern (Rogers’ diffusion of innovation model) where a majority starts adopting it. This is probably what is going to happen anyway; humans are made for evolution, so we always seek to innovate.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
That’s the big question of this decade — for everyone, especially for leaders — and it’s strongly linked to my mission.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A movement to elevate the humankind to our next level of evolution.
Many companies put people in a position where they don’t belong, and the whole mechanism becomes cranky; people struggle, and they produce sub-optimal results. Imagine, instead, the perfect components of a Swiss watch, with its fluid mechanism working flawlessly for decades. That is possible because every cog is in a place where it’s a great fit.
Each industrial revolution in the past allowed the population (on average) to evolve one step up in our pyramid of human needs (Maslow): more security, more certainty, more comfort, more dedication to other areas of life. Did you ever stop thinking how much of the time you spend for your leisure (body, fitness, health, shopping, events, etc.) you would have available if you were born just a hundred years ago?
And lately you probably noticed more and more people dedicating their time and attention to areas of life other than work; we look for purpose, connections, sometimes even spirituality. All this social restlessness is one of the signs that we are now living the Fourth industrial revolution, so we have the great opportunity to improve our conditions on a large scale once again.
Imagine how many people would dedicate more of their re-gained time to other areas of life like nutrition and health: how much would this be better for both human and social costs? Imagine how some of the people who now have more time (and less stress) could do any form of activity for their community or some much-needed action for the environment.
Leaders can create a different, better way of work: great results for the company, while leaving enough time for the important things in life.
Wouldn’t that be a win for the company, a win for the individual and a win for our society?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s a quote attributed to the old Latin philosopher Seneca: “Luck is that moment when preparation meets opportunity”. In reality, he never wrote that, and this interpretation of his thought is very recent (end of last century), but I find it powerful nonetheless. I am all about preparation — sometimes to the extent of erring a bit too much on that phase over the doing — and any good practice for Management, Entrepreneurship or Leadership in general will highlight how fundamental the planning phase is, and how often that gets instead crunched to a minimum.
When I prepare myself at the best I can for the goal that I want to pursue, I can leverage opportunities as they arise. Someone is skeptical about the investment and the commitment into becoming the best version of myself, in case a good occasion does not arrive or I won’t be able to grasp it anyway.
I say that when you do all the right things to make that happen, one piece after the other, you put yourself in a place where that can actually come true. You cannot win a sports competition if you never go to the gym; however, if you show up consistently you start not only getting in shape, but also learning the tricks, understanding the tools and techniques, knowing the people, what they do, where they go. So that by hanging out consistently you enormously increase your chances to be in the right place at the right time.
And, most importantly, the effort is nothing compared to the regret and guilt you would feel if you had a great opportunity but you didn’t prepare for that.
Because in many occasion, as Eminem singed, “you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow / this opportunity comes once in a lifetime”.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Adam Grant. The work he has been doing to improve both the emotional and practical aspects of the workplace is amazing. He inspires millions of people for better leadership, better companies and, overall, a better society. I have been following him for a bit now; his continuous work on the power of critical thinking and on original thoughts is something that goes beyond just his work as a Professor and opens the way to a new, constructive way of approaching reality. A perfect reference for the topic of this interview!
How can our readers follow you online?
Linkedin is the platform where I mostly share my thoughts — I would kindly ask a few lines of introduction if you decide to connect — while most of my articles and my work are better accessible on my website www.innovAchievers.com
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.
Thanks for you for this opportunity; some of the questions were deep and challenging. They gave some good food for thoughts… isn’t that quite funny for a thought leader?