Perfect people don’t fight, they don’t lie, they don’t make mistakes and they don’t exist
I meet Andrea Vitullo in a warm spring afternoon, when Milan wears its finest self to enchant even the most hurried visitors with its blooming white and pink magnolias in gardens hidden here and there around the city.
There could not be a better time of the year for this meeting! After managing international companies for 18 years, Andrea is now offering training and coaching for managers of companies working in different profit industries in Italy and abroad, helping them to “bloom” in one of the toughest roles – after being a parent, of course: being a leader.
Leadership: an often abused, misrecognized term, whose importance and power is not even clear to those who are to become responsible for it. But what should leadership stand for today? We have asked Andrea, an executive coach and designer of more human paths and paces, as he loves to describe himself.
Words matter, Nanni Moretti would put it – Andrea says ironically, quoting Moretti’s movie “Palombella Rossa” – There are words that have been worn out by the way we use them, words that have thus lost any meaning; as it seems to have happened to “leadership”, such a powerful word that it has inspired a real mysticism, like a mantra that can heal any social, economic or political disease. “Leadership” and “leader” both come from the war language.
The word “leader” is about commanding, controlling, and competing, and is surely about a world where everything is thought and made for males, fueled by hypertrophic forms of egos.
“I prefer to use the word ‘guide’, I like it more! A guide helps people’s talents to bloom, a guide takes others by the hand, helps them to fully understand their inclinations, to find their vocation, to try their many identities out. To find their “daimon”, just to mention Plato’s famous Er myth. The organizations that take part in this research with their people encourage everyone to participate in and contribute to it; the time has come to leave strong personalities and charismatic leaders behind. The change is already happening in those companies that want to find a broader sense to their business.
What’s your approach to these companies?
Having worked in house for many years has helped. I allow some old definitions to be used, some labels that are typical to the HR jargon and hard to discourage, if this is what I need to help organizations steer for new shores.
Basically, I build bridges between the demand for traditional development and training (distributed leadership, for example) and a more generative vision aimed at inclusion, relationships, care and kindness, forms that have traditionally been more associated with women, but that belong to both men and women regardless of gender.
Linking businesses to people and looking for the organizations’ soul is the mission of Inspire, the strategic advisory company that I established in 2006.
What has made you grow from a manager interested in his own professional development to a coach for managers’ personal development?
I started working in marketing and communication in 1988. But developing an anthropological vision and understanding people’s behaviors – the hidden part of the iceberg that moves companies – was already what intrigued me more, and it has been ever since.
In 2000, when I was directing an international financial insurance company, I had an epiphany because of a master I attended at Insead – the International Business School di Fontainbleu – where I met Manfred Kets de Vries, a brilliant professor and writer of essays on leadership. His works, based on different management, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy theories, immediately captured me.
I have kept on studying, practicing and working to better understand what moves people, and how their most hidden relationships and emotional dynamics work, those under the iceberg tip; for a few years, I carried this on alongside my in-house job, and tested myself working with managers from some American companies, when coaching was still little known in Italy.
According to “common wisdom,” you need to know what you want before you can take action. In my experience, however, you career is not a linear path towards a preset destination, an already established professional identity, but an irregular journey where we measure our possible professional and personal selves through tangible actions. Herminia Ibarra, a professor of Organizational Behavior at the London Business School, explains this well in her book, “Working Identity”. Life and professional changes are most likely to be successful when we test our new professional identity while still dealing with our previous job, and in many cases, our previous life.
That is exactly how it is been for me. I wrote my new professional chapter with a book of mine (“Leadership riflessive”, Apogeo) published in 2006, while I was still an in-house communication and events manager.
Moving from one identity to the other, from being a manager to a trainer and consultant, was surely made easier by lucky encounters that happened by chance. Meet people who “rooted” gave me strength.
They believed in me, in a half-full glass, and their trust in me helped me realize what I could become and how to bloom. Of them all, I would like to mention Umberto Galimberti, one of the most important encounters and mentors at a point of my life.
It was 2006, my wonderful year! I quit my job, started working as a coach, published my first book, and a famous magazine featured an article about the project of my company, Inspire – bringing philosophers inside organizations. Quite a risk at the time, since the philosophic dimension of reflections, open questions and knowing oneself did not find much space in management, where everything was about goals and the relentless quest of results and performance.
In your last book, “Realizzati e Consapevoli – gli allenamenti mindfulness che trasformano il tuo lavoro e la tua vita” (written with Giuseppe Coppolino and published by Hoepli in 2020), you do not seem to be addressing managers and leaders any longer.
These days, coaches work on self-research, both in existential terms and for what concerns the professional impacts and consequences of this constant exploration of human beings.
The personal and professional life are now integrated, and in these past years, this process has been accelerating more and more.
The gyms we have in life, those where we learn to care for and be mindful of others like parents and children, can helps us gain skills linked to our emotional intelligence and listening skills – skills that can be ignited at work and applied there, too. All this works the other way around, too, when it is in our professional life that we learn how to be perfect problem solvers, how to manage our time and make decisions by considering others’ point of view.
The new generations surely want to succeed at work, but at the same time, they want to have a life. A life full of human relationships, and not just with their colleagues!
They ask themselves important questions on the reasons why they do their job, what their values are, what their purpose is, and how they can be more sustainable in their choices and relationships with others.
And this is what the world absolutely needs. Sustainability is more and more discussed, not just in relation to the environment, but also to our relationships with others.
For about three years, I have been working on many projects for the development of a more inclusive leadership that could make room for everyone and enable them to develop and make the most of their own potential.
The exercise that we can do by deeply listening to our inner self, starting from our body, emotions and thoughts, knowing how to remain silent, the seeds and intentions that we decide to cultivate at work – this is what I wrote about in my last book. The ability to build relationships starting from a stronger familiarity with our and others’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability can become a real power, it can turn into courage and help us make do magic by deeply connecting to one another.
Being a “leader” through one’s own weaknesses means to instill trust in your team, make room for mistakes and imperfection. It means creating energy, an energy that leads to creativity, wellbeing and results.
In our desperate desire to reach perfection, we have pointed at people’s flaws, inadequacies, so-called “gaps” to fill for too long.
Now, I am looking for forms of generative leadership. New models (role models) and guides – in companies, too – that believe in the possibility to help people become stronger and better than them. New guides that do not decide based on prejudices and stereotypes, on what resembles them and they feel comfortable with, but that ask themselves new questions to be more conscious of how to make choices and decisions; guides willing to understand how to involve and accept those who are different, for academic and professional background, life choices and intentions, gender or race. Guides who know how to see the richness in others, in order to include them, question themselves, and let creativity and innovation happen.
What’s in your future?
My life and job have taught me how to be a forever student, always willing to grow and evolve through new experiences, meetings, occasions. They have taught me how to wait without setting specific goals, how to keep focused on my intentions while keeping my goals flexible.
However, to answer your question, if I think about what I would like to do, I would say channeling the experience I have gained so far into a project that could impact even more people. I would like to take part in new forms of communities where to pour these years’ studies and work. I am truly passionate about my job, but I would like to give more of what I feel and do to others.
When asked what maturity was, writer and poet Chandra Livia Candiani used to say: when a fruit is mature, it is ready to be eaten and it falls from the tree.
That’s it. Today, I feel… mature.