Solution-Recognition for Enlightened Leaders

Abre los ojos, los oidos, la mente, y el corazon.

Abre los ojos, los oidos, la mente, y el corazon.

Vitalia Consulting (VC) is not a conventional management consulting firm, and we don’t intend to become one. Our client-consultant role is to inspire forward-thinking solutions and actions. “Solution-Recognition” is an important tool in the process of searching for (and finding) the best innovative ideas.

“We need more ideas” is a phrase we hear almost every day.  Innovation isn’t constrained by the absence of ideas, but the inability to notice the good-to-great ideas right in front of you. It’s not an idea problem; it’s a Solution-Recognition dilemma.

Ideas are free. So, why not take advantage of such a great value? Whatever happened to “Brain-Storming” where no idea was pre-judged as a bad idea, no matter how absurd the idea initially appeared to be? While Brain-storming has morphed into Ideation, White-boarding, Iterative Process, Blue Sky Thinking, etc., it’s rarely used the way it was originally intended. “Thinking Outside the Box” has been so overused and abused, it’s become a gag in bad commercials.

Once upon a time (1984-1987) while working with Vici Associates International (based in Milan, Italy) we used the creative-strategic process “ProThink” to stimulate innovative and pragmatic solutions for our client-companies. Guess What? The concept still works! Unfortunately, most companies (then and now) fail to consistently capitalize on Solution-Recognition, and make it an integral part of organizational culture. In my experience, it requires not only a mind-shift but also (and more importantly) a behavioral, cultural transformation.

In the digital speed of social media: Golden Opportunities are lost amidst the chatter. Great moments of brilliance never return to our work/lives.

People tend to think of creativity as flashes of light from the heavens, anointing the next demi-god of genius. In business world reality, new insights and ideas come from hard work. While analytic data can identify real opportunities, these insights must then be transformed into practical, viable ideas. Cogito Ergo Zoom (I Think. Therefore, I go fast.) is the wrong-headed mentality for Solution-Recognition to work.

Solution-Recognition requires:

  • An Open Mind
  • Genuine Listening Skills
  • Passionate Intelligence (Intelligence that can actually be Applied)
  • The Ability to Dream with “Eyes Wide Open”
  • Being Empathic
  • Emotional Intelligence (High EQ)

Research has found that those managers/leaders exposed to a small amount of uncertainty said they value creativity, but actually tended to favor practical word pairings over creative word pairings. If such a negative bias against creativity exists in times of uncertainty, it might explain why so many notable innovations (in business history) were initially rejected. Is this happening in your business?

The implications are particularly relevant now, as few leaders/managers would claim that they’re not working in an uncertain industry. The same uncertainty that propels the need for companies to innovate may also be compelling leaders/managers to reject discoveries that could help them gain a competitive edge.

The innovative ideas that would keep your company alive (and sustain growth) are being killed in the embryonic stage of development, or even at conception.

One possible solution to this “idea killing” is to change the structural system ideas must move through for acceptance and execution. Instead of using the traditional hierarchy to find and approve ideas, this process could be spread across the whole organization. Given a higher priority than immediate revenue, the idea market can create an organizational culture where new ideas are recognized and approved throughout the entire company, a democratization of recognition. What do You Think?

Solution-Recognition becomes an organizational “way of life” based on the assumption that everyone is capable of producing great ideas.

Example: We have a new client (based here in California) who recruited a highly-skilled, experienced Sales Team without building the right organizational infrastructure to support that Sales Team, without professionally mature Sales Management to properly lead and coach that Sales Team, without developing the software tools for that Sales Team to close more deals and succeed, resulting in an under-performing, disillusioned, demotivated Sales Team in complete disarray.

In essence, without Solution-Recognition, “putting the cart before the horse.” Your Management/Leadership habits become either an albatross or a catalyst for growth. The problem lies in Management/Leadership failure to (adapt and change) genuinely listen to the concerns, problems, situations the Sales Team is facing in the field. Genuinely listening to the Sales Team would engender coaching opportunities, and collaborative solutions for the true underlying problems.



Enlightened Management/Leadership embraces Solution-Recognition. Remember, You are defined by what You do.



Example: Enlightened Leaders get out of the office more often. These “empathic outings” are purposeful field trips, a way to effectively connect with employees, customers, vendors, alliance partners, and others key to the success of your business. This also makes an enormous difference in gaining commitment to shifts in business and organizational behavior, and solving related issues. The purpose of these meetings is not just for gathering information, but more crucially to discover, uncover crucial patterns of what’s working and not working in your business, misalignments in your business and organizational vision/strategies.

Example: We use Solution-Recognition in our most productive client-projects:

  1. Business Turnaround Projects
  2. Business Growth Projects
  3. New Business Ventures ~ Entrepreneurial Start-Up Projects

The Message: Reject Solution-Recognition at your peril, and suffer the grapes of wrath. Vitalia Consulting (VC) is not a conventional management consulting firm, and we don’t intend to become one. Our client-consultant role is to inspire forward-thinking solutions and actions. Solution-Recognition is an essential tool for every successful business.

Partner with Us. Let’s start with a conversation. 

  • Marc Ortiz de Candia
  • Executive Partner ~ Provocateur
  • Vitalia Consulting | The Enlightened Leadership Leader

Tango Lessons ~ Building and Sustaining Relationships

No matter how great a visionary leader you may be, you will always need others to fully execute your vision, your dream. It’s a fundamental axiom of business and of life. It takes 2:2 Tango (at least two) and it is a beautiful, intricate, intimate, and powerful dance.dreamstime_m_145488591.jpg

Here are a few free Tango Lessons.

One of the reasons we work in multi-disciplinary teams at Vitalia Consulting is because there is power in numbers and in diverse expertise. No Vitalia consultant, coach, facilitator, advisor or analyst, client services associate is ever left alone to deliver the message, ask the hard questions, or answer the hard questions. The lone exception are Executive Coaching Sessions which are strictly one-on-one private sessions.

As we work with our clients to solve complex business and organizational problems, a team of diverse minds (working together) discovers, uncovers the best solutions.  Partner with Us!

The power of multi-disciplinary teams is proven, especially when working with executive leaders and groups of professionals because no individual (regardless of status, charisma, influence, aura, or personal presence) resonates with everyone.

While building and sustaining relationships is key to business success, few people are effective at doing both. Believe it. Look at your client-customer retention rate. Look at the rising divorce rate. Look at how relationships come and go faster than the changing of seasons. So, when you find a relationship builder who can also sustain relationships, hold onto them like a lifeboat against the current.

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Most of us know “It Takes Two To Tango” is a truism, but how often do we actually practice it? Is it part of your personal/professional skill-set, mind-set?

Face it: Those self-obsessed with expressing only their own ideas just aren’t very good at building and sustaining relationships, find it hard to listen, fail to observe, and never learn to Tango.

Partnering requires learning to Tango. Collaboration requires learning to Tango. Networking requires learning to Tango. And not just learning a few basic steps (see Tangerine Tango blog).  You must become a World-Class Tango Dancer to Master the Art of the Deal, to make all the right moves, to gain mutual agreement. See for Yourself: The Best Latin Tango

Every great composer needs great musicians. Every great musician needs great composers.

Mutual attraction, rapport, trust, respect, compatibility, and commitment are key elements of every lasting relationship. Remember this: No relationship can thrive or survive without mutual benefit and commitment. Once these relationship elements are lost, there is no relationship.

Vitalia Consulting builds and sustains cultures of mutual benefit and inclusion, driven by a desire to partner with others to get things done. You succeed by helping others become successful. Helping others helps you, too. Keep in mind, help is only a relationship away. 

Conversely, in cultures where “greed is good” (cultures that value the lone wolf, the lone shark, the lone genius) the act of working with others to get things done gets lost, projects stall, the brilliance of team ideas fades away.

We, Vitalia Consulting, believe that building and sustaining relationships should be a pre-requisite for all vital executive leaders, emerging leaders, and leadership development. True Relationships weather the storms. True Relationships can live forever.

Don’t forget the human touch, gestures, and movements. Give your relationships face time, real time. Be genuinely attentive, interested in people. Listen first. Listen, hear, and learn from their stories. Be open to being enlightened. Tell and show, don’t sell. Be authentic. Be yourself. No one likes a great pretender. Don’t be afraid of being human. Get lost once in awhile.

Want warmer relationships? Exude warmth. Be passionate about something. Meet off-site (whenever possible) at unique venues. Be compelling.

Embrace reciprocity. Give to receive. Relax. Now immerse yourself in the dance.

It really does take at least 2:2 Tango. Come on, let’s dance The Tango!It Takes 2 To Tango

Partner with Us! Let’s Get Started.


Marc Ortiz de Candia, Executive Partner ~ Provocateur

Vitalia Consulting | The Enlightened Leadership Leader


The Compassionate Pursuit of Happiness (Prosperity)

Warning! This blog may not be suitable for all readers, especially for those who made resolutions against happiness and prosperity in 2013, and for those who do not believe in the Constitution of the United States of America.


Enlightened Leaders can make others happy. Understand, this is not meant to say leaders are responsible and accountable for other people’s happiness, but Enlightened Leaders with high Emotional Intelligence (EQ) are responsible and accountable for creating environments where people can experience happiness. Consider this: The compassionate pursuit of happiness is not about what you want to be, it’s about who you want to be in this world:

  • as a compassionate human being
  • a compassionate organization
  • a compassionate business entity

Time is passing not everlasting. Notice? You blinked a few times and February 2013 is upon you, and will soon be gone. The Golden Globe Awards are behind us and now the Academy Awards are a couple weeks away. Time is passing not everlasting.

Have you had a chance to see the impressive small film, Happy? I highly recommend how this film explores the intrinsic contributors to our happiness as compassionate human beings. According to filmmaker, Michael Pritchard, “Compassion leads to happiness. Search the world for secrets to life’s greatest emotion, happiness.”

Economic growth has doubled in the last 50 years, but we’re not any happier, even though we have much more materialistic stuff. Right? Is everything we were taught about happiness and prosperity wrong-headed? After all, the study of happiness is nothing new. The point is that we haven’t seemed to learn very much from all the happiness research, and Corporate America (and society in general) hasn’t exactly embraced happiness or its relationship to compassionate leadership.

After all, most of us began the new year making promises to improve our lives, resolutions and un-resolutions based on what we did and didn’t do the year before. So, without looking too far ahead, look back at 2012 and assess what happened, what got you there, and most importantly, what made you happy, and why?

I believe that if you can tap into what makes someone else happy, you’ve expanded your enlightened leadership competencies. Plus, the fulfillment of making others happy reinforces your own happiness. For we cannot have relationships with others without reciprocity, mutual acceptance, respect, and value. Mutual benefit must exist to sustain relationships. Without mutual benefit, relationships die.

There are many things we do not fully understand on this planet, not on this plane. Yet, we must try to understand. Trying to understand is simply an exercise in becoming a better human being, a better leader.

Dr. Richard Davidson, University of Wisconsin, “Quantify happiness and you can quantify anything.” We’ve spent forever studying depression. Isn’t it high time we take a closer look at the value of happiness in leadership. The goal of psychology has been to help people rid themselves of their problems. Positive psychology studies and guides people towards happiness. Did you know that “Happiness” has become the most popular elective course at Harvard?

Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason says, “Our values are a key component of happiness.” Shouldn’t our values shape the kind of leader we are capable of becoming? Happiness is which something so often easily discarded as a “soft skill” is actually hard to develop, unless the essence of Enlightened Leadership is within you, and your organizational culture supports it.

Forbes released the January 15, 2013 report on the “World’s Happiest Countries.” Guess what? The USA wasn’t among the Top Ten again this year! What’s wrong with us?

Researchers have long known that we have pre-disposed genetic set points that play a role in determining how happy we can be. Moments of great joy or great sorrow return us to our happiness set points. Here’s the thing ~ While 50% of our happiness is genetically pre-programmed, only 10% is based on circumstances, 40% is based on intentional behavior! In other words, it’s what you choose to do, who you choose to be that has a significant impact on your lasting happiness, and in turn, the happiness of others around you.

Decades of research proves that happiness increases nearly every business and educational result: increasing sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19% as well as a myriad of health and quality of life improvements. Among those companies that don’t take leadership development seriously, vital and emerging leaders, these same companies ignore the role happiness plays in leadership effectiveness.

What can your company do to raise the happiness level of an employee? Happy human beings function better, are more productive, and live longer. Is the dissatisfaction in your company caused by depression stressors, or combined with low levels of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) within your leadership team, or the absence of happiness within the organizational culture?

Think about it. What did you do when the umbilical cord was cut? Cry, Baby Cry.

Knowing happiness can be quantified and measured, why has Corporate America been so slow to capitalize on its value to business? What about your company? (Conference room donuts, bagels, muffins, cookies, brownies, hot cocoa, and coffee don’t count!)


Nearly every company gives lip service to the philosophy “people are our greatest asset.” Results from the Conference Board’s most recent survey (tracking job satisfaction) shows that employees are “the unhappiest” in the 24 year history of the survey! Around the same time, CNNMoney reported that 87% of Americans are unhappy with their job. Mercer’s “What’s Working” survey found that one in three US employees are serious about leaving their current jobs. The numbers are higher among younger employees under 30 who tend to trend toward far more restless movement.

In her new book, The Myths of Happiness Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor, argues that holding on to fallacious ideas about happiness, thinking we’d be happier if we had the right relationship, social status, material possessions, or…[fill in the blank] works against us. The issue is that these kind of thoughts keep us mired in our past, and don’t reflect how one cultivates happiness in real life.

Appreciating our relationships compels us to extract the maximum possible satisfaction and helps us to be grateful for it, relish it, savor it, and not take it for granted. Cultivating appreciation also helps us feel better about ourselves, more connected to others, more motivated to nurture relationships, and less likely to compare our situation to others and become envious. When given the choice between competition and collaboration, compassionate human beings will choose collaboration. 

We all know someone who has stellar success in their professional life but completely miserable in their personal life, every relationship an apparition. What’s your story?

Based on the metrics alone, you can easily make the case that the single greatest competitive advantage, in the modern economy, is a happy and engaged workforce.

In the New Age of Enlightenment, Enlightened Leaders must lead the way out of the darkness of depression and recession into the light of happiness. We, through intention, can change our brains, and in turn, the world around us. Enlightened Leaders perceive happiness as a skill. Compassion is in our DNA, caring about people, places, and things outside of ourselves.

People joke about “natural highs.” Truth is, science has proven that the compassionate pursuit of happiness gives you “natural highs” as good or better than any drug.

Acknowledge that happiness is an advantage at work that can be leveraged to get things done. Seek happiness in the present instead of waiting for future success. Exercise your brain for higher levels of happiness by creating habits shown to increase job satisfaction:

  1. Write a brief e-mail every morning thanking or praising a team member.
  2. Write down three things you are grateful for each day.
  3. Spend a couple minutes recalling something positive you’ve experienced over the last 24 hours.
  4. Exercise every day.
  5. Practice “Mindful Meditation” for a few minutes. Focus on your breathing in/out.
  6. Be forgiving. Practice forgiveness ~ every day of your life.  

Of course, if you can’t see the value, none of this will matter to you, and you should have read the disclaimer. Happiness comes from the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think and act freely, to risk life, to be needed not ignored.

Happiness: Set your compassionate self free, and the world is yours.

Marc Ortiz de Candia, Executive Partner, Vitalia Consulting


Music Playlist to Get Your Happiness Groove On:

  • Can’t Buy Me Love ~ The Beatles (Hard Day’s Night movie soundtrack)
  • Respect Yourself ~ The Staple Singers
  • Sweet Dreams ~ The Eurythmics
  • Higher Ground ~ Stevie Wonder
  • Sweet Dreams ~ Senor Coconut
  • Happiness Runs ~ Donovan (Yes! That Donovan!)
  • Ode to Joy ~ Beethoven (from Symphony No. 9 in D Minor)
  • Tomorrow Never Knows ~ The Beatles (Revolver)
  • Oh Happy Day ~ The Edwin Hawkins Singers
  • Bossa Per Due ~ Antonio Carlos Jobim
  • 100% Pure Love ~ Crystal Waters
  • Happy Talk ~ South Pacific (South Pacific movie soundtrack)
  • If Six Was Nine ~ Jimi Hendrix
  • Stand By Me ~ John Lennon (version)
  • Four Seasons ~ Vivaldi
  • Because ~ The Beatles (Abbey Road)
  • Instant Karma ~ John Lennon
  • Imagine ~ John Lennon
  • Happiness ~ Johnathan Jeremiah
  • Here Comes The Sun ~ The Beatles (Abbey Road)
  • I Can See Clearly Now ~ Johnny Nash
  • Inner Light ~ The Beatles (b-side of Lady Madonna)
  • A Beautiful Morning ~ The Rascals
  • Rain ~ The Beatles (b-side of Paperback Writer)
  • Living in a Material World ~ George Harrison
  • The Trip ~ Donovan (Yes! That Donovan again!)
  • Across The Universe ~ The Beatles (Abbey Road)
  • Love ~ Air
  • Yellow Submarine ~ The Beatles
  • Feelin’ Good ~ Joe Sample and Randy Crawford
  • Groovin’ ~ The Rascals
  • I’ll Take You There ~ The Staple Singers
  • Happy Birthday ~ The Beatles (“aka” The White Album”)
  • You Can’t Buy My Love ~ Robert Plant (Band of Joy)






What Do You Say and Do?

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962 in Houston, Texas USA

When I was a small boy (believe me, when I tell you that I was a very small boy) I saw President John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Speech” on TV. It was an awe-inspiring moment for me, for most Americans. Few people remember how unpopular and unsupported “space travel” was at that time. Most people didn’t believe it was even possible. It was something you could only imagine, or experience in science-fiction books and movies. Most politicians thought it was too ambitious, and unrealistic. JFK had an ace up his sleeve: A tenacious vision backed with passionate intelligence and conviction. The “Moon Speech” shifted American perception of space travel, and in turn, our sense of other endless possibilities.

As a working-class boy, I wasn’t permitted to be a free-thinker. I was imprisoned by the limitations dictated by class and ethno-centric discrimination: Hell on earth! I was constantly bombarded by messages from those who brandished absolute power, telling me/showing us, that nothing I dreamt would ever come true for me, or for any one of us.

JFK moved me to see, for the first time in my embryonic life, that anything is possible if you believe in the vision, if you are genuinely committed to making the vision come alive. You must commit without hesitation or doubt or excuse to retreat, to fallback. No matter what others say and do to destroy your dreams, JFK showed how vital it is to move forward and execute your vision with confidence. Defiance in the face of overwhelming odds.

We sometimes tend to romanticize great leaders like JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. We focus on their vision and charisma, forgetting that these enlightened leaders are best remembered for getting things done. Getting things done is the real legacy of these enlightened leaders. We’ve all experienced managers, executives, and politicians with vision and charisma (who may even look the part) but do absolutely nothing. Vision and charisma are not enough, enlightened leaders possess a High EQ (emotional quotient) for getting things done with emotional intelligence.

Being an enlightened leader is not about espousing new rhetoric or reciting recycled jargon. Enlightened Leaders execute their strategic vision. Words and actions are consistently in alignment.

Contrary to the same old tune we’ve all heard before: Silence is not golden.

In the multicultural management consulting and learning services firm that I founded and led, De Candia International Corporation (1987-2007) we uncovered the “conspiracy of silence” in Corporate America whereby no one says anything to challenge or confront systemic deception and collusion, to keep the status quo intact. A conspiracy of silence engenders collusion, and collusion is the arch-enemy of change.

The message: Lead sans silence. Speaking-up makes a difference. Execute your vision with conviction. Lead with determination while remaining open to pluralistic perspectives.  

Understand the value of speaking-up, taking a stand, with conviction. While no one else may believe in your dreams, it doesn’t matter what other people think, even when you feel the whole world is against you. If you feel that you can’t speak-up: ask yourself, “What messages am I receiving from within my organizational culture, telling me it’s not safe to speak-up.” The answer always lies within how the organizational culture is set-up. Change the set-up of the culture and you’ll see the behavioral change. Try this in small ways: participating in a meeting, working with a team on a project. You know that you believe in your vision, and you are willing to take the calculated risks to see that it happens, by whatever means necessary (without becoming the new Prince Machiavelli).

What matters most is what happens in the long run. JFK didn’t live to see his moon dream realized. Others, who were inspired by his vision, fulfilled his dream in 1969. No one accomplishes anything alone. Understand this: “Resilient conviction” is part of every enlightened leader’s behavioral profile.

Believe me when I tell you, I was rejected by everyone under the moon and sun, ridiculed as a politically incorrect ranting and raving lunatic (even by many of the people closest to me – my colleagues in other firms and practices). I was excluded, an out-cast by some organizations, who was said that I was conceptually and literally wrong about everything I conceived to be true. Yet my firm thrived for more than 20 years with impressive Fortune, Global, and Inc. 500 clients. Other management consulting firms interpreted my professional life as a contradiction (or just dismissed me for being a crazed, conflicted, Spanish-French Pisces).

Despite what fascist, authoritarian textbooks may have taught you, listen to your inner voice, see with your mind’s eye. Think about it: Are you flying your true colors? Are you saying what you believe? Or, are you just repeating what you been told is the proper company line. Great leaders are revolutionary not evolutionary, executing their visions with precision. Enlightened Leaders use their voice as a catalyst for action and change.

Come what may, when is the wrong decision, the right decision? When no one around you believes in doing the right thing, but you. Learn how to speak-up effectively. Challenge the powers that be. Storm the Bastille!

According to recent research from VitalSmarts: Silence Fails. Leaders can substantially improve their organizations ability to execute on high stakes projects and initiatives. Yes, you can break the code of silence on five astoundingly common yet mostly unspoken, undisclosed, and ignored problems that contribute significantly to almost all project and initiative failures.

Based on the VitalSmarts research, when an enlightened leader skillfully creates even a moderately safe environment, the likelihood of a project or initiative failing is reduced by 50%. When enlightened leaders effectively step-up, hitting schedule is 40% more likely, quality improves 60%, and the potential for project or initiative ending with strong morale and intact stakeholder relationships is 70% greater.

Based on the VitalSmarts study, the five crucial conversations most prevalent and most costly to lasting success are:

  1. Fact-free Planning: A project or initiative is set-up to fail when deadlines or resource limits are set with no consideration for reality.
  2. AWOL Senior Executives: Senior Executives (sponsors) provide no leadership, political clout, time, or energy to see a project through.
  3. Skirting: People work around the priority setting process. (You know, there’s one in every crowd, on every team, and more than one in every organization and family.)
  4. Project Chicken: Team leaders and members don’t admit when there are problems with the project, but instead wait for someone else to speak-up.
  5. Team failures: Team members are unwilling or unable to support the project.

Each brings with it a myriad of misses, cost over-runs which plague projects, initiatives, teams, organizations (and yes, dysfunctional co-dependent family relationships). The VitalSmarts key findings show that these problems are most likely caused by a high degree of interdependence among levels and functions. The organizational culture tends to be closed rather than open. Challenging norms, especially within a hierarchy, is the kiss of death. When these problems are not openly and skillfully discussed, projects and relationships fail miserably, significantly impacting what leaders, teams, and organizations can achieve.

Enlightened Leaders influence lasting success and achievements, the way we see ourselves and each other, causing us to re-think what we thought we knew, shifting our perceptions of things, the way we feel and act. Enlightened leaders shoot for the moon, and beyond.

So, what do you say and do? Let’s continue the conversation.

Marc Ortiz de Candia, Executive Partner, Vitalia Consulting

What Do You See? What Do You Hear?

“You see what you want to see. You hear what you want to hear.” -Harry Nilsson

Have you ever noticed how some things we learned long ago and far away, things that were once upon a time valued in business/life, and our pluralistic culture, have been pushed to the wayside, and mostly forgotten like yesterday’s news?

It can evoke questions: What was the point of learning these things in the first place? What was the purpose of the lessons taught to us, the life lessons learned? To what end? Were these just mad theories espoused by respectable gurus of the day? A backwards tape with forward thinking, not meaningful in the long run? Some things change for the better, some things remain the same. Were you just living in an eighties daze? Still have classic business suits with classic concepts in your pockets? Are you no longer the youngest one in the room? You know, the one with all the answers. Ah well, and so it goes.

I am most concerned here about the under-valued skills of listening and observing. Is it possible that we’ve lost the importance of listening and observing in business/life? When was the last time you sincerely listened to understand, quietly observed to perceive – without thinking about what you wanted to say next?

When I was a small boy (maybe 9 or maybe 6) I was sitting with my Father on the east riverbank across from our metropolitan city, our cosmopolitan city.

Being among the working-class poor, we could only own parts of the city in our torn and tattered daydreams. In our shared reality, we didn’t own much of anything, except in imagination. In our mind’s eye, we could be anything, anywhere.

It was twilight. Even though we could feel the world changing rapidly all around us, there was no sense of urgency in my Father’s voice, only gentleness. My Father asked me, “What do you see, what do you hear as you look at the city from this distance?” I didn’t understand what he meant in the moment, or what he was really asking me, but I answered anyway (because that’s what children do). I knew so little about the ways of the world. Even as mature human beings, we tend to tout and lean on only the things we do know. We’re taught to make sure the world knows what we know. And, may the Gods help us if we don’t know the answer. After all, you’re suppose to be the expert, aren’t you?

So even then, in the moment, I thought, “What difference will my answers make to these questions, to our lot in life – surrounded on three sides by factories, and a flood plain on the fourth side? After all, wasn’t everything glorious built from greed and gold? With the victors come the spoils. The steeples are dwarfed by financial towers. Architectural brilliance replaced by concrete boxes in neat little rows. Woe to the man who is different. He shall be mocked, he shall be scourged.”

Still, I remember seeing towering blue glass and silvery steel structures which outlined the skyline darkening our city like a scene from a Batman Movie, complete with a massive power plant down river from us. There were the thickest and tallest smokestacks I had ever seen, filling me with trepidation (despite the fact that I grew-up in the waning days of the industrial age, surrounded by hulking, dilapidated factories that would spew filth, scum particles raining down on us, night and day). I remember walking with my younger sister to our Catholic School, pausing on the street corner, and laughing out-loud because we could feel the pollution tickling our faces like a snow scene from the movie “White Christmas.”

In a few brief years, these same factories would be silenced by the death of industrial manufacturing. I could see aged, arched train bridges with coal black engines steaming in the shadows. Surveying our city more closely I saw a few dimly-lit windows, must have been the men my Father had warned me about: the men with white shirts and ties, smiling with bullet teeth, killing with their smiles, burning the midnight oil (these same men who I’d be competing with in a few years) and fragmented lights glimmering off the water from after business hour offices. There were the bright neon nightclubs along the old gaslight district. Streaming taillights on the outer expressway circled and strangled our city like a noose. Hearing the white noise of traffic and exhaust pipes, I could see the silhouettes of men moving, long trucks resting on the riverfront cobblestones. Remembering routine front page photographs of bodies washed onto the waterfront, could these be the same mafioso guys from our neighborhood?”

My Father then told me about what he had seen and heard looking at his village from across his childhood river. “We dreamers are not alone in this world. I saw dreamers, like you and me, dreamers who do, dreamers who built great church steeples rising to the heavens, grand works of timeless architecture, beautiful bridges that would stand the test of Fascist and Nazi attacks, the sounds of simple conversations and endless laughter streaming from the bistros, vitriolic words exchanged amidst uncontrollable political, social, and cultural differences. The marching of what appeared to be toy soldiers from so far away, the heavy movement of tanks on stone roads, a rumbling blur in a smokey haze, flags unfurled identifying friend or foe. The romantic, shimmering splendor of an empire’s last days.”

He went on to tell me, “Someday, everything you now know, you see and hear, will live only in your memories.” It’s becoming true, you know. Sitting on the same riverbank today, I’d see and hear things differently.

When you look at the world around you, what do you see? What do you hear? Listening and Observation require a quiet inner calm. Do you have what it takes? Remember this: What you’ve been told are the “soft skills” are actually the hard skills that you must master to be a truly successful leader in a global society.

We’ve explored what role “feelings” plays in Thought Leadership writings focused more on Emotional Intelligence, and the importance of developing High EQ: “What Do You Feel?”

Give me a team of learners, not know-it-alls, any day. The first step to enlightened leadership is becoming genuinely open-minded and self-aware, to admit our ignorance. Then, fling open the doors of perception to the importance of listening and observing.

The beginning is always today. Let’s continue the conversation.

Marc Ortiz de Candia, Executive Partner, Vitalia Consulting