leadership soft skill
A Point of view on Leadership
Clear objectives and acute emotional intelligence. These, according to Lorenzo Wittum, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca Italia, are the two pillars on which managers must build their success. A certainty that comes from years of personal experience, which Wittum shared with students in the Executive MBA programme of MIP Politecnico di Milano. «Pressure without direction only generates agitation – explained Wittum –. Companies are focused on results, and to obtain them it’s fundamental to have a clear and precise strategy, especially if you find yourself managing a team of hundreds of people. The working group must know what the final objective is. For this it’s important that the leader is able to communicate this correctly and effectively».
In a context like this, soft skills become more decisive than hard ones, which however also shouldn’t be undervalued: «I also entered the work world thanks to an MBA in Business Administration and Management, without which I probably wouldn’t be here today. I started my career using hard skills I gained during years of study, and in the meantime I was able to develop empathic and communicative skills, which for a leader are fundamental», said Wittum.
Indeed, it would be difficult to describe a person who isn’t able to involve and motivate his or her colleagues as a good leader. «It’s necessary to know how to speak clearly: define expectations, the level of difficulty, opportunities and risks. Few things are as engaging as the opportunity to work on one’s personal growth and that of colleagues».
In addition, soft skills, unlike hard ones that often involve specific fields, can be used across all work areas. «Business, no matter what sector, is always based on the same principles. And making the difference are always the same elements: the involvement of people, a clear strategic direction and motivation. Factors that are even more important if you think that, within an organization, there are many projects that involve high-level professionals with different corporate roles: when, as in this case, you lead a “superteam” of experts who respond to other corporate hierarchies, more than leadership, we talks about lateral influence», explained Wittum.
Indeed, it’s the leader’s job to create the right conditions to stimulate cooperation: «In this, what helps immensely is a quality I developed during my master’s programme, that of humility, which must be understood as the ability to be transparent, to know how to recognize when someone else’s idea is better than yours. It’s this attitude that generates involvement».
The role of the leader, obviously, changes significantly as a function of the dimensions of the team. «When I was leading smaller teams, I loved working in the field and giving an example. Put at the head of a larger group, I realized that this approach generated a counterproductive complexity. I realized that to involve and motivate not a team but an entire company I had to first be recognized as a leader, beyond the position I hold, by the key individuals in the different corporate functions».
The AstraZeneca Italia CEO stressed the importance of a master’s degree in an individual’s training path: «Provided, however, that you have patience and consider your career in a constructive way. It’s not a series of 100 metre sprints, but it’s much more like a marathon. It’s important to know what you want to do when you grow up, but this doesn’t mean that you should expect to find your desired job immediately. It’s a growth path that requires, also in this case, a clear objective and great resilience».