The Seven Games of Leadership is a guide for readers through seven key phases of personal and professional development, with the aim not of climbing a corporate ladder but of finding true and lasting satisfaction in what they do.
In this edition of Author Chat, Disrupt Your Career speaks with Paolo Gallo about his book, The Seven Games of Leadership: Navigating the Inner Journey of Leaders (Bloomsbury Business, October 2023). Paolo provides the tools and practical advice you need to reassess your priorities and take the steps necessary to refocus your life, your career and the issues of the world around you. An edited version of our conversation with Paolo follows.
What inspired you to write the book? What audience did you have in mind when you were writing it?
I have a story which is actually at the beginning of the book. Pretty much every Saturday, when we have a bit of time to have breakfast without rushing to our respective engagement, and my daughter to school, I always ask my daughter “What did you learn this week?” And about a couple of years ago – my daughter is now 17 – she asked me “But daddy, you’ve been working for 30 plus years. What did you learn?” Well that question was quite a powerful one! I asked her literally a couple of weeks to think about it and one day I took her for pizza and I explained what I’ve learned in my career, now as executive coach, but working in different places. She listened, asked a lot of questions and a few days later, I found a yellow Post-it note like this one on my computer and she said “Daddy, I loved the story, why don’t you write a book about it?” And so I decided to write this book to answer to my daughter. But fundamentally, what I told her was: listen, I met thousands of people in my life, and a lot of them from interviews – I was head of HR for three different organizations in my life, EBRD London, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum. As a coach, I also worked and coached several hundred people. And so you may say that I had thousands of meetings. But in reality, I didn’t have thousands of different meetings, I had 100 times the same conversation, because I noticed that people are struggling with similar issues. Regardless of any other variables, you can be from Uganda, or Thailand or Italy, or you can be in a luxury company or banking or consulting, we all have similar thoughts, challenges to deal with. And so one day I literally with the same colored Post-its, I said, “Okay, what challenges did I see? What did I learn by listening to all these people over the last 30 years?” And they became seven colors in on the floor literally. And I said, Okay, this group of people had this challenge this group of people had this challenge, and all of a sudden, I visualized that there was a journey that everybody goes through. This is Carl Jung’s adult phases of development, it’s not something I’ve invented. And so I thought, okay, these people have these different phases in their life, but some of them fail to understand how the rules of this specific phase and so I called it ‘Games’. And so the idea of the book is fundamentally to help the reader find out where they are in their own journey and how they progress. The progression that I’m referring to is not becoming from a manager to Vice President, or from Vice President to CEO, it’s really how you develop yourself as a human being. So this book is more focused on personal development, which I believe is a theme that everybody is interested in. This is not a result of a market analysis, but people that are genuinely keen to understand more about how to continue growing personally and also professionally.
What are the key insights, ideas and concepts discussed in your book?
Before you embark on a journey, you need to understand the terrain that you’re going venturing. So the first couple of chapters is a preparatory warm up to understand the journey. I try to explain what are the seven mega trends that are impacting who we are. Then also I invite the reader to challenge some of their assumptions, because assumptions are a bit of a prison: you think that way all the time, and I think is important to take a step back and to say, “Do I still believe that this is valid in my own journey?”
Then you have the seven games. I wanted to give one word per each game that hopefully helps the reader to remember and crystallize the key feature of that game. The first one is the Inner game. It is the capacity to the following self-reflection and analysis and maybe some coaching assessment that I provide in the book to understand what you are good at, what is your calling.
Once you master that element, you go to the next phase, I call it the Better Game. The better game is the awareness that you need to master whatever game you’re playing. You need to improve, you need to be pretty good in what you’re doing. So you cannot rely exclusively on intuition and talent, but you really have to work hard to achieve a level of mastery and proficiency in whatever profession you choose.
The next phase, I call it the Outer and the Caring game. Outer is to develop contextual intelligence. So the capacity to connect the dots, and so the capacity to open the windows to understand what else is there other than maybe your sector, your job, your role, and have also this mindset of intellectual curiosity, not to become an expert on everything, but at least to be aware there are other elements that can impact your role, and how you understand them. The Caring game is: Do you care about other people? Are you able to develop trust and collaboration with other guys, or do you just compete with people?
Once you go through this phase, you go to the fourth one, which I think is actually quite the center of the book, which are called the Crisis game. It is the capacity to pause for a second, and then understand what is coming next, which is what I call the Reinvention game.
And then you go to what I call the Revolution game and I was undecided between revolution and legacy, but legacy to me is something more related to personal legacy. While revolution is more related to living and sustaining the change that is meaningful and positive for other people, your community, your country, your company, your family, it doesn’t really matter. But there is an element of altruistic approach, because you stopped focusing exclusively on yourself.
And the last, I call it the Let It Go game, and it is the capacity to pass the torch to somebody else to shift away, but not because he becomes cynical or lazy, but because you have developed capacity rather than dependency with others. And in all a sudden, you’re no longer needed, which is, to me the ultimate sign that you’ve done a good job .
Is there any particular case study or story that you could share with us?
Perhaps one story I can share is how you manage transformation, which is the moment of crisis and then reinvention, because I’m trying to explain the difference between managing change and managing transformation. Change is something that occurs outside you. Let’s say that you move to another country, you move house, you buy a new car, or whatever it is, you have to adapt to a change of external circumstances. But you’re still the same person, you just have to adapt. However, transformation is something different. And I refer to a Roman god, because when the Romans conquered Greece, they fundamentally cut and pasted the Greek gods, with the exception of one that is called Janus. And this god has two faces: the wise one with the face of a relatively old individual, that represents gravitas – gravitas means judgment, the capacity to reflect, wisdom – and then the second face is a young face that Romans call Juventus, which is not only a soccer team, but it means energy, positiveness and optimism. So the Romans gave us I think this wonderful, symbolic God that says: Listen, when you’re managing a transformation, which is different than change, you need to have the experience of gravitas and the energy of Juventus. So I’m using this analogy to say whatever you’ve learned is still very relevant, don’t throw it away, but have also an attitude of optimism and energy and positiveness in whatever transformation you’re going through.