People used to say “you shouldn’t mix business with pleasure”. I’m not sure if that was ever good advice, but it’s certainly not true in today’s world.
I’ve spent the last week in Italy mixing up so many things. It was hugely productive – and, I believe, helped us build some great relationships even further.
And now I’m back in the office, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect, briefly, on the experience.
We flew out – from a pretty warm and sunny UK – into Rome in a heatwave. The wall of heat hit us as we stepped off the plane. So much that Bob (husband, business partner, employee engagement guru) asked if he could stay on board and fly back with them…
Our first stop was to meet up with a couple of clients – in their holiday villa on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Beautiful, unspoilt beaches. Children cycling, skateboard and running around in the sunshine. Just a brief pause to exchange conversation and great ideas about how to develop leadership in Italy, before we travelled on to our final stop. Borgo Spante, an ‘Agriturismo’, in the heart of Umbria, up in the mountains.
I go there each year – it’s where I do a lot of my writing – with few distractions, just 100,000 acres of trees, plenty of dogs and a pool. In the old days, you went to an agriturismo to work on the land in return for food and lodging. Today it’s a place to eat home-grown food in a low-tech, traditional setting.
This year Borgo Spante have hosted an international conference on Forestry, where an important agreement was signed. 45 young people learnt the skills of musical theatre, before they perform at a professional theatre near you. Post-graduate psychologists trained in specialist skills before they work in challenging situations. And they host dog-owners, eager to escape the city heat with their pets for a few days.
It’s a glorious mix. You can spend social time with 40 people in the morning and then they all seem to disappear into the landscape for the rest of the day. Each year the income generated helps restore a little more of the almost-deserted hamlet.
This year they’ve introduced a ‘wifi’ area – in the courtyard of the main villa. What a mix! 21st century technology beside a 16th century building.
Our clients were there too. They kindly allowed us to gatecrash their vacation and discuss some business issues. We focused on team dynamics and the challenges leaders face when change happens. And of course it’s not just leaders who get mixed up. When change happens, everyone is affected. Some see change as an opportunity. To others it’s a huge threat.
This is a different kind of mix. A mix of expectations, hopes and wishes. A mix of vision and current reality. Business as usual and an aspiration for change. As leaders we need to consider everyone’s reactions and create environments where clarity happens.
Once our meeting was over and everyone had gone their separate ways, I was able to focus on my book writing. And I need to add a big ‘thank you’ here to Adina – who pointed out in an earlier blog comment, that seeing the whole structure of the book was vital to moving forward. So before we left, Bob and I worked on that structure – to make sure we were aligned over what’s in, and what’s not in, our vision of transformational leadership. We used coloured pens, children’s building bricks and other tools around us to shape our ideas.
For me, having that structure makes any mix possible. It’s a foundation stone on which any kind of creativity can happen. Because I know what’s going to be at the core.
And when I arrived back in the office this morning, the mix of tools we had used were still where I’d left them. It was a great reminder that mixing things up can be creative – and they can support order. Sorting them back into their proper boxes and bags was a way of re-creating that order.
So for those of you who love order, rest assured they’re all tidied away now. And for those of you who, like me, love creative chaos, I’ve create a little box of ‘coloured chaos’ – just to remind me how much I enjoy mixing it up sometimes.