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The "turnip" leadership

You cannot squeeze blood out of a turnip! Or can you!? Getting blood out a turnip is, not only possible, it’s a must!

Franco Marzo

I often meet managers, entrepreneurs, trainers who use this phrase to indicate the limits of the people they have to deal with. How is that possible? I mean, before being hired, candidates have to go through interviews, aptitude tests, assessments of all kinds. How do they suddenly become turnips? This sentence should be prohibited. True, not everyone has the same knowledge and skills, yet human beings have immense potential. In my personal experience I can recall at least two collaborators defined as "turnips" with whom I have achieved ambitious goals.

One of a leader’s main talents is finding the needed resources, potential abilities, agreements and wide appeal on which to build interest and motivation. How can this be done? Here are two suggestions:

  1. Take an interest in the person
  2. Listen with a certain amount of emotional distance

Take an interest in the person

I remember a conference by Prof. Novara, Work and Organizational Psychologist at Olivetti (73,000 employees in 1970) in which he described one of the secrets of success of his former company. He said something like: "remember, those who get a job because of friends in high places are generally ungrateful!" And then told the story of the Olivetti factory in Pozzuoli which made profits while the Fiat factory in Pomigliano (a few kilometres away) was losing 1 million lire of public money for each Alfa Sud sold.

While in Alfa Romeo, employees were hired with a criteria of political belonging, in Olivetti people were selected exclusively for their personal, professional and human qualities. This made them responsible and made them feel part of their corporate destiny.”

In Olivetti they took an interest in the people they hired, in what they knew and loved doing, their tastes,  their family situations. Those who were hired were chosen not out of fear of some "powerful" local politician, but out of sincere interest. Anyone who is hired thanks to a friend in high places, will never esteem and respect his employer and will hardly guarantee his full commitment to him and his company.

Listening with some emotional distance

"Balancing stones can be considered an artistic performance, a particular expression of Land Art. Striking the perfect balance between two or more stones requires patience and humility, becoming estranged to the passing of time, being fully immersed in nature listening to sounds and silence. It is a mental discipline that increases one’s sensitivity and the perception of the Energy being exchanged between the artist and the stone to be balanced: reality”. Finding contact points is an art, and do not fool yourself into thinking that it is easy. To succeed, you must let go of your passions. You have to listen to people, “touch” them, “smell” them, eat with them, share as many senses as you can. You will get invaluable information that will help you find points of contact, common interests, values ​​and shared passions. How is it done? Ask questions and never judge the answers. Use one of these formulas: I understand! Interesting! I realize! I did not think of that! They are neither positive nor 

negative but they do facilitate understanding. "Yes, but", is severely forbidden!


During a training course, a manager of a large multinational company asked me where was the classroom he had been assigned to. I checked the program: "group A hall 1", "group B hall 2", "group C hall 3". He still asked me in what room he was supposed to go, he could not match the letter to the number: he was dyslexic. In a few minutes he told me about his life. Alienation, humiliations, dramatic experiences, until someone realized that "if he could understand the principle” he could "find the solution". He could not fill out an expense reports and did not remember his children's birthdays, but he had developed 3 international patents!

Finally a little gem. The BBC web page, the highest expression of British media, published the results of a research conducted by the University of Lund. The study published in Plant Cell Physiology, spoke of a protein that has been identified which could pave the way for the development of molecules to be used in transfusions. Sugar beet haemoglobin is 50-60% similar to human haemoglobin, and was identified by looking at the plant’s genome for a similar sequence to human haemoglobin. So squeezing blood out of a turnip might well be possible!

The “seven rules” of the “turnip” leadership

  1. remember that humans are the most advanced form of life in nature. Their potential is huge;
  2. do not develop biased opinions and be very careful at dishing out judgements: people can make mistakes but these are never mistakes;
  3. look at your co-workers and associates as they were stones you have to balance: study them, evaluate them, out of time and space…;
  4. ask open questions, start with what…., which…., where…., who…., when…., leave room for the answer;
  5. listen carefully and put in the odd “I understand”, “interesting”, I realize that”….; 
  6. erase the “yes, but…!” formula from your vocabulary;
  7. develop “positive preconceptions”, think that people are better than what they think: they will be!

Good Luck!

Franco Marzo – coaching& business development Author of the book “Leadership Ispirativa” 

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