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A Purpose Bigger Than You: Finding Success through Learning, Helping, and Loving.

A Purpose Bigger Than You: Finding Success through Learning, Helping, and Loving.
A Purpose Bigger Than You: Finding Success through Learning, Helping, and Loving.

“I often remind people that we are human beings, not human doings. Taking time to reflect on our journey as individuals is crucial. It's not just about career progression or financial gains but about personal growth and development.” Paolo Gallo

Paolo Gallo, author of, The Seven Games of Leadership and The Compass and the Radar, brings a wealth of experience from his leadership positions at the International Finance Corporation, The World Bank, and The World Economic Forum. Paolo stresses the significance of aligning our decisions with our genuine passions and skills. He also underscores the importance of clarity in discerning our priorities and recommends embracing confusion as a regular aspect of self-discovery.

Stephen Matini: Have you always had clarity about your trajectory, about what you wanted to do?

Paolo Gallo: I wouldn't say it's because I'm exceptionally clever, but rather because I had a clear vision for my life since my early twenties. When I started studying economics, it was more out of convenience than passion. Law seemed dull, medicine was out of the question due to my aversion to blood, and engineering was a no-go due to my struggles with mathematics. Economics seemed like the default choice.

However, as I delved into the subject, things started to click. I found connections between economics, finance, strategy, marketing, and various other disciplines. It wasn't until my third year when I encountered human resources and organizational behavior that I felt a true sense of alignment with my interests. 

Since then, I've remained steadfast in my passion for developing people and organizations. This clarity of purpose has guided my career for the past three decades. Now, at 60, I can confidently say that I've spent the last 35 years doing what I love, without any regrets.

SM: With your extensive experience in high-level roles in human resources–such as at the World Economic Forum and the World Bank–is there a particular achievement or memory that stands out to you?

PG: When I first joined the World Bank, I was still finding my footing in the role. Then, during a trip to Africa, a local driver took me to his village. He showed me where his mother used to fetch water, a dangerous and arduous journey. 

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the World Bank, a well was built, transforming the village's quality of life. Meeting his mother, who hugged me with gratitude, was a profound moment of realization. It wasn't a rational or cognitive understanding but a deep, heartfelt sense of purpose. 

That moment solidified why I do what I do, reminding me of the importance of organizations like the World Bank in making a tangible difference in people's lives. It was a pivotal moment in my career, shaping my sense of purpose in a way that my previous corporate roles couldn't match.

SM: Is success for you intertwined with purpose?

PG: Absolutely. In my book The Compass and the Radar, I share a story from my childhood. When I was just six years old, my father told me that success meant learning something new every day, helping others, and loving what I do. This became my personal compass for success.

When you're connected to a purpose greater than yourself and truly love what you do, you find the motivation to navigate through life's challenges. Building genuine relationships based on trust, rather than mere transactions, is crucial. Clarity about learning, helping, and loving provides a clear definition of success.

SM: Have you consistently encountered people who embrace this mindset, or have you often found yourself at odds with prevailing attitudes?

PG: I wish I could say everyone embraced it, but that would be wishful thinking. Like in a 007 movie, you encounter villains along the way. There are individuals who may not align with these values, challenging you to reaffirm your principles. 

Throughout my 30-plus years of experience, I've encountered both good and bad actors. While some were truly unpleasant, they forced me to confront and strengthen my values. In fact, standing firm in my values, even at the cost of losing my job once, has become one of my proudest achievements.

SM: Your emphasis on staying true to oneself is pivotal in your philosophy. Could you elaborate on the distinction between a “compass” and a “radar”?

PG: The compass represents your core values and the essence of success, which isn't about fame or wealth but about meaning, learning, and helping others. On the other hand, the radar symbolizes your ability to stay aware of external changes and trends. 

Many individuals excel in their fields but lack the curiosity to adapt to evolving circumstances. The radar embodies intellectual curiosity and contextual intelligence, allowing you to anticipate how changes may affect your role or industry. 

Focusing solely on excelling in your current role can lead to complacency, what I call the "better game." It's crucial to balance this with awareness of emerging trends to avoid being caught off guard, as exemplified by companies like Kodak or individuals like Ericsson.

SM: How can one strike a balance between inner reflection and external stimuli?

PG: In my book, The Seven Games of Leadership, the first chapter is called "What The Fact Moments," events that divert our attention from what truly matters. While it's important to stay informed, we often get caught up in issues beyond our control. 

I encourage individuals to ask two simple questions: ‘how proud are you of your achievements’, and ‘how proud are you of who you've become’. This introspection helps reveal the gap between accomplishment and personal growth. It's vital to develop both aspects, akin to exercising both arms equally. 

My coaching and book focus on the seven phases of personal development essential for effective leadership. Ultimately, I urge people to contemplate if their current pursuits align with their true values and aspirations, prompting essential reflection beyond mere career advancement.

SM: I often gauge my alignment by asking if I'd rather be elsewhere at that moment. Typically, if I'm content and fully engaged, I know I'm in the right place.

PG: Absolutely, it's vital to ensure congruence between your actions and your true desires. For instance, when I received a tempting job offer recently, I realized I'm too fulfilled in my current role to consider a change. 

This sense of contentment extends beyond work to relationships; if you'd rather have a simple moment with your spouse than a luxurious vacation alone, you're likely in the right place. Taking time to reflect prevents you from being swept away by external pressures.

SM: Looking back, is there a specific insight from your book, The Compass and the Radar, that you wish you had known earlier in your career?

PG: Trusting people blindly led to disappointments in the past. While I've been let down at times, I still prefer trusting to avoid becoming overly cynical. Additionally, I realize now that I often fretted unnecessarily over minor issues. With hindsight, I'd approach challenges with more perspective, recognizing that not every hurdle is a crisis.

SM: Do you still teach as an adjunct professor?

PG: Yes. Teaching is an integral part of my activities, alongside coaching, writing, and public speaking. Each aspect complements the others, fostering continuous learning and improvement. Preparing for speeches and workshops enhances my teaching, while teaching allows me to refine my content and receive valuable feedback.

SM: What is the typical age range of your students?

PG: I primarily teach executive education, so my students typically range from their late thirties to early fifties. These individuals have substantial professional experience and are seeking to deepen their understanding of specific topics or advance to the next level in their careers. 

Engaging with them in meaningful conversations is both rewarding and enlightening. During my sessions, I always allocate ample time for questions and discussion, as I believe it fosters reflection and ensures the content resonates with the audience.

SM: What is the most common question you get regarding career alignment and similar topics?

PG: There are several questions, but one recurring theme, especially after the release of my recent book, The Seven Games of Leadership, is about navigating the crisis game.  Many individuals resonate with this stage, typically occurring in their mid-forties, where they question if they want the next phase of their life to mirror the previous one. It's akin to halftime in a soccer match, where they ponder if they want to play the second half the same way as the first. 

Many find solace in realizing that their feelings are shared by others, validating their own experiences and the insights provided in the book. This validation reinforces the significance of the tools and perspectives offered, not just to me, but to others as well.

SM: Can you recall the moment when the idea for your book, The Seven Games of Leadership, first sparked?

PG: It began with a conversation with my daughter during the Christmas holidays two years ago. She turned the tables on me, asking what I had learned, prompting me to reflect deeply. I realized that despite meeting thousands of people throughout my career, I had essentially had the same conversations repeatedly. 

These discussions revolved around common challenges that transcended job titles or industries. Recognizing a pattern, I identified seven clusters of issues that emerged in these conversations. Viewing them as "games" rather than phases emphasized the importance of understanding the rules and transitioning between them. So, my daughter's question ignited the journey to write this book.

SM: How do you perceive the evolution of leadership needs today compared to 20 years ago?

PG: When I pitched my book to Bloomsbury, they questioned the necessity for yet another leadership book amidst a saturated market. Reflecting on various schools of thought on leadership, I noticed a gap. 

While many books prescribe what leaders should do or be based on idealized or historical examples, few explore how individuals can grow as leaders. My book aims to bridge this gap by providing a roadmap for personal growth as a prerequisite for effective leadership. It's not a to-do list or a collection of biographies but a tool for self-reflection and critical thinking about one's leadership journey.

SM: Is this connected to our earlier discussion about the significance of knowing one's purpose?

PG: Absolutely. Simplicity is key. It's about understanding what truly matters. I often ask myself, when am I at my best? What activities make me lose track of time and immerse myself completely? 

Just like children absorbed in play, oblivious to the world around them. This introspection led me to realize that I thrive when I have autonomy over my time and when I'm nurturing the growth of organizations and teams. 

When you're at your best, you naturally produce exceptional results, attracting opportunities and financial security without resorting to gimmicks. It's about focusing on what energizes you and avoiding activities that drain you. 

By aligning your energy with your direction in both personal and professional life, you find purpose and fulfillment.

SM: I truly believe that focusing entirely on our genuine talents and joys often leads to the solutions we seek. For me, this realization came later in life. 

PG: Just the other day, I spent an hour with a friend's daughter, grappling with similar decisions. She felt overwhelmed by various factors clouding her judgment. 

Take, for instance, the dilemma of pursuing another MBA or venturing into a new sector while considering logistics, finances, and relationships. I advised her to strip away non-essential elements complicating her decision-making process. I emphasized the importance of prioritizing what truly matters. 

For instance, while money is crucial, it shouldn't dictate major life choices like marriage. Instead, focus on what brings you joy and fulfillment. I encouraged her to visualize her ideal day, pinpointing her passions and interests. 

By decluttering her decision-making process and honing in on what truly resonates, she can navigate her path with clarity and purpose.

SM: What is your current definition of clarity?

PG: For me, clarity involves understanding what is not essential. It's like going to a restaurant and scanning through the menu, dismissing options until you identify what truly appeals to you. Clarity means recognizing your limitations and disinterests, and having the courage to let go of things that are no longer relevant. 

For example, when I founded a group for HR heads of international organizations, I felt hurt when I wasn't invited to a subsequent meeting. But upon reflection, I realized that I had moved on from that role and shouldn't dwell on being excluded.  Clarity about what is essential helps focus your energy where it truly matters.

SM: Do you ever find yourself unsure about what to do next, or are you always clear?

PG: I experience moments of confusion, but clarity usually follows. When I transitioned from being an HR director to an independent consultant, I felt overwhelmed by the array of services I could offer. It was like opening an ice cream shop with too many flavors. But by observing what clients truly wanted and focusing on what I did best, I gained clarity. 

Confusion is part of the creative process, but it's essential to reflect on what you've learned and streamline your offerings to deliver excellence. So, while confusion may arise, having a process to find clarity is crucial for moving forward.

I often remind people that we are human beings, not human doings. Taking time to reflect on our journey as individuals is crucial. It's not just about career progression or financial gains but about personal growth and development.

At the start of the year or any time, really, it's worth pausing to consider where we stand on our human journey. Have we not only achieved but also become better versions of ourselves? Have we invested in our personal growth beyond monetary or status goals?

While it may sound like a commercial pitch, I believe reading The Seven Games of Leadership could provide a valuable moment for reflection. It's not about pushing book sales; rather, it's about supporting individuals in their professional development journey. 

So, while I won't urge you to buy my book, I hope it serves as a helpful resource for those seeking to progress as individuals.

🎧  Listen on your favorite platform: Listen to the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform.

How do you navigate life transitions while maintaining a sense of direction and purpose? Share your story!

Please check Paolo Gallo’s books The Seven Games of Leadership and The Compass and the Radar, and use the affiliate links to support Pity Party Over at no additional cost to you.

Subscribe to Pity Party Over for more insightful episodes. Questions? Email or send Stephen a message on LinkedIn.

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