How have you implemented the advice you give in your book “The Job is Easy, The People are Not – 10 Smart Skills to Become Better People” in your own life?

As a professor, I learn best when I teach, and that’s how this journey of writing this started. The book was actually inspired by two real life experience: one, my personal global leadership journey, a journey that challenged me to extreme heights, and two, seeing my MBA students struggle to work with their own peers and external stakeholders, especially in globally diverse settings.

Each of the 10 smart skills (I refuse to call these critically important skills soft, as there is nothing soft about dealing with people) presented in my book was inspired by the people I work with, by numerous conversations and realizations, and many moments of self-reflection.

These 10 smart skills are: emotional maturity, managing up, validation, humility, followership, productive inclusion, multiple perspectives, adaptability, cognitive readiness, and listening.

I selected these smart skills by observing and thinking about what makes our Asia School of Business (ASB) students successful in working in dynamic and diverse Action Learning work environments. I spent a lot of time talking to leaders in ASB and MIT Sloan executive programs, conferences, events, and many other settings and learnt what skills the industry is looking for. But by no means is this set of skills exhaustive or exclusive of numerous other skills. What I hope is for the list presented in my book to spark a conversation and reflections on becoming better people.

In my own attempt to become among these “better people”, I learnt how my emotional immaturity can stress my team and organization. I tried and failed repeatedly to become more humble, to truly listen and follow up when it is time to do so. I learnt that a strength, when not calibrated correctly, becomes a weakness: you probably like my energy, passion, fast mind, and gregarious personality, but you will find me uncomfortable.

The next step was teaching these skills in my MBA and executive programs. The reactions were astounding. Everyone seemed to resonate to the skills and have a story on how hard is to work with others. In May, I was teaching at MIT Sloan a different topic, but since my book was just released, I spent about an hour on this subject and the participants couldn’t get enough! Turns out working with other people is a universal challenge.

So, more than advice for me, and I hope for many in my organization these skills are a daily reminder on how we can be better at working with people.

What “Smart Skill” do you find that most people struggle with and why?

We all struggle with some more than another, but the most surprising one was validation, a skill that I define as an evidence-based affirmation and recognition for someone’s work contribution, feelings, or efforts.

Validation is different than feedback or compliments, because of its evidence-based nature and is a powerful tool when used well, because not only motivates you forward, but also is a training tool on how to continue to do better.

However, what I have learnt is that people who rely too much on external validation, can become validation addicts. These are the people that make everything about themselves, that want recognition for just simply doing their job, that steal the spotlight and don’t share the success with their teams. They can be energy vampires and are very difficult to work with. The paradox is though that because they crave external validation, they work hard to get it so many of them become leaders, role which in itself is a validation fountain if you want.

However, healthy validation is important and essential for a productive relationship, both personal and professional. Telling someone in a meeting or in private how specifically their effort and work added value, is free but priceless.

What were your sticking points in writing this book, where did you find you were having a hard time writing?

I actually never intended to write this book, but because I teach about this stuff, I got a lot of requests to do it. However, as good as I am, I cannot speak about these skills only from my perspective, because it would be terribly myopic, wouldn’t it? So, after a lot of thought, I realized that the only way I can write about people is to ask other people what they do to make it easier to work together. And since I have 10 skills, I interviewed for each skill someone who I thought excelled in their smart skills and who would be able to teach me and the readers how to be better from that perspective.

The interviews are going to be part of a podcast series as well as a video series to be released in August 2022 and each chapter of the book has a QR code that gives you access to all episodes. Or you can just visit and you can find all the interviews on my page.

Your novel is made up of a number of candid conversations, what conversation left a surprisingly lasting impression on you and why?

I chose to interview people I know really well, and I didn’t expect to be surprised to be honest. But I learnt so many new things about my colleagues and friends. My favorite MIT Sloan Prof. Roberto Fernandez who I interviewed for emotional maturity is one of the most charismatic, energetic and engaging speakers you will ever see, but he confessed to be a shy introvert just like me!

Prof. Charlie Fine, also from MIT Sloan, admitted that as a leader of Asia School of Business he had to practice a lot of paranoia to be more cognitively ready for whatever the job threw at him. And Emily Preiss taught me that one could be too adaptive which is actually quite taxing on our nervous system!

Honestly, each interview taught me so much and left me humbled, which is a smart skill that I define as “the more I learn, the less I know”.

What message would you want people to take away after reading your book?

I end my book by wondering will the job still going to be easy and people still hard after reading this book? Of course. It’s part of the human experience to challenge ourselves, and others, and to keep growing from the process.

But what I hope that after reading the book we will realize that we are all difficult and we are responsible of making both the job and the experience of working together not just easier, but more positive, more productive, and most importantly, more meaningful.

Because at the end of the day, the business of business is not business.

The business of business is people!

As hard or easy as we might be.