MY MENTORS /2. Lucio Noto - Lessons in Leadership
What makes New York special are indeed the people. New York is a melting pot of brilliant, creative, enthusiastic, passionate, and visionary people who believe in an idea, in a dream, in other people. During my stay in New York in my capacity as Vice Consul of Italy, I met many extraordinary people. I feel extremely fortunate to have had such an opportunity.
I met Lucio A. Noto in July of 2011 during an event at the Council of Foreign Relations. His smile emanated both warmth and self-confidence at the same time. That evening I did not know who he was, and I could not imagine how much this person would influence my life. Lucio Noto was born in Brooklyn to Italian parents who had moved from Sicily early in the century.
He worked for Mobil for most of his working career and had the talent and good fortune to rise to the top of the company. He is a renowned top executive, and thanks to various circumstances, it so happened that he became one of my mentors.
The secret of true leadership
After the summer, Lucio invited me out for lunch. It was the first of many more which were to follow, the beginning of a true friendship. I got to know him in this way. Lucio enjoys the pleasure of fine dining and is an expert on Italian wines. The choice of the restaurant and the wine was a ritual of sorts. And while I learned things about him, I also discovered much about myself.
Lucio Noto is a true leader and, as such, he is also humble and genuinely curious of everything. I noticed as much even in the smallest of details, including the swift way he would establish a relationship with the waiters and the sommeliers. I recall once him talking to a sommelier named Pascaline. He enjoyed conversing with her. At the time, she was going through a very difficult period in her life, and Lucio would give her advice and support.
A very cultivated person, Lucio has many different interests and is one of few Italian Americans who speaks fluently Italian. I enjoyed our conversations immensely; they opened my mind to a different approach toward people both in the personal and professional sphere. Each lunch we had together became for me a lesson of leadership and style. Lucio has the ability to understand people at a glance. This is one of his greatest qualities, a trait, I find, that is shared by many successful people. He possesses an ease in dealing with people, and always manages to get the best out of them. He knows what he wants and how to get it; but what is striking is the polite and charming way in which he does it.
The ability to understand people
As time went by, I started to ponder the ability to understand and inspire people. I realized how much these qualities could be powerful and effective. There are many other skills that a leader should have, and the ability to transform an organization begins not by setting a direction, but by getting the right people. Thanks to Lucio’s example, I understood how important it is for a leader to possess a great sense of empathy and to motivate one’s team. I learned the importance of listening to people and of giving them the well deserved attention and recognition.
I experienced how a positive attitude in the working environment has a tremendous influence on the results of teamwork. I understood that a great leader is aware of this very simple principle and needs to be able to build relationships with people very naturally. It may seem simplistic, but I learned so much just by observing him in a restaurant!
A natural gift
Once, Lucio told me that he never introduced himself as the CEO of Mobil, but as part of Mobil. A leader does not need to underline his own role, because power does not derive from such a role, but from the inner awareness of oneself and of one’s capabilities.
Lucio has a natural gift: he derives pleasure from getting along with people in every context and possesses the ability to make them feel like the most important person in the world, simply by an honest appreciation of one’s particular qualities, which he immediately recognizes in people. He improved and refined this art through his world travels. He worked for Mobil in Japan, in Italy, and in Saudi Arabia. He spent many years abroad and never spent long periods of time at the company’s headquarters: he enjoyed his job and his life outside the country. He loved getting to know different cultures and languages, just like a true diplomat.
He inspired me then, and continues to do so Most of the lessons I learned from Lucio Noto are the result of my personal perception. We have never really spoken about leadership. There was no need. His example counts more than any words might. Furthermore, every time I needed support he was there, to guide or advise me on many different occasions.
Thanks to him, I better understood New York and I was able to be better at my job. He lead me by hand where I would not have dared to go. Thanks to his suggestion, I embarked on a large fundraising project for the Italian Subtitles at the Met, a very important initiative of the Consulate General of Italy in New York. The project meant a lot to me for many different reasons. He asked me: “what can I do for you?” And he immediately offered to sponsor one of the Italian operas of the season showing me how to proceed: a sponsor for each opera. It worked out!
Lucio’s trust and guidance during the project paved my way, allowing me to discover my full potential. Through it I learned how much can be accomplished in New York, and believe me…a lot can be accomplished!
Lucio boosted my confidence, little by little, one lunch at a time.... He helped me to see that which was already within me, something that I did not know I possessed. He changed and enlarged my perspective on life. I have always yearned to become a diplomat; I never considered other career options. He showed me a different path in life that I never considered. I came to understand that dreams have no time constraints. Thanks to his inspiring words, I came to understand what vocation is. Now I know that serving my country is not my job, but my inner vocation. His mentorship brought me to reconsider myself and my life in a different spectrum.
Now I know that there are numerous paths my life can take, and that I am strong enough to conquer any of them, and this awareness gives me a great deal of confidence. I owe so much to Lucio Noto, and I am very grateful for that. Inspiring role models are more precious than any material gifts. They can change your life for the better. Grazie, Lucio!