Eleonora Bonacossa, Founder, ARETA

Born in the coastal town of Pesaro, Italy, Eleonora Bonacossa and her family have called Frankfurt, Germany home since 1990.  An effective, versatile, and internationally active Management Consultant and Leadership Coach, Eleonora is the founder of ARETA, New Perspectives for Leaders, a consulting firm based in Frankfurt, Germany. Through deep awareness and proven methods, she provides clients with tools, frameworks, and exercises that effectively develop their leadership confidence, courage, and inner connection.  She is a master at getting to the “heart of the issue” through her pro-active listening skills and well-focused questions. Equally at ease in a one-to-one Leadership Coaching, leading a Dynamic Workshop, or giving a Keynote Speech, Eleonora is also passionate about emboldening women around the globe to become Change-Makers. Her clients value her for her exceptional dedication and overall commitment to excellence.

Her book, 6 Leadership Skills to Unleash the Game Changer in You and Your Team: A Compact Guide to Creating Transformational Leaders, Teams and Workplaces, aims to place the human side of the business in the foreground, and encourage leaders and employees to become real Game Changers. It serves as a companion to her, 6 Top Core Leadership Skills to Inspire Conversation, Reflection, and Internalization, as well as aid in practising and applying the skills themselves. We caught up with Eleonora to learn more about her recent endeavours. Here are the excerpts.

Life Experiences that Made Me a Leader

Leadership means ‘being of service.’ You might laugh, but it’s the same spirit of service I used to feel as a young Girl Scout in Italy, and I experience the same feeling when doing the following:

  • Coaching my clients
  • Writing about virtuous leadership
  • Living out ‘Business’ as a vocation
  • Serving as a Eucharistic Minister or Reader at a Catholic Mass
  • Striving each day to live out the Social Teaching of the Church, which has as its first pillar, placing people at the heart and centre of everything.

Looking back on my earlier life, one of the most meaningful things for me was accompanying the monk Brother Elias as his translator during his multiple visits to church communities throughout Germany. I can still recall witnessing how he spoke with different people: attentively listening to each of them, asking them profound questions, sitting quietly as each person opened their hearts up to him, and creating a space where each individual felt safe to reveal their own profound pain and suffering. In this intense process, Brother Elias also taught me what leadership is truly about. In many aspects, the many hours spent with him inspired my work and my book, “6 Leadership Skills.”

Something else that profoundly impacted my career development was attending a 3-year course in Rome on the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. This course not only opened my eyes to the meaning of Servant and Transformational Leadership, but it revealed to me the inestimable treasure the Church possesses in Her teachings on the beauty and value of the Human Person.

Though my career has not been linear, I don’t perceive that this has negatively affected me or my career. In fact, I find linear careers dull and often need more experience and variety! Life should be about continuous transformation and development. Life is reflection and action. There are no standard paths but only personal paths, which are as unique and unrepeatable as the individuals themselves.

Being an Italian, I have naturally been very creative in mixing my passions for humanistic studies (European languages and literature at the Alma Mater in Bologna and Heidelberg) with Management (SDA Business School in Milan), with a fascination for Church Social Teaching (Lateran University, Rome), with Business and Leadership Coaching (Cologne, Germany), and later with Solution-Oriented, Short-Term Coaching (Munich, Germany) and Facilitation. These various paths ultimately led me to become the successful woman and leadership coach I am today; for that, I will be forever grateful.

The absolute highlights of my career have been, in addition to living abroad and having a young family in Germany:

  • Completing my humanities studies in Bologna with top marks
  • Completing a Master of Science in Social Management at Bocconi with Honors
  • Attending a 3-year course in Rome on Church Social Teaching and, in the end, receiving a diploma with honours.

And later:

  • Being granted the honour of speaking officially to Pope Benedict XVI. (October 2011)
  • Publishing my book and workbook on leadership in both German and English.
  • Receiving an honorary Doctorate in Advanced Studies from Azteca University in Mexico. (Dec. 2022)

The Role of a Business Coach: Helping Organisations to be Successful and Future-Proof

I agree with Patrick Lencioni when he wrote, “I believe that management is a ministry,” and with Pope Francis, who declared, “Business is a vocation, a noble vocation!”

Leaders have a huge impact on the people they manage. They can fundamentally change people’s lives; therefore, they must love the people they manage if they hope to effectively lead them.

Teams, organisations and companies are not just abstract entities. First and foremost, it is always about the people who make up a team or organization, whether these are for-profit or non-profit.

That means we are always and exclusively talking about people! (People-Centeredness). It’s not enough to say, “we believe in People first,” leaders and managers must really acknowledge them, see them, and listen to them!

As a business coach, I am constantly reminding my clients that they are human beings, that they must remain “human,” and that it is okay to make and admit their mistakes.

The heart of much of my work often includes working on relationships, helping to train and develop relational skills, those very skills that make us human.

I tell organisations, for example, that they need to rethink their role in helping to safeguard the mental health of their employees if they want to continue to exist and stay in the marketplace.

This includes asking leaders if they really love their people.

Often, it is my role to encourage my clients to become Game Changers (which is why I wrote my book, 6 Leadership Skills) so that they might become someone who dares to admit that the rules of the game have become dysfunctional and obsolete and no longer serve them or the organisation. In doing so, they have become someone who has chosen the future by taking control and choosing to Change the Game.

Game-Changing is first a bold decision, then a bold strategy and finally a bold mindset. Moreover, Game-Changing is a skill, a skill that can be learned.

So, my role is coaching others how to initiate Game Changing!

Overcoming the Challenges as a Business Coach

When working as a Business Coach, I’m frequently confronted with the suffering of employees, team leaders and executives in connection to their professional activities.

The former often site feelings of alienation, loneliness or of feeling ignored, unheard, and unappreciated. Further facets of their distress include working in a fearful environment where they are uninformed, afraid to give honest feedback or able to develop to their fullest capacity.

I often meet managers who have yet to learn what drives their employees, how they can be motivated or even how to reach out to them. Loneliness, existential fears, loss of control, and an inability to connect heart and head when making decisions are often their chief concerns when seeking coaching.

I witness how my clients suffer due to their inability to increase productivity and innovation, develop a positive workplace culture, or counteract the frequent turnovers and departures due to mental health issues.

The greatest cause of the described grievances lies in managers’ difficulty to see and acknowledge their employees as their company’s greatest asset, in whom management should be committed to investing fully.

It is not easy to reach this type of breakthrough, as it requires lots of intense, proactive listening, helping others feel safe to speak openly about vulnerability and courage, and then working to activate the resources that everyone has deep within. Doing so often reveals the surprising truth that we have always possessed “at least 25 possibilities” to act differently! This is the type of work I get to do, and I love it!

ARETA and Its Vision and Mission

The name ARETA derives from the ancient Greek word “Noble” or “Virtuous”. Even Socrates, Plato and Aristotle described it as the sum of all the human virtues that serve our common good and the means for cultural prosperity and economic success.

When creating ARETA – new perspectives for leaders, my initial vision was to empower people to realise their full potential to reach “human flourishing.” My definition of “human flourishing” is encouraging consciousness and empowering individuals, both personally and professionally, for the benefit of everyone. Ultimately, my goal with ARETA is to accompany you as you reveal, in the truest sense of the word, the best version of yourself right now, whether in a team, an organisation or a company.

When you grow as a leader yourself, you allow other people to grow with you. Using Transformational Leadership, we strengthen this reciprocity, providing you with a 360° view that brings together all the many dimensions of your humanity, allowing your leadership qualities to flourish.

My concern for the future is easily seen by ARETA’s logo: It shows a head turning to the right towards the future. The words that form the head are the building blocks of my coaching, which also form the whole human being. Within the head, the heart is visible. It stands for the fact that we can only successfully evolve when we combine Emotion with Reason, Heart with Brain.

Creating a human-centered working environment and establishing a humane business culture are my main goals, as well as those of countless people on this planet. So why are we so slow to transform this environment when so many desperately yearn for it? According to my vision, the work world should be redesigned so that people feel good, achieve common goals, grow together, and strengthen each other. If business – one of the oldest human activities – can become more humane, it will significantly enrich humankind and preserve our environment.

My aim with ARETA is to support everything you do as a person and leader, in order to help you achieve excellence. Excellence is the sum of your values and virtues, your know-how and knowledge, you’re your individual skills and talents. You can fully exploit their potential and use it for the benefit of all.

My belief in “human integral development” means I will guide you in this transformation process. Using your business as a force for good, you can help to build a new, values-based business culture: motivate your team, improve relationships, communicate constructively, and implement your shared objectives together. This creates sustainable, long-term success at all levels!

My philosophy can be summed up as: clear management + solid strategy + values-based culture = sustainable success.

Each of us should continue to maintain these values so that more people will participate in a values-based culture.

My Core Values:

  • The human person is at the centre of everything.
  • Doing good is more important than good doing.
  • The future of leadership lies in uniting heart and mind – harmonising discord between strategies and values.

Inner-rooted values:

  • Be honest. Take action. Be in complete agreement with your values and your attitude
  • Be authentic. Remove masks and stop playing roles.
  • Believe in yourself. Believe in others.
  • Respect yourself. Respect others. Take responsibility for everything you do.
  • Use your emotional and social intelligence.
  • Be reliable.

Outwardly directed values:

  • Business and Professional Work are a vocation. Understand the connection between what you do and your service to people and society.
  • Strive in everything you do based on our highest human and cultural values and the “Ethic of virtue” for excellence.
  • Act in the public’s interest for the “common good.”
  • Communicate honestly and confidently.
  • Remain constant in your credibility, reliability and humility.

The Process of Customizing Training Programs

The client or organisation that has requested coaching from me will formulate and then communicate the goal they wish to achieve to me – in as concrete and precise form as possible. I ask them to write it down in black and white; this is of enormous help.

This is followed by an initial phone call or meeting, in which the client/coachee and I briefly introduce ourselves. In the phone call or meeting, I outline in advance (depending on the type of program chosen) the coaching structure, the number of sessions, online or in-person mode, etc.

I then send the coachee a very detailed questionnaire, as well as a request for a list of their strengths, giving them adequate time to complete it.

Before the official session begins, the coachee receives some reminders, a small surprise gift, and a personalised, handwritten card of encouragement from me.

As far as I am concerned, the coaching process starts long before the first official session. It starts from the first contact, from when I first received the pre-set goal, written out in black and white, and from that moment, I carefully read the things written on the questionnaire and their list of personal strengths. From that moment, having already received precise information through a very creative process, I began to think and feel which methods, tools and questions I could use to support my coachee so that the solution – already in them – could emerge clearly and effortlessly.

Coaching is a highly impactful, creative process which is incredibly individualised and as unique as the people themselves are.

Impactful, unique and unrepeatable because I am interacting with a human person. Of this, I am fully aware. In coaching, each session is different, even though the challenges can often be similar for some leaders.

Structuring the Contents

The first step is to define for which target audience I want to offer the program, to clearly identify its challenges, and to construct an ad hoc “Time-frame” (number of sessions, overall duration of the Coaching) that is objectively realistic to achieve the set goal. The content should be chosen and tailored to the established goal after carefully researching and speaking with a few key clients. This is a crucial moment because it is from them that the most important choice of content comes. Not least, special attention should also be given to the choice of the program title, which, besides being “eye-catching,” should also be inspirational, thoughtful, and perhaps even slightly provocative.

The Most Successful Coaching Initiative

My most successful Coaching Initiative is my best-selling Coaching Program, “I can do it!”

This is a highly intensive, one-month, accompanied coaching, focused on achieving the client’s desired goal.

The overall effectiveness of the program lies in its remarkably successful mix of systemic Business Coaching, Solution-Oriented Short-Term Coaching, Career-Coaching, as well as some highly valued psychological support in the form of a 24/7 “Help-line,” a type of open channel between my client and me during their coaching period. In this way, the coachee doesn’t have to wait until their next Coaching session to ask questions and share emotions or ideas but can communicate via a private Messenger Chat with me, their Coach. This is a very innovative feature of my program.

Generally, there are three ways for me to feel and know that the coaching/training was successful:

  1. My highly developed 6th sense. It is a moment during Coaching when I internally have a “Wow” effect. It is that moment when I sense the coachee is activating their (often hidden and/or unknown) inner resources, is regaining confidence in themself or their team, and has decided to do something bold and courageous. That “wow” moment signals to me that the coaching is succeeding. I literally witness the person blossom before my eyes!
  2. At the end of coaching, I am often privileged to be given direct and honest feedback from my coachee about their overall experience.
  3. Suppose I work for an institution or an organisation. In that case, I receive feedback in the form of a very structured survey, anonymously filled out by the coachees, that the organisation forwards back to me.

About the Book: 6 Leadership Skills

I am well aware of the vast amount of Leadership literature currently flooding the Market. With my book however, I am aiming to reach the often, forgotten hearts of Leaders with a simple message written in clear and authentic language. After all, the determination to change one’s behaviour is not only made with the head but, above all, with the heart.

I also know that many other skills are being extensively discussed and researched. I have chosen, however, to focus on the 6 Top Core Leadership Skills that trigger the most sustainable and revolutionary changes.

My book is designed to serve as a companion to the 6 Top Core Leadership Skills, to inspire conversation, reflection, and internalisation, as well as aid in practising and applying the skills themselves.

Engaging further with key competencies, not just theorising about them, helps develop our leadership style by actively shaping a new world of work that is more humane, inclusive, and open.

With this book, I want to accompany people to the next leadership level. This journey begins by admitting that you don’t have all the answers and then demonstrating a willingness to listen to others proactively and treat everyone involved, including yourself, with compassion. Ultimately, it leads to the most important task of a leader: creating the right work environment so that people on the team can thrive. The right work environment is created through three specific qualities: valuing, caring, and encouraging.

This book is deliberately short, compact, and to the point.

Things that are not in the Blurb

I’m going to share with you the 6 leadership skills:

  1. Recognise You Don’t Have All the Answers
  2. Listen Proactively
  3. Provide Safety
  4. Appreciate
  5. Care
  6. Encourage

I hope the readers become so courageous as to initiate Game Changing in their organisation by experimenting and applying just some of these skills.

Can you imagine Leaders admitting and showing their vulnerability?

Leaders that proactively listen to their team members and let them feel heard and seen?

Can you imagine how concretely impactful this could be?

I would like the readers not to refer to them as “Soft skills,” for they are anything but soft. They are HUMAN SKILLS that cannot be learned in a Business School but only through ordinary, everyday interaction and relationships with others.

These are Game-Changing skills; these are real leadership skills!

The Most Challenging Part of Writing

It’s certainly an inspiring and creative process. I am aware of the responsibility I must carry for what I am writing, which is a legacy I am leaving to the world. The moment of release or publication feels like letting go of some part of myself out into the world.

The more difficult times are when I lack inspiration and when I simply can’t move forward despite having made a detailed daily schedule.

My writing schedule resembles a Benedictine monk’s: “ora et labora,” “pray and work.” I am fully immersed and focused on my writing, with no distractions and absolutely no devices!

But it’s my wonderful husband, my best friend, who I must truly thank for supporting me and taking extra special care of me during those challenging periods of writing. It’s his loving support, constant friendship, and great humour that sustain me most, not to mention his incredible skills in the kitchen, that make it all possible.

As an example, I would like to share with you a story. Before writing “6 Leadership Skills,” I gave myself a deadline. I told my husband that if I didn’t finish the manuscript on time, there would be consequences, specifically plunging into the icy waters of the Nidda River in front of the ARETA Coaching Institute. On May 1st, my husband came into my office, and I still hadn’t finished the book, so I knew what to do. Mustering my courage, we stepped out of my office together, walked to the edge of the river and without saying a word, I dove into the waters of the frigid Nidda. While I swam around for a couple of minutes, my darling husband looked on and, without saying a word, made a video of me and smiled. We still laugh about it to this day!

Education and Life as a Student

I always enjoyed learning new things and was diligent in school. My mother often told me how proud she was of me after the annual conferences with my teachers. I also have a very vivid memory of my first English book, which I really loved and still cherish to this day, as well as the object I absolutely loved the most in my youth: the globe, which I used to spend endless afternoons studying as I memorised the various cities and countries of the world. This most likely stems from my love for the planet earth and explains my emotion when I see photos of the “blue planet” taken from space. It moves me every time.

Lifelong learning and staying in Learn-Modus are deeply ingrained in me and have become my personality traits. Having studied classical ballet from the age of ten until my early twenties meant that I experienced the following:

  • The discipline of performing exercises at the barre, first on one side and then the other.
  • Having a mirror in front of me developed the ability to be slightly self-critical and a remarkable aesthetic sense for a successful movement.
  • The practice of continuous training and repetition of, e.g., a particular step or move until you get it right.

Many years of ballet ultimately taught me that mastery takes massive amounts of practice, devotion, patience, and the ability to be completely honest with yourself and your mistakes. For it was only by being truly honest with myself that I could ultimately improve and grow as a dancer.

Significant Milestones

There is a moment in my life that, besides being – and remaining – absolutely unique, has also given and taught me so much about my work as a coach.

In October 2011, I had the honour of delivering a short speech of greeting to the Pope Benedict XVI on behalf of the German Branch of the Centesimus Annus Foundation. After that speech, I had the opportunity to engage the Pope in conversation while looking into his smiling blue eyes and holding his delicate hands in mine.

Why do I share this story? Because from that moment on, I recall the energy and courage of that moment when I am “on the spot” or face something extra challenging, such as an important keynote, a seminar, etc. I say with a certain lightness and irony, “Eleonora, you’ve spoken to a Pope, so what are you worried about? You’re going to be great!” Reliving that meeting with Pope Benedict XVI is like receiving an added injection of courage, reminding me that no one is unapproachable and that, in the end, we are all just human beings in need of a hand to hold.

Life-long learning is important to me and so I am constantly in learning mode. It is also part of my personal and professional ethos to constantly update my knowledge regarding methodologies and the acquisition of new tools to help my clients.

Many of these I have learned and acquired at various training and refresher courses, featuring some of the most world-renowned coaches, business leaders, scientists and scholars in their fields today, including Keith Ferrazzi, Robin Sharma, Patrick Lencioni, Joe Dispensa, Carla Harris, Brené Brown, Seth Godin, Maya Storch, Sabine Asgodom and many others. In addition, attending international meetings, such as the Nordic Business Forum (NBF), has allowed me to not only listen and learn from many of these experts but also meet and interact with them personally.

Finally, being a member of DVCT, the German Association of Coaches and Trainers, has allowed me to learn about the latest trends in Leadership and Coaching and constantly expand my areas of expertise alongside many of my wonderful and distinguished German colleagues.

Tips to Avoid Burnouts

I am a polyglot and offer coaching in three languages: German, English, and Italian. I know from experience that the quality of the language spoken is directly proportional to my energy level that day.

Suppose I arrive at a coaching or training session tired, without enough rest or the necessary positive relational energy. In that case, I may have trouble finding the appropriate wording in my language.

And in Coaching, not using the right “wording” is crucial to success.

When I can’t find the right words in the language in question and am forced into a long paraphrase, that is a sign that my energy level that day is not at its optimum.

The lessons here are:

  • Avoid being sleep-deprived.
  • Always take time before a Coaching to centre myself and “charge” myself inwardly.
  • Be easy on myself if a coaching session is not as successful as planned.
  • Remember that I, too, am a human being and not (always) superwoman.
  • Can only inspire if I’m inspired. I must actively work to keep my enthusiasm, energy and inner fire burning.

Handling Pressure and Staying Calm All Day

I belong to that breed of humans who identify with the hashtag #5amclub. This routine has been a total Game Changer for me!

My day begins by waking up early and immediately performing a 20-minute workout, a 20-minute meditation/prayer, and then 20 minutes of reading or journaling.

Next, I shower and get ready, afterwards enjoying breakfast with the family before settling into my workday.

If I don’t have coaching sessions, my work routine is structured into 90-minute time slots, always followed by a 15-minute break. Since I live in a nature preserve, I usually head out for a short walk in nature and then start again with the same rhythm: 90 Minutes, total focus on work, followed by 15 minutes of rest. It works!

Lately, I have been feeling immense pressure because of a series of wonderful but challenging commitments featuring tight deadlines and much preparation. I need to avoid caffeine completely, because it makes me even more anxious, and to kindly ask my partner if there are some things I might delegate to him. I am so glad to have him on my team at such moments!

In addition, learning to simply say “no” to many requests, especially over LinkedIn.

Something else I have found particularly helpful is performing some mindfulness routines during one of my 15-minute breaks. This might be a moment of stillness where I simply focus on my breath or a “body-scan” meditation to the beautiful voice of Danny Penman.

In the hot summer months, after doing intellectual activities in the office, I love spending some time in my “food forest,” my little garden oasis where I can escape and enjoy picking fruit with my own hands.

Finally, I am an art lover, so being around artists and great works of art, are also endless sources of inspiration.

Bringing Changes into People’s Lives

I want to help leaders, team leaders, or coachees understand that the greatest thing that can happen to them is discovering that their true path is the path of personal transformation. Meaning that each of us, through the activities we do, the interactions we share, and the lessons we learn, are growing and transforming ourselves to become fully human and fully and truly who we were made to be.

We are born to flourish. Human flourishing is both a path and a goal. I want to communicate and instil this awareness in every person and organisation I interact with.

Advice for a Successful Life

To the leaders, I want to remind all of you who are passionate about business not to forget that you are, first and foremost, a human being, and you must commit yourself to remaining HUMANE, investing in people first.

Moreover, we must remember that those leaders who manage other human beings have an enormous impact on other people’s lives and are thus in the unique and privileged position of being able to decide the future destinies of others. This must be managed with a deep sense of commitment and responsibility.

I would also like to remind leaders that each person is a unique and unrepeatable human being. Their task as leaders must be to provide the conditions for each individual to develop and flourish (Human Flourishing).

Leadership is a vocation, and “it’s not about us. It’s all about others.” After 2000 years of poor leadership examples (with exceptions, of course), the world is in dire need of thoughtful leaders.

At this time, I would like to urge all Leaders: bring your diversity into the world, create and develop your own personal leadership style that will help you and your team enjoy their work and take leadership to the next level – to the level of Reciprocity and Co-Elevation.

To the people, I want to remind you all that life can change in a moment, so it is important to savour the blessings of each day.

Lastly, I would ask everyone to remember that we are on this incredible planet together and that the Earth is our common home.

Only by each one of us, living out our uniqueness, in respect for the differences of others, and in the full dimension of reciprocity and collaboration, can we all live full, thriving and flourishing lives.

Goals and Plans

I am currently preparing for a truly unique experience: I will be a member of the Soroptimist European delegation attending the United Nations in New York to participate in the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

The theme of this year’s 67th session is “Innovation and Technological Change, and Education in the Digital Age for Achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment of All Women and Girls.”

There is a Zero Draft that delegation representatives from the world’s largest organisations will work on. They will meet in that iconic building, discussing what should become the Final Draft. So, we will undertake one of the most challenging things to do when the biggest organisations of civil society worldwide come together: gathering all the many different perspectives and then attempting to integrate them while ensuring that each of us feels our individual voice has been heard.

I will also be busy promoting my book in India and other English-speaking countries and continuing to expand my global network, which I have been expanding over the past few years.

Currently, I am developing a new, 6-month Premium Coaching Program for my clients. It is still in the early stages, but I am really excited about its potential results for my clients.

A TedTalk is one dream I hope to realise this year if I can make the time.

Further optimising my best-selling “I Can Do It” program with the insights I have gathered over the past two years. During that time, I successfully offered it to several German educational institutions. It is often a matter of tweaking small things, ultimately making a significant difference for everyone involved.

When preparing different Webinars and conferences, I always aim to touch people’s hearts and make them feel good in my presence. That is what they will remember: not the words said or the things done, but how they will have felt when I said those things.

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