What we think | Sales & Business Leader Perspectives

How continuous learning can keep leaders feeling relevant?


Nino Totino

Vice President & General Manager | South Asia Pacific, Japan & Korea at Agilent Technologies

Nino’s leadership lessons from the crisis

As the interview starts, Nino talks about how his leadership has morphed during these difficult COVID times. The areas that he emphasized on were care, compassion, listening and remaining calm. He believes, that during any crisis, it is important to have clarity of thought and to be there for each other. He hopes that the lessons he has learned will continue to strengthen and develop. Nino believes that it is his team that energises him. He knows that everyone has leadership in them, and they perform and demonstrate this every day by feeding off each other. They might not have all the answers all the time but together and with good leadership, they can figure it out.

“If we are not pushing the boundaries hard enough and if we are not making some mistakes, then we are not close enough to the boundary”.

Nino’s 3 R’s (Reflect, Reframe and Resolve) for leaders

As Nino made mistakes and stumbled through his leadership journey, he realised that taking time to reflect and think about his experiences has helped him immensely. To be successful, he says, one must seek guidance from people. This helps as an anchor while we work on our next steps. Nino does not like the word ‘Climb’. Climbing indicates that one must go upwards, but ‘Up’ is not the only direction. He believes in concentric experiential learning and growth. Building a solid foundation and if required, rebuilding that foundation to make it stronger is an important part of growing. Over the years, Nino has intentionally built important connections globally. These connections are diverse and varied and cover all aspects of life including leadership. This keeps him staying curious, and curiosity is necessary to understand the ‘Why’ and resolve issues.

Leader as an Explorer and Entrepreneur

With the speed at which business is changing, organisations need to focus on creativity, innovation and lateral thinking. The pandemic is allowing people to pilot and experiment and reimagine the way they work. Experimenting is giving people the latitude to try new things and that’s where the Entrepreneurial mindset comes in. Nino feels that this should be encouraged and fostered. An ecosystem must be built that allows for fresh ideas to flourish. Leaders must make space for that and provide the budget, tolerance and support. There must be willingness to accept failure and pick people up when things don’t work because it will be better the next time. “If we are not pushing the boundaries hard enough and if we are not making some mistakes, then we are not close enough to the boundary”, says Nino.

“What was said to me was important, but the way it was said to me was even more important”

While developing other leaders, Nino has discovered some common blind spots. One of which is the ability to truly accept feedback that people provide and committing to doing something about it. A good process that a leader can follow, is to have the person who gave the feedback observe and help in recognising the efforts made to change. This allows the observer to give more feedback on a loop and the blind spot becomes clearer and the leader is open to change. It is a like a coach in a sports team. Nino says it is difficult to move forward without, feedback, action and someone to support you on that journey. He reminisces about the different pieces of advice he has received in the past and how it changed him. The people who gave the advice genuinely cared and their motive allowed him to think and listen carefully. “What was said to me was important, but the way it was said to me was even more important” he notes.

Status Quo (OR) Becoming Relevant?

Nino does not wish to be content. He believes that where there is contentment, there is an opportunity to stretch and think about the next experience. Doing the same thing repeatedly might work, but it is not fun, and it does not challenge. “I don’t want to be irrelevant” he says. To make a difference and to continue making a difference, relevance is important.

How Nino Refreshes, Reenergizes and Reconnects – Tips for physical, mental and emotional health

As a leader, Nino understands the importance of refreshing, reenergising and reconnecting with oneself. “How can you be of benefit to anyone else if you don’t look after yourself?” he asks. Healthy eating, healthy thinking, exercise, being grateful and having some fun along the way are how he takes care of himself. He notes that with inner peace, there is nowhere to hide. We must allow ourselves to feel deeply and to understand what is happening and then find out what works. This could be meditation, a good hobby or just some fresh air.

Purpose does not come to you on a platter

It is said that every person has a larger purpose. Although he has not fully discovered it yet, Nino believes that the only way to discover this is by trial and error. We often start with what we think needs to be the purpose – such as profit, title or seniority and then realise that that’s not it. It is a long, frustrating but enjoyable journey to identify what we want to be or what we are good at and working hard to be the best. There are leaders that we all admire and whose journey and achievements we are in awe of. We wonder where they get their energy, appetite and commitment from. And then realise it is because they have worked out their purpose.

As the interview comes to a close, Nino is happy that he could be part of this global conversation. Diversity in thinking and diverse views get a better outcome, he says. There is acceptance and learning from each other and this makes the world a better place. “We must continue working harder in this space because there is still a long way to go” he signs off.


Nino Totino

Vice President & General Manager | South Asia Pacific, Japan & Korea at Agilent Technologies
Nino Totino is sitting in front of his laptop with a mug of coffee, ready for his interview with our CEO, Venkataraman Subramanyan. Behind him are 2 shelves stacked full of books. A clear indication that Nino is a voracious reader who believes in the powerful habit of continuous learning despite the heights that he has reached. He is currently reading, “Am I overthinking this?” by Michelle Rial. A light-hearted pictorial book that answers some common questions and makes us think differently.
Swetha Sitaraman is a Business Content and Communications Manager who spent 15 years working with British Diplomats. She creates and edits content assets that include articles, case studies, company profiles and thought leadership interviews along with handling internal communication. When she is not immersed in a sea of words, Swetha enjoys diving into the world of watercolours.

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