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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Huffington Post: Introducing: Discover Your True North

From The Huffington Post, posted August 10, 2015

Are you all you want to be? Do you have a path to fulfilling your dreams?

You can do so just by being yourself, and developing the gifts already inside you. Can you recall a time when you felt intensely alive? A moment when you could say with confidence, “This is the real me?” That is when you are in sync with your True North.

True North is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track as a leader. It is derived from your most deeply held beliefs, values, and the principles you lead by. It is your internal compass, unique to you, representing who you are at your deepest level.

The key to finding fulfillment in life is to Discover Your True North – the title of my latest book, being released this week (Wiley: August 17, 2015). To become an authentic leader you have to discover your True North and stay on its course throughout your life. As you do so, you will be prepared to lead in this new era. A fulfilled life is not just about your self-interest, but serving those around you and taking on challenges to make this world a better place.

Written as a follow-up to True North (2007), Discover Your True North focuses on all leaders – from Millennials just starting their careers to CEOs at the peak of their leadership. It is the most comprehensive guide ever written to becoming an authentic leader. We have assembled the most important learnings from the stories of 101 leaders we profiled, as well as our latest ideas on developing authentic leaders.

In preparing to write Discover Your True North, I took a closer look at today’s leaders by interviewing 47 exceptional leaders in addition to the 125 leaders in our original 2005-06 research. The new group is more diverse, more global, and more in tune with society’s issues. They include Arianna Huffington, Jack Ma, and Mike Bloomberg among others. Through teaching executives at Harvard Business School, I also have had opportunities to interact with more than 5,000 business, non-profit and government leaders.

These interviews confirmed the dramatic changes in today’s leaders:

  • Authenticity has become the gold standard for leaders.
  • Charisma, image and style have been replaced by character, humility, and service.
  • Hierarchical leaders are out, empowering leaders are in.
  • Today’s leaders celebrate diversity and understand how to lead in global environments.
  • They are in sync with society’s most important issues and are committed to use their organizations to create positive value for all stakeholders.

How Leadership Has Changed

Our expectations for leaders have escalated significantly in the past decade, in part due to the 2008-09 financial crisis that damaged the public’s perception of leaders. From these experiences, today’s leaders learned what not to do, as they witnessed many of their predecessors trap themselves chasing money, fame, and power – losing sight of their True North. They learned the perils of putting self-interest ahead of the institutions they led.

Simultaneously, the Millennials have changed our expectations for leaders. This generation won’t tolerate bureaucracy or excess hierarchy, and they work in more collaborative ways. Millennials want to make meaningful contributions immediately to the world and yearn to see their leaders as real people, authentically struggling with challenges just as they do.

Finally, today’s leaders are more diverse in gender, race and national origin, and are much more focused on global leadership.

The Journey to Discovering Your True North

The journey to authentic leadership begins with understanding yourself. As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, told me, “The reservoir of all my life experiences shaped me as a person and a leader.” Many of us are influenced by painful crucibles: personal illness, death of a loved one, or discrimination. By reflecting deeply on these events, we can understand ourselves and the values we hold most dear.

This process of discovering who you are at your deepest level requires introspection, support, and feedback. Mindful practices, such as daily meditation, prayer, or journaling, are important first steps. From there, you can incorporate outside feedback from close friends, family, and mentors. But ultimately, you must take responsibility for your own development.

Authentic leaders are true to themselves and to their beliefs. They have discovered their True North, align people around a shared purpose, and empower them to lead authentically. Because they engender trust and develop genuine connections with people, authentic leaders are able to motivate them to achieve higher levels of performance. As servant leaders, they are more concerned about serving people than their own success or recognition.

Discovering your True North takes a lifetime of commitment and learning, but its rewards are unlimited. Some days will be better than others, but as long as you are true to who you are, you can cope with the most difficult circumstances life presents.

As you embark on your journey, or enter into your next phase, I hope you will take Discover Your True North with you. At the end of each chapter you will find valuable exercises that help you understand yourself more deeply and stay on track. To start your process now, check out my website for the book which contains useful self-assessment tools, in-depth features of the interviewees, video content, and articles on authentic leaders.

By dedicating yourself to discovering your True North, you can fulfill your dreams and become an authentic leader who makes a positive difference in your world.