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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Stay True To Yourself

Investors Daily
By STEVE WATKINS 
Posted 10/27/2011


 

Plenty of leaders come off as phony when dealing with their people. Show you’re an authentic leader who truly cares about staffers and the company, and you’ll get your employees’ best efforts.

 Stick to your principles. That’s the way to lead, says Bill George, former CEO of medical device maker Medtronic (MDT) and now a Harvard professor. Money, fame and power can throw people off of the foundation of values that got them to the top. Instead, remain genuine to who you are, he says.

 Be accountable. When that starts with the leader, it will filter through the rest of the organization. Take responsibility for your actions, and you’ll maintain your values. “Research shows that the leaders who are the most grounded are the best leaders,” George told IBD. “Successful leaders are vulnerable, admit mistakes and then find ways to fix them.”

 Start at the top. Authenticity from the group’s leaders breeds trust. A Maritz Research poll shows just 7% of U.S. workers see management’s actions as consistent with their words. “We need our people to be engaged, trusted leaders,” said Lynn Lieber, a San Francisco-based employment lawyer and legal adviser to compliance training provider Workplace Answers. “You see companies like Apple (AAPL) where people had huge amounts of trust in their leaders.”

 Form panels. George calls them True North Groups, the title of his latest book. They’re small sets of people who know each other well enough to give honest opinions. Such a group serves as a sounding board for each member. “The people trust each other and are willing to be open,” said George.

George’s group helped him realize he was drifting away from his base values when he was in line to become CEO at aerospace firm Honeywell International (HON). He left in 1989 and had a successful run as Medtronic’s CEO.

 Look inward. George says leaders need a way to be introspective about how they’re operating. He meditates twice a day. Others write journals or talk to someone close to them. That gives you time to reflect on how your values affect decisions. “If you go, go, go all the time, you’re not real grounded,” he said.

 Show you care. Employees will see you as genuine if you prove you’re into their well-being. When Lieber ran a company, she would write thank-you notes to her people. Many told her that was the most important praise they received. Then, when she needed them to stay late, they were likelier to go the extra mile. “Even a little bit goes a long way,” she said.

 Spread the wealth. Give credit to the rest of your people. Steve Jobs did so with his resignation letter as Apple’s CEO in August. “Then they’re inspired and will go to the mat for you,” Lieber said.

 Know your people. Find a way to truly understand the issues your employees face and get to know them, George says. Manage by walking around. “You can’t create an authentic workplace by sitting in the corner office,” he said.

CEO Howard Schultz walks into his Starbucks (SBUX) stores unannounced to see how things are going. George learned about issues doctors faced with Medtronic’s products by observing 700 procedures. “It’s going out and engaging the workforce,” he said. “You’ve got to be out there with the troops.”

 Lay out rules. Set up a code of conduct. Provide training around it that’s specific to your outfit, Lieber says, and talk about it when issues of conduct arise. That also impresses regulators if problems crop up. “You’re showing that you’re acting in good faith, and that this is reflected in everything you do,” she said.