CNBC: Huge Loss for Priceline

Priceline CEO Darren Huston has resigned. CNBC contributor and Former Medtronic CEO Bill George, discusses the resignation reportedly due to a relationship with an employee.

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CNBC: Bill George Discusses Tim Cook's Credibility

CNBC Contributor Bill George, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School and Fmr. Medtronic Chairman, and Vivek Wadhwa, Fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate... View the original video on CNBC.

Fortune: What’s Your Life Goal? Success or Significance?

Earning money and having power over others are easy ways to gauge success. But they’re also limited.

Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living? —Bob Marley

In my forties, I was unhappy with my career and where it was heading.

Driving home on a beautiful fall afternoon, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw a miserable person—me. On the surface, I appeared to be confident and successful, but inside I was deeply unhappy.

For 20 years, I had been a successful executive on a fast track to the top, or so I hoped. I was getting closer to that goal, as I took on responsibility for Honeywell’s most challenging businesses. At the time, I was on my third set of turnarounds, responsible for three groups, nine divisions, and 18,000 employees. Yet I began to wonder if Honeywell was the right place for me.
As executive vice president of Space and Aviation Systems, my team and I uncovered losses exceeding $500 million that had not been recognized or accounted for properly. Presenting this news to Honeywell’s board caused a great deal of concern. As I said to myself repeatedly, “I didn’t create this mess. I’m just the guy who has to fix it.” I always saw myself as a builder, not a turnaround expert, but I did what needed to be done to restore Honeywell’s businesses to long-term health.

But on that autumn day, I realized I wasn’t passionate about Honeywell’s businesses. Even worse, I was becoming more concerned about becoming CEO than being a leader who could make a positive impact on the world. I faced the reality that Honeywell was changing me more than I was changing it—and I didn’t like the changes I saw in myself.

David Brooks’ The Road to Character challenges us to consider our resume virtues against our eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are what we write about ourselves to measure up to the world’s expectations. Eulogy virtues are what others say about us at our funeral: what kind of person we were and how we cared for others.

Many of us focus on resume virtues because they’re easy to measure and give us superficial self-esteem. Earning a lot of money, receiving promotions and prestigious titles, and having power over others are easy ways to gauge success. But more difficult tasks—like making a positive difference in the lives of others or becoming the type of person you want to be—have few measurable benchmarks.

When I was at Honeywell HON -0.16% , I had all the trappings of success, but my life lacked the significance I yearned for. That day I recognized I needed to get back to what I call my True North. Your True North, which is derived from your beliefs, values, and the principles you use to lead others, is your internal compass. It’s unique to you and it represents who you are at your deepest level.

With my wife Penny’s encouragement and support from my men’s group, I reopened job discussions with medical device company Medtronic MDT 0.25% , which was at the time a much smaller company but one with a passion to help millions of people live a full, healthy life. After having interviews with the CEO, the founder, and board members, I accepted Medtronic’s offer and became president and chief operating officer at the company. Two years later, I was elected CEO.

At Medtronic, I found a place—or it found me—that let me focus on significance over success. Medtronic’s mission inspired me from the moment its founder Earl Bakken described it to me. When I arrived in 1989, Medtronic helped restore someone to health once every 100 seconds. By the time I completed my tenure in 2002, that figure had fallen to five seconds. Today it is down to one second, with 30 million new patients every year. That’s a much more meaningful metric than a stock price.

What’s significant in your life may change over time. After retiring from Medtronic in my late 50s, my purpose changed from leading large organizations to helping other people lead authentically by discovering their True North. Teaching authentic leadership at Harvard Business School the past 15 years, I receive a modest salary and have no positional power, yet I find great significance in the work I am doing. As one friend told me, “Bill, you seem to take vicarious pleasure in the accomplishments of others.” Indeed, I do.

While helping people lead authentically is my mission, it doesn’t impede other areas of deep importance to me. My family, friends, colleagues, and mentees provide consistent sources of significance. In 1975, I began a men’s group with four close friends after a weekend retreat, and four others soon joined us. Forty years later, we’re still meeting weekly to discuss our spiritual beliefs, our aspirations, career challenges, marriage and family problems, and the process of personal development.

How will you measure your life? That’s the title of my HBS colleague Clay Christensen’s latest book. Are you striving so hard to find success that you’re playing the world’s game rather than fulfilling your core desires? If so, I encourage you to pull back and reflect on your life. Go on a spiritual retreat or start a journal. Better yet, engage a mentor, therapist, or close friend to dig deep into what’s most important to you.

This is hard work, as you peel back the layers of your inner self and learn to accept yourself fully, weaknesses and all. It means digging deeply into past wounds, failures, and disappointments, and discovering what you learned about yourself that can guide you going forward. To get started, think about the end of your life and hypothesize your granddaughter asking you, “What did you do to make a difference in the world?” What will you tell her?

The time to start acting on that is now, not then. Life beckons you. Don’t wait until it’s too late. You may discover that what’s missing in your life is not success, but significance. We only go around once in life, so we need to seek all the wonders it has to offer.

Bill George is Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, former Chairman & CEO of Medtronic, and author of Discover Your True North.

This article was originally published on Fortune on 4/27/16.

CNBC: Bill George on VW: This is the price you pay

Bill George, CNBC Contributor and former Medtronic Chairman & CEO, discusses Volkswagen's compensation agreement with the U.S. government over the diesel emissions scandal.  

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CNBC: Theranos founder didn't do her homework

Bill George, Harvard Business School, shares his view on Theranos Inc. founder Elizabeth Holmes and the blood-testing business.

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CNBC: Bill George's tax code solutions

Discussing the problems with corporate tax inversions, with Bill George, former Medtronic CEO, and Jared Bernstein, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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CNBC: Theranos Under Fire

After the WSJ reported regulators are considering banning Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes from owning or running any labs for at least two years, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Yale School Management; Bill George, Harvard Business School; and Les Funtleyder, ESquared portfolio manager, discuss Theranos.

Check out the full video from CNBC.

CNBC: The War On Business

Discussing making America more competitive, as well as the presidential candidates, with Former Medtronic CEO Bill George and Wilbur Ross, WL Ross & Co. Chairman and CEO.


This article was originally posted on on 4/7/2015.

CNBC: Bill George on Iger succession: I'm perplexed

Bill George, CNBC Contributor, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School and former Medtronic Chairman, discusses Disney's succession plan shakeup.

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Fortune: The Leadership Quality that Truly Separates Disney's Bob Iger From his Peers

Iger places faith in his creative directors and allows them to propose original ideas.

In 2015, Bob Iger, CEO of Disney DIS -1.58% , told his top 400 executives, “The riskiest thing Disney can do is maintain the status quo.” Iger knows that simply leveraging the traditional Disney brands like Mickey Mouse and adding theme parks is insufficient to sustain the company’s growth.

As organizations grow, their capacity for innovation tends to stagnate—as my Harvard Business School colleague Clay Christensen explained in The Innovator’s Dilemma. Iger would not consider himself an innovator in the class of Walt Disney or Steve Jobs, but he is a master at identifying, motivating, and supporting creative leaders.

Why are there so many innovators, but so few innovation leaders?

Today, there are tens of thousands of innovators, but few outstanding innovation leaders. Those companies with innovation leaders at their helm, like Google, Apple, Amazon, Gilead, Disney, 3M, Tesla, and my former company Medtronic, have sustained their growth and performed exceptionally well. Meanwhile, one-time innovation pioneers that lost their mojo (such as Hewlett-Packard) have stagnated.

Startups, smaller companies, and academic institutions currently drive most of our nation’s innovation. It doesn’t have to be this way. Companies like Google GOOGL -0.59% , 3M, Disney, and Apple show that corporations can stay creative even as they grow large. Many people call these companies “experts on innovation,” but the truth is a bit more nuanced. These organizations don’t just develop innovative ideas; they develop innovation leaders.

Before Iger became CEO of Disney, his predecessor used a disciplined, “factory-like” process to produce films. Business development teams came up with ideas and then handed them to directors. Iger rearranged the process, placing faith in his creative directors and enabling them to propose original ideas.

Iger isn’t the only leader at Disney inspiring creativity. Disney subsidiary Pixar has two of the world’s finest innovation leaders in Ed Catmull and John Lasseter. Thanks to their leadership, Pixar has created the 12 most successful animated films of all time, including the 2016 Oscar winner, “Inside Out.” After he was fired from Apple AAPL 1.03% , Steve Jobs bought controlling interest in Pixar, and he learned first-hand from Catmull and Lasseter how to lead innovators. This experience paved the way for Jobs’ string of successes when he returned to Apple in 1997.

During a corporate board trip I took in 2013 to Pixar with Iger, Catmull, and Lasseter and learned first-hand why they are so successful. We visited their teams—the first-line innovators that create Pixar films – and saw how these innovation leaders interacted with them. Catmull said that as part of the merger, Iger asked him and Lasseter to take over Disney Studios because it had become bureaucratic and slow-moving. In turn, they revived its fortunes – a success which was evident in the popular 2013 film, “Frozen.” Iger didn’t stop with Pixar, though. He later bought Lucasfilm and Marvel Entertainment, and retained their innovation leaders.

Examining Alphabet (nee Google), we see the same caliber of leaders. The former CEOs of Nest, Genentech, and Bloomberg all work for Alphabet. They operate within a common corporate framework because CEO Larry Page, who is himself a great innovation leader, gives them the latitude, resouces, and teams to engage in highly risky projects.

So, what are the key qualities of innovation leaders? What makes them so effective at bringing out the creativity in others? After all, the characteristics of great innovation leaders are dramatically different from traditional business managers. The following seven elements are the key ingredients to innovation leadership.

Passion for innovation. Innovation leaders not only have to appreciate the benefits of innovation, they need a deep passion for innovations that benefit customers. Just approving funds for innovation is insufficient. Leaders must make innovation an essential part of the company’s culture and growth strategy.

A long-term perspective. Most investors think three years is “long-term,” but that won’t yield genuine innovation. Major innovations can change entire markets as the iPod and iTunes did, but they take time to perfect products and gain adoption by mainstream users. Thus innovation leaders are sometimes willing to sacrifice near-term financial results to seize longer-term opportunities.

Companies like Apple and Alphabet find ways to shield their leaders from the day-to-day demands of investors. Google’s “X” runs the moonshot projects of Alphabet, which include driverless cars, drone delivery, and robotics. The division doesn’t measure its success by dollars created. Instead, it focuses on “speed of failure.” By changing the metrics of success, Page and co-founder Sergey Brin are able to balance fiscal discipline with the need to give innovation leaders a safe space to incubate new ideas.

The courage to fail and learn from failure. The risks of innovation are well known, but many leaders aren’t willing to be associated with its failures. However, there is a great deal to be learned from why an innovation has failed, as this enhanced understanding can lead to the greatest breakthroughs. At Medtronic MDT 1.23% , our failures with implantable defibrillators in the 1980s led to far more sophisticated approaches to treating heart disease in the 1990s.

Deep engagement with the innovators. Innovation leaders must be highly engaged with their teams, asking questions, probing for potential problems, and looking for ways to accelerate projects and broaden their impact. That’s what HP’s founders Bill Hewlett and David Packard did by wandering around HP’s labs and challenging innovators. My HBS colleague Amy Edmondson says groups where members can air wild ideas are “psychologically safe.” In such settings, participants feel respected even when their ideas are rejected, and they don’t fear airing opposing views. The more failed ideas that come up, they more likely the group will land on a successful one.

Willingness to tolerate mavericks and protect them from middle management. The best innovators are rule-breakers who don’t fit the corporate mold. These people are often threatening to middle managers, many of whom adhere to standard practices. That’s why innovation leaders must protect their mavericks’ projects, budgets, and careers rather than forcing them into traditional management positions.

Opening up time for creativity and brainstorming. Innovation leaders understand how to give their people the time to think—the difference between “maker time” and “manager time.” As Paul Graham wrote, managers break up their time into 30- to 60-minute chunks, feeling satisfied with tight schedules of meetings throughout the day. For makers, this is disruptive, because it is impossible to generate the time and freedom to be creative. Innovative thinkers need a few consecutive hours to enter “flow” – a mental state in which people are fully immersed in the creative process. Innovation leaders fit meetings around the needs of their creative teams. For instance, Steve Jobs held three-hour meetings on marketing – an unusual amount of time in a CEO’s schedule.

Being self-aware and mindful. The best innovation leaders understand the importance of self-awareness. Without knowing their limitations, they’ll be unable to bring out the strengths of those around them. Honest feedback is often hard to get because many people tell leaders what they want to hear rather than the unvarnished truth. For this reason, many leaders use 360-feedback from their peers and subordinates.

Mindful practices such as daily meditation, prayer, journaling, or jogging also helps leaders to be more creative and open to new ideas. For Iger, this means waking up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to be alone. For Jobs, this meant Zen Buddhist meditation. As I have learned from my personal practice of meditation, mindfulness helps me reflect on myself and my ability to lead others. Many of my strongest ideas have come from meditation.

Innovation leaders don’t create innovations themselves, but they are effective at leading creative people. While many companies claim they are innovative, few successfully develop leaders who understand how to lead creative teams. Many large companies often stifle innovation leaders. Short-term pressures, zero-sum success, and an unhealthy focus on the status quo all prevent innovation leaders from emerging.

Iger calls creativity “the heart and soul of Disney,” but, in truth, innovation leaders are at the core of every creative company. Without their leadership, companies begin to manage for short-term results and eventually decline. To stay ahead of their competitors, companies must have innovation leaders who inspire the creativity of others.

Bill George is Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, former Chairman & CEO of Medtronic, and author of Discover Your True North.

This article was originally published by on 4/4/16.