Lessons From Volkswagen (and Other) Scandals

From Huffington Post on Oct. 12, 2015 

"Without a moral center, you will swim in chaos" -- James Burke, Former Johnson & Johnson CEO

The Volkswagen scandal hit new lows this week when German-born Michael Horn, CEO of Volkswagen America, refused to acknowledge the people responsible for falsifying emissions tests on 11 million vehicles or to release essential documents. In front of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, he chose instead to blame lower-level engineers.

Does anyone really believe a scandal of this magnitude and scope was actually masterminded by a few engineers? In my experience, it would be highly unlikely for first-level engineers to take the risks inherent in such an illegal scheme and even more improbable that their superiors knew nothing about it, especially in a hierarchical organization like Volkswagen.

Unfortunately, this kind of dissembling and cover-up has become all too common in corporate circles. It only serves to harm ethical companies as the public loses trust in all corporate leaders.
It's been a bad year for organization ethics. In September United Airlines' CEO Jeff Smisek was forced to resign for cutting unethical deals with the head of the Port Authority for New York and New Jersey. Toshiba's top officials admitted to seven years of corrupt accounting. Even the soccer world was rocked when FIFA's executive committee acknowledged that corruption had reached its highest levels, and suspended president Sepp Blatter, right-hand man Jerome Valcke, and European head Michel Platini.

What should organizations do when the organization is corrupt from the top down? In my new book, Discover Your True North, I address how essential it is for leaders at the top to set standards for the entire organization. Yet all too often, people on the lowest rungs of the ladder are fired or blamed for illegal activities, while the bosses protect themselves. Even when forced to resign, they walk away with large termination settlements. For example, United's Smisek received nearly $20 million in termination pay after his corrupt dealings with public officials were exposed.

Every organization needs clear values that establish its principles and set firm ethical boundaries on its actions. Confronted by the 1980s Tylenol crisis, in which lethal poison was placed in Tylenol pills, former Johnson & Johnson CEO James Burke used his company's famous Credo to guide his actions. He observed, "Without a moral center, you will swim in chaos."

Employees encounter many gray areas in their work. They need clarity about where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable actions. That's what IBM's CEO Sam Palmisano established after becoming CEO. He shifted IBM's entire 440,000 person organization - which operates in many countries where corruption is the norm -- to "Leading by Values."

Former Citigroup CFO Sallie Krawcheck took a heroic action when she insisted on refunding losses to clients misled by her firm during the 2008 financial crisis. She bluntly asserted Citi broke clients' trust by pushing low-risk alternative investments that were actually high risk. When CEO Vikram Pandit vehemently disagreed, Krawcheck took her argument directly to Citi's board of directors, which backed her actions. A miffed Pandit later fired her. Krawcheck knew she could always get a job, but she recognized she couldn't recover her values.

But what can be done when organizations like FIFA and Volkswagen are corrupt at the top? The only solution is to clean house at the highest levels of the organization and weed out the poison in the system. Otherwise, the organization will ultimately revert to its unethical practices.

That's what Germany's Siemens did when audits revealed it paid out $1.8 billion in bribes. Board chair Heinrich von Pierer, who presided over the unethical dealings as CEO, was forced to resign. Board chair Gerhard Cromme and CEO Peter Loescher were brought in to clean up the mess. To their credit, they squarely faced the issues, terminating the company's entire executive committee and firing 400 top executives. A new governance and compliance system was established, and all employees went through extensive compliance training. It cost the firm $2.7 billion in fines and legal fees, but now Siemens is operating ethically throughout the world and has been restored to full health.

FIFA and Volkswagen would be wise to follow Siemens' approach of bringing in outsiders to address their scandals, with outsiders leading the board and executive management. Their actions should include hiring new law firms and accountants to conduct independent investigations, and terminate anyone who is directly or indirectly involved with corrupt dealings. In FIFA's case, this may include current members of its governing board involved in the corruption.
Leaders should always put the institution first. Instead, all too often organizations protect individuals until they are "proven" guilty, as Blatter's attorney is arguing FIFA should do. It is far better to separate them completely from the organization, and let the courts determine criminal culpability.

Finally, transparency is essential: the board should reveal all the findings of its legal and accounting reports and make them public immediately. It is far better for the board to reveal them rather than waiting for political bodies, the media, or the courts to extract this information. By vigorously investigating its own actions and transparently sharing the findings, the organization begins to rebuild the credibility necessary to return to business.

Only through aggressive, transparent actions can corrupt organizations be restored to fulfill their missions.

Bill George Interview: 'Northern' Exposure to Leadership

From Workforce, Published on Oct. 12, 2015

by James Tehrani

No one ever said leading is easy. You hear about leading by example all the time, but what about examples of leading? Bill George, the former CEO of medical-device-company Medtronic Inc., draws up a road map to leadership in his recently updated book “Discover Your True North.” In the book, he interviews 125 people about their ideas on leadership. What he concludes is that people who learn from their life experiences, or “crucibles” as he calls them, and follow their leadership compass “northward” can achieve “authentic leadership.” Workforce editor James Tehrani recently caught up with George, now a Harvard University business professor, to learn more. An edited transcript follows.

Workforce: Can you give me an idea of what you mean by ‘true north’?

Bill George: True north is your most deeply held beliefs, the values you live by and the principles you lead by. So it’s really the essence of who you are. Who are you as a person? You know your center; it’s like your moral compass.

WF: You talk about the myth that leaders are born. Can you explain that?

George: I think it’s [leadership] a combination of the qualities you’re born with, but then you have to develop. It’s no different from a cellist who’s going to Carnegie Hall. You don’t just show up; you have to practice every day. And I think people need to practice their leadership every day.

WF:  What are some of the qualities that you would look for in a leader?

George: Far and away No. 1 is authenticity. Are they genuine people? Are they good in their skin? Are they real? And do they come across as who they are? There’s some free-flowing ideas about faking it to make it or pretending you have charisma or putting on a good impression for an interviewer. That’s a good way to get in trouble and hire the wrong person. … I think all too often we look at résumés rather than the person behind the résumé. That’s where big mistakes are made.

WF: You interviewed 125 leaders for your book, was there an answer that surprised you?

George: We asked people about their traits and characteristics, and they wouldn’t talk about that. They wanted to talk about their life experiences, their life story. We never expected how important that was going to be. … We hit upon the thing that was the most important, and that’s the impact of the greatest crucible of their life, the most challenging experience they’ve ever had and how they framed that. And the great leaders framed those experiences not as victims — they didn’t just stuff them and forget about them — they used them as opportunities for growth. In the new book, we talk about an emerging concept called ‘post-traumatic growth’ of how people are using challenging experiences early in life to grow as leaders and as human beings.

Georgia Tech: IMPACT Presents: Bill George, Author, "Discover Your True North"

From, posted 10/9/15.


Scheller College of Business

800 West Peachtree St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30308
LeCraw Auditorium


Thursday, October 15

4:30 PM - 6:00 PM

Georgia Tech alum, Bill George is professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, where he has taught leadership since 2004. His previous work includes four best-selling books: 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis, True North, Finding Your True North, and Authentic Leadership.  With co-author Doug Baker he published True North Groups. His newest collection includes Discover Your True North and Discover Your True North Fieldbook.

Mr. George is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic.  Mr. George currently serves as director of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and the Mayo Clinic and also served on the board of Novartis and Target Corporation.  He is currently a trustee of the World Economic Forum USA and Guthrie Theater and a former Trustee of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  He has served as board chair for Allina Health System, Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, United Way of the Greater Twin Cities, and Advamed.

He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2012.  He has been named one of "Top 25 Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years" by PBS; "Executive of the Year-2001" by the Academy of Management; and "Director of the Year-2001-02" by the National Association of Corporate Directors.  Mr. George has made frequent appearances on television and radio and his articles have appeared in Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and numerous publications.

Mr. George received his BSIE with high honors from Georgia Tech, his MBA with high distinction from Harvard University, where he was a Baker Scholar, and honorary PhDs from Georgia Tech, Bryant University, and University of St. Thomas.  During 2002-03 he was professor at IMD International and Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland, and executive-in-residence at Yale School of Management.

Bill George will speak at Georgia Tech's IMPACT Speaker Series on Thursday, October 15, 2015. Free books will be given to those in attendace. A book signing will be held in the Thorton Atrium following his talk. 

About the Impact Speaker Series:

Since 2002, the IMPACT Speaker Series has brought highly successful business leaders from a variety of industries to campus to share their experiences and give advice to students and other entrepreneurs on topics ranging from "building a venture around intellectual capital" to "successful entrepreneurship in large organizations" and "socially responsible leadership". The weekly series provides Georgia Tech students, alumni and the Atlanta business community an opportunity to network and learn from successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and notable business and non-profit leaders. The lecture series is sponsored by the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship. Further sponsorship for this talk is provided by:  H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems EngineeringWallace H. Coulter Dept of Biomedical Engineering, Institute for People and TechnologyHealth Systems Institute, School of Interactive Computing, and Scheller College of Business.

The series is free and open to the public, reservations are not required. 

CNBC: Dorsey Returning to Twitter and Ellen Kullman Stepping Down at Dupont

Discussion about Jack Dorsey running Twitter & Square; Ellen Kullman stepping down from Dupont.

Watch the video HERE.

Huffington Post: Are You an Empowering Leader?

From The Huffington Post, Posted October 6, 2015.

"Where is the spiritual value in rowing? The losing of self entirely to the cooperative effort of the crew." -- George Yeoman Pocock, boatbuilder, 1936 Olympic gold medal winner

Stepping into a Zappos call center is like walking into a circus. Phones ring, voices rise, and laughter bounces around the room. If you closed your eyes, you'd think you'd entered a loud family reunion, not a billion dollar company.

Zappos employees work in a fiercely proud culture. Only 16 years after founding Zappos, CEO Tony Hsieh has made the online shoe-retailer into one of best places to work in the world. Zappos employees not only love their work, they care deeply about others in the community.

How did Hsieh do it? By empowering his employees to lead.

In Eyewitness to Power, David Gergen writes, "At the heart of leadership is the leader's relationship with followers. People will entrust their hopes and dreams to another person only if they think the other is a reliable vessel."

There was a time when leaders thought their role was to exert power over others. No longer. Today's best leaders -- people like Ford's Alan Mulally, General Motors' Mary Barra, and Google's Larry Page -- recognize their leadership is most effective when they empower others to step up and lead. That's exactly what the new generation of Gen X and Millennials expect from their leaders, and they respond with great performance.

Tony Hsieh focuses on relationships first and business second. In good times and bad, Hsieh's communications are authentic, funny, and informal. He speaks directly and personally to his colleagues. As Hsieh says "if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff...will just happen naturally."

Hsieh reflects traits of an "empowering leader." These leaders have discovered that helping people find purpose delivers superior results than forcing subordinates to be loyal followers. By giving others the latitude to lead, they expand their own potential impact.

So, how can you empower others? In Discover Your True North, I profile five things great leaders do.

1. Treat Others as Equals
2. Listen Actively
3. Learn From People
4. Share Life Stories
5. Align Around the Mission

Treat Others as Equals
We respect people who treat us as equals. Warren Buffett, for example, gives equal attention to every person he meets. He has the same sandwich and Cherry Coke combination with a group of wide-eyed students as he does with his close friend Bill Gates. Buffett does not rely upon his image to make people feel he is important or powerful. He genuinely respects others, and they respect him as much for those qualities as for his investment prowess. By being authentic in his interactions, Buffett empowers people to lead in their own authentic way.

Listen Actively
We are grateful when people genuinely listen to us. Active listening is one of the most important abilities of empowering leaders, because people sense such individuals are genuinely interested in them and not just trying to get something. The leadership scholar Warren Bennis was an example of a world-class listener. He patiently listened as you explained your ideas and then thoughtfully contributed astute observations that came from a deep well of wisdom and experience.

Learn from People
We feel respected when others believe they can learn from us or ask for our advice. The best advice I ever got about teaching came from my Harvard Business School (HBS) colleague Paul Marshall, who was one of HBS's greatest teachers. He told me, "Bill, don't ever set foot in an HBS classroom unless you genuinely want to learn from the students." I have taken his advice into every class I have taught for the past 12 years, telling MBA students and executives, "I feel certain I will learn a lot more from you than you do from me." The students find that hard to believe at first, but they soon see how their feedback helps me understand how today's leaders and MBA students think.

Share Life Stories
When leaders are willing to be open and share their personal stories and vulnerabilities, people feel empowered to share their own stories and uncertainties in return. On Thanksgiving eve in 1996, I sent an e-mail to all Medtronic employees, expressing my gratitude for the support Penny and I received following her ordeal with breast cancer and chemotherapy. We were overwhelmed by the number of people who spontaneously shared their stories with us.

Align Around the Mission
The most empowering condition of all is when the entire organization aligns with its mission, and people's passions and purpose synchronize with each other. It is not easy to get to this position, especially if the organization has a significant number of cynics or disgruntled people. Nonetheless, it is worth whatever effort it takes to create an aligned environment, including removal of those who don't support the mission.

Leaders of every organization have an important responsibility to articulate how their company contributes to humankind. At Medtronic, our mission was to restore people to full health and wellness. At Disney, it's to make people happy. Even at the most "boring" business-to-business company, the business can play a powerful role in improving the lives of its stakeholders - customers, employees, suppliers, and community.

With leadership comes responsibility. As Clayton Christensen wrote, "No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement."

It's time to lead authentically. You can do so by focusing on empowering others.

A team of empowered leaders all rowing in the same direction is hard to beat.

Forbes: Why Leaders Need To Keep Their Eyes on True North

From Forbes, Posted October 5, 2015.

The term “authenticity” is much bandied about in leadership circles these days. Politicians like the new leader of the British Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn or the would-be Democrat candidate for President Bernie Sanders seem to be gaining from a desire among the public (some parts of it at any rate) for a change from the slick and manufactured. Similar notions are abroad in business, too. Brands seek to demonstrate their authenticity – through how they manufacture their goods, how they do business or just where they come from. And now corporate leaders – perhaps because they are having to guide their organizations through turbulent times – are trying to show how real and genuine they are.

To be fair, Bill George, whose book, Discover Your True North (Wiley), is published this month, has been a proponent of authentic leadership for some time. The current book continues a theme that began back in 2003, when he published Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, and continued four years later with True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. Indeed, a significant part of the book deals with leaders interviewed for the 2007 book, and George is pleased to report that “the vast majority of them are doing exceptionally well.”

However, while there are many fascinating stories of leaders who have overcome great adversity – for example, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, who still remembers his roots in a poor neighborhood of New York City and Reatha Clark King, who has gone from the cotton fields of Georgia to become a director of such companies as Exxon-Mobil and Wells Fargo – the book is not a parade of feel-good stories about down-home values winning out. Rather, George, a former CEO of the medical technology and services company Medtronic who now teaches leadership at Harvard Business School, devotes space early on to how leaders can “lose sight of their True North” and so run into trouble. “People who lose their way are not necessarily bad people. They have the potential to become good leaders, even great leaders. However, somewhere along the way, they get pulled off course,” he writes.

Given that there is plenty of advice available on how to become a good or even great leader, it is perhaps worth lingering on the ways in which George believes people can drift off course.

Losing Touch with Reality. “Leaders who focus on external gratification instead of inner satisfaction have trouble staying grounded,” writes George. “They reject the honest critic who holds up a mirror and speaks the truth. Instead, they surround themselves with sycophants – supporters telling them what they want to hear.”

Fearing Failure. “Underneath their bravado lies the fear that they are not qualified for such powerful leadership roles,” says George. As a result, they become paranoid that at some point they will be found out.

Craving Success. This is the other side of fearing failure. “Most leaders want to do a good job for their organizations, be recognized, and rewarded accordingly,” George writes. However, when they achieve success, they gain added power and enjoy the prestige that accompanies it. “That success can go to their heads, and they develop a sense of entitlement. At the height of some leaders’ power, success itself creates a deep desire to keep it going, so they are prone to pushing the limits, thinking they can get away with it.”

The Loneliness Within. As the cliché has it, it is lonely at the top. Quite simply, even the ablest people can be thrown off balance by the enormity of the task – and the responsibility – that they have taken on. In their efforts to stay on top of things, many leaders end up losing touch with people outside work – friends, spouses, children – to the extent that their work becomes their life. A particular aspect of this is that in seeking to satisfy all the external forces putting pressure on them, they lose sight of their own view. “Over time little mistakes turn into major ones. No amount of hard work can correct them,” says George. “Instead of seeking wise counsel at this point, they dig a deeper hole. When the collapse comes, there is no avoiding it.”

In examining leaders who have lost their way, George and his colleagues identify five types. All are linked directly by their failure to develop themselves. They are:

Imposters, who lack self-awareness and self-esteem;

Rationalizers, who deviate from their values;

Glory Seekers, who are motivated by seeking the world’s acclaim;

Loners, who fail to build personal support structures; and

Shooting Stars, who lack the grounding of an integrated life.

Through asking readers to look closely at the archetypes – and the well-known examples he cites (who include former New York Stock Exchange CEO Richard Grasso and former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld but are not confined to fallen financial services giants) – George hopes to instill in leaders and those aspiring to join them that just wanting the position is not enough. “Before you take on a leadership role, ask yourself: ‘What motivates me to lead this organization?’ If the honest answers are simply power, prestige and money, you are at risk of being trapped by external gratification as your source of fulfillment,” he writes. “There is nothing wrong with desiring these outward symbols [his italics] if, and only if, they are balanced by a deeper desire to serve something greater than yourself. Extrinsic rewards exert a force that can pull you away from True North if not counterbalanced by a deeper purpose or calling that gives you a passion to lead.”


Huffington Post: Why Wall Street Cannot Beat Buffett

From The Huffington Post, Posted on September 29, 2015

As a proven investor who has created hundreds of billions in value for his shareholders since 1965, Warren Buffett has delivered the most spectacular performance of any investor in modern history. Yet remarkably, Buffett has no qualms about sharing the "secrets" to his success. For example, in his latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders released in February 2015, Buffett reflected on investing lessons he and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger learned during the last 50 years leading the firm, offering tactical pieces of advice relevant to investors at all sizes and stages.

So when one of the most successful investors of all time so openly gives you a glimpse into the inner workings of his success, you'd be wise to pay attention. But why do most other funds ignore Buffett's investing strategies despite their successful track records?

In my view, a great deal of this is explained by incentive misalignment between hedge fund and activist investors who are investing other people's money for large fees and short-term gains, versus Buffett who charges no fees to his investors and invests 99 percent of his wealth alongside them. While some hedge funds make it big in the short-term, they usually cannot sustain their success. It seems to explain why all the pressure from traders, hedge funds, and their academic partners is on the short-term gains -- which ultimately led to the 2008 financial collapse.

Berkshire Hathaway's success is due, in part, to Buffett's willingness to avoid playing the short-term financial game. Buffett has said that his preferred holding period is forever. In the 2015 letter to shareholders, Munger wrote that Buffett would "deploy most cash not needed in subsidiaries after they had increased their competitive advantage, with the ideal deployment being the use of that cash to acquire new subsidiaries." In short, Buffett did not want cash back from a business until it had both increased its competitive advantage and considered good-fit strategic acquisitions.

On Wall Street, where failure to produce short-term results often leads to termination, Buffett has been able to rise above this pressure to build a transparent, values-based company dedicated to upholding the highest levels of business ethics and personal integrity. How? Buffett operates in his "sweet spot," a term I describe in my new bookDiscover Your True North as the intersection of one's extrinsic and intrinsic motivations and greatest strengths.

Claremont professor and pioneer in psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has given the following advice about motivation: "Find out what you are good at and what you like to do." When you uncover opportunities that appeal to your motivations and utilize your strengths, you discover your sweet spot and will be most effective as a leader. Buffett's success lies in a conscious decision to design his life to take advantage of his strengths and focus on his motivations. Clearly, Buffett's strength is investing. His passion for the trade began when he was a young child. At the age of 11, Buffett made his first stock investment in three shares of Cities Service Preferred at $38 a share. Despite the stock dropping quickly to $27, Buffett held on and sold when the stock reached $40.

In his first full-time job as a stockbroker, Buffett felt conflicted because he could only generate commissions by pushing clients to trade actively, even when it was against their best interest. Rather than learning the tricks of the trade, Buffett invested his time in learning how to fundamentally analyze stocks. In 1954, Buffett took a position as apprentice to The Intelligent Investor author Benjamin Graham, without even asking the salary. When Graham decided to retire two years later, Buffett returned to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska to open his own investing firm at the age of 26. This bold move positioned Buffett at the intersection of his motivations and his greatest strengths -- his sweet spot.

 Extrinsically, Buffett is motivated by being valued and gaining public recognition that allows him to raise his profile and gain access to deals. He is not motivated by material possessions. He still lives in the Omaha house he bought for $31,500 in 1956, eats simple meals at his favorite restaurant Gorat's, and drives a 2014 Cadillac XTS that he bought after he sold his 2006 Cadillac DTS in a charity auction. Intrinsically, Buffett is motivated by learning and sharing his knowledge, as evidenced by his candid and educational Berkshire Hathaway letters to shareholders.

As a result of Buffett's philosophy, Berkshire Hathaway's returns have more than doubled the S&P 500 Index for the past 40 years. To put that success in context, Buffett has created twice the shareholder value of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley combined with 24 people in a 5,000 square foot office in Omaha.

Buffett asks his partners, "Do you love the business, or do you love the money?" He only wants those who love the business.

Psychology Today: Know Thyself: How to Develop Self-Awareness

From Psychology Today, posted September 29, 2015.

How well do you know yourself?  How deeply do you understand your motivations? 

If you’re on this website, you probably know the basics of psychology. You understand biases, the power of the halo-effect, or even how we make decisions. 

But, do you understand what drives you? Your own self-image? Or how others experience you?

The charge, “Know thyself,” is centuries old, but it has never been more important. Research from psychologist Daniel Goleman shows that self-awareness is crucial for all levels of success. As he outlines in Emotional Intelligence, above an IQ of 120, EQ (Emotional Intelligence) becomes the more important predictor of successful leaders. Developing self-awareness is the first step to develop your EQ.

You can’t gain self-awareness through knowing psychology. Rather, it requires a deepunderstanding of your past and current self. Experiences shape how we see the world. So, we have to reflect on how the world has shaped us. 

How can you gain self-awareness?  Here are three steps to start. 

1.Understand Your Life Story

Over the past 10 years, psychologists have focused on a new field of research called narrative identity. As Dan McAdams, Northwestern University psychology professor, explains, “The stories we tell ourselves about our lives don’t just shape our personalities –- they are our personalities. ”

Your narrative identity is the story of your life; but it’s more than just a story. How you understand your narrative frames both your current actions and your future goals. As research from Southern Methodist University shows, writing about difficult life experiences improves our physical and mental health. How much you confront your life’s challenges - what I call “crucibles” - defines your level of self-awareness. 

So, how can you begin? In Discover Your True North, I give a few questions to start. 

Looking at your early life story, what people, events, and experiences have had the greatest impact in shaping the person you have become?
In which experiences did you find the greatest passion for leading?
How do you frame your crucibles and setbacks in your life?

2. Create a Daily Habit of Self-reflection 

Next, you should develop a daily practice of setting aside at least twenty minutes to reflect on your life. This practice enables you to focus on the important things in your life, not just the immediate. Research from Wisconsin’s Richard Davidson demonstrated direct correlation between mindfulness and changes in the brain - away from anger and anxietyand toward a sense of calm and well-being.

Reflection takes many forms. Some keep a journal, some pray, and others take a long walk or jog. Personally, I use daily meditation as my mindful habit. By centering into myself, I am able to focus my attention on what's really important, and develop an inner sense of well-being.

3.Seek Honest Feedback

We all have traits that others see, but we are unable to see in ourselves. We call these "blind spots." Do you see yourself as others see you? If not, you can address these blind spots by receiving honest feedback from people you trust.

Receiving feedback is hard. So, focus on psychological triggers that might block your learning. As Harvard’s Sheila Heen argued in “Thanks for The Feedback”, three main triggers prevent our learning: relationship triggers, identity triggers, and truth triggers. If you feel defensive, think back to why you do. Often, we can explain it using these triggers. 

Becoming self-aware won’t happen in a day. Rather, it will take years of reflection, introspection, and difficult conversations. As you follow these three practices, you will find you are more comfortable being open, transparent, and even vulnerable. As you do, you will become a more authentic leader and a more self-aware person.

Huffington Post: The Inner Work of Leaders

From The Huffington Post, Posted September 24, 2015.

The following is an excerpt from Daniel Goleman's new collection, The Executive Edge: An Insider's Guide to Outstanding Leadership.

Daniel Goleman: You say that you have to do a certain kind of inner work to find your true north, to be an authentic leader. What is that inner work, and where does it lead?

Bill George: I think it starts with your life story, knowing where you came from, who you are, what really is important. What has shaped you along the way. And what we found was everyone wants to talk about that, but about 80% of the people want to talk about the crucible -- the most difficult time of their life. Think of the crucible where the refiner's fire tests you, and that's where you're really tested. We aren't tested by success; we're tested by going through a very difficult time and saying, "If I can get through this, I can get through anything." You don't deny that you went through that, and I think that's what shapes you, but the key is: How do you frame that crucible?

Goleman: The crucible can be a job loss, a disaster, a business going under?

George: A rejection by good friends, not being cool in school. I lost seven elections. Was I a failure? Yeah, but I had to learn from that experience. I wanted to be a leader and I was being rejected, seven times in a row.

If you aren't willing to live it, if you go into denial and say, "well, that didn't happen" -- actually it did happen. It's part of who you are, so it's how you frame it. Can you frame yourself as a victim? "Those kids didn't like me, so that was the problem," or do you see how that was a great learning experience, and ask yourself, "how do I learn?" And so that then shapes what we call your true north, your most deeply held values and beliefs. What do you really believe, at your core? Do you believe people are inherently good, or basically not good? What are the values you live by, and then what are the principles you translate into leading or interacting with people?

And people know what those are. I've rarely encountered anyone who didn't know. The question is: "Can I stay on course? Can I be successful? They're going to kill me. If they knew who I really was, they wouldn't be interviewing me." Well, actually, they might! It's a cathartic experience to share who you are, and not be rejected. I think that's so important, because otherwise you're living a lie. You're hiding parts of you -- that you got fired from a job, that you had problems. But that's part of who we are. If that's what has shaped you, it's a good thing.

Goleman: What's the role of self-awareness in finding your authentic self?

George: There's been a lot of work -- and you've done a lot more work than I have on this -- but one of the things that I've observed in leaders is beyond a certain level of IQ. Leadership is not defined by IQ, it's defined by emotional intelligence. And at a certain level of IQ, I actually think it's inverse, so if your IQ is so high that you won't listen to anyone else, you're not going to be a very good leader. And so it can actually work against you.

Goleman: Although, I would say it may not be your actual IQ. It sounds like you're talking about a narcissistic leader.

George: Exactly. That's a person who has to be the smartest person in the room, no matter what the question is, what the field is, or whether it's his area of expertise or not.

But to me, the essence of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. How can I have great relationships with other people if I don't know who I am? And that is the key factor of why people are successful in leadership. They may achieve, they may get to this point, but they may fail too. Better to fail early than to fail when you get the big responsibility.

What I've been wrestling with is how do you gain self-awareness? I feel that you have to have real-world experience. I think you have to have a way to process experiences internally. Call it reflection, introspection. I have to meditate regularly. Some people like to pray. Some people have an intimate person, a spouse, or someone with whom the can share everything. You have to have some way to process that experience. Just having the experience doesn't do it, because you'll repeat the same mistakes and you just find the mistakes get bigger and bigger. I also think you need to have a way to process it through feedback -- honest feedback with other people that you trust, not feedback from people you don't trust. Having a group of people with whom you can share on an intimate level, not at a superficial level. So many of our societal interactions are superficial today. They don't allow us to be truly authentic.

From The Executive Edge: An Insider's Guide to Outstanding Leadership. Copyright 2015 More Than Sound. Reprinted with permission from More Than Sound.

Total Picture: Bill George. Discover Your True North

From Total Picture, Posted September 22, 2015.


Don't expect the same Q&A with Bill George on other podcast interviews. We don't go by the talking points provided by the publisher. True North, originally based on first-person interviews with 125 leaders, became a must-read business classic when it was first introduced in 2007. Today, authenticity has become a key issue in the C-Suite, boardroom, in HR and recruiting initiatives, corporate communications, marketing campaigns, and of course, politics.

In his substantive follow up to True North - Discover Your True North: Becoming An Authentic Leader, Bill George, former Medtronic chairman and CEO, and senior Fellow at the Harvard Business School, Introduces 47 additional interviews with leaders who represent the diversity of a new generation.

Welcome to a Leadership Channel podcast on TotalPicture, this is Peter Clayton. Today, I'm pleased to welcome Bill George to the program.

Today's feature interview with Bill George is brought to you by RecruitiFi, a unique new category of recruiting that connects top recruiters with companies looking to hire exceptional talent. Use this link and receive a special discount offer on your first JobCast.

I also want to give a shout-out to our friend and frequent contributor to TotalPicture David Dalka, who was instrumental in organizing today's interview, research and development of our talking points. David was scheduled to participate in our discussion with Bill, but couldn't, due to technical issues with his Skype connection.

Questions Peter Clayton asks Bill George in this podcast:

I've had a number of retired and former CEOs tell me what they miss the most is the corporate jet. What do you miss the most?

Although Medtronic has a diverse board of directors (good for them)! What did you learn from the transition as CEO to former CEO? Going from 110% to 0%

You are on a number of important boards, including Mayo Clinic and Goldman Sachs. Joining a board of directors is not what it was 20 years ago. What have you learned from your participation in a number of high-profile boards?

What advice do you have for those seeking, or considering board membership?

Speaking about 20 years ago... it's a different world today. Corporate PR departments no longer control the message: Facebook, Twitter, Glassdoor and others do. What recommendations do you have for leaders regarding social media - and how they consistently deliver their "True North" in such a volatile 24/7 environment?

M&A deal are back in fashion. However, corporate cultures often clash. - (Say BofA and ML) What advice to you have for those in management and leadership positions caught in a merger? How can True North help determine outcomes?

Bill George is Senior Fellow at the Harvard Business School and former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, the world's leading medical technology company. Under his leadership, Medtronic's market capitalization grew from $1.1 billion to $60 billion, averaging 35 percent a year. He is the author of the best-selling Authentic Leadership and a board member of Goldman Sachs, Exxon, and the Mayo Clinic. George has been recognized as "Executive of the Year" by the Academy of Management, "Director of the Year" by the National Association of Corporate Directors, and received the prestigious Bower Award for Business Leadership - given annually to the nation's top business leader.


Link to Podcast HERE.