TotalPicture Radio: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence, Diverse Leadership Teams, and Empowering People

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.

TotalPicture Radio Interview


This article was originally posted to TotalPicture Radio

ManagerMojo: What is Your True North?

It is critical for leaders to be clear about their True North.  The leaders of yester-year can’t be the leaders of today with the evolutionary and revolutionary move from the ‘Me’ generation to the ‘We’ generation.  While today’s young leaders desire collaboration, transparency and engagement they thrive on working in a world of diversity and technology.  They are inspired and excited to commit to causes and efforts greater than themselves.  While these young people are setting a new pace, there is opportunity for young and old alike to learn from one another to make the world a better place and to lead by their example.  This inspiring podcast will get you on track to setting your own pace.  You will learn more about how to set your own true north and live the life of your dreams.

Connect will Bill Here!

Bill welcomes hearing from you!  Click HERE.

Listen to the interview HERE


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3 Lessons From One Of America's Great Culture Builders

I’ve spent the past four years studying the greatest sports organizations in America—from the San Antonio Spurs to the Kansas City Royals—in a search for the shared characteristics of great teams. One of my business mentors on this subject is Bill George, longtime CEO of Medtronic—the world’s largest medical technology company—who currently leads an executive education program at Harvard Business School.

After building an extraordinary culture at Medtronic, George published his findings on the habits of Great business leadership in the 2007 book “True North,” which detailed how value-centered companies always outperform profit-centered organizations. Without question, it is one of the greatest reads on this subject.

Last month, George released an updated version of his book Discover Your True North, that includes dozens of new interviews with some of the business world’s true authentic leaders about the importance of purpose in corporate team-building. I had a chance to speak with George about how this underutilized value is driving companies to be more successful today.

His lessons:

1. A Sense Of Purpose Can Attract—and Retain—Valuable Talent…Especially As Our Workforce Gets Younger!

According to the Pew Research Center, more than one-in-three American workers today are Millennials—adults age 18 to 34 in 2015—and unquestionably the largest demographic in the American workforce. These young employees value more than a hefty paycheck and, as George said to me, desire, “a sense of meaning and purpose” in their work.

“People want to work for more than just a job or money, and that is even more true at the lower pay scales than it is with the upper,” George said. “ Leaders have to realize that it’s not just about money, but it’s also about inspiring the people that are doing the work.  This is true for the service industry and many other industries as well. It is all about how you treat customers and the relationships that are formed.”

The young people working for my company reflect this trend; Millennials are team-oriented, love solving problems, and are attracted to strong company values.  If a team desires to be Great, then it is critically important to provide a strong sense of purpose that attracts, and keeps, employees.

2. Great Teams Communicate Culture And Values.

“It’s very important that leaders consistently share the values of the organization to their ranks,” George said. “This is especially true when communicating with front-line employees down the pyramid of an organization, who are more in touch with customers than the CEO or executive team.”

This lesson is so important, yet often disregarded; truthfully, many companies do not know how – or when – to articulate their purpose to employees because it is hasn’t been well defined by leadership. Important lesson, George said: Commit boldly in writing who you’re in service of and why it matters, then share, share, share.

Many organizations have a mission statement that has values attached to it, but have very little meaning to the people,” George said. “If a company is not living their values and mission then there is no point in having one. And CEO’s have a responsibility to be go out and talk with their people. Leaders need to be abiding by such values if they want others to adopt them.”

3. Engagement and Transparency Matter

If a leader attracts the right talent to their organization and empowers them with purpose, then the next step, according to George, is keeping them engaged.

“CEO’s need to spend their time changing the culture and ensuring employee engagement,” he said. “Unfortunately, many companies look for short-term profits instead of developing long-term strategies for company growth…which ultimately brings down engagement scores.”

George says that employee engagement should not be a footnote for companies, and that leaders should invest in enhancing culture and becoming more transparent.  “Special organizational cultures have high engagement scores and profitability because they attach a purpose to their work, and are more open,” George said. “The leaders I profiled in my book are much more transparent than corporate leadership of the past. We’ve moved from an era of self-interest to an era where leaders recognize their role is to serve others and a greater cause.”

George and his leadership tips are applicable to any team desiring to be great. As leaders, we should all consider the value of purpose-driven work and employee engagement. Additionally, frequent communication of our organization’s values will not only motivate employees, but create the foundation of a very profitable future.

“Leaders and employees should both know that you can have a very fulfilling life and a successful career by being true to what you believe,” George said. “You don’t have to perpetuate or go along with the status quo. Be bold, daring and different.”

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Churchmag: ‘Discover Your True North’ by Bill George [Saturday Morning Review]

This article was originally posted on 11/14/15 on Churchmag.

When True North came out in 2007, it became an instant classic on authentic leadership in business literature. Discover your True North is the updated version of that book that was just released. It’s still one of the best books on ethical and effective leadership available.

The term ‘true north’ refers to your inner compass of course, to the magnetic pole of your authentic leadership, which will help you become a successful leader. It’s a principle that’s easy to grasp but a lot harder to put into practice. True north is also something many leaders are missing, even in the church or in Christian organizations—as evidenced by sad tales of fraud, overspending, moral failures, and more.

Author Bill George wants to convince readers that sticking to your true north, to the values and the sweet spot that define you, is the only way to real, long-term success. And he makes a convincing case. History has shown us time and again that operating in a way that contradicts our real values, or that doesn’t fit our personality and is outside our sweet spot, leads to suboptimal leadership at best—and big failure at worst. (Enron, anyone?)

Discover Your True North

This book shows you how to find and define your true north, and how to let it guide you in your leadership. Discover Your True North is chock full with stories from real-life leaders, both successful ones and big mistakes (though the latter are definitely in the minority). And these are crucial in making the theoretical concept of authentic leadership so practical. Time and again, Bill George shows how leaders have let their true north dictate their decisions, and with success.

Yes, this is not a explicit Christian book, nor is it aimed specifically at Christian leaders. The cases are all from the business world (with the notable exception of Nelson Mandela) and include household names like Arianna Huffington, Warren Buffett, and Howard Schultz.

That being said, Christian leaders can learn tons from this book on developing an authentic leadership style that matches Christian values. The chapter on leading an integrated life especially has many applications for (youth) pastors and Christian leaders.

Of course, those still trying to find their sweet spot and true moment will benefit most from this book, though for them it may necessary to reread it a few times over times to let it all sink in.

Minnesota Public Radio: Kerri Miller Friday Roundtable

This week on the MPR Friday Roundtable, I had the privilege of speaking with other CEOs about diversity in the workplace, how to motivate workers and the role of vulnerability in leadership.

Listen to my conversation with former chairman and CEO of Medtronic; MayKao Hang, president and CEO of the Amherst Wilder Foundation; and Jay Lund, chairman president and CEO at Andersen Corporation.


This post was originally published on Minnesota Public Radio

Huffington Post: Mindfulness Is Transforming Leadership

Originally posted to Huffington Post on 11/12/15

Last week my wife Penny and I had the opportunity to keynote the Mindful Leadership Summit. At the summit, 750 participants gathered to discuss how mindfulness practices could change global leadership for the better. As Charles Lief, president of Naropa University, said, "The opening of all sectors to talk about mindfulness, contemplation and compassion is a very powerful thing." The enthusiasm within the summit provided ample evidence that mindful leadership has indeed come of age.

How are leaders becoming mindful? One of the most popular ways to learn mindfulness is to attend a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. Popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn since the late 1970s, MBSR is built on ancient meditation practices. However, it wasn't until the last decade that the marriage of mindfulness and leadership became reality. In 2007 Chade-Meng Tan - Google employee #107 -- launched Google's meditation program. The program currently teaches 2,000 Googlers per year to meditate in order to become better leaders.

In January, 2010 I had the privilege of presenting my ideas for developing compassionate, authentic leaders to the Dalai Lama at the Mind & Life Institute's conference in Zurich. The following year Janice Marturano formed the Institute for Mindful Leadership, based on the highly successful courses she created for General Mills. Today, leading companies like Blackrock, Aetna, Ford Motor and Goldman Sachs conduct mindfulness classes for thousands of their leaders.

What is causing this shift to mindful leadership? In the stress-filled 24/7 world in which we live, leaders of all organizations need the opportunity for a "time out" period. It is their opportunity to relax, breathe deeply, de-stress and gain clarity about their work and the decisions they are facing. As I stressed at last week's summit, mindfulness practices enable leaders to ensure the important issues are taking precedence over immediate pressures.

Business isn't the only sector practicing mindfulness. These practices are gaining widespread use in health care, non-profits, education, athletics and even government. Recent clinical studies are demonstrating that mindfulness not only reduces stress, it improves productivity and reduces health care costs. As Aetna learned in its 2011 controlled study of meditation and yoga, health care costs for participating employees could be reduced by $2000 a year. As a result, Aetna is currently offering mindfulness classes as a covered benefit to its enrollees.

My own mindfulness practice began with a course in Transcendental Meditation (TM) that my wife and I attended in 1974. For the past forty years I have meditated daily. It wasn't until the late 1990s that I felt comfortable sharing my practice publicly, as I feared people would find it strange or even weird. This practice is the best thing I have done to calm my mind and my emotions, focus on what is most important while releasing trivial worries and think clearly about important decisions. Perhaps even more importantly, my most creative ideas have come from meditation.

Of course, meditation is not for everyone. What is essential for all of us -- as I share in my classes and lectures -- is having a daily practice of taking twenty minutes to quiet your mind, reflect and be introspective. For you, it may come through prayer, journaling, reflecting in a beautiful place or taking a long walk or jog. The goal? To create more self-aware leaders who understand themselves, their motivations, their values and the purpose of their leadership.

Becoming a mindful leaders requires daily practice. It is easy to say, as I did back in 1974, that you don't have the time to fit this practice into your busy schedule. In fact, the opposite is true -- you don't have the time not to pursue it. A recent study by Aetna and Duke University proved that mindful practices can increase productivity by an hour a week. Just think what you could do with an extra hour: Play with your children? Take a walk with your spouse? Organize your life? However you use that extra time, mindfulness can help you accomplish it. More importantly, you will become more effective and satisfied in your work.

As I discuss in my new book, Discover Your True North, mindful leaders can help us begin to overcome the crisis in leadership we have experienced since 2001. Simply stated, mindfulness is a powerful practice that will help all of us become more authentic as leaders. If you haven't experienced it, give it a try, and you will find that you have a greater sense of well-being and become a better leader.

Harvard Business School: Authentic Leadership Rediscovered

This article was published Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.

Is becoming an "authentic leader" just an excuse for practicing a rigid management style? Bill George, who pioneered the idea, says critics don't understand what really constitutes an authentic leader.

“Authenticity has become the gold standard for leadership”

—Harvard Business Review, January 2015

In the last 10 years, authenticity has become the gold standard of leadership. This is a sea change from 2003 when I wrote Authentic Leadership. Back then, many people asked what it meant to be authentic.

Authentic Leadership was intended as a clarion call to the new generation to learn from negative examples like Enron, WorldCom and Tyco. In it, I defined authentic leaders as genuine, moral and character-based leaders:

"People of the highest integrity, committed to building enduring organizations … who have a deep sense of purpose and are true to their core values who have the courage to build their companies to meet the needs of all their stakeholders, and who recognize the importance of their service to society."

Authentic leaders demonstrate these five qualities:

  • Understanding their purpose
  • Practicing solid values
  • Leading with heart
  • Establishing connected relationships
  • Demonstrating self-discipline


The following year the Gallup Institute and Professor Bruce Avolio, a well-known leadership scholar at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, organized a definitive conference on authentic leadership in which the importance of leaders’ life stories became paramount.

In spite of widespread acceptance of authentic leadership—or perhaps because of it—several authors have recently challenged the value of being authentic, claiming it is an excuse for being locked into a rigid view of one’s leadership, being rude and insensitive, refusing to change, or not adapting to one’s style to the situation. These arguments appear to demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes an authentic leader. Recommendations that leaders should accept narcissism, embrace their inner jerk, or focus on themselves will not work in the long-run.

In light of this public discussion, it’s important to rediscover authentic leadership as well as examine some of the recent mischaracterizations of it.

Authentic leadership is built on your character, not your style. My mentor Warren Bennis said, “Leadership is character. It is not just a superficial question of style. It has to do with who we are as human beings and the forces that shaped us.

Style is the outward manifestation of one’s authentic leadership, not one’s inner self. To become authentic leaders, people must adopt flexible styles that fit the situation and capabilities of their teammates. At times, authentic leaders are coaches and mentors, inspiring others and empowering their teammates to lead through the most important tasks without a great deal of supervision. At other times, authentic leaders must make very difficult decisions, terminating people and going against the will of the majority, as required to meet the situational imperative. These difficult actions can be taken while still retaining their authenticity.

Authentic leaders are real and genuine. You cannot “fake it till you make it” by putting on a show as a leader or being a chameleon in your style. People sense very quickly who is authentic and who is not. Some leaders may pull it off for a while, but ultimately they will not gain the trust of their teammates, especially when dealing with difficult situations. The widespread adoption of LinkedIn, Google and increasingly networked communities means that every leader has the informal equivalent of a “Yelp” score that will come to light. If people see their leaders as trustworthy and willing to learn, followers will respond very positively to requests for help in getting through difficult times.

Authentic leaders are constantly growing. They do not have a rigid view of themselves and their leadership. Becoming authentic is a developmental state that enables leaders to progress through multiple roles, as they learn and grow from their experiences. Like superior performances in athletics or music, becoming an authentic leader requires years of practice in challenging situations.

Authentic leaders match their behavior to their context, an essential part of emotional intelligence (EQ). They do not burst out with whatever they may be thinking or feeling. Rather, they exhibit self-monitoring, understand how they are being perceived, and use emotional intelligence (EQ) to communicate effectively.

Authentic leaders are not perfect, nor do they try to be. They make mistakes, but they are willing to admit their errors and learn from them. They know how to ask others for help. Nor are authentic leaders always humble or modest. It takes a great deal of self-confidence to lead through very difficult situations.

Authentic leaders are sensitive to the needs of others. One author has postulated, and I paraphrase, “What if your real self is a jerk?” People are not born as jerks, nor does this behavior reflect their authentic selves. Rather, these individuals likely had very negative experiences early in their lives that cause them to have difficulty in managing their anger, in part because they feel like victims or feel inadequate.

Situations like these indicate the importance of processing one’s crucibles: people need not feel like victims or stuff their experiences deep inside themselves. Rather, by understanding themselves and reframing their experiences, they can find the pearl inside that represents their authentic selves. That’s why exploring who they are and getting honest feedback from their colleagues are essential elements of becoming authentic leaders. That’s what Starbucks’ Howard Schultz did in coping with the severe challenges of his youth. It is also what made the difference for Steve Jobs when he returned to Apple nine years after his 1986 termination.

For all these reasons, authentic leaders constitute the vast majority of people chosen today for the key roles in business and nonprofits. Their emergence as the predominant way of leading has resulted from all we have discovered about leadership in the past decade. 

A Human-Centered Approach to Leadership Development

My 2007 book, True North, showed people how they could develop themselves as authentic leaders. Whereas Authentic Leadership was based on my personal experiences in leading, True North was built on field research drawn from in-person interviews with 125 leaders. With 3,000 pages of transcripts, it remains as the largest in-depth study of leaders ever conducted, based on first-person interviews.

Having examined the literature containing more than 1,000 studies of leaders, most of which employed third-person approaches of observations and questionnaires, our research team concluded that learning directly from these leaders about what was important to them and how they had developed would give us much richer insights than prior studies. Indeed, this proved to be the case, as we discovered the paramount importance of leaders’ life stories and the crucibles they had faced. We also learned from them how people develop into authentic leaders.

In our research, we embraced the richness of understanding leadership as a fully human endeavor. This approach built upon the pioneering work of Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Douglas McGregor, Daniel Goleman and Warren Bennis. True North assembled this developmental process in an original approach that enabled people to develop themselves as authentic leaders.

In order to see how leadership has changed in the past decade, we initiated research in 2014 that focused on 47 new leaders who were more global and diverse than the original cohort. We also followed up on 90 leaders featured in True North to see how they have fared since their 2005-06 interviews. With only a couple of exceptions, we learned these leaders had remained true to their authentic selves, and had performed very well in myriad roles. 

This research led to my new book, Discover Your True North, which profiles 101 leaders and describes how they developed. It also draws heavily upon classroom experiences in the Authentic Leadership Development courses at Harvard Business School, where 6,000 MBAs and executives have participated in this developmental process.

Most significantly, we learned that authentic leaders are constantly growing and learning from their leadership experiences. By taking on new challenges, they become more effective as authentic leaders. When they find themselves in entirely new situations, authentic leaders draw upon their true selves, what they have learned in past life experiences, especially their crucibles, and they learn from their new colleagues. This enables them to become more effective as leaders. This approach is similar to Stanford’s Carol Dweck's “growth mindset.”

If you want to be an authentic leader and have a meaningful life, you need to do the difficult inner work to develop yourself, have a strong moral compass based on your beliefs and values, and work on problems that matter to you. When you look back on your life it may not be perfect, but it will be authentically yours.

Catholic Business Journal: LEADERSHIP MATTERS: Recent Headlines and Finding Your True North

These recent headlines in the Wall Street Journal highlight the ongoing problem of leaders who have “gone south” and have taken their organizations with them:   “Walgreens is Waiting for Answers About Theranos” ... “Attention Shareholders: Beware of the Board” ...  “Credit Suisse Settles ‘Dark Pool’ Case” ...  “Stanford Business School Steps Down After Affair with Wife of Direct Report” ... “Bribery Case Hits UN” ... “Volkswagen Chief Martin Winterkorn Resigns Amid Emissions Scandal” ... “VC Arrested for Insider Trading Now Accused of Defrauding His Firm”

Stanford business school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer would use these headlines as examples of how “the leadership industry has failed.” Prescriptions for leaders to be more truthful are at odds with what goes on in the real word. “The ability to lie can be very useful for getting ahead,” says Pfeffer. “Manipulation is a foundation for social power…in fact; there is a reciprocal relationship between power and lying.”

And this brings us to Bill George’s latest book, Discover Your True North: Expanded and Updated.  In it, George brings his wisdom, observations, examples, and practices to bear on helping leaders be something more than what Pfeffer proposes.

Author George encourages us to build on our natural leadership gifts and to stay on our “True North” track to inspire and empower others to excellence. According to George, our “True North” is the internal compass which, based on deeply held beliefs, values and principles, “represents who we are at our deepest level.” Knowing our internal compass helps when pressures and seductions detour us from achieving our purpose in life. It is our lifesaver… alerting us to get back on track when the life being lived is not aligned with who we are at the deepest level.

George’s True North needs some reconciling to Pfeffer’s belief about the reality of leadership.

Pfeffer talks about power for the sake of power, while George talks about power that flows from character. This disconnect may be attributed to the lack of good role models for those seeking to be leaders. I have observed over the years that leadership training—if not reinforced by good role models—does not lead to “True North” leadership. It is hard work to develop the type of leader George talks about. It is “The Road Less Traveled” due to the required investment of time by both the student and the role model.

For this reason, I recommend Discovering Your True North with the caveat that it be reinforced by a role model. This may be satisfied with George’s concept of a “support team” that he details in the book. I have worked with Bill George and can vouch that he is the real thing. I am sure that he provides the modeling needed to those he touches in the classroom and for those with whom he works in his consultancy.

Brief Summary of this updated edition - George revisits his NYC Times best-seller, and now business classic book, that was released in 2007.  In this 2015 updated version, he integrates his personal insights gained as CEO of Medtronic and as a professor and Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School with new first-person interviews of 48 “authentic global leaders.” These leaders include many who have garnered the positive attention of the press and have inspired and empowered millions to excellence –Indra Nooyi, Jack Ma, Alan Mulally, John Mackey, Sheryl Sandberg, Michael Bloomberg, and many others. He also includes updates on the original 125 participants featured in his first book and includes a chapter on finding your “GQ” (your global quotient).

George also includes case studies of those who were seduced and took detours – Rajat Gupta (insider trading), Lance Armstrong (fraud and demonization of those who tried to reveal the truth), and Michael Baker (fraud).

It is early yet, but we all may have something to learn from what appears to be a scandal of major proportions brewing at Theranos. Did Elizabeth Holmes take time to find her “True North”? Did she take a detour? Will Theranos survive? For her, this book may be too late.

Those who read George's first book will find this updated editon to be just as inspiring. For those  who missed the first book, they will find this new edition to be a treasure (and will regret having missed the 2007 edition).

This article was originally published in Catholic Business Journal.

Huffington Post: The World's Most Innovative Company

From The Huffington Post, posted 10/28/2015

"If your goals are ambitious enough, even failure will be a good achievement." 
- Laszlo Block, Google's Senior VP of People Operations

Two weeks ago I spent a day at the world's most innovative company: Google. It felt more like a college campus than a multi-billion dollar company. Yet behind the gyms, mindfulness classes, and gourmet free food, there are 20,000 engineers working furiously. Their goal: breakthrough products that transform the world.

To understand what makes Google so innovative, I studied two "insider's books:" Laszlo Bock's Work Rules and Chairman Eric Schmidt's and Jonathan Rosenberg's How Google Works. Nevertheless, it is still very difficult to figure out how Google actually works. The reason? While many companies proclaim they are egalitarian and work from the "bottom up," Google actually does. Gmail, for example, began with a "spare time" project that led to the ubiquitous electronic mailing system many of us use.

Unlike Steve Jobs' Apple, where the legendary founder had his hands on every product, Google CEO Larry Page and co-founder Sergei Brin give their technical teams wide latitude to experiment. This is how Google is able to attract such brilliant innovation leaders as Arthur Levinson, former CEO of Genentech, who is leading an initiative to combat aging. Understanding Google became even more difficult this fall when it morphed into Alphabet, the holding company that not only includes Google itself, but all its remarkably creative entities like self-driving cars and Google glass.

Beginning as a research project in 1996, Google has rapidly changed the world. Since developing the most successful search algorithm, PageRank, the company has expanded far beyond web search. Since going public in 2004, Google digitized millions of books with Google Books, mapped the world with Google Maps, and generated the first mass-produced, wearable technology - Google Glass.

History demonstrates that companies become less innovative as they grow, as size and creativity are inversely proportional. Not so with Google. So what is its secret?

In "8 Pillars of Innovation", YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki gives eight ways Google stays innovative. These include the mission, idea generation and willingness to fail. One pillar she overlooked, however, was "Develop Innovation Leaders." These days there are thousands of creative innovators all over the world, but effective innovation leaders like Page and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg are very rare. Yet without highly skilled innovation leaders throughout its organization, Google would never have produced so many innovative products and have so many more in its pipeline.

Take one of Google's most innovative practices: its policy of giving 20% free time to engineers to work on independent projects. Initiated in 2004, the policy has begun innovations such as Gmail, Google News, and Ad Sense, but not without controversy. It is difficult for any company to justify time for employees to work on small, side projects when the mainstream development projects are all-consuming. Without support of Google's top leadership, the policy would never have succeeded.

Ironically, Google has a history of underplaying the importance of leadership. In 2001, Page and Brin experimented with a completely flat organization, but the experiment only lasted a few months. Without clear leadership, it was difficult to communicate vision, handle logistics, and foster career development. Shortly thereafter, Schmidt became CEO, a position he held for a decade.

Since then, Google has recognized the importance of developing and hiring innovation leaders. In 2009, Google launched Project Oxygen - a three-year project to understand how the best managers at Google work. Implicit in this project was the understanding that great innovation leaders are required to drive great change. In order for Google to innovate as it has, it required the best minds in the world, and superb innovation leaders with the wisdom to know autonomy with respected inputs and challenges is required to inspire and retain high-powered innovators.

That's also why Google became the holding company Alphabet - a loosely knit collection of interdependent units that can attract and empower more innovation leaders. As Bock argues in Work Rules, "Micromanagement is mismanagement." Its collection of innovation organizations provides the freedom to innovate without near-term financial constraints. The new structure is designed to enable Google to retain such established innovation leaders as Google's new CEO Sundar Pichai, Calico's Levinson, Google X's Astro Teller, Sidewalk Labs' Dan Doctoroff, and venture capital leader Bill Maris.

These innovation leaders possess very different characteristics than most traditional leaders of large enterprises:

  • They are "We" leaders, not "I" leaders.
  • They align their teams around an inspiring mission and set of values.
  • They have high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ) combined with high IQs.
  • They possess passion, compassion and courage.
  • They are skilled at drawing out the best talents of innovators.
  • They inspire, empower, support and protect their innovators and mavericks.
  • They focus on bold long-term visions and aren't deflected by short-term pressures.
  • They are superb collaborators with other teams and other leaders.

Google's model for nurturing innovation leaders may well become the gold standard for other organizations eager to create innovation breakthroughs, without the constant pressure of shareholders for immediate results.

At the very least, in itself it is a breakthrough.

Twin Cities Business: Masqueraded Leadership

Bill George’s new book, Discover Your True North, unmasks authentic leadership.

When I received an advance copy of Bill George’s latest book, Discover Your True North, I was interested to read it, since I know Bill George from attending many of the same business and social events over the years. Most recently, George and I were co-keynote speakers on the topic of best practices in corporate governance and ethics. But, to be perfectly candid, the idea of writing a book review about “another” business book written by a former CEO didn’t exactly flip my pancakes.

That was, however, until I opened to the preface, which starts: “Warren Bennis was one of the great pioneers in the field of leadership.” I had the great fortune to have studied under Professor Bennis when I attended the Graduate School of Business at the University of Minnesota (now the Carlson School of Business). Due to Bennis’ profound wisdom, kindness and generosity of spirit, I became one of his ardent disciples, and I am grateful to have known and learned from him. George writes about his admiration for Bennis as well, and about how he influenced George’s decision to become a writer and teacher.

And how great it is that we all can learn from George’s writing. His latest book follows up on many of the 125 CEOs he interviewed for past books and contains 47 new interviews. Using stories from these leaders to illustrate major leadership principles, George demonstrates that there are many ways to lead, but the best way is by honoring your own “true north.” He defines this as leading others by mastering and sharing our special, authentic and unique qualities.

I respect George’s advice because he has not been sitting on the leadership bench studying business, but served as the CEO of Medtronic from 1991 to 2001 (a period during which the company’s market capitalization grew at an average annual rate of 35 percent). And his book includes stories from many local business leaders of their leadership challenges and lessons. As he explained in a recent Star Tribune column, the business leaders of the Twin Cities are ethical, mission-driven, values-centered, committed to building both their companies and our community, and are consistently ranked as the finest group in the country. In short, Discover Your True North is a book written by an accomplished leader about how accomplished leaders got there and how you can become one.

George’s story is one that I relate to on a very personal level, as I also experienced a crucible before finding my true north. By the time I was in my early 40s, I was a president at First Bank (now US Bank) with responsibility for enterprise-wide consumer, business and electronic banking and financial services, with 7,800 employees in 156 regional locations. The board and executives above me recognized and rewarded my leadership potential, and most people from the outside thought I was on top of the world. I climbed the corporate ladder and was enjoying exceptional compensation and perks such as corporate suites at professional sporting events and flying around in our private jets.

But inside, I was miserable. Despite my success, I wasn’t fulfilled. Just as George explains his crucible, I lost my way while trying to fit in instead of standing out by being myself. I felt like I was going to a masquerade ball every day. After some significant soul-searching, I realized that my true north wasn’t in corporate life. Rather, my authentic calling was to serve underdog organizations in distress and to serve at-risk kids who live in poverty or are physically or cognitively disabled.

George explains a three-step process. The first is to review your past, and I’ve been doing that lately too. It’s only recently that I have learned to appreciate, instead of resent, how growing up in poverty shaped me into who I am today. It’s probably why I decided on a career to fight off business bullies and help distressed underdogs, and why I work to inspire at-risk kids to have a vision for a better life and a commitment to reach it through education.

Step two describes the core building blocks for becoming an authentic leader (being self-aware, sticking to one’s values, staying with a career sweet spot, utilizing a support team and living a balanced life). Once again, these are lessons I’ve learned myself, and that also remind me of Professor Bennis, who wrote, “More leaders have been made by accident, circumstance, sheer grit or will than have been made by all the leadership courses put together” (On Becoming a Leader, revised edition).

Finally, George teaches how to lead from a position of “we” instead of “me.” I’ve learned that as I progressed along the leadership path, I had to develop new skills, including how to motivate others to get work done to accomplish goals and objectives, and that I would be measured and rewarded on that ability versus what I accomplished on my own.

So if you are feeling like you are a masqueraded leader because you’re trying to find your true north, read this book. George aims at the leadership issues that plague our country today and has hit that target with a remarkable accuracy.

Mark W. Sheffert ( is founder, chairman and CEO of Manchester Companies, Inc., a Minneapolis-based board and management advisory firm specializing in business recovery, transfomation, performance improvement, board governance, and litigation support.

This article was originally published 10/30/15 on Twin Cities Business.