Press Understanding personal stories that matter not just the facts of your life can help you succeed

If you work in corporate America, you probably have a polished and well-rehearsed story you tell about yourself. 

Maybe it’s not Oprah Winfrey’s rags-to-riches tale; indeed, it may not seem to you like much of a story at all. But if you’ve written your LinkedIn profile or rehearsed an elevator pitch, you have at least begun to shape your experiences and attributes into story form.

As you move ahead or change direction in your career, you revise the story so it reflects your growth and highlights your latest achievements.

But despite how impressive your story is on paper, it’s less likely to become a success story if the voice inside your head keeps telling a different, doubt-filled version.

Perhaps it seems best to try to ignore or silence the harsh assessments that bounce around your skull. But a book on leadership suggests you tune in because a person’s life stories affect the future more than any set of inborn characteristics or leadership skills.

“Your life stories define your leadership, including the impact of parents, teachers, coaches, illness, poverty, trauma, rejection and other difficult experiences,” said Bill George, author of “Discover Your True North: Becoming an Authentic Leader” (Wiley, 2015).

Your life stories can spur you to excellence, but they also can hold you back. It depends on how you frame the stories and how you narrate them, consciously or otherwise, in your head. This narration — generally internal chatter called self-talk — can be constructive or crippling.

For example, you may tell yourself that you’re stuck. Though that’s not a story per se, it’s a lesson learned from one or more life stories that can shape your attitudes, decisions and behavior — and, therefore, your prospects if you allow it.

“The way you deal with your greatest adversities will shape your character far more than the adversities themselves,” George wrote. “Much like iron is forged by heat, your significant challenges and your most painful experiences present the greatest opportunities for your personal growth.”

It’s how you understand yourself through your stories that matter, not the facts of your life, he said.

Since self-awareness leads to self-acceptance, paying attention to the stories you tell yourself can empower you professionally and personally.

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Fortune: Dow-DuPont Raises Even More Concerns America Is Abandoning Corporate Research

Shareholders are arguing that research takes too long, costs too much, and carries too many risks.

America’s vaunted research prowess is under attack. Not from China, Japan, or Germany, but from within, led by impatient investors eager to gain immediate boosts in stock prices.

Spurred on by activist investors, these shareholders are arguing that research takes too long, costs too much, and carries too many risks.

Unfortunately, that’s the very nature of research: despite efforts to accelerate innovation, basic research takes as long as ever because of the thoroughness, rigorous testing, and extended time required for commercialization. Consider the human genome. It was first sequenced during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Fifteen years later, biopharma companies are still working on early applications.

America’s corporate research labs, which have been working with academic research institutions supported by federal funding, have long been the envy of the world. Bell Labs, which produced many of the scientific breakthroughs of the 20th Century, has virtually disappeared as the result of mergers that left it owned by Nokia. I worked in research-based organizations for 35 years and witnessed first-hand the stunning breakthroughs that not only improved our lives but handsomely enriched long-term shareholders.

Now, DuPont’s research labs, which produced discoveries such as nylon, rayon, Teflon, and solar cells, is the target of persistent activist attacks. This week’s announcement of the merger of America’s two leading chemical companies, DuPont DD -5.07% and Dow DOW -4.68% , could spell doom for DuPont’s central research labs and presages further research cuts at Dow as well. To preserve DuPont, former CEO Ellen Kullman won a hard-fought proxy contest with activist investor Nelson Peltz. Six months later, new board member Ed Breen convinced her to retire and took over as CEO.

Only a month after taking the reins, Breen merged the company with Dow and will become CEO of the combined companies. Breen and Dow CEO Andrew Liveris have vowed to cut R&D and break the combined company into three smaller firms, leaving it a weakened player in a competition against global chemical giants like Germany’s BASF and Bayer, and China’s Sinopec and Sinochem. Breen and Liveris were apparently reacting to pressure from activist investors including Peltz and Third Point’s Dan Loeb to resort to financial engineering to create immediate shareholder value. In doing so, they are pleasing short-term shareholders at the potential expense of business fundamentals.

These days, Wall Street cheers every time companies combine or break up and cut their R&D. Buoyed by an unquenchable thirst for short-term stock gains, traders and activist investors are mounting pressure on a wide array of companies to cut research and capital expenditures in order to increase stock buybacks and thus boost stock prices. Activist investors love the “synergies” that result from dismantling R&D. These actions cause short-term profits to rise, but what about a company’s future? Unfortunately, these investors don’t care. They cash in their profits long before a company’s prospects turn sour.

In pharmaceuticals, Pfizer has led the parade of R&D cuts. It acquired Warner-Lambert, Pharmacia & Upjohn, and Wyeth, and then slashed their research budgets by consolidating them. When Pfizer CEO Ian Read began his tenure in 2010, he vowed to make even more R&D cuts and focus on purchasing drugs from others. As this strategy fizzled and British authorities declined Pfizer’s hostile takeover of Astra-Zeneca, Read turned not to drug development but to financial engineering. He recently announced a tax inversion deal to acquire Ireland-based Allergen. Inevitably, R&D will be the big loser here as well.

Meanwhile, aggressive smaller pharmaceutical companies like Valeant openly brag about how they spend less than 3% on R&D and 3% on taxes. Their goal is to acquire larger pharma companies like Allergan and Shire by paying top dollar, and then raising prices on older drugs by 200% to 500% to generate the appearance of revenue growth.

Slashing R&D isn’t limited to pharmaceutical companies. Food giant Kraft was dismantled by Peltz in 2012, leaving a weakened company to seek shelter in the arms of Brazil’s 3G and combine with venerable HJ Heinz. The outcome? 3G is slashing all budgets including R&D, contributing to further revenue declines.

In the struggle between research to fuel growth and cutbacks for short-term gains, financial engineers have the upper hand today. While these financial machinations are pleasing short-term traders, the loser will be America’s superior research machine. As a consequence, the U.S. could lose its global edge in research and badly damage its innovative spirit.

The entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, whose forte is not basic research but disruptive innovation, are the only ones left standing. Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook have all but thumbed their nose at short-term shareholders and continue to invest in research at very high rates. How? Often by keeping control with two classes of stock: voting shares for founders and original investors, and non-voting for everyone else. In the past, this was considered poor corporate governance. Today, it is a pragmatic way for companies like Apple and Google to invest billions in “moonshot” projects such as self-driving cars.

It does not look like the U.S. government is prepared to step in and fund research in Corporate America’s absence. Despite its success, the National Institutes of Health has faced decreasing budgets since 2003, as its purchasing power decreased 30%. Nor has the government invested significantly in developing new forms of renewable energy.

Meanwhile, China is funding research at an unprecedented rate. Its universities churn out 150% more scientists and engineers than America produces. As great as America’s technological universities are, the U.S. is educating far more foreign students than immigration policies permit to stay and work here. Meanwhile, China is building, not dismantling, global champions in every industry to compete for world dominance of their respective fields.

Germany isn’t backing off, either. By concentrating on select industries – automobiles, machine tools, chemicals, and construction – German industry has become the envy of the world in its exporting ability despite its high labor costs.

Where does this leave the U.S.? Barring a change in direction, our industrial base will be gutted as we lose competitive capability on the global scale. Then we will become a nation dominated by financial services, information technology, and service industries. Because of this, we will continue to lose well-paying jobs, further hollowing out the middle class, and creating even greater income inequality.

America can do a lot better, but first we have to overcome our need for instant financial gratification and focus on the long-term.

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Bill George is the author of Discover Your True North, senior fellow at Harvard Business School, and former chair & CEO of Medtronic

Becoming a More Authentic Leader

Now, more so than ever before, leaders MUST be authentic. 

It is becoming increasingly easier for people (especially millennials) to identify who is an authentic leader and who isn't. 

Make sure you know how to lead those who follow you, genuinely.

Listen to Podcast

This interview was published to HBR Ideacast on 12/09/15.

You Won't Make It If You Fake It

The cover of last January's Harvard Business Review featured the subhead, "When it's OK to fake it till you make it."

“Faking it” is the antithesis of authentic leadership. Following this advice is the most likely path to failure as a leader. You cannot act like a leader until you go through the hard steps of developing yourself from within.

With the visible failures of leaders who tried to fake it, people have developed sensitive “sniff tests” and can quickly identify who is authentic and who is not. If you fake leadership, people will be unwilling to follow your lead and will resent your attempts to exert power over them.


Developing as a leader is hard work. It is similar to the rigorous training and required experience that surgeons, musicians, or athletes must go through before excelling in their fields. Can you imagine doing brain surgery without proper training? Or playing the cello at Carnegie Hall or tennis at Wimbledon without years of training and practice?

Just as you cannot learn these skills solely in the classroom, leaders must undertake rigorous personal development and have multiple leadership experiences before they are prepared for major leadership assignments. Through these processes, they learn about themselves and how to lead diverse people through complex challenges.

Look at the sad case of Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes. She is a talented person who rose to fame too quickly, until Theranos was challenged by a Wall Street Journal investigation. On the surface, Holmes’ story seemed to be the perfect narrative. The would-be Silicon Valley entrepreneur dropped out of Stanford at the age of 19 to found Theranos, a company attempting to replace blood-testing draws with single drops from the finger. Holmes’ rapid rise to fame put her on a fast track to success, with high expectations and intense pressures. Yet she hadn’t had adequate leadership experience attacking and leading people through difficult business problems.

Holmes created a $9 billion valuation on paper by selling venture capitalists on her idea and raising $400 million. She assembled a celebrity board, convinced Safeway to spend $350 million to build clinics in its supermarkets, and signed partnerships with Cleveland Clinic and Walgreens. She attracted celebrity media attention with headlines like “Queen Elizabeth: Mystique of Theranos Founder Grows.” She received prestigious accolades, being named Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship, youngest winner of the Horatio Alger Award, and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People (2015).

Then it all came crashing down.

On October 16, The Wall Street Journal reported that the data Theranos submitted were insufficient to prove the accuracy of many of its tests. In spite of her seeking media visibility, Holmes did not offer comments for this article. Five days later, she said the company was in a "pause period." Subsequently, Walgreens halted expansion of its Theranos blood-testing centers, and in early November, Safeway announced dissolution of its partnership.

A famous quote says: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Maybe the “fake it till you make it” leadership approach will work for a while, but it will eventually catch up with you.

Contrast the fake it approach with that of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, an open and transparent authentic leader whom I profile in Discover Your True North. Unlike the “rocket ship” career ladder Holmes pursued, Sandberg’s career path took on the shape of a “jungle gym” that she described in Lean In. “I could never have connected the dots from where I started to where I am today,” she wrote.

After graduating from Harvard Business School, Sandberg worked as a management consultant at McKinsey and for Treasury Secretary Larry Summers for six years before joining Google at 32. When she and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg began working together in 2007, Sandberg requested that Zuckerberg provide her with weekly feedback.

After the tragic death last spring of her husband Dave Goldberg, Sandberg shared a touching Facebook post, hoping her story would help others. She wrote, “I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues, I needed to let them in. That meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be.”

It takes immense bravery to be so honest and open with the world, but realizing that others accept and love you for who you are liberates you as an authentic leader.

I strongly support young leaders like Larry Page and Zuckerberg who start their own businesses. You can get started with little management experience, but to sustain success, it is essential to surround yourself with more experienced leaders as Zuckerberg found with Sandberg. Google founders Page and Sergey Brin followed a similar course by recruiting Eric Schmidt as CEO. It is also important to seek out wise mentors, as Zuckerberg did with Washington Post CEO Donald Graham and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

That’s what I learned to do as the 27-year-old general manager of Litton Industries’ microwave oven division. I recruited an experienced team of appliance industry veterans, including the marketing and sales head who was twice my age and earned twice my salary. Had I tried to fake my leadership and knowledge of the appliance industry, I surely would have failed.

In the research for Discover Your True North, we interviewed 170 leaders from 23 to 93 years old. Not one of them talked about faking it to get ahead. What stood out for every one of them was how hard they had worked to develop themselves, and the painful lessons they learned from their mistakes and failures. Through those very difficult experiences they developed the self-awareness, confidence, courage and resilience to persevere through the most difficult challenges, and imbue their colleagues with confidence in their leadership and ability to succeed.

In contrast, leaders who are faking it only fool themselves, as others see through them and are pained by their acting. Sometimes this approach impresses their bosses, which may be good for a promotion or two, but eventually falls apart when they are unable to win support from peers and subordinates.

All leaders are human, subject to frailties and mistakes, but inauthentic leaders lare often are afraid to face their failures and may try to hide them or blame others. Holmes appears to have talent, ambition, and intellect, but these qualities, unbalanced by authenticity, may have magnified her difficulties.

Authentic leaders are real and genuine. They acknowledge their shortcomings and admit their errors, which enables them to connect with others and inspire teammates. Their leadership is built on their character and values, as they embrace the vital experiences that shape them, and are comfortable in their skin.

That’s why Sheryl Sandberg has been so successful, a great partner for Mark Zuckerberg, and wise adviser to millions who have read Lean In. Leaders like Sandberg understand they won’t make it if they fake it, but they will succeed by being authentic.

Bill George is the author of Discover Your True North, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, and former chair and CEO of Medtronic.


This article was originally published on Harvard Working Knowledge 12/08/15.


5 Ways to Develop Emotionally Intelligent Behavior

Effective leaders are emotionally intelligent. They have the skills to manage and use their emotions. And, like all leadership skills, emotional skills – the attitude and abilities with which someone approaches life and work – can be learned and developed. Brain science shows ushow that learning occurs.

My colleague Richard Boyatzis drew upon three streams of research to design a five-step process for developing emotional skills. Emotional skills are partly inborn, but experience plays a major role in how the genes are expressed. Research suggests that our range of emotional skills is relatively set by our mid-20s and that our accompanying behaviors are, by that time, deep-seated habits. The more we act a certain way – be it happy, depressed, or cranky – the more the behavior becomes ingrained in our brain circuitry, and the more we will continue to feel and act that way.

An emotionally intelligent leader can monitor his or her moods through self-awareness, change them for the better through self-management, understand their impact through empathy, and act in ways that boost others’ moods through relationship management.

The following five-part process is designed to rewire the brain toward more emotionally intelligent behaviors. The process includes:

  • imagining your ideal self,
  • coming to terms with your real self (as others experience you),
  • creating a tactical plan to bridge the gap between ideal and real,
  • practicing those activities.

It concludes with creating a community of colleagues, friends and family – call them change enforcers – to keep the process alive. Let’s look at the steps in more detail.


Erica, a senior manager at a global telecommunications company, communicated poorly when she felt stressed. For example, she often took over a teammate’s work so the job would be done right. After many complaints, her supervisors encouraged her to attend leadership seminars, read management books, and work with mentors. Nothing worked. She couldn’t shake her bad habits.

As a last resort, Erica started working with a coach. She was asked to imagine herself five years from now as an effective leader. She was urged to consider her deepest values and loftiest dreams and to explain how those ideals had become a part of her everyday life.

Erica pictured herself leading her own tight-knit company staffed by 10 colleagues. She saw herself as a positive force to her colleagues, family and friends.

Erica had a low level of self-awareness. She was rarely able to pinpoint why she was struggling at work and at home. All she could say was, “Nothing is working right.” This exercise opened her eyes to the missing elements in her emotional style. She was able to see the impact she had on people in her life.


Leaders can become self-aware by seeing themselves through the eyes of those around them. Hearing the truth about yourself can be uncomfortable. But self-delusion can derail even the most talented professional.

Seek the truth about yourself. Keep an extremely open attitude toward critiques. Seek out negative feedback, even cultivating a colleague or two to play devil’s advocate. Gather feedback from as many people as possible – including bosses, peers, and co-workers.

Such 360-degree feedback will reveal how people experience you. How people rate yourlistening skills really shows how well they think you hear them. Similarly, ratings about coaching effectiveness show whether or not people feel you understand and care about them. Low scores on openness to new ideas mean people experience you as inaccessible or unapproachable or both.

While identifying areas of weakness is crucial, focusing only on weaknesses can be dispiriting. You must also understand your strengths. Knowing where your real self overlaps with your ideal self leads to the next step – bridging the gaps.


Brain research shows that mentally preparing for a task activates the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that moves us into action. More mental preparation translates into doing better at the task. And, the prefrontal cortex is particularly active when someone prepares to overcome a habitual response. Without that brain arousal, a person will reenact tried-and-true but undesirable routines. Learning agendas literally give us the brainpower to change.

John, a marketing executive of a major energy company, was charged with opening and managing a satellite office – a job that would require him to be a coach and a visionary and to have an encouraging, optimistic outlook.

Yet 360-degree feedback revealed that John was seen as intimidating and internally focused. Identifying this gap showed that he needed to hone his empathy. He realized that to help his teammates reach their goals, he needed to get to know them better. He made plans with each employee to meet outside of work in a more casual setting, where they might be more comfortable revealing their feelings and ideas.

John’s efforts to overcome ingrained behaviors are examples of brain science at work. He didn’t realize that his behavior had taken hold over time. He used daily interactions to help him become more aware of his demeanor and practice new responses.


Making change means rewiring our brains by doing and redoing new behaviors, over and over, to break old neural habits and make a new behavior automatic. Even just envisioning new behaviors will help.

Tom, an executive, used such visioning to help bridge the gap between his real self (perceived as cold and hard driving) and his ideal self (a visionary and a coach). On his way to a breakfast meeting with an employee, Tom imagined asking questions and listening to be sure he fully understood the situation before trying to solve the employee’s problem. He anticipated feeling impatient, and he rehearsed how he would handle these feelings.

Brain research shows that imagining something in vivid detail can fire the same brain cells actually involved in doing that activity. Mental rehearsal and experimenting with new behaviors make the neural connections needed for genuine change, but they aren’t enough to make lasting change. For that, we need help from others.


Improving our emotional intelligence or changing leadership style can’t happen in a vacuum. We need to practice new skills with other people and in a safe environment. We need to get feedback about how our actions affect others and to assess our progress on our learning agenda.

Many professionals use learning groups to support their development. The most powerful groups are ones in which the members develop trust through sharing their goals and discussing their work and personal lives. People we trust let us try out new leadership skills without risk.

Learning to be a more effective leader may be a self-directed process, but our relationships with others help us articulate and refine our ideal self, compare it with reality, assess our progress, and understand the usefulness of what we’re learning.


Leadership: A Master Class Training Guide offers more than nine hours of research findings, case studies and valuable industry expertise through in-depth interviews with respected leaders in executive management, leadership development, organizational research, workplace psychology, innovation, negotiation and senior hiring. Each module in the training guide offers individual and group exercises, self-assessments, discussion guides, review of major points, and key actionable takeaway plans. The materials allow for instructor-led or self-study opportunities.

Faith & Leadership: Leaders must develop the qualities of the heart

Good leadership isn’t about status or power or faking it till you make it, said Bill George.

Instead, good leaders take the time to discern who they are, and to follow the deeply held
beliefs, values and principles that guide them, he said.

“What people are looking for is someone who is real and authentic. People know who is authentic or not,” he said.

George is a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, where he teaches leadership. He is the author of “Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis,” “True North,” “Finding Your True North” and “Authentic Leadership.”

A former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, George also was a senior executive with Honeywell and Litton Industries and served in the U.S. Department of Defense. He earned a B.S. in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Harvard University.

He and his wife, Penny, are members of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis and the founders of the George Family Foundation, which funds the newly established Penny Pilgram George Women’s Leadership Initiative at Duke.

George was interviewed for Faith & Leadership by Sanyin Siang, the executive director of the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics at Duke University, while at Duke to give a lecture at the Fuqua School of Business. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: What has changed in how we lead today compared with the past?

Much of what we taught in business school is that the world is predictable, and you can create a strategic plan that will last for five years. Today, the world is volatile. It is chaotic, and it is highly ambiguous. We have to teach leaders to make decisions under the conditions of ambiguity.

They must use their minds and ears to have the courage to make decisions when you really don’t know what is going to happen. They must be ready to adapt to changing conditions; leaders today must be highly adaptable.

Q: What does it take to be a great leader?

To be a great leader today, you have to have a great head and a great heart. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “The longest journey that you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart.”

You might have a high IQ, but if you do not have an emotional intelligence, then you are not going to be successful. Qualities like passion, compassion, empathy and courage -- those are all matters of the heart, and we can’t teach those in business school classrooms.

You learn those though experience, by going out into the world, by learning those skills, by taking on different roles and then growing. It’s a developmental thing; you must develop the qualities of the heart.

Sometimes you have to go against the grain. When everyone goes left, you might need to choose to go right. That takes real courage -- to put everything on the line when you might fail, when the organization might fail.

I believe that everybody has the capacity to be a leader at all levels of the organization. What people are looking for is someone who is real and authentic. People know who is authentic or not. You cannot “fake it to make it.” People see right through you.

I think you have to be real in order to gain the trust of people. At the end of the day, you are asking them to put themselves on the line for a cause, and if they don’t trust the leader, they will never give you their whole hearts.

They might give you their minds. They might give you their hands. But never their whole hearts. They won’t be fully engaged with what they are doing -- they won’t be fully passionate.

That is the mark of a true leader.

Q: In your books, you argue that authenticity is crucial for leadership. What does it mean to be truly authentic as a leader?

You have to be real and genuine. There is no magic here. You can’t pretend to be something you are not.

You also have to continue to develop yourself. You grow from your authentic self, and you become a developed self. You gain self-awareness, you solidify your values, you gain confidence and courage, and you gain the willingness to take on difficult circumstances because of your authentic base.

You know who you are based on your story and the crucibles that you have overcome. That is what it means to be an authentic leader.

Q: A major part of your identity and your authenticity is your faith. How has your faith influenced your idea of servant leadership?

I teach at a secular institution. I don’t believe in proselytizing people, but I do believe in sharing my faith if someone asks.

One of the best experiences that I’ve had was when I was a student at Harvard Business School. We brought in a man named Robert Greenleaf, and he brought in his idea of servant leadership. I thought, “That’s right! Authentic leaders are servant leaders. We are here to serve, and people are not here to serve us. We are here to serve other people.”

We have to do this well, and we have to overcome the idea of power and status. Examine whether or not you are really a servant leader. Are you serving a cause?

The good thing about the millennials today is that we are going from the Me Generation, the generation that I was part of, to the We Generation. The millennials are really not focused on self-interest but are much more committed to a cause.

They want to get involved in Teach For America; they want to get involved in social enterprise; they want to get involved in companies like Unilever, which is really committed to global sustainability. I say, “God bless them!” Let’s give them the opportunities to do just that.

Q: In the face of all of this change, traditions are often seen as a hindrance to innovation. But traditions can also ground us. How can we draw on our traditions as a path toward innovation?

Our traditions give us the basis for what we believe. They can be a powerful basis that is tied to our mission and to our values. It is like the roots of the oak tree that we must nourish.

When I went to Medtronic, it was very much a Christian place, and I am Christian. It was very comfortable, but you know, it wasn’t comfortable for all people. We had one Jewish officer that said that he felt very out of place.

We had to broaden that tradition into a much wider range. Today, a devout Muslim heads Medtronic. The important thing is that we were open to diversity. You have to honor people for who they are regardless of their belief traditions. We must come together around a common mission and purpose, regardless of one’s faith or nonfaith or traditions.

Traditions [must] become that of the group, and come out of the mission and purpose of the organization.

This article was originally posted to Faith & Leadership

CNBC: Will Zuckerberg's Donation Trigger a Philanthropic Waterfall?

Harvard’s Bill George and Yale’s Jeff Sonnenfeld discuss the potential impact of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Donation.

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Observer Culture: Warren Bennis Led by Example

Warren Bennis was one of the great pioneers in the field of leadership. Small in physical stature, he was a giant in his intellect, his heart, and his spirit. Just as Peter Drucker was the father of management, Warren was the “father of leadership.”

A lifelong scholar, in 1971 he became president of the University of Cincinnati at the height of student unrest and rebellion during the Vietnam War. He soon learned that leading a complex institution was not his sweet spot. As he reflected on the experience, “I was never going to be able to be happy with positional power. What I really wanted was personal power, having influence based on my voice. My real gift is what I can do in the classroom and as a mentor.” Subsequently, he mentored countless students, colleagues, and friends.

We first met at the World Economic Forum in the late 1990s. He suffered from heart problems, and relied on a Medtronic defibrillator (I was CEO of the company at the time). In December of 2000 I invited him as my guest to our headquarters for a gathering of 10,000 people, where he graciously thanked the employees who designed and manufactured his defibrillator. While I respected him deeply, I never anticipated the profound influence he’d have on my life.

In 2002, my wife, Penny, and I attended a seminar Warren and Harvard professor David Gergen led at the Aspen Institute. At the time I was struggling to find a publisher for a book I was writing for developing leaders to be their authentic selves, rather than feeling they had to be celebrity leaders or emulate others.

Shortly thereafter, Warren introduced me to Jossey-Bass which became my publisher, and he included Authentic Leadership in 2003 in the Warren Bennis Signature Series. Throughout my writing process, he offered specific suggestions to improve its content, guiding me through his ideas on crucibles and ways to personalize my own stories more passionately. When I got to Part III, he suggested a radical restructuring of its content to make it come alive for readers. As he wrote in the foreword, “Timeless leadership is always about character, and it is always about authenticity.” He lived that philosophy throughout his life.

We spent many hours together, with Warren pushing me to think more critically and write more eloquently. When co-author Peter Sims and I were writing True North, he spent a solid week guiding us through the structuring of our ideas. He proposed having a representative story kick off each chapter, and then walked through each sub-section of the book with us, challenged our ideas to make them concrete and illustrated by specific examples. He even offer quotes from literature, to illustrate the text, such as this one from novelist John Barth, “The story of your life is not your life. It is your story.”

Two months before he died in 2014, Warren asked Penny and me to discuss leadership in the next-to-last class he ever taught. What other professors have you known who were still teaching at age 89? Although beset with bodily ills, his mind was sharp as ever and his warmth and humanity shone in the classroom and in our private interactions.

Over dinner that evening Penny asked what he would like on his tombstone. He replied without hesitation, “Generous Friend.” A generous friend is just what Warren was to me and many students, scholars, friends, and mentees whom he influenced with kindness, buoyancy of spirit, and wisdom.

His last book, Still Surprised, shows his photo walking barefoot on the beach with his pant legs rolled up, leaving behind large footprints in the sand – reminding me of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, A Psalm of Life:

     Lives of great men all remind us

     We can make our lives sublime,

     And, departing, leave behind us

     Footprints on the sands of time.

Unlike many scholars who jealously protect their ideas, Warren Bennis always encouraged me and others to build on his ideas and share them with leaders throughout the world. A generous friend is indeed what he was.

This article was originally published on Observer Culture

Huffington Post: Vulnerability is Power

This article was originally posted on Huffington Post on 11/24/15.

"To show your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable, to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength" -- Criss Jami

Imagine a moment when you felt fully comfortable with others. You weren't guarding what you said. You weren't monitoring how others perceived you. And you shared life stories you rarely do.

You were vulnerable, and you were perfectly authentic with others, and you were accepted by them -- and that gave you a deep sense of well-being.

For many of us, we achieve this level of vulnerability only with our closest family and friends. Even then, we rarely expose our deepest secrets, as we hide behind masks, excuses, and obfuscations.

For many years of my career, I lacked the confidence to share my weaknesses, fears, and vulnerabilities. I thought I had to be perfect and not show vulnerability. It wasn't until I had a crucible in my forties and realized I was losing sight of my True North of helping others by trying too hard to succeed. When I opened up and let go of my insecurities, I felt more comfortable in my skin and had a stronger sense of well-being, and my relationships with colleagues improved.

A year after I joined Medtronic, I faced a test of my willingness to admit my mistakes. I reorganized the company around three global regions and appointed an experienced executive from a subsidiary company as president of Europe. Several colleagues were wary of him due to his aggressiveness but I felt he was exactly what we needed.

Six months later our general counsel informed me that our auditors had uncovered a bribery fund he had been running in the European subsidiary by funneling money from secret Swiss bank accounts to Italian physicians. We terminated him immediately and reported the issue to U.S. and European authorities. That turned out to be the easy part.

It was much more difficult to explain to our board of directors and executive team that I had made the mistake by failing to investigate his values. Because I admitted my mistakes and acted vulnerably, the board supported me fully, and respected me more because I took full responsibility rather than blaming him.

In his book Love Leadership, John Hope Bryant, who was homeless for six months as a teenager, proclaims, "Vulnerability is power." When I share this idea with executives in my classroom, a look of apprehension comes over their faces. Yet, by being vulnerable you can connect authentically with others. By being open, you retain the power, rather than acting in fear of being unmasked and exposed. As Bryant says, "Vulnerability is the key to freedom."

Bryant backs it up with his life story and personal experiences of being vulnerable. He grew up in a poor family in the rough neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles. After his parents divorced when he was five, Bryant's life was like a roller coaster. He had a strong work ethic and an entrepreneurial spark that resulted in some early business successes but by his late teens, he was struggling. As he told me, "I faked it, acting like a big cheese, wearing sunglasses at night to feel important. It was just low self-esteem. Then I came up short one too many times, lost an investor's money and couldn't pay him back, and wound up homeless."

Bryant has learned that acknowledging his life experiences to others has given him power and intense healing. As he shared in Discover Your True North, "If I don't feel comfortable in my skin, I am unwilling to be vulnerable. To heal, you've got to get over the fear of just being yourself."

Bryant's vulnerability is his power. In my classroom he openly described the pain he experienced in being homeless. He comes across as less than perfect, which makes him more sympathetic, authentic, and persuasive. Others connect with him, as evidenced by former president Bill Clinton, former ambassador Andrew Young, and Fortune 500 CEOs who are partnering with Bryant's organization, Operation Hope.

What would it mean if we were willing to be vulnerable and expose our full selves to the world by just being our authentic selves? No more false layers of protection. At first, it might be scary, but as we realize that people accept and love us for who we really are, it would be liberating: I can be who I am.

The more often we can achieve this vulnerability, the greater our sense of well-being. To begin, try opening up with your close friends and family by telling them a single insecurity, memory, or loss that you haven't shared before.

In the beginning of this post, I asked you to imagine a moment when you were perfectly comfortable with others. Now, imagine the opposite. Perhaps it was a high-risk, high-impact moment: a job interview, a board meeting, or a tense argument with a loved one. In that moment, think of how difficult it was is to share how you felt. But when you did, it was liberating.

As you grow more comfortable, share these stories with more people around you. At first, you may feel uneasy until you recognize that they accept you as you are. As you open yourself, others will open up as well, thus beginning a virtuous circle of vulnerability.

Embrace those moments to share and be vulnerable. Now you have the power, and no one can take it from you.


Toronto Globe and Mail: Staying grounded is key to balancing life and leadership

Successful leaders live complex and demanding lives. As the frequency of communication has intensified, the pace of business has increased.

Yet many of us have not learned how to deal with this. There is never enough time to doeverything you want to do, because the world around you makes ever greater demands on your time. Nor will you be able to achieve a perfect balance between all aspects of your life – career, family, friends and community, and personal life. Inevitably, you will have to make trade-offs. How you do so will determine how fulfilling your life will be.

Authentic leaders are aware of the importance of staying grounded. In doing so, they avoid getting too cocky during high points and forgetting who they are during low points. Spending time with family and close friends, getting physical exercise, having spiritual practices, doing community service, and returning to places where they grew up are all ways to stay grounded. This grounding is essential to their effectiveness as leaders because it enables them to preserve their authenticity.

To avoid letting professional commitments dominate their time, authentic leaders must give priority to their families and take care of themselves personally, in terms of their health, recreation, spirituality, and introspection. There is no silver-bullet solution to this issue, but neglecting to integrate the facets of life can derail you. To lead an integrated life, you need to bring together the major elements of your personal life and professional life, including work, family, community, and friends, so that you can be the same person in each environment. For authentic leaders, being true to themselves by being the same person at work that they are at home is a constant test, yet personal fulfilment is their ultimate reward. Doing so will make you a more effective leader in all aspects of your life.

Stay Grounded

To integrate your life, you must remain grounded in your authentic self, especially when the outside world is chaotic. Well-grounded leaders have a steady and confident presence. They do not show up as one person one day and another the next. Integration takes discipline, particularly during stressful times, when it is easy to become reactive and slip into bad habits.

Leading is high-stress work. There is no way to avoid stress when you are responsible for people, organizations, outcomes, and uncertainties of the environment. For global leaders, long overseas trips intensify the stress. The higher you go, the greater your freedom to control your destiny but also the higher the stress. The question is not whether you can avoid stress but how you can manage and relieve it to maintain your own sense of equilibrium.

When Medtronic’s Chris O’Connell gets stressed, he said:

“I feel myself slipping into a negative frame of mind. When I’m at my best, I’m very positive and feel I can accomplish anything, both at work and home. When I become negative, I lose effectiveness as a leader and become even less effective at home. Both positive and negative emotions carry over between work and home.”

Focus on What Matters

When Sheryl Sandberg worked as a McKinsey management consultant, her manager implored her to take more control over her career, telling her, “McKinsey will never stop making demands on our time, so it is our responsibility to draw the line ... We need to determine how many hours we are willing to work and how many nights we travel.”

After the birth of her son, Sandberg adjusted her in-office hours at Google to 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., enabling her to nurse her son. To compensate, Sandberg got up in the early morning hours to check e-mails and worked at home after her son went to bed. She learned that by focusing her time, she did not need to spend 12 hours a day in the office.

“I focused on what really mattered and became more efficient, only attending meetings that were truly necessary. I was determined to maximize my output while away from home,” said Sandberg. “I also paid more attention to the working hours of those around me; cutting unnecessary meetings saved time for them as well.”

Stay true to your roots

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz goes back to Brooklyn from time to time, Intuit Chairman Bill Campbell stays in regular contact with his old friends in Homestead, Penn., which helps him keep perspective on life in Silicon Valley. To restore themselves and keep their sense of perspective, leaders may have a special place they can go with their families on weekends and vacations. Many renowned leaders found they can think more clearly when they escape: Thomas Jefferson had Poplar Forest and Winston Churchill had Chartwell. For decades, former U.S. secretary of state George Shultz and his wife went to an old family farm they own in Massachusetts.

“I once told the president, ‘This is my Camp David,’” said Shultz. “When I go there, I put on an old pair of pants and old shoes. I am so relaxed, I don’t worry about anything.”

Find time for yourself

To manage the stress of our leadership roles, we need personal time to reflect. Some people practise meditation or yoga to centre themselves and relieve anxiety. Others find solace in prayer. Some people find they can release tension by jogging. Others find relief through laughing with friends, listening to music, reading, or going to movies. It’s not important what you do, as long as you establish routines to relieve your stress and think clearly about life, work, and personal issues. It is critical not to abandon these routines when facing an especially busy period, because that is when you most need your stress reduction techniques.

This article was originally posted to The Toronto Globe and Mail