Star Tribune: Former Medtronic CEO Urges Students to Find Their 'True North'

From Star Tribune, posted September 17, 2015

Former Medtronic CEO Bill George told students at Minnetonka High School on Thursday to find out who they really are and to stay true to that through the travails of life.

Everyone’s purpose takes some digging to pinpoint, he said, and he believes it is crucial for people to find their own “true north.”

George’s message went beyond life-coaching, touching on a tragedy still fresh in the community.

“Life is very precious,” he said.

George, 73, was referring to the loss of his mother and fiancée early in his life, but also a tragedy that was close to home for the audience. The school is still wrestling with the Short family murder-suicide last week. The children, Cole, who was 17, Madison, who was 15, and Brooklyn, who was 14, had all attended Minnetonka High School.

George said these tragedies often serve as a reminder of what he views as a major purpose in his life: making a difference.

George, who is now a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, has written books on this subject.

Minnetonka High School students in a professional studies program are studying one of his books, “Discover Your True North,” which focuses on leadership and ethics in business.

The program, called VANTAGE, is a yearlong course for juniors and seniors where students learn about business through projects, case studies and community mentorships.

George didn’t always know his “true north.” He’d thought he was on the path to becoming CEO at Honeywell, but realized he had lost his purpose. So George turned to Medtronic and immediately felt at home there, calling it the best time of his professional life.

“Stay on track,” he said to the crowd. “Know who you are.”

That message of experimenting before finding a perfect fit left an impact on students in the audience who are deciding on college and career options.

“I found it to be really insightful that the best way to find where you want to be is just to try it out,” said Smetana Larson, a senior in the VANTAGE program.

Huffington Post: Your Journey From I To We

From The Huffington Post, posted September 16, 2015

Are you the hero of your own journey? Or are you a servant-leader who empowers others?

All of us start out in this world as individual contributors. In our early years we are measured by our grades, test scores, and solo accomplishments. As we enter the world of work, many of us envision ourselves in the hero's image who can change the world. This is a perfectly natural embarkation point for leaders. Today's leaders like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Larry Page have their own change-the-world narrative, yet as they matured, both have become outstanding leaders of others.

As we take on leadership responsibilities, our orientation must change. As GE's Jamie Irick said in Discover Your True North, "If you want to be a leader, you've got to flip the switch and understand it's about serving the folks on your team. This is a very simple concept, but one many people overlook. The sooner people realize it, the faster they become leaders."

Irick captured the essence of servant-leadership. Robert Greenleaf, father of servant leadership, described servant leaders in 1970:

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform.

We call this journey the "I to We" transformation, because it requires that you shift your focus from your success to the success of others. In our classes for MBAs and executives at Harvard Business School, we realize this transformation is the most important one leaders experience.

Some leaders never get there, as they envision amassing legions of followers whose roles are to support them. If you fall into that trap, you will never engender great loyalty or commitment from your teammates, nor will you become an authentic leader.

Nonetheless, some fear that focusing on others may sidetrack them from reaching their personal goals. However, the opposite is true: As a leader, you can only achieve great things by being a servant leader.

Research has demonstrated conclusively that "other-focused" leaders lead more effective teams. As Wharton psychologist Adam Grant explains, "They do so by bringing out the best in others." As a result, givers rise to the top of their profession.

When leaders stop focusing on their needs, they are more effective in developing other leaders. By overcoming their need to control everything, they learn people are more interested in working with them. A light bulb turns on as they recognize the unlimited potential of empowered leaders working together toward a shared purpose.

The graphic below captures some differences between "I" leaders and "We" leaders.

At the core of these two approaches is the leader's belief: "I" leaders believe they have the answers, and the best results will be achieved if others follow their direction. "We" leaders, on the other hand, believe that superior results result from teams of people exploring possibilities, debating options, and agreeing upon a course of action. Underlying their approach is the belief that "people support what they help create."

It took me a long time to learn this. In my early leadership roles, I had a clear vision of what needed to be done. I spelled it out clearly to my team and invited them to challenge it, spending most of my time selling others on my ideas. When you're the boss, you can be quite "persuasive"! As one confidant said to me, "Bill, you're not getting the best out of your team because you're so forceful that you shut out their ideas." Advice well taken. After that, I tried my best to draw out others before asserting my opinions.

Making the transformation from I to We requires introspection and cognitive reframing of how you see your role as a leader, and how much you respect others' ideas and their willing commitment. For some leaders this requires a mid-career crucible.

Steve Jobs faced such a time when he was fired by the Apple board. During his early years, Jobs was the classic "I" leader. Wildly charismatic and visionary, he bullied, cajoled, inspired, and ultimately exhausted everyone around him. The board determined the company simply couldn't handle his domineering, though brilliant approach. He went on a journey to rethink his life and leadership. As he said,

I didn't see it then, but getting fired from Apple was the best thing that ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

As part of his journey, he purchased an animated movie company, which he renamed Pixar. There, he teamed up with two great innovation leaders, Ed Catmull and John Lassiter. From this experience, Jobs grew from a great innovator to a great innovation leader. That paved the way for him to return to Apple as much more of a "We" leader who knew how to use the talents of his teammates.

Where are you in your journey? Have you become a "We" leader? Or do you shift back into an "I" mode under pressure? How has this affected the results your team accomplishes?

As you make this transformation, you are growing into a "leader of leaders" who has unlimited potential to lead others to achieve great things. In so doing, you become a servant-leader. Isn't this what leadership is all about?

The ideas in this article are drawn from Chapter 9 of Discover Your True North.

CNBC: Are Corporate Ethics Sliding Again?

From, posted September 15, 2015

Just when we thought we were past the corporate scandals of the past decade, two new crises have emerged at large global companies – Toshiba and United Airlines.

Last week, Toshiba announced an "accounting adjustment" of $1.9 billion, more than four times the original estimate in April when the problems initially surfaced. Toshiba's problems extend back for seven years, and have cost CEO Hisao Tanaka and two key executives their jobs. They have acknowledged awareness of the improper accounting, which they attribute to short-term profit pressures.

Jeff Smisek in May 2015

These adjustments are not just accounting errors, they may be indications of potential fraud. If Toshiba was an American company operating under Sarbanes-Oxley, its CEO and CFO could be subject to criminal penalties.

That was followed by United Airlines announcing the resignation of its chief executive, Jeff Smisek, for his involvement in the corruption scandal with David Samson, former chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, involving special flights from Newark to Columbia, SC, where Samson has a home. In addition to Smisek's resignation, two other top United executives involved in the scandal have also departed.

The former CEO of Continental Airlines, Smisek led the merger of United and Continental in 2010. As CEO for the past five years, he has been confronted by a host of operating problems from delays, computer problems and breakdowns in the reservation system plus difficulties with merging the unionized workers of the two airlines. This has led to enormous pressure on Smisek from United's shareholders.

What is even more shocking about Smisek's departure is that the United board has granted him a $4.9 million termination settlement plus 60,000 shares of stock worth more than $3 million. He was also awarded lifetime flying and parking privileges, this year's bonus and his company car. This calls into the question whether the board exercised its responsibility to set a high bar on ethics for the company.

Scandals like these have no place in today's world. They tarnish all corporations in the eyes of the general public. In both cases the CEOs were well aware of the rules and yet engaged in inappropriate and potentially illegal activities. For what reason? It appears they were responding to pressure from investors to improve short-term performance. That's no justification for engaging in corruption, nor should we blame investors for demanding better results. And both scandals involved their subordinates as well. Will it turn out that the corruption at the top levels of United and Toshiba goes much deeper?

The CEO's role is to develop sustainable strategies that enable their companies to perform in the near term while investing for long-term growth. In sharp contrast to Smisek's leadership, Delta CEO Richard Anderson has done just that since the company emerged from bankruptcy and acquired Northwest Airlines in 2008. Delta's employees are engaged and focused on their customers, its computer systems work well, and the majority of its flights arrive early. This has led to very strong bottom-line results.

These days the public and investors are entitled to demand that companies have integrity in their accounting and their dealings, and operate with openness and transparency. Neither Toshiba nor United did so. As a consequence, their reputations are deeply scarred.

Asking board members who presided over these debacles to take over as CEO is not right either, other than on an interim basis. Rather, the boards of Toshiba and United Airlines need to bring in high integrity leaders who can restore the confidence of their customers, employees and shareholders. Failing that, expect both of these giants to continue to decline.

The only good that can emanate from these situations will be if other companies' boards and CEOs learn from them. Capitalism only works when its leaders put first their moral responsibilities to the company and society.

Fortune: It's Time for Boomers to Let Millenials Start Leading The Way

From, posted September 9, 2015

If baby boomers are the “Me” generation, then millennials are fast emerging as the “We” generation. With a focus on service, global leadership, diversity, and emotional intelligence, they are taking on leadership roles faster than any cohort since the Greatest Generation.

During the past 12 years, I’ve taught more than a thousand millennials at Harvard Business School, spending countless hours to help them understand their aspirations and motivations. To attract the best talent and motivate millennial workers, boomer-run businesses need to understand them and create opportunities for them to lead now, so the baton can be passed.

In putting together my new book, Discover Your True North, I learned even more about this generation. Here are four key lessons I picked up along the way, along with four star millennials who embrace each one.

Millennials are committed to serving others rather than pursuing their own self-interests. Many are looking for opportunities to serve in immediate ways and help solve social problems.

Look at Seth Moulton, one of the youngest U.S. Congressmen at 36 years old. In his Harvard commencement address, he challenged his peers to commit to service. But it wasn’t just lip service: After graduation in 2001, Moulton joined the Marine Corps and served four tours of duty in Iraq—the last as special assistant to Gen. David Petraeus during the Iraq surge. Seven years later, he upset a long-standing Massachusetts incumbent after trailing by 32 points the summer before the election. In his victory speech, he talked of Congress’ misunderstanding of the military and lack of support for veterans, declaring, “I am going to Washington to change that.”

Millennials’ perspective is more global than any other generation. They engage deeply in global issues, especially in developing countries.

As a teenager, Abby Falik traveled to Indonesia and was overwhelmed by the extreme poverty there. She then spent a summer teaching in Nicaragua and took a year off from college to return to build a library, an experience she said “broke me down.” Falik then created non-profit Global Citizen Year (GCY) in 2008 to create a bridge year between high school and college for high-potential leaders who want to do service work abroad. Thus far, GCY has sent 500 students to live in developing countries and has secured donors including the Arnhold Foundation and money manager Shelby Davis, who have each contributed a million dollars or more.

Millennials celebrate diversity. They welcome people of different ethnicities, religions, genders, national origins, and sexual orientations, recognizing that these differences enrich their lives.

In 2009, Brian Elliott founded Friendfactor, a non-profit organization that recruits straight people as visible allies to their LGBT colleagues in their workplaces and campus communities. The group’s flagship program, the Friendfactor MBA Ally Challenge, tries to get business schools to engage as many students as possible in building LGBT-friendly campus cultures. Since 2012, Friendfactor says the Challenge has included 23 MBA programs and more than 11,000 students, and improved the schools’ cultures with 50% more LGBT students feeling comfortable being out to everyone on campus.

Millennials rely heavily on emotional intelligence (EQ). The old notion of leaders as the smartest guys in the room has been replaced by authentic leaders with high EQs. Millennials yearn to see their leaders as authentic people, with whom they can relate on a personal basis.

Tracy Britt Cool, a mentee of Warren Buffett, exemplifies the importance of EQ. Britt, who grew up working long hours on her family farm, stood out in my MBA classes with her insights into the human dimension of business problems. Upon meeting in 2009, she and Buffett connected instantly, as he sensed her talent and integrity, and she immediately accepted his offer to join Berkshire-Hathaway brk.a. Five years later, Britt oversees investments worth billions, sits on the board of Kraft Heinz, and is CEO of Berkshire company The Pampered Chef.

With all the differences emerging among millennials, it remains to be seen whether they will stay committed to serving others into their middle years, or fall prey to using their newfound power for their own benefit. The boomers of the “Me” generation were kids of the Kennedy era, who were equally idealistic in the 1960s, only to have their idealism squelched by the Vietnam War and their desires for increased financial stature.

Will the millennials face a similar fate? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, it’s time to give them the opportunities they seek to lead now. They will change the face of America and of our business, non-profit, and government organizations.

That will be good for all of us.

Huffington Post: Self Awareness: Key to Sustainable Leadership

From Huffington Post, posted September 9, 2015

In 2007, Arianna Huffington's career was on a rapid upward trajectory. After building the Huffington Post as the leading online global newspaper, Time chose her as one of the world's 100 Most Influential People.

Then she had a wake-up call. One day she found herself lying on the floor of her home office in a pool of blood. She had collapsed from exhaustion.

The gravity of her collapse forced Huffington to confront her lifestyle. As she explained, "I was working 18 hours a day, seven days a week. By traditional measures of money and power, I was highly successful, but by any sane definition I was not living a successful life. Something had to change radically."

For Huffington, this moment of crisis pushed her to reflect on her life. As her self-awareness deepened, she made important life changes: focusing on her personal health, meditating daily and committing to time for herself.

The charge, "Know thyself," is centuries old, but for today's leaders, 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.

My grandfather -- an old Dutchman who came to America in 1876 -- had a worn wooden plaque that read, "We grow too soon old, and too late wise." As a young man, I rejected this notion as I lacked the self-awareness to understand my limitations, blind spots, and inexperience. Over the years, its truth has come back to me many times.

When True North was published in 2007, we understood the importance of self-awareness, but were not clear about how to improve our awareness. As demonstrated in my follow-on book, Discover Your True North, we have learned a great deal since then about how to gain self-awareness.

Crises like Huffington's can force you to reassess your life to gain self-awareness and discover your True North. But you can avoid these crises by developing self-awareness now. After in-depth interviews with 170 world leaders and classroom discussions with 6,000 executives and MBAs in Authentic Leadership Development (ALD) at Harvard Business School, we've learned three essential steps to building your self-awareness:

  1. Probing deeply into your life story and framing your crucible
  2. Creating a daily practice of introspection and reflection
  3. Receiving intimate feedback from people you trust

Understanding your life story and framing your crucible

Your journey to self-awareness begins with understanding your life story and framing your crucibles. All of us face times of crisis, pain, disappointment, or rejection during our lives. Many respond by developing false selves and building protective layers to protect themselves from pain or facing their reality. In doing so, they grow farther from their true selves and building on their life stories.

Reflecting on the life you've lived helps you to discover your True North - the beliefs, values and principles that are most important to you. Discover Your True North asks readers to consider these questions:

  • 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?

These questions are starting points to become aware. As you understand your life story, the reasons for your current actions become clear. Digging into your crucible is especially important: do you see yourself as a victim? do you repress the experience? Or can you reframe hardship to help find your deeper values? 

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. 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.

Seek Honest Feedback
Nearly all of us have traits, habits, and tendencies that others see in us, but we are unable to see in ourselves. We call these "blind spots." Do you see yourself as others see you? If not, your blind spots can be addressed by receiving honest feedback from people you trust.

To obtain honest feedback, you must surround yourself with truth tellers. Then you must continuously others for feedback. As you do, you'll become more self-aware.

Although a traumatic event can cause you to become self-aware, my advice is don't wait until that happens -- start developing your self-awareness now. 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.

Conant Leadership: 2 New Books On Our Desk That Can Help You Live and Lead Better

From, posted September 4, 2015

At ConantLeadership we are continually pursuing the insights of smart leaders and thinkers who can help us improve our craft. An important part of the work of leadership is perpetual learning and growth and one of the best ways to grow is to read books written by our business and leadership contemporaries. Thankfully, there are a lot of wonderful books to celebrate and there are more and more worthwhile books being written every day. Here are two in particular, that recently crossed our desks, that can add tremendous value to your life and leadership.

Discover Your True North: Expanded and Updated Edition | By Bill George

If you have not yet read Bill George’s seminal works, True North, and Authentic Leadership, the recent release of this expanded and updated edition of True North is your opportunity to read one of the most helpful and insightful books for leaders in the 21st century. Why is this book so impactful? It will help you make better decisions and deal more productively with adversity. As leaders, as we navigate the stormy seas of decision making, we will increasingly face more challenging situations and more morally dubious conundrums. Without a strong sense of who we are and what we believe, making these decisions while remaining true to ourselves is very difficult. George’s text is the preeminent guidebook for connecting with our true selves, learning how to lead authentically, and relying on our True North to guide us in all of our pursuits. What is our True North?

In George’s words:

True North is your orienting point — your fixed point in a spinning world — that helps you stay on track as a leader. It is derived from your most deeply held beliefs, your values, and the principles you lead by. It is your internal compass, unique to you, that represents who you are at your deepest level. Just as a compass needle points toward a magnetic pole, your True North pulls you toward the purpose of your leadership. When you follow your internal compass, your leadership will be authentic, and people will naturally want to associate with you.

As George reminds readers throughout the book, discovering our True North is not easy — it requires ongoing and steadfast commitment. But the hard work is worth it because, “as long as you are true to who you are, you can cope with the most difficult circumstances life presents.” This newest edition guides you through the journey of discovering your True North while providing over 100 real-world examples of authentic leaders. And the book offers interactive exercises at the end of each chapter that will challenge you to think about provocative questions to enhance your reading and comprehension. Definitely a must-read.

The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together | By Jennifer Kahnweiler

Lennon and McCartney. Jobs and Wozniak. Sandberg and Zuckerberg. We’re familiar with these famous duos and the extraordinary things they accomplished together. But what’s the secret to their success? What allowed them to accomplish great feats together that they may not have been able to achieve apart? In her new book, expert on introverted leadership, Jennifer, explains the “secret sauce” to these dynamic partnerships. Opposites — like introverts and extroverts — can create magic together by leveraging the unique strength that their differences create. But only if they are armed with the tools to use their partnership productively and tap into the “genius” of their oppositional natures.

So how can we tap into the genius of our opposites to achieve success? The key, says Kahnweiler, “is to remember that these relationships are most successful when opposites stop focusing on their differences and use approaches that move them towards results.” Easier said than done. But she supports this big idea with an actionable process for all introverts to work better with their extroverted counterpoints, and vice-versa. Essentially, people in strong extrovert-introvert partnerships must:

  • Accept their opposite’s differences. Don’t try to change them
  • View disagreements as opportunities to arrive at better outcomes.
  • Use the other person’s strengths — and share the credit.
  • Treat each other with respect.
  • Know that each party can’t offer everything; work in harmony to provide their best selves to others.

The book provides plenty of interesting examples and tools to bring the insights to life. Whether you are struggling with a burgeoning partnership or you are just trying to better connect with and understand the many people you encounter in your workplace or your community — Kahnweiler’s practical five-step process can help you tap into the genius you might be missing. Authentic Leadership: An Interview with Bill George

From, posted September 3, 2015

Shortly after its publication in 2007, Bill George's renowned book True North became a go-to guide on leadership at a time of financial turmoil and misuse of power. 

Today, a newly expanded and updated edition of the book comes at a time when leaders face increasing pressures and when public trust in leadership is at one of its worst lows. 

We spoke with Bill George about leadership and about the second edition of the book called Discover Your True North. He is a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School and former chairman and CEO of Medtronic. Under his leadership, the company's market capitalization grew from $1.1 billion to $60 billion.

Monster: Are today's leaders facing significantly different challenges than they did a decade ago when you first wrote True North?

Bill George: Definitely I think they are. Back in the '90s and early 2000s, leaders were revered and today I think everyone is somewhat skeptical and cynical about our leaders, and that’s because so many leaders in my generation dropped the ball and caused great harm first in the corporate governance crisis in the early 2000s and then in the financial crisis of 2008-09. 

I'm convinced that the root cause of those problems was not corporate governance or credit default swaps or subprime mortgages but failed leadership.

I am very hopeful about this generation of leaders. I think we're seeing very, very positive signs that they have learned a lesson from their predecessors and we have an outstanding group of new leaders coming up from the CEOs that have been elected in the last 7-8 years to the young leaders, the Millennials, taking on much more responsibility these days.

Monster: The new edition of the book features 47 new interviews with leaders. What stands out about them?

Bill George: In this new set, we tried to get a much more global set of leaders, much more diverse and spread across all age ranges.

For example Indra Nooyi, who is the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, is an amazing, remarkable leader. Born in India, educated in India, she came to the United States, completed her education and eventually became head of PepsiCo.

Indra Nooyi

She took a fierce challenge from the outside world because she said that she wanted to create healthy foods and beverages in addition to PepsiCo's traditional line.

The stock market was critical, various consumers were critical. She even endured a withering challenge from an activist, but she stayed the course throughout this period. Now, all the things she predicted are coming to pass. 

Another person I found really interesting in the interviews is Kenneth Frazier. Ken is now the head of Merck, the world's leading pharmaceutical research company, 58 years old. 

The interesting thing about Ken is his grandfather was a slave. He was born before 1863, so you can see a lot of years have transpired. Ken is still carrying out the mission and the narrative started by his grandfather, which is really remarkable, to be your own person and to try to use your life to make a difference in the world, carried through his father, who never professionally went above the level of janitor but had enormous influence on Ken. 

Ken's mother died when he was 12. Throughout his life, he has taken the wisdom of his father and grandfather and tried to carry that now into creating life-saving drugs for people. As he says, they may not come to pass for 10 years, 20 years, but they’ll have huge impact on human health for the next 50 years.

Kenneth Frazier

Those are just two examples of quite diverse leaders with remarkable life stories.

Monster:  So much of the book was really an eye-opener to me in the sense that true authentic leadership is defined by a capacity to look inward, understand your life story, understand what you call your crucibles, your challenges, and then figure out what are the values that come out of that.

Bill George: That’s the big change. I think back in the 20th century, we thought leadership was something that went from the outside in. We could patch it on with improving your leadership style, how you dressed, how you appeared, how you communicated outwardly. Honestly, I think those things are the outward manifestation of who you are as a person, but a lot of times we don’t understand ourselves, we don’t know what really motivates us.

I think it's knowing who you are that enables us to be the person we were meant to be, not to try to emulate some other leader, but to be ourselves, that unique person, and the toughest part is to stay on course of our true north, not lose sight of what we're called to do.

Monster: Are there instances where people do the work of finding or understanding what is their true north and the realization that this position that I'm in isn't really aligning with what is my true north?

Bill George: Absolutely. A lot of us face that at one point in time. I faced that personally in the middle of my career. I thought I was on route to being CEO of Honeywell, and I may have been, but I was getting pulled off course. I was chasing the CEO title more than being the value-centered leader I was self-called to be. I was blinded by the big company idea and not seeing, hey, this is where I should be, with the kind of mission I can really resonate with.

Monster: There's a wonderful expression that is in the business vernacular now, which is, "Vulnerability is power." 

Bill George: This is a whole new idea. For many years of my life I was afraid to be vulnerable for fear you'd think I was weak. I think that was the norm when I was coming up. 

I got the idea originally from a man named John Hope Bryant. John is one of the most interesting people I interviewed. John was actually a homeless man, and he came to my class at Harvard, believe it or not, a class for young global leaders of the world economic forum. He was selected to this because of the work he did with the poor and creating financial literacy and did some remarkable work, raised $500 million to help the poor overcome financial illiteracy.

John Hope Bryant

John has used this phrase, and he wrote a book and I adopted it and used it in the classroom and found it had great resonance with people. If they could be willing to be vulnerable, they felt so much more comfortable because they could be who they were. 

I think it is a new idea and one of the most powerful ideas in the book.

Monster: Do authentic leaders view their workforce and their position in the organization in a significantly different way than, say, someone who was a CEO 20-30 years ago?

Bill George: I think they definitely do. Before, we were so hierarchic and everything was honestly very bureaucratic. We were trying to manage the whole company by systems and procedures. Now, with humanity, today's great leaders are really engaged with the people that work for them. 

Leaders like Howard Schultz go to two dozen Starbucks stores a week just to hang out and see what's going on and watch the relationship between the barista and the customers, because he knows that’s the essence of what Starbucks does.

Monster: You mentioned Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz. I was really touched by the realization that he had after many years of having a tense relationship with his father. 

After his father's death, Schultz realized that his father never had the opportunity to find meaningful work. It seemed to me that then impacted Howard to go on and create a company culture that was really about helping workers find meaningful work.

Bill George: Exactly. I think Howard has done a brilliant job of that. He's living his life story. There is a congruence for him of what it was like to grow up in the Bayview Housing Projects where he had nothing and there was a lot of crime and drugs and poverty around him and seeing his father lose 30 jobs, saying, "I don’t want that. I want to create great jobs for people." People at Starbucks who work there really resonate with that. As a customer, you feel that.

Monster: I'm wondering, too, about applying these principles to leaders of smaller companies or companies that are growing – the start-ups. There's a lot of energy in that space, and I would think it's just as applicable for those people as well.

Bill George: Absolutely. One of the reasons I wrote the book is I believe there's no greater vehicle for impacting society than corporations in a free enterprise system properly run. It can go off the rails if it gets too extreme, as well as non-profits, by the way.

I think leaders have such impact. Whether it's a small business, it's a mid-size business or startup, if they have a sense of mission, they're going to attract people to their cause and to want to come there both as employees and as customers. 

Good decisions are made collectively by people with diverse life experiences. If we just have someone at the top making all the decisions like command general, it's not going to work. 

Monster: That leads into this idea that’s in the book which I thought was very powerful, the importance of mentoring, both leaders who mentor others in the organization as well as the leaders having a mentor. 

Bill George: All relationships are a two-way street, including mentoring. It's got to be both ways. I think that’s really what mentoring is all about. I recommend to senior people now, CEOs, you need to have some young mentees. 

I always had that when I was at Medtronic. I had young mentees in as running partners. I couldn’t understand how the company felt to somebody new coming in, so I had them as mentees and I would just ask them, "What's it like to be a new employee or a younger employee of this company?" I wanted to see if there were rose-colored glasses as I saw it, but that wasn't necessarily the way they saw it, so this became very, very important to me to do the job and trying to lead an organization of 30,000 people.

Monster: Would we be going too far to recommend that employers themselves obviously work to find their true north and encourage all of their employees, give them the means to find their true north, regardless of their role in the organization or their level in the organization?

Bill George: Absolutely not. I think we all have to do that, because if we don’t have a sense of where we're going, why would I follow you? You don’t know what your true north is, why would I follow you? 

Monster: How does one start this discovery process? How do you start this journey to becoming an authentic leader?

Bill George: Everything starts with your life story. We go out and we explore who we are as people. I think you have to do two things. You have to write it down and really think through who are the people that influenced me? What was the experience I have? Then get into the difficult times. I think you can't ignore the difficult times, the crucibles, as I call them. Then as you're telling your story to another person, actually you reframe it. 

You asked earlier about Howard Schultz reframing his image of his father not as a failure but as a guy who never had a shot, never had a chance. Instead of being so hard on his father as he was earlier in life, he reframed it as his father was in a society that didn’t give people a chance, so Howard wanted to change that. His passion came out of that, and we find your passion comes out of your life story. 

Monster: It goes back to that wonderful line in the book that really stood out to me, and that is, "The hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself."

Bill George: Yes. I created that phrase and at first, people thought, this is odd. What are you talking about? Leadership is not about leading yourself, it's about leading other people.

In my study of leaders when I came to Harvard Business School 12 years ago, what I found in studying hundreds and hundreds of leaders, is the ones who fail all failed to lead themselves. It wasn’t that they weren't smart enough. It wasn’t they couldn’t lead other people. It's that they got off track. They lost sight of their true north and they got their ego tied up, they couldn’t deal with the possibility of failure, all the things we've been talking about. 

We found that you had to do that first, then you become a great leader of other people, because people can't ask more of you than who you are as a person. They can't ask you to be a façade or something else, nor should you let them. You just have to be who you are, but that comes from the capacity to lead yourself.

Huffington Post: Coping With Crucibles

From The Huffington Post, posted September 1, 2015

"Suffering is universal: You turn it around so that it becomes a creative, positive force," (Terry Waite).

Psychologist Abraham Maslow found that tragedy and trauma are the most important human learning experiences. Crucibles enable people to learn life is uncertain, and that they have limited control over events.

In recent years, a new reality is emerging that empowers individuals to look at their crucibles and difficult experiences as growth opportunities -- we term this approach, Post-Traumatic Growth.

Think of the most challenging moment in your life. Perhaps it was a time when a loved one passed away, or you had a personal health crisis. Or your lost your job or your family. Whatever it was, it was a time of crisis for you -- but also a moment that caused you to reflect deeply about who you are and what is truly important in your life.

Traumatic moments propel many people into a downward spiral. As they refuse to address or even acknowledge their crucibles, they make the memories more painful. As a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are painfully aware of "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" -- or PTSD -- but this phenomenon doesn't just happen to war victims or military veterans.

New research shows that traumatic experiences can result in post-traumatic growth (PTG). PTG starts by recognizing life's uncertainties and embracing them as fundamental tenets of human existence. It also requires self-awareness to acknowledge your personal responsibility for the choices you make in life coupled with the desire to undergo personal transformation. As Warren Bennis explained inGeeks and Geezers, "Some magic takes place in the crucible of leadership. Whatever is thrown at them, leaders emerge from their crucibles stronger and unbroken."

All of us face trials in our lives. How can you respond to your crucible to transform your deep feelings of loss -- which are real and natural -- into opportunities for personal growth?

After reading True North, Pedro Algorta, one of the survivors of the famous 1972 crash in the Andes mountains, reached out to me. In his letter, he wrote while flying with 45 friends, his plane crashed into the Andes. "After 72 days barely surviving in the mountains without food or clothing, sixteen of us were finally rescued."

For 35 years, Algorta never mentioned being part of this experience to anyone other than his wife, in spite of the worldwide publicity the event received. As an MBA student at Stanford, he didn't even share it with his classmates. After reading True North, he began to process how this event had shaped his life. When he visited my Harvard Business School classes in 2008 and 2013, he shared three ways to deal with crucibles: 

  • Focus on the event, and live your life looking backward, often an angry life of blaming others. 
  • Live your life as if nothing happened, while the memories and the pain remain deep inside you. 
  • Use the event to transform your wound into a pearl.

In my new book, Discover Your True North, Algorta shared the metaphor of the oyster pearl. When sand grates against the oyster, its natural reaction is to cover up the irritant to protect itself with a substance called nacre (mother-of-pearl), which eventually forms the pearl itself.

Are you turning your wounds into pearls?

To do so, you will need to reflect on the impact your crucible has had on your life and what you learned from the experience. After discerning its meaning, you can reframe it as an opportunity for personal growth.

My crucible came when I least expected it. In my mid-20s, I was engaged to be married, just 18 months after my mother's sudden death. A few weeks before the wedding, my fiancée started having severe headaches. I took her to a leading neurosurgeon, but all her exams were negative. On a Saturday night three weeks before the wedding, we talked about final plans. The following morning her parents called to say she died during the night from a malignant brain tumor.

In the aftermath of her death, I could have easily become bitter and depressed and even lost my faith. In times of personal crisis, the power of faith and the support of close friends can provide the basis for healing. I was blessed to have both. Together, they enabled me to accept this tragedy and to learn just how precious every day is and to appreciate fully the value of those who are there for us when things go wrong in our lives.

Tragic as the event was, it opened my heart to the deeper meaning of life. This tragedy caused me to think more profoundly about what I could contribute to others during my lifetime. As my wife Penny explained about her breast cancer diagnosis in 1996, "Life is what happens when you're expecting something else."

With all of life's uncertainties, we learn to accept what life brings us and to use each experience as an opportunity for personal growth. You cannot go through life without getting knocked down. The question is how you will respond, and whether you will come back stronger than ever. Rather than living an angry life, suppressing your crucibles, or living a fearful life, I urge you to embrace life's uncertainties and reframe them as learning opportunities in order to turn them into pearls of wisdom.

If you do, you will lead a fuller, richer life, and you can help others to cope with life's challenges. How Much Has Our Perception of Great Leadership Changed Over The Past Decade and What Has Changed?

From, posted August 29, 2015

By Kathy Caprino

So much has been written in countless books, articles and research studies about “great leadership” today – what it is and what’s required for individuals to become stand-out leaders who catalyze positive change within people and organizations.

One question I’ve wondered about in reviewing today’s material on leadership is this:

How has our society’s perception and conceptualization of outstanding, positive leadership changed over the past decade? Do we as a society think about leadership differently now, and is leadership defined by a different set of traits and standards now than it was in the past?

To answer that question, I caught up with Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former chairman and CEO of Medtronic.  Bill 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. Bill is the author of the new book, Discover Your True North, a follow-up to his best-selling 2007 book, True North

While retaining many of the basic principles of his first book, Bill has incorporated much of what has been learned in the past decade about becoming an authentic and transformational leader. His final chapter focuses on global leaders and the special characteristics they need, which he terms global intelligence (GQ).

For his new edition, Bill profiled an additional 47 leaders on top of the 125 people interviewed for True North. The new leaders are more diverse and more international than the first group – more closely reflecting the makeup of today’s leaders.

Bill shared with me his view that our conceptualization and expectations of great leadership have indeed changed dramatically since 2007, in part due to the corporate scandals and financial meltdown. He says today’s leaders are of a “higher caliber,” more authentic, and more committed to serving the needs of all their constituencies.

Here’s what he offered:

Kathy Caprino: Bill, what specifically has changed about what constitutes great leaders since you wrote True North in 2007?

Bill George: Today’s business leaders are very different from those in my generation, when there was so much emphasis on charisma and style. Many in that generation were aloof, led through structured hierarchies, and focused on exerting power over people. The company’s stock price preoccupied these leaders – not the long-term earning power of the enterprise.

Today, authenticity has become the gold standard for leadership. The new generation of leaders is far more open and collaborative. They align people around their organization’s mission and values, and empower their teams to step up and lead. Great leaders today recognize they must serve all their constituencies (yes, shareholders, but also customers, employees, suppliers, and community) for the long-term.

Caprino: What has caused these changes?

George:  The corporate crisis of 2002-03 and the financial failures of 2008-09 demonstrated the pitfalls of charismatic leadership. The leaders who focused primarily on themselves, their personal wealth, and maximizing short-term shareholder value failed.

With the growing impact of social media and technology, there is much greater transparency and scrutiny of today’s business leaders. Accordingly, the emphasis in leadership has shifted to leaders with high EQ and high self-awareness who relate personally to people throughout their organizations. Given the global nature of business today, these leaders are more in sync with global issues, celebrate diversity as a strength, and lead with empathy and compassion.

Caprino: Where does discovering your True North fit in for today’s leaders?

George: To be a great leader today, you first have to be an integrated human being. With social media and 24-7 news, the spotlight is always on leaders and they cannot put on a mask the way they could have in the 20thcentury.

Today’s leaders recognize that to sustain their legitimacy they must have consistency between their True North – their deepest beliefs, values, and principles that guide their lives – and the purpose of the organization. This requires leaders to understand their life stories and their crucibles to gain deep awareness and acceptance of who they are – their strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. This is achieved through personal self-examination, introspection, and honest feedback from those you respect.

Caprino: How does understanding our life story impact our ability to lead?

George: Before you can lead others, you have to be able to lead yourself through difficult times. This is more difficult than it sounds. In fact, in our studies of hundreds of leaders, nearly all of the failures resulted from the inability of people to lead themselves. Examples include McKinsey’s Rajat Gupta, Home Depot’s Bob Nardelli, and Hewlett-Packard's Carly Fiorina.

The process of gaining self-awareness requires mining your life experiences, especially the crucibles you have faced and what you learned from them. As you look back at your life story, you gain an understanding of how you react to certain circumstances and how your crucibles have defined your character. In gaining acceptance of yourself, you will emerge as a confident leader who can empower people to perform at their best.

Caprino: How do the Millennials view leadership, and what do they demand from their leaders that older generations aren’t looking for?

George: Millennials don’t want to work for authoritarian leaders that command rather than empower people. They want to follow leaders that communicate clear visions and are willing to trust people to do the right thing as they step to lead. The hierarchical style of leadership that was prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s will not work today.

Millennial leaders are passionate about serving causes greater than themselves and having an impact on the world’s challenges. They work well in empowering, collaborative environments where outcomes are much more important than who gets credit.

Caprino: What was the biggest insight from your interviews with the new generation of leaders you profile in your book?

George:  The new generation of leaders has a passion to make a difference through their work and to leave a legacy that others may follow. Starbucks’ Howard Schultz is focused on creating jobs for young people. PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi is leading the shift to healthy foods and beverages. Paul Polman sees global sustainability as Unilever’s True North. Ford’s Alan Mulally transformed Ford by focusing on quality, fuel efficiency and global competitiveness. All of them – and many others like them – are changing the world for the better.

Caprino: What are the top 5 leadership skills that have emerged in the last 10 years as absolutely critical for leaders to be successful and pave the way for success in their organizations?

George: Among the important leadership characteristics that have emerged as crucial for today’s leaders are:

  1. Inspiring people with a vision
  2. Empowering your teammates
  3. Collaborating with diverse teams
  4. Appreciating cultural and ethnic differences on the global level, and
  5. Being open and transparent with your entire organization

Great leaders have humility to acknowledge their mistakes, weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and the confidence to surround themselves with people who are more competent in certain areas and to ask others for help. This humanizes leaders in positions of power and enables them to be authentic. Showing your vulnerability is a way to develop connections of the heart, which is the basis for authentic relationships.

Caprino: What are the time-honored leadership skills that we’ve highlighted in the past that remain essential?

George: The need for leaders with integrity will never change. Nor will the necessity of leaders who have courage to face difficult circumstances, and make risky decisions that transform enterprises and entire industries.

Leaders must be honest with themselves. In Discover Your True North I profile several leaders like Lehman’s Dick Fuld and Lance Armstrong, who failed because they were not honest with others or themselves. Instead of accepting responsibility for problems and their shortcomings, they blamed others and external circumstances. In contrast, today’s leaders like Schultz, Apple’s Tim Cook, Whole Foods’ John Mackey, and Amgen’s Kevin Sharer admit their mistakes and take action to correct them.

Whereas in the past, hierarchical structures and institutional norms protected inauthentic leaders, that won’t work today. No longer can you “fake it till you make it,” as some have suggested. It’s impossible to hide in this open and interactive world.

To survive and succeed in today’s business community, you have to be genuine and authentic, and stay on course of your True North.

Leadership Styles: Becoming an Authentic Leader

From, posted August 28, 2015

The capacity to develop close and enduring relationships is one mark of empowering leaders. Unfortunately, many leaders of major companies believe their job is to create the strategy, organizational structure, and organizational processes. Then they delegate the work to be done, remaining aloof from the people doing the work.

The detached style of leadership will not be successful in the twenty-first century. Today’s employees demand more personal relationships with their leaders before they will give themselves fully to their jobs. They insist on having access to their leaders, knowing that it is in the openness and the depth of the relationship with the leader that trust and commitment are built. 

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Jack Welch were so successful because they connected directly with their employees and realized from them a deeper commitment to their work and greater loyalty to the company. Welch, in particular, was an interesting case because he was so challenging and hard on people. Yet those very challenges let people know that he was interested in their success and concerned about their careers.

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.” Authentic leaders establish trusting
relationships with people throughout their organizations. The rewards of these relationships, both tangible and intangible, are long lasting.

Rule #1: Just Show Up
Woody Allen once remarked, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Surprisingly, many leaders get so busy that they don’t take the time to be there for people. They don’t bother to attend award ceremonies, company picnics, or sales meetings. Nor do they walk around the offices, factories, labs, and field sales and service locations. Often they are too busy to come to important customer meetings or trade shows. 

As a result, their teammates never get to know them personally. Their only contact with their leaders is through impersonal media, such as speeches, voice mail, videotapes, and Web streaming of company events.

Target CEO Brian Cornell makes frequent visits to stores around the country, often going alone and unannounced, shaking hands and getting to know people, as well as using his astute powers of observation to see how effective Target team members are in connecting with their guests. 

Brian Cornell, CEO of Target

These visits have given him a clear understanding of his new organization and what needs to be improved. It also led to what he termed “the most difficult decision of my career” -- to close his predecessor’s ill-fated foray into Canada.

Not only did Cornell have multiple business analyses prepared to search for a way forward, but he also visited nearly empty stores the week before Christmas and realized that Target’s efforts should focus entirely on the lucrative U.S. market.

Likewise, Howard Schultz told of visiting a Starbucks store one Saturday morning:

I walked in, dressed so nobody would recognize me. When I sat down, the manager came up and said, “Howard, is that you?” I said, “Yes, it is.” She told me about receiving Starbucks stock and what it did for her and her family. Then she started crying and said, “I’m so moved that you’re in my store.” Later I got a voice mail from her, saying how powerful that moment was for her. I immediately called her back and thanked her for sharing with me.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks

Stories of basic human interactions like this one are very powerful. All Cornell and Schultz had to do was show up. Being at important events or engaging on the front lines at unexpected times means a great deal to people and enables them to take their leaders off their proverbial pedestals and see them as real people.

Mutual Respect: The Basis for Empowerment
To bring out the best from teammates, authentic leaders must develop trusting relationships based on mutual respect. There is no substitute. Like loyalty, respect provides a basis for empowerment, but leaders must earn it. Here are some of the things empowering leaders do to gain the respect of their colleagues:

  • Treat others as equals
  • Listen actively
  • Learn from people
  • Share life stories
  • Align around the mission

Treat Others as Equals
We respect people who treat us as equals, especially when they are successful investors, such as Warren Buffett. 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 from them. 

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.