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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 What Does Authenticity Really Mean?

Authenticity is a hot word in leadership discussions. The modern workplace is more informal and less hierarchical than in the past. Command-and-control management doesn’t fly withpeople hired for their creative brainpower. They want leaders who inspire them, and give them reasons for working beyond a paycheck.

But all this requires a nuanced understanding of what "authenticity" should mean. In a business context, it doesn’t mean the "be yourself" phrase that probably pops into your mind first. For evidence of this, consider that many of Donald Trump’s supporters praise him for what they view as authenticity. He says what he thinks. He doesn’t seem to care what other people think of that. Yet business leaders emulating this approach might quickly find themselves in trouble. "Being authentic is much more than ‘being yourself,’" says Gareth Jones, coauthor of Why Should Anyone Work Here?: What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization. "If you want to be a leader, you have to be yourself—skillfully."


To be themselves—skillfully—smart leaders first recognize that authenticity is not about behaving in the exact same way, regardless of context. You may be a casual person, but dressing in shorts when other people expect suits sends a message of disrespect. "It’s not about style. It’s the person inside of you," says Bill George, author of Discover Your True North: Becoming an Authentic Leader.

And even with this, you need to think about how the person inside of you comes across. In your personal life, you may love to share your religious faith because it’s what motivates you and inspires you. That doesn’t mean you should proselytize in staff meetings.

Second, smart leaders recognize that "effective leadership is a skillful, authentic role performance," says Jones. You might be the kind of person who, deep down, likes to sit in the hotel and watch movies when you’re jet-lagged. But if you’ve jetted in somewhere to boost morale and excite people about your mission, leadership means you need to suit up and do what they are expecting you do.


Here’s a more workable definition of authenticity in a business context. It’s about being consistent in word and deed, having the same fundamental character in different roles, and being comfortable with your past. Indeed, the first definition of "authentic" that pops up when I type it in Google is "of undisputed origins." "You can change your future, but you can’t change your past," says Jones. "Your past made you who you are."

That doesn’t mean authentic leaders need perfect stories explaining all their life choices. "I think storytelling has become a bit of a kind of fad," says Jones. There is nothing authentic about hunting through past events with a coach to determine a story that ties neatly to your current product line.

Understanding what shaped you can help you interact with other people without the barriers that lead to disengagement. "Authentic leadership is inherently a developmental process," says George. It’s about becoming "the person you are created to be."

This article was originally posted to

Meditate This: Podcast - The "CEO" of Mindful Leadership

Sure, he was the CEO of Medtronic and a senior executive at Honeywell and Litton Industries. And sure he sits on the Board of Directors for Exxon Mobil, the Mayo Clinic, and Goldman Sachs. And yes, he's a professor of Management Practice and a Henry B. Arthur Fellow of Ethics at Harvard Business School.

But Bill George is no central casting idea of a "businessman." A meditation practitioner for more than 40 years, Bill has spent long periods on retreat and still starts each plane trip with a 20-minute meditation. So listen to this very special perspective from a man who is trying to help leaders transform their thinking from "me" to "we."

Link to Interview


This article was originally posted to Meditate This!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions Peter Clayton asks Bill George in this podcast:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TotalPicture Radio Interview


This article was originally posted to TotalPicture Radio

ManagerMojo: What is Your True North?

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

Connect will Bill Here!

Bill welcomes hearing from you!  Click HERE.

Listen to the interview HERE


This article was originally posted to


3 Lessons From One Of America's Great Culture Builders

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

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

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

His lessons:

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

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

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

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

2. Great Teams Communicate Culture And Values.

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

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

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

3. Engagement and Transparency Matter

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

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

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

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

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

This article was orginally published on

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

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

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

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

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

Discover Your True North

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

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

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

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

Minnesota Public Radio: Kerri Miller Friday Roundtable

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

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


This post was originally published on Minnesota Public Radio

Huffington Post: Mindfulness Is Transforming Leadership

Originally posted to Huffington Post on 11/12/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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