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

From Forbes, Posted October 5, 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rationalizers, who deviate from their values;

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

Loners, who fail to build personal support structures; and

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

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


Huffington Post: The Inner Work of Leaders

From The Huffington Post, Posted September 24, 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total Picture: Bill George. Discover Your True North

From Total Picture, Posted September 22, 2015.


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

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

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

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

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

Questions Peter Clayton asks Bill George in this podcast:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Link to Podcast HERE.

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.

CNBC: How to Spot an Authentic Leader 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.

How IBM's Sam Palmisano Redefined the Global Corporation

In the 20th century, a select group of leaders — General Motor's Alfred Sloan, HP's David Packard and Bill Hewlett, and GE's Jack Welch — set the standard for the way corporations are run. In the 21st century only IBM's Sam Palmisano has done so.

When Palmisano retired this month, the media chronicled his success by focusing on IBM's 21% annual growth in earnings per share and its increase in market capitalization to $218 billion. But IBM hasn't flourished because it kowtows to Wall Street. In fact, five years after Palmisano took over, IBM stock was stuck where it had been when his tenure began.

The real story behind IBM's success is the course Palmisano set for 21st century global enterprises. Recognizing that the company's command-and-control culture wouldn't work in the 21st century, he defined leadership as leading by values and created a unique collaborative organizational structure.

In 2002 Palmisano succeeded a legendary leader in Lou Gerstner, who saved IBM from being broken up and put it on a viable course. Whereas Gerstner famously declared "the last thing IBM needs is a vision," Palmisano had a clear vision for the company. He saw its unique strength as offering complete solutions tailored to customers' needs — something no other company could match. To concentrate on customer solutions, Palmisano spun off personal computers and disk drives and acquired PriceWaterhouseCoopers' consulting business.

Executing this strategy required seamless integration of IBM's product capabilities with its geographic reach. This meant abandoning IBM's existing organization, in which product silos and geographic entities operated independently and frequently were more competitive than collaborative. Palmisano reorganized IBM into a "globally integrated enterprise" focused on worldwide collaboration. He cajoled, pushed, and pulled the company into a client-centric, agile structure able to customize delivery of IBM's software assets, hardware assets, and intellectual property.

With 440,000 employees in 170 countries, Palmisano recognized that IBM couldn't be run solely from the top; rather, it needed thousands of leaders operating collaboratively around the globe to fulfill its customers' diverse needs. His first act was to abolish IBM's corporate executive committee.

Palmisano understood that reorganizing IBM's formal structure wouldn't be sufficient; he had to thoroughly transform the company's culture and do so in a sustainable way. His ingenious first step toward creating a collaborative culture was a massive, global collaboration. In 2003 he launched an online, interactive "values jam" involving all employees for 72 hours to determine what IBM's values should be. The three principles that emerged from that event guided decision-making throughout the organization, giving IBM's huge, globally dispersed workforce the discipline necessary to execute the company's new strategy.

Palmisano could not have succeeded at placing values at the center of IBM's operations without strong principles of his own. These are the qualities I believe made him the best CEO, so far, of the 21st century:

Humility and openness. Palmisano has an engaging manner and keen sense of humor. Colleagues say his humility and humor are disarming. In a speech on IBM's 100th anniversary, he said:

The old model of the heroic superman is increasingly archaic. The most active and successful leaders today see themselves as part of the global community and peer groups. They listen as well as they speak. Never confuse charisma with leadership. The first job of a leader is to enable an organization to survive without him or her. The key to that is to build a sustainable culture.

He practiced this by listening intently to employees throughout the organization. He also talked to customers on a daily basis and circumnavigated the globe six times a year to meet customers in person. These relationships were essential in gaining the confidence of customers who had qualms about outsourcing to IBM.

Patience and a long-term view. Palmisano warned against prioritizing shareholders or other constituents, calling this "a false choice," and explaining that "Long-term management is a serious challenge in a world driven by short-term thinking. Forward-thinking leaders are not just achieving measurable success in the short-term. They are innovating in ways that create virtuous circles for a generation or more." He was comfortable making smart bets to position IBM for decades-long growth, such as creating the Emerging Business Organization to incubate new businesses and shield them from P&L pressures. And his time leading IBM's Asia-Pacific business taught him about the value of building long-term relationships, not just doing transactions.

Directness. Palmisano believes the technology industry requires "a high-performance, in-your-face, speak-your-mind culture." He's personable, but blunt. Known for walking out of long meetings to make sales calls, he shortened IBM's two-month annual budget process to six days. Instead of formal performance reviews, he regularly engaged in short conversations, focusing on key initiatives. Many who know him cite his impatience as a strength; it kept him relentlessly focused on execution.

Pragmatism. When the U.S. government cut back on work permits for foreign nationals, IBM had thousands of Indian employees forced to return to their home country. He turned that problem into competitive advantage by relocating most of IBM's software operations to India as its Indian operations grew from 3,000 to 100,000 employees. He also forced partners and distributors to commit in writing to uphold IBM's strict ethical standards. In 2009 he called off the $7 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems in part due to Sun's egregious golden parachutes.

As Palmisano built IBM into the world's leading information technology company, its competitors dithered. HP suffered from a progression of strategic missteps and failed leaders. Microsoft's enterprise services stagnated. Cisco now sells mostly commoditized products. In contrast, IBM kept laser-like focus on building the global organization to execute its strategy, and financial results followed.

Palmisano once said, "The CEO is not the brand! It is not about you. You are a temporary steward of a wonderful enterprise, so leave it in better shape than you find it." As he concludes his career, he leaves his successor, Virginia Rometty, with an iconic giant poised to dominate its industry for decades to come.


Originially Written for Harvard Business Review on January 18. 2012
This post draws upon several resources, including: the IBM archives; Palmisano's own article, "The Globally Integrated Enterprise" in Foreign Affairst and his speech on the Future of Leadership; aHarvard Business Review interview with Palmisano, "Leading Change When Business is Good;"Rosabeth Moss Kanter's case on IBM and Joseph Bower and Sonja Ellington Hout's case on IBM. The author and Sam Palmisano together serve on the board of directors of the Exxon Mobil Corporation.



Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: Recognizing a leader's legacy

Leadership Kudos go to all those who have finally recognized Steve Jobs’ leadership legacy. Jobs didn’t fit anyone’s classic description of a leader but he was always authentic, passionate, visionary and committed to the highest standards – AND he grew wiser by understanding his failures and following his heart to the end. It is great to see him so recognized at his passing. His best advice that we can all follow: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." 

Leadership Gaffes this week go to Reed Hastings of Netflix who tried to be too clever with Qwikster.  He got caught with chasing his escalating stock price . . . and wound up destroying 65% of Netflix market cap. Hasting needs to get back to focusing on his customers before he loses them to competitors Amazon and Apple.  While Hastings admitted his error, he doesn’t seem to acknowledge the root cause of his mistakes. As Rob Kaplan says, it’s time to look at the person in the mirror.

Remembering the Greatest Innovator of the Past Fifty Years

With the tragic death of Steve Jobs at the age of 56, the world lost its greatest innovator in the past fifty years. Through his visionary genius, Jobs transformed five separate fields: personal computers with the Macintosh and iMac, animated films with Pixar studios, music players with the iPod, entertainment storage with iTunes, the smart phone with the iPhone, and most recently, created an entirely new field with the iPad. No one in history has successfully transformed so many different fields.

Jobs was not an engineer or scientist, nor did he make use of traditional marketing techniques such as consumer focus groups. Rather, his creative genius was his ability to perceive what consumers would want before they could articulate it. In a data-based era where everyone is demanding data and “proof” in advance, Jobs used his intuitive abilities to envision the kind of problems that would please consumers and meet their unstated desires.

Then he translated those wants into simple, yet elegant devices that were so intuitive to use that no user manual was required. In 1985 he pioneered creative graphics, using a wide array of color, that brought computer screens to life and made them easy to use without understanding programming languages. I had my first Apple product with the Apple 2 in 1982, but my engagement with personal computers really took off with my first purchase of a Macintosh in 1986. Since then, I have enjoyed using my iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, and I ‘m looking forward to becoming an iCloud user.

What’s not well understood about Jobs is the extent to which he was influenced by failure – his own. Recognizing the limits of his managerial abilities in his younger years, the Apple board insisted he bring in a business partner, which led to the recruiting of John Scully in 1982. That marriage, which seemed to go well at first, blew up in 1985 when the two differed on strategy. Was it Jobs’ rigidity over refusing to open up Apple’s unique software to applications developers, or Scully’s need to call the strategic signals – or simply an inevitable power struggle between two strong-willed personalities? We may never know the real answer to that question.

Confronted; by Scully with an “either/or” decision, the board unwisely went with Scully and fired Jobs. As Jobs said later, “How can you get fired from the company you founded?” But fired he was and cut adrift at age thirty to rethink his future. In his prescient graduation address at Stanford University in 2005, the year after he was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Jobs acknowledged that his firing freed him from carrying the burdens of managing a large enterprise. It also permitted him to pursue his creative desires, unencumbered by managerial tasks he didn’t enjoy and wasn’t especially good at.

For the next twelve years, Jobs flourished while Apple floundered. He founded a new computer company called NeXt that enabled him to start all over in designing his ideal computer. Then he bought a small computer graphics subsidiary of Lucas Productions from George Lucas and turned it into Pixar animation studios. Pixar became the greatest producer of animated films of all time, highlighted by Toy Story 1, 2, and 3. At the height of its success, he sold Pixar to Disney in 2006, taking a large ownership position in that company and joining its board of directors.

Meanwhile, Apple stumbled after Jobs left, as Scully demonstrated that he lacked the insights or leadership abilities to keep Apple’s success going through creative designers and exciting new products. His termination led to a succession of outside recruits, including Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio, all of whom fell victim to their inability to lead and inspire Apple’s people. In a historic turn of events, the Apple board purchased NeXt in its desperation in 1996 and brought Jobs back in an undefined role.

But this was not a rapid turnaround. Jobs led the design of the iMac, which was widely appreciated by Apple devotees, but failed to stem the steady slide of Apple’s market share, which dipped below 3%. Apple’s stock continued to slide. By 2003 it was worth no more than when Jobs returned to Apple seven years earlier. My former company, Medtronic, had a market capitalization in 2003 that was ten times Apple’s; today, the tables are reversed as Apple is the world’s most valuable company with a share value that is ten times Medtronic’s.

Then came the iPod, which to computer gurus seemed like a diversion from the computer business, and perhaps it was. But its linkage to reams of legal music files through iTunes wiped out both the player business and the compact disc market. More importantly, it paved the way for integrated information/entertainment devices like the iPhone and iPad, putting Apple well ahead of established competitors in those fields.

It is worth noting that Apple is the only integrated computer company with its own unique hardware, software and retail stores. The latter has created the highest sales per square foot in the history of retailing, featuring only Apple products and authorized accessories.

To me, the most important lesson of Steve Jobs’ life is the way in which he learned from his own hardships – of being an adopted child, of being fired, and of facing death every day for seven years. He accepted these hardships not just as part of life, but as opportunities to go his own way in making a difference in the world.

And make a difference he did! No one in our lifetime has made more unique contributions to the worlds of innovation, of business, or of consumer stimulation. Let us hope that in celebrating his life many other young people will be inspired to go their own ways, trust their intuition, and pursue their dreams and their visions. That could be Steve Jobs’ greatest legacy of all.

Leadership Kudos and Gaffes: Leading and supporting a team, while the other is burying his mistakes

Leadership Kudos this week go to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. While founder Mark Zuckerberg gets the media attention, it is Sandberg whois steadily building Facebook into a great growth company. Her steady hand on thewheel is driving a well-oiled machine that continues to take on broader challengesand strengthen its management talent. Watching the P&L as well as numbers ofparticipants, Sandberg is the driving force behind Facebook’s growing market value,estimated by some as high as $100 billion.

Leadership Gaffes go to News Corporation’s founder and CEO, Rupert Murdoch.  Who else? Murdoch has aggressively built his media empire by taking over newspapers and television stations and turning them into mouthpieces for his political goals. Now his tactics, many of them unethical and even illegal, have caught up with him. He can fire Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton (or “bury his mistakes,” as he likes to say), but the buck stops with him. His scandal threatens even the British political establishment. Is it time for him to accept responsibility and step down?