Press > Category: Leadership

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.

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 CNBC.com, 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.

CNBC: Are Corporate Ethics Sliding Again?

From CNBC.com, 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 Fortune.com, 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.

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

From Fortune.com, 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.

CNBC - How to Spot an Authentic Leader

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.

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.