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.
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.
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 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.
This article was originally posted 9/3/15 on Hiring.Monster.com
"Suffering is universal: You turn it around so that it becomes a creative, positive force," (Terry Waite).
Psychologist Abraham Maslow found that tragedy and trauma are the most important human learning experiences. Crucibles enable people to learn life is uncertain, and that they have limited control over events.
In recent years, a new reality is emerging that empowers individuals to look at their crucibles and difficult experiences as growth opportunities -- we term this approach, Post-Traumatic Growth.
Think of the most challenging moment in your life. Perhaps it was a time when a loved one passed away, or you had a personal health crisis. Or your lost your job or your family. Whatever it was, it was a time of crisis for you -- but also a moment that caused you to reflect deeply about who you are and what is truly important in your life.
Traumatic moments propel many people into a downward spiral. As they refuse to address or even acknowledge their crucibles, they make the memories more painful. As a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are painfully aware of "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" -- or PTSD -- but this phenomenon doesn't just happen to war victims or military veterans.
New research shows that traumatic experiences can result in post-traumatic growth (PTG). PTG starts by recognizing life's uncertainties and embracing them as fundamental tenets of human existence. It also requires self-awareness to acknowledge your personal responsibility for the choices you make in life coupled with the desire to undergo personal transformation. As Warren Bennis explained inGeeks and Geezers, "Some magic takes place in the crucible of leadership. Whatever is thrown at them, leaders emerge from their crucibles stronger and unbroken."
All of us face trials in our lives. How can you respond to your crucible to transform your deep feelings of loss -- which are real and natural -- into opportunities for personal growth?
After reading True North, Pedro Algorta, one of the survivors of the famous 1972 crash in the Andes mountains, reached out to me. In his letter, he wrote while flying with 45 friends, his plane crashed into the Andes. "After 72 days barely surviving in the mountains without food or clothing, sixteen of us were finally rescued."
For 35 years, Algorta never mentioned being part of this experience to anyone other than his wife, in spite of the worldwide publicity the event received. As an MBA student at Stanford, he didn't even share it with his classmates. After reading True North, he began to process how this event had shaped his life. When he visited my Harvard Business School classes in 2008 and 2013, he shared three ways to deal with crucibles:
• Focus on the event, and live your life looking backward, often an angry life of blaming others.
• Live your life as if nothing happened, while the memories and the pain remain deep inside you.
• Use the event to transform your wound into a pearl.
In my new book, Discover Your True North, Algorta shared the metaphor of the oyster pearl. When sand grates against the oyster, its natural reaction is to cover up the irritant to protect itself with a substance called nacre (mother-of-pearl), which eventually forms the pearl itself.
Are you turning your wounds into pearls?
To do so, you will need to reflect on the impact your crucible has had on your life and what you learned from the experience. After discerning its meaning, you can reframe it as an opportunity for personal growth.
My crucible came when I least expected it. In my mid-20s, I was engaged to be married, just 18 months after my mother's sudden death. A few weeks before the wedding, my fiancée started having severe headaches. I took her to a leading neurosurgeon, but all her exams were negative. On a Saturday night three weeks before the wedding, we talked about final plans. The following morning her parents called to say she died during the night from a malignant brain tumor.
In the aftermath of her death, I could have easily become bitter and depressed and even lost my faith. In times of personal crisis, the power of faith and the support of close friends can provide the basis for healing. I was blessed to have both. Together, they enabled me to accept this tragedy and to learn just how precious every day is and to appreciate fully the value of those who are there for us when things go wrong in our lives.
Tragic as the event was, it opened my heart to the deeper meaning of life. This tragedy caused me to think more profoundly about what I could contribute to others during my lifetime. As my wife Penny explained about her breast cancer diagnosis in 1996, "Life is what happens when you're expecting something else."
With all of life's uncertainties, we learn to accept what life brings us and to use each experience as an opportunity for personal growth. You cannot go through life without getting knocked down. The question is how you will respond, and whether you will come back stronger than ever. Rather than living an angry life, suppressing your crucibles, or living a fearful life, I urge you to embrace life's uncertainties and reframe them as learning opportunities in order to turn them into pearls of wisdom.
If you do, you will lead a fuller, richer life, and you can help others to cope with life's challenges.
This article was originally posted 9/1/15 on HuffingtonPost.com.
By Kathy Caprino.
So much has been written in countless books, articles and research studies about “great leadership” today – what it is and what’s required for individuals to become stand-out leaders who catalyze positive change within people and organizations.
One question I’ve wondered about in reviewing today’s material on leadership is this:
How has our society’s perception and conceptualization of outstanding, positive leadership changed over the past decade? Do we as a society think about leadership differently now, and is leadership defined by a different set of traits and standards now than it was in the past?
To answer that question, I caught up with Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former chairman and CEO of Medtronic MDT +0.23%. Bill has been recognized as “Executive of the Year” by the Academy of Management, “Director of the Year” by the National Association of Corporate Directors, and received the prestigious Bower Award for Business Leadership – given annually to the nation’s top business leader. Bill is the author of the new book, Discover Your True North, a follow-up to his best-selling 2007 book, True North.
While retaining many of the basic principles of his first book, Bill has incorporated much of what has been learned in the past decade about becoming an authentic and transformational leader. His final chapter focuses on global leaders and the special characteristics they need, which he terms global intelligence (GQ).
For his new edition, Bill profiled an additional 47 leaders on top of the 125 people interviewed for True North. The new leaders are more diverse and more international than the first group – more closely reflecting the makeup of today’s leaders.
Bill shared with me his view that our conceptualization and expectations of great leadership have indeed changed dramatically since 2007, in part due to the corporate scandals and financial meltdown. He says today’s leaders are of a “higher caliber,” more authentic, and more committed to serving the needs of all their constituencies.
Here’s what he offered:
Kathy Caprino: Bill, what specifically has changed about what constitutes great leaders since you wrote True North in 2007?
Bill George: Today’s business leaders are very different from those in my generation, when there was so much emphasis on charisma and style. Many in that generation were aloof, led through structured hierarchies, and focused on exerting power over people. The company’s stock price preoccupied these leaders – not the long-term earning power of the enterprise.
Today, authenticity has become the gold standard for leadership. The new generation of leaders is far more open and collaborative. They align people around their organization’s mission and values, and empower their teams to step up and lead. Great leaders today recognize they must serve all their constituencies (yes, shareholders, but also customers, employees, suppliers, and community) for the long-term.
Caprino: What has caused these changes?
George: The corporate crisis of 2002-03 and the financial failures of 2008-09 demonstrated the pitfalls of charismatic leadership. The leaders who focused primarily on themselves, their personal wealth, and maximizing short-term shareholder value failed.
With the growing impact of social media and technology, there is much greater transparency and scrutiny of today’s business leaders. Accordingly, the emphasis in leadership has shifted to leaders with high EQ and high self-awareness who relate personally to people throughout their organizations. Given the global nature of business today, these leaders are more in sync with global issues, celebrate diversity as a strength, and lead with empathy and compassion.
Caprino: Where does discovering your True North fit in for today’s leaders?
George: To be a great leader today, you first have to be an integrated human being. With social media and 24-7 news, the spotlight is always on leaders and they cannot put on a mask the way they could have in the 20thcentury.
Today’s leaders recognize that to sustain their legitimacy they must have consistency between their True North – their deepest beliefs, values, and principles that guide their lives – and the purpose of the organization. This requires leaders to understand their life stories and their crucibles to gain deep awareness and acceptance of who they are – their strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. This is achieved through personal self-examination, introspection, and honest feedback from those you respect.
Caprino: How does understanding our life story impact our ability to lead?
George: Before you can lead others, you have to be able to lead yourself through difficult times. This is more difficult than it sounds. In fact, in our studies of hundreds of leaders, nearly all of the failures resulted from the inability of people to lead themselves. Examples include McKinsey’s Rajat Gupta, Home Depot HD -0.86%’s Bob Nardelli, and Hewlett-Packard HPQ -3.70%’s Carly Fiorina.
The process of gaining self-awareness requires mining your life experiences, especially the crucibles you have faced and what you learned from them. As you look back at your life story, you gain an understanding of how you react to certain circumstances and how your crucibles have defined your character. In gaining acceptance of yourself, you will emerge as a confident leader who can empower people to perform at their best.
Caprino: How do the Millennials view leadership, and what do they demand from their leaders that older generations aren’t looking for?
George: Millennials don’t want to work for authoritarian leaders that command rather than empower people. They want to follow leaders that communicate clear visions and are willing to trust people to do the right thing as they step to lead. The hierarchical style of leadership that was prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s will not work today.
Millennial leaders are passionate about serving causes greater than themselves and having an impact on the world’s challenges. They work well in empowering, collaborative environments where outcomes are much more important than who gets credit.
Caprino: What was the biggest insight from your interviews with the new generation of leaders you profile in your book?
George: The new generation of leaders has a passion to make a difference through their work and to leave a legacy that others may follow. Starbucks SBUX +0.00%’ Howard Schultz is focused on creating jobs for young people. PepsiCo PEP -1.09%’s Indra Nooyi is leading the shift to healthy foods and beverages. Paul Polman sees global sustainability as Unilever ’s True North. Ford’s Alan Mulally transformed Ford by focusing on quality, fuel efficiency and global competitiveness. All of them – and many others like them – are changing the world for the better.
Caprino: What are the top 5 leadership skills that have emerged in the last 10 years as absolutely critical for leaders to be successful and pave the way for success in their organizations?
George: Among the important leadership characteristics that have emerged as crucial for today’s leaders are:
- Inspiring people with a vision
- Empowering your teammates
- Collaborating with diverse teams
- Appreciating cultural and ethnic differences on the global level, and
- Being open and transparent with your entire organization
Great leaders have humility to acknowledge their mistakes, weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and the confidence to surround themselves with people who are more competent in certain areas and to ask others for help. This humanizes leaders in positions of power and enables them to be authentic. Showing your vulnerability is a way to develop connections of the heart, which is the basis for authentic relationships.
Caprino: What are the time-honored leadership skills that we’ve highlighted in the past that remain essential?
George: The need for leaders with integrity will never change. Nor will the necessity of leaders who have courage to face difficult circumstances, and make risky decisions that transform enterprises and entire industries.
Leaders must be honest with themselves. In Discover Your True North I profile several leaders like Lehman’s Dick Fuld and Lance Armstrong, who failed because they were not honest with others or themselves. Instead of accepting responsibility for problems and their shortcomings, they blamed others and external circumstances. In contrast, today’s leaders like Schultz, Apple AAPL -0.89%’s Tim Cook, Whole Foods’ John Mackey, and Amgen AMGN -1.49%’s Kevin Sharer admit their mistakes and take action to correct them.
Whereas in the past, hierarchical structures and institutional norms protected inauthentic leaders, that won’t work today. No longer can you “fake it till you make it,” as some have suggested. It’s impossible to hide in this open and interactive world.
To survive and succeed in today’s business community, you have to be genuine and authentic, and stay on course of your True North.
This article was originally posted 8/29/15 on Forbes.com
The capacity to develop close and enduring relationships is one mark of empowering leaders. Unfortunately, many leaders of major companies believe their job is to create the strategy, organizational structure, and organizational processes. Then they delegate the work to be done, remaining aloof from the people doing the work.
The detached style of leadership will not be successful in the twenty-first century. Today’s employees demand more personal relationships with their leaders before they will give themselves fully to their jobs. They insist on having access to their leaders, knowing that it is in the openness and the depth of the relationship with the leader that trust and commitment are built.
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Jack Welch were so successful because they connected directly with their employees and realized from them a deeper commitment to their work and greater loyalty to the company. Welch, in particular, was an interesting case because he was so challenging and hard on people. Yet those very challenges let people know that he was interested in their success and concerned about their careers.
In Eyewitness to Power, David Gergen writes, “At the heart of leadership is the leader’s relationship with followers. People will entrust their hopes and dreams to another person only if they think the other is a reliable vessel.” Authentic leaders establish trusting
relationships with people throughout their organizations. The rewards of these relationships, both tangible and intangible, are long lasting.
Rule #1: Just Show Up
Woody Allen once remarked, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Surprisingly, many leaders get so busy that they don’t take the time to be there for people. They don’t bother to attend award ceremonies, company picnics, or sales meetings. Nor do they walk around the offices, factories, labs, and field sales and service locations. Often they are too busy to come to important customer meetings or trade shows.
As a result, their teammates never get to know them personally. Their only contact with their leaders is through impersonal media, such as speeches, voice mail, videotapes, and Web streaming of company events.
Target CEO Brian Cornell makes frequent visits to stores around the country, often going alone and unannounced, shaking hands and getting to know people, as well as using his astute powers of observation to see how effective Target team members are in connecting with their guests.
These visits have given him a clear understanding of his new organization and what needs to be improved. It also led to what he termed “the most difficult decision of my career” -- to close his predecessor’s ill-fated foray into Canada.
Not only did Cornell have multiple business analyses prepared to search for a way forward, but he also visited nearly empty stores the week before Christmas and realized that Target’s efforts should focus entirely on the lucrative U.S. market.
Likewise, Howard Schultz told of visiting a Starbucks store one Saturday morning:
I walked in, dressed so nobody would recognize me. When I sat down, the manager came up and said, “Howard, is that you?” I said, “Yes, it is.” She told me about receiving Starbucks stock and what it did for her and her family. Then she started crying and said, “I’m so moved that you’re in my store.” Later I got a voice mail from her, saying how powerful that moment was for her. I immediately called her back and thanked her for sharing with me.
Stories of basic human interactions like this one are very powerful. All Cornell and Schultz had to do was show up. Being at important events or engaging on the front lines at unexpected times means a great deal to people and enables them to take their leaders off their proverbial pedestals and see them as real people.
Mutual Respect: The Basis for Empowerment
To bring out the best from teammates, authentic leaders must develop trusting relationships based on mutual respect. There is no substitute. Like loyalty, respect provides a basis for empowerment, but leaders must earn it. Here are some of the things empowering leaders do to gain the respect of their colleagues:
- Treat others as equals
- Listen actively
- Learn from people
- Share life stories
- Align around the mission
Treat Others as Equals
We respect people who treat us as equals, especially when they are successful investors, such as Warren Buffett. He has the same sandwich and Cherry Coke combination with a group of wide-eyed students as he does with his close friend Bill Gates.
Buffett does not rely upon his image to make people feel he is important or powerful. He genuinely respects others, and they respect him as much for those qualities as for his investment prowess. By being authentic in his interactions, Buffett empowers people to lead in their own authentic way.
We are grateful when people genuinely listen to us. Active listening is one of the most important abilities of empowering leaders, because people sense such individuals are genuinely interested in them and not just trying to get something from them.
Warren Bennis was an example of a world-class listener. He patiently listened as you explained your ideas and then thoughtfully contributed astute observations that came from a deep well of wisdom and experience.
Learn from People
We feel respected when others believe they can learn from us or ask for our advice. The best advice I ever got about teaching came from my Harvard Business School (HBS) colleague Paul Marshall, who was one of HBS’s greatest teachers. He told me, “Bill, don’t ever set foot in an HBS classroom unless you genuinely want to learn from
I have taken his advice into every class I have taught for the past 12 years, telling MBA students and executives, “I feel certain I will learn a lot more from you than you do from me.” The students find that hard to believe at first, but they soon see how their feedback helps me understand how today’s leaders and MBA students think.
This article was originally posted 8/28/15 on Monster.com
Bill George is the former Medtronic CEO, current senior fellow at the Harvard Business School and best-selling author of Authentic Leadership and the True North book series. Bill’s latest book, Discover Your True North, was published by Wiley on August 10.
Bill, also appears as a regular contributor on CNBC and sits on the boards of Goldman Sachs, Target, Novartis and the Mayo Clinic, is credited with having popularized the phrase “authentic leadership” to describe CEOs who are consistent and true to themselves as leaders.
Bill regularly counsels CEOs to be authentic leaders — leading some to call him “The CEO Whisperer.”
Bill and I discussed authentic leadership, ways to lead across cultures, some examples of authentic leaders today and in the past as well as how to find your True North. You all know how much I love to talk about global leadership so I particularly enjoyed this episode. We even got to talk about my personal hero, the late Nelson Mandela! Enjoy the episode here or below. Remember to subscribe, share and buy the book!
Listen to the podcast here: http://www.uydmedia.com/discover-your-true-north-with-bill-george/
Have you ever felt you were losing your way? Cut adrift on a raging sea?
I know I have. When I was reaching the top of Honeywell, I was working 24/7. Having succeeded in turning around a series of troubled businesses, I was tasked with even more turnarounds. On the outside I appeared energized and confident. On the inside I was deeply unhappy but too driven to admit it. In truth, I was losing sight of my True North - more interested in becoming CEO than being a values-centered leader. Driving home one day I had "a flash in the mirror" and saw the real me. It wasn't pretty.
That day, I felt like Dante who began the Divine Comedy, "In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost." Thanks to that mirror, and the help of my wife and support team, I woke up and decided to rethink my life and career. This self-examination led me to Medtronic and the best 13 years of my professional life.
My personal experience suggests you can get back on track of your True North IF you recognize the signals before it's too late.
In Discover Your True North, I describe five behaviors that can cause you to lose your way: Imposters, Rationalizers, Glory Seekers, Loners, and Shooting Stars. Let's examine each of them:
Imposters try to reach the top by pretending to be leaders. They are good at office politics -- too good. Aggression and paranoia become their hallmarks, and they'll attempt to eliminate anyone blocking their path. Outwardly, they follow the adage, "You have to fake it to make it." Inside, they are driven by the fear they aren't good enough and someone will unmask them as imposters. They rarely ask for help or admit, "I don't know."
Bob Nardelli had a highly successful career at General Electric, becoming one of three candidates to succeed the legendary Jack Welch. Disappointed he wasn't chosen as CEO, he moved to retailer Home Depot, lured by an enormous compensation package. Failing to spend time listening to store managers and customers, he never grasped the retail business. Instead, he centralized decision-making and reduced in-store support for customers. He terminated 70 of 71 vice presidents, replacing them with many ex-military officers willing to follow headquarters orders. As Home Depot steadily lost retail market share, its board replaced Nardelli with veteran Frank Blake, who restored the company and put it on a sustainable growth path.
Rationalizers are skillful in blaming others or external factors for their problems. Often they aren't willing to face reality, admit their mistakes, or see that their distorted view of the world puts their organizations in jeopardy.
As CEO of General Motors, Rick Waggoner never could face the reality that his company's drastic decline in market share - from 50% to 18% of the U.S. market - resulted from making cars and trucks that didn't measure up to GM's competitors. Instead, he blamed high gasoline prices, government regulations, and GM's unions. Unwilling to look himself in the mirror, he eventually led GM into bankruptcy.
Glory Seekers are so hungry for fame and public adulation that they deviate from their values just to get ahead.
Lance Armstrong created a great narrative for his success: seven-time winner of the Tour de France, cancer survivor, and philanthropist with his Livestrong campaign. An extraordinary cyclist, he elected instead to cheat, using illegal performance-enhancing drugs to win races. Ultimately, Armstrong lost all his Tour de France titles when he was found guilty of doping.
All leaders experience loneliness in their careers, often when they reach their peak. People in high-pressure positions often retreat to their offices rather than listening to subordinates and trusted confidents. That's when they are prone to make big mistakes.
As CEO of Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld refused to listen to his team members or outside confidants. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson warned him forty times that Lehman was deeply overleveraged and need to raise capital. When Paulson asked the major banks to develop plans to salvage Lehman, Fuld stayed in his office, in denial about his firm's troubles. When Lehman declared bankruptcy three days later, employees lost their jobs, customers lost their holdings, and shareholders lost their investments. As a result, the financial markets plunged into crisis and the entire country had to pay for Fuld's solipsism.
Shooting stars are so focused in climbing the career ladder that they have no time for their families and friends. They crave success and get lost in unsustainable frenzy of work. They leap from job to job without learning from their mistakes or gaining self-awareness. Ultimately, they cannot sustain the pace, as even the most energetic people run out of steam. When they crash, they come down fast.
Silicon Valley shooting star Mark Pincus initially soared with gaming company Zynga. But the company's faddish products were unsustainable. As he reflected later, "I did every horrible thing in the book, just to get immediate revenues." Because its leaders failed to create sustainable business models, Zygna's star came crashing down.
If you are aware of your vulnerabilities and stay laser-focused on your True North, you won't fall into these traps. If you develop self-awareness, build your support team, and follow your values, you can stay on track and avoid these pitfalls.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Technology is not the only thing in corporate America that has changed in the past decade. The concept of leadership has evolved as well, said Bill George, author of Discover Your True North.
“Authenticity has become the gold standard for leadership,” said George. “When I first introduced this notion in 2003 it was a foreign idea.”
George is a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School and the former chairman and CEO of medical device maker Medtronic (MDT – Get Report). Medtronic’s market capitalization grew from $1.1 billion to $60 billion under George’s leadership, averaging 35% a year. He is the author of the best-selling Authentic Leadership and a board member of Goldman Sachs (GS), Exxon (XOM) and the Mayo Clinic.
Discover Your True North is an expanded and updated edition of George’s 2007 bestseller True North. This latest version profiles 101 corporate leaders including Warren Buffett, Howard Schultz, Indra Nooyi, Jack Ma and Michael Bloomberg. It also delves into the stories of leaders who lost their moral compasses like McKinsey managing director turned insider trader Rajat Gupta.
“He was a guy that came up from nothing, orphaned as a child. I think he got too caught up in wanting financial security and unfortunately he got caught up with some bad people,” said George.
George said former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld’s downfall was due to his inability to listen when former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was urging him to find capital or sell the investment bank, which ultimately filed for bankruptcy.
“You can’t be obstinate today. Things are moving too fast, changing too rapidly,” said George. “You need to listen to everyone around you.”
On the other hand, George lauded Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A – Get Report)(BRK.B – Get Report) CEO Buffett and his leadership style, saying the Oracle of Omaha values integrity above all else.
From CNBC, posted August 19, 2015
Google's plan to reorganize into a holding company called Alphabet is as creative as the company itself.
Like all publicly-held companies, Google faces dual challenges of sustaining its growth through innovation and meeting the expectations of its shareholders. The ever-increasing pressures to deliver short-term results while continuing to make big bets on high-risk, high-gain ventures is a conundrum, even for high-flying Google with its dual classes of stock.
With nearly $70 billion in annual revenue, a market capitalization of more than $450 billion, and a stock trading at 31 times its price/earnings ratio, it will take very large bets on major breakthroughs to sustain Google's growth. Those bets don't turn into winners without enormous investment and the willingness to take big risks. Meanwhile, Google's investors are clamoring for greater transparency, which can lead to pressure to cut back on uncertain investments or create premature visibility. Google's leaders have the wisdom to know that size and creativity are inversely correlated, as witnessed so vividly in the demise of Hewlett-Packard's innovation machine. Thus, they are breaking the company into a collection of innovative organizations — some very large, some small — that provides their leaders the freedom to innovate without near-term financial constraints.
Some pundits claim that greater visibility will stifle Google's innovations, which they term "unprofitable experiments." In reality, all research projects are "losers" until they succeed in the marketplace. These critics don't seem to understand the determination of Larry Page and his cohort of brilliant leaders to transform the world through innovation.
Nevertheless, I won't be surprised to see an activist investor like Dan Loeb or Nelson Peltz call for breaking up Alphabet in a few years into cash-generating Google and growth-generating Alphabet. Their inability to understand the integration of these two differentiated strategies for long-term shareholder value creation — the strategy we followed at Medtronic — never ceases to amaze me.
Other writers are comparing Alphabet to Warren Buffett's Berkshire-Hathaway. Other than both organizations being led by brilliant people, this comparison doesn't hold water. Buffett's genius is buying up traditional low-tech companies and running them well. He openly eschews innovation. Google is all about innovation.
Peter Sims, who co-authored "True North" with me, had a far better comparison: Today's high-tech leaders like Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Uber are platforms on which to build profitable business extensions off a solid core structure. On the other hand, Alphabet is a platform of platforms. While these platforms may be run independently in the near-term, I suspect that ultimately they will be integrated through the genius of Google's leaders.
The most significant aspect of Google's reinvention as Alphabet lies in its capacity to recruit and retain amazing creative talent, something most innovative companies have been unable to do. Just glance at Google's remarkable stable of innovation leaders:
- In holding company Alphabet alone are co-founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, executive chairman Eric Schmidt, and CFO Ruth Porat, recently recruited from Morgan Stanley.
- Separating the core business as Google gives the opportunity for Page's confidant Sundar Pichai to become CEO of the enterprise, which also includes You Tube CEO Susan Wojcicki.
- Arthur Levinson, who built Genentech into the world's most innovative bio-pharma company, heads up Calico, with a mission is to extend longevity to 150 years.
- Astro Teller is CEO of Google X, which houses Google's moonshots, such as driverless cars, Google Glass and innovative contact lens.
- Sidewalk Labs is led by recent recruit Dan Doctoroff, former CEO of Bloomberg. Its mission is urban innovation to improve city living.
- Nest under Tony Fadell is working on automated home controls.
- Bill Maris runs Google's $2 billion venture-capital arm, while David Lawee heads up Google Capital.
These aren't just names on the Alphabet organization chart. All of them are superstar innovators with many breakthroughs to their credit. Is there any other organization with so many innovation leaders? Under Alphabet, they can pursue their breakthrough ideas without the day-to-day pressures of quarterly earnings.
In the world of high tech, long-term investors would be wise to ignore the roller-coaster short-term swings in stock price, and bet on the leadership of the companies. In reality, success in high-tech investing is much more closely correlated with innovation leadership than it is with quarterly results.
Having brilliant innovation leaders is what makes Google, Apple and Facebook so successful, and causes Twitter, Blackberry and Nokia to fail. For all of its talent, Microsoft failed to innovate from 2000-2014 not because it lacked innovators, but innovation leaders. With former CEO Steve Ballmer finally moving to the LA Clippers, new CEO Satya Nadella's challenge is to find the leaders who can reignite Microsoft innovation capabilities.
Eric Schmidt and Larry Page understand this phenomenon and have moved aggressively to transform Google's organization structure. Alphabet will enable Google to sustain its innovative character and retain its growing stable of innovation leaders.
From Inc. by Ilan Mochari, posted August 17, 2015
You overcame adversity on your own, through mental toughness, with no help--and it's how you became successful. But it also could be your downfall.
One day in 2007, Arianna Huffington found herself lying on the floor of her home office in a pool of blood. After an MRI, a CAT scan, and an ECG, she learned there was no underlying problem--it was exhaustion which had caused her to faint, her head smashing the corner of her desk and cutting her eye.
The incident prompted her to ask deeper questions about her life of 18-hour workdays, seven days a week. By the time she delivered a commencement speech at Smith College in 2013, she was preaching the gospel of a good night's sleep and asking graduates to measure their lives by a "third metric"--changing the world for the better--in addition to those timeless standards, money and power.
You've heard this sort of thing before. You've heard it from Harvard Business School legend Clayton Christensen. You've heard it from Simon Sinek (author of Start With Why) and TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie. And you've heard it in at least half a dozen TED talks from other authors and notables.
So my first question to leadership expert Bill George, who just released an update to his 2007 classic "Discover Your True North", was, why bother? How can you persuade any young leader--whose solipsistic workaholism has been the primary factor in her success--that she needs to take a proverbial chill pill? For it often seems as if entrepreneurs have to learn this lesson the hard way--by collapsing, literally or figuratively. And reminders of retaining a moral compass and striving for work-life balance are as old as the bible--though there's no shortage of TED-talking gurus hawking contemporary versions.
George's answer was optimistic. He hopes the personal-transformation tales gathered in his book will help young leaders "accelerate that learning curve, and become self-aware earlier in their lives, without hitting the wall," he tells Inc. The updated book includes stories about Huffington, Mark Zuckerberg, Chade-Meng Tan (who built Google's employee-meditation program), and many others.
Mind you, George has lived the life and walked the walk himself. While he was CEO of Medtronic, a medical device and technology company, from 1991 to 2001, the company's market cap grew from $1 billion to $60 billion. He then became a credentialed expert on the subject of leadership, authoring four books and joining the faculty at Harvard Business School. He's currently a director at ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and the Mayo Clinic.
So what advice can George give to hard-charging entrepreneurs who may be on the verge of hitting the wall? In an interview with Inc., he boiled the answer down to two components:
1. Find a support team of mentors you'll actually listen to.
George believes Huffington could've avoided her collapse if she'd had a close support team around her--"people who could've been intimate with her, and told her: 'Hey, you're heading for trouble. Let me tell you what I see happening,'" he says.
George cites Zuckerberg as a young CEO who found the right support team--and whose performance has thrived (without hitting a wall) as a result. In 2005, Zuckerberg met Don Graham, CEO of the Washington Post Company. Graham offered to invest $6 million in Facebook. Zuckerberg accepted, only to renege when Accel Partners offered to invest at a higher valuation.
Yet Graham, rather than feeling snubbed, was impressed with how Zuckerberg handled the situation. Later that year, Zuckerberg shadowed Graham for several days to learn how a CEO ought to behave. The relationship deepened. One benefit? Graham advised Zuckerberg to hire COO Sheryl Sandberg and encouraged Sandberg to accept the position, even though she'd be reporting to someone younger. Graham--today the lead director of Facebook's board--benefited from the relationship too, learning from Zuckerberg about online initiatives that would engage Washington Post readers.
More than this, Zuckerberg's relationship with Graham formed a template Zuckerberg would rely on in seeking mentorship. Today, his roster of mentors includes Bill Gates and Marc Andreessen. "People always ask, How does [Zuckerberg] have the wisdom of someone 20 years older?" says George. "The answer is, he sought out really good mentors, early on."
2. Take a break, for at least 20 minutes a day.
No texting. No internet. Just you and your introspective practice. What you do during this time can vary. What matters most is that you're away from your tasks. "I use meditation," says George. "Others go for a run or take a long walk. Religious people pray. The point is, they do something where they're pulling out of the world."
George says the meditation time has helped him make better decisions. In 1997, under his watch, Medtronic had the chance to complete a $15-billion merger. Many employees had reservations about the deal, anticipating a major culture clash between the other company's top-down approach and Medtronic's empowered middle tier of engineers and marketers.
Despite these reservations, the merger was enticing to George, as a way to add to Medtronic's top-line revenues. "The numbers worked well and the [combined] strategy would've been brilliant," says George. Still, his colleagues and coworkers were warning him about the potential culture clash. "They were expressing concerns to me, and I was not listening as much as I should have," he says.
George credits his daily mediation practice for giving him the perspective to heed those warnings. "Then I took the time and did listen," he says. He recognized that while the fiscal and strategic synergies might please merger-drunk investors, the culture clash would ultimately undermine any short-term gains in the stock price. "It took me a while to see that," he says. "I had to back away."
The larger lesson here--and another focus of "Discover Your True North"--is value-based leadership: The idea of using not only fiscal numbers, but also a moral compass and a set of personal beliefs to guide your decisions.
The combination of a support team and daily introspection can help you stay mindful about what's really important in life: Your health. Your loved ones. Their health. Your reputation as an ethical person. Staying out of jail. When those essentials are your true north--and they are reinforced by a support team you'll listen to--you'll be unafraid to back away from lucrative deals for the sake of larger principles. "You don't have to hit the wall or get fired," says George. "You can learn to pull yourself back, to get back to your true north."
"The hardest thing we have to do in business is to see yourself as others see you." - Bill George, author, Discover Your True North
From IndustryWeek, posted August 18, 2015
Title: Senior Fellow
Organization: Harvard Business School
Executive Experience: former Chairman and CEO, Medtronic
The IndustryWeek Manufacturing Leader of the Week highlights the manufacturing leaders, executives and stars who are driving growth in today's industry and helping to shape the future of manufacturing.
Being the leader of a company can be fraught with peril, warns Bill George. If you run a public company, there is more pressure than ever to make every quarter’s results better than the last. Along with those pressures, company leaders can operate in a heady world of fame and financial reward. It is an intoxicating brew that can lead to terrible consequences. That’s why leaders need an internal compass that keeps them on the right path.
In Discover Your True North (John Wiley & Sons, 2015), George, the former CEO of Medtronic and a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, brings fresh insights to how executives can become more effective leaders by resisting the temptations of power and staying true to their values. He advocates leadership that is based on authenticity and creates value for all of a company’s stakeholders.
That process involves practices to discover your “True North” – which George described to IndustryWeek as “your most deeply held beliefs, the values and principles that you lead by.” That requires a lifetime practice of pursuing self-knowledge, he says, but the rewards are leadership that creates trust in employees and develops the cultural foundation for the pursuit of enterprise success.
Stray from those principles and you can find yourself in the same boat as Rajat Gupta, the former managing partner of McKinsey. Gupta grew up in Calcutta and was orphaned as a teenager but he gained admission to a prestigious Indian university and went on to a very successful business career. But in 2012, he was convicted on four counts of insider trading and is currently serving a 2-year prison sentence.
Why would a wealthy and successful man put his career at such risk? George writes it was not a “simple case of greed,” but rather the result of never overcoming poverty in his childhood and the unquenched need for financial security.
“We saw that most of the leadership failures came about from people losing sense of who you are,” George said about his research for True North. “It's not that they were bad people. It's that they got pulled off course, either from pressures they couldn't cope with or seductions - money, fame and power.”
The most important characteristic of leaders, George maintains, is that they be “authentic,” or true to themselves and what they believe in. For years, says George, companies weren’t necessarily looking for authentic leaders. Too often, he says, they were looking for corporate rock stars – the next Jack Welch. As a result, they often went outside their own ranks to find the next financial wizard who could promise quick results.
“I'm a very strong believer that leader should be promoted from within,” George told IndustryWeek. “We went through a decade where almost half of CEOs came from outside their organizations. That showed not only a lack of leadership development but many of these did not work out because they didn’t fit with the culture. They weren’t genuine people.”
George says he is much more hopeful about the current crop of business leaders, who he sees as more collaborative and interested in empowering employees to achieve lasting results.
“Today authenticity is seen as the gold standard for leadership,” he writes in True North. “No longer is leadership about developing charisma, emulating other leaders, looking good externally and acting in one’s self interest, as was so often the case in the late twentieth century.”
Being authentic is more than just a nice social characteristic; George says it is the foundation of business success.
“In business, trust is the coin of the realm,” he writes, as it forms the basis for “customers’ trust in the products they buy, employees’ trust in their leaders, investors’ trust in those who steward their funds, and public trust in capitalism as a fair and equitable means of creating wealth for all.”
Learning from Mistakes
Making mistakes in business is a common denominator, George declares. “We all go through it. Everyone has gone through adversity of one form or another.” But not everyone makes career-destroying mistakes. George says the “difference between those who succeed and those who fail is emotional intelligence and self-awareness.”
Emotional intelligence can be developed, George says, and begins with self-awareness. To become more self-aware, George advocates two routine practices.
- Have an introspective period of at least 20 minutes a day. George says we are bombarded by emails, social media and meetings. “We have to pull back from that, whether we meditate, pray, journal, take a jog,” he says, and use that time to take stock of the day and determine if we are “emphasizing what is important in our lives.”
- Get honest feedback from people you trust and will listen to. While introspection is important, you also need a support team that will give you honest feedback. While people you work with can help make up that support team, George says it is particularly valuable to have a group outside the workplace that you can consult with. He has been part of a men’s group for 40 years that meets on Wednesday mornings. “They can give you honest, sincere advice because they know you at a deeper level,” he said.
George says many leaders are burying childhood traumas or other setbacks rather than dealing with them straightforwardly. He says people have to go beyond seeing themselves as victims and come to grips with these negative events.
“Many people are strongly influenced by their parents in ways they don’t even understand and they are replaying that in the workplace,” George observes. “That is not healthy leadership. You’ve got to process that.”
“We present a new concept called post-traumatic growth,” George explains. “The idea is you take your difficult times and you grow from that. That is where you really learn who you are. It gives you the confidence and resilience to overcome very difficult times.”
Understanding how they overcame adversity can provide leaders with the desire to help others deal with their difficulties and grow as leaders. He compares that to a more selfish attitude of, “Hey, I made it. Why don’t you pull yourself up by your bootstraps?”
Not surprisingly, George is an advocate of 360-degree reviews in business. He said the best feedback he got in business was from his subordinates, not his bosses.
“The hardest thing we have to do in business is to see yourself as others see you,” he says. “The 360 review is one of the best ways to do it.”
Through better awareness of who they are, says George, leaders can move away from “external gratifiers like money and power” and toward leadership that is more about “making a difference and empowering other people.”
“We are all called to serve, in effect servant leaders” says George. “We’re not there to serve ourselves. People who work for us are not there to make us look good, just the opposite. We serve them and they are effective at doing their jobs. It is really critical that we make that journey and realize that leadership is not about us.”
One problem is that most of the metrics used to measure young people, such as SAT scores or college grades, are based on how they do as individuals, notes George. Individual achievement often continues to be the focus for young workers such as engineers or analysts. But as employees move up the ladder to leadership roles, says George, it is important to “flip that switch” and realize that your success comes from serving the people on your team.
“If you do that well, they will do anything for you. That then becomes how you build a successful enterprise,” he says. “People in organizations intuitively know which leaders are committed to the company and bleed the company's colors, and who are in it for themselves.”
George says millennials are different from baby boomers. Unlike that “me generation,” he says, millennials tend to be very collaborative and less concerned about who gets credit for a successful project. And they exhibit fewer biases than earlier generations about race or sexual orientation.
Millennials also want to “make a difference,” says George. “By the way, they don’t want to wait until they are 40 or 50 to do it. They want to do it right now.”
Where is the US Manufacturing Compass Pointed?
What kind of U.S. manufacturing environment will these leaders operate in? George says the U.S. won’t find success trying to compete with China and low-cost manufacturing nations producing standard products.
“The U.S. needs to compete in complex manufacturing based upon product innovation,” he says. ‘I think that is its sweet spot.”
George says the key to that future is developing a new generation of skilled workers.
“There is a huge risk that our workforce right now is becoming obsolete, because we aren’t emphasizing the importance of a well-trained, skilled workforce,” says George. He adds there is too much focus on “generic college education” and not enough attention to vocational education. In that respect, Germany has done an “outstanding job,” says George.
“How can they sell machine tools all over the world – Korea, China, Japan so effectively when they have very high-cost labor? They do so because of the quality and expertise. I think that is what the U.S. has to emphasize,” he says.
There is no country as innovative as the United States, George declares, but in order for that product innovation to continue, he says the nation must do more to develop its workforce expertise. That means more attention to the people that do the work on the shop floor, he notes, providing the training, tools and financial compensation so that manufacturing attracts the best people and rewards them for their contribution to the company’s success.
George clearly believes that a strong manufacturing sector continues to be vital for the American economy and people.
“Hollowing out our manufacturing base and making us a service economy, as some people were talking about 10 years ago, is very, very foolish,” George concludes.