Blog

A Great Week for America

This has been a very good week for America – a week in which the rights and dignity of all people have been upheld.

In just a week, what progress we have made! Recall:

  • The Supreme Court upheld the legal right of all people to marriage, overcoming centuries of discrimination against same sex couples.
  • The Court also affirmed the Affordable Care Act that offers health care to most Americans – ensuring the millions now covered by health insurance will continue to receive coverage.
  • Republican leaders in the Senate and House worked with President Obama to give the president the ability to ratify free trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
  • The President spoke for all Americans as he preached on grace, then captured a unifying moment in Charleston and across the country as he sang “Amazing Grace” at Emanuel AME church.
  • Americans banded together to ask that the Confederate flag be taken down – 150 years after the end of the Civil War.
  • The Gates Foundation announced it will invest $2 billion in breakthrough renewable energy projects.

For socially progressive, fiscally conservative people like myself, these are signs of genuine progress that our country is getting back on the right track, attempting to heal some of our historic wounds and bring the country together, so we can focus on growth and opportunities for all Americans to live healthy and prosperous lives.

In each case, leaders made the difference by acting with courage and listening to their conscience. Kudos to:

  • Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion on marriage equality.
  • Chief Justice John Roberts who wrote the majority opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act.
  • Speaker John Boehner, Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Obama for uniting forces against the Democrats and labor unions to bring the benefits of free trade to all Americans.
  • South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, four living former South Carolina governors, and the South Carolina congressional delegation who unified to urge the Confederate flag be removed from the South Carolina statehouse.
  • Bill Gates for his focused philanthropy and for encouraging others to join him and Warren Buffett in The Giving Pledge to give away 50% or more of their net worth.

It is pioneering leaders like these and many others who are making the difference in our country, in large ways and small.

Finally, on a personal note, at a gathering in Minneapolis, Hillary Clinton praised the George Family Foundation for the work of its Catalyst Initiative to address “toxic stress” in underprivileged communities through mind-body approaches to health. My wife Penny George’s visionary leadership in integrative health is enabling people to achieve health in mind, body, and spirit. Penny continues to inspire and amaze me.

Part 6: Journeying Within

As children and young adults, we spend a lot of time in self-reflection. Who am I? What is the point of life? How will I change the world? Although I’d like to say that with age comes wisdom, that isn’t always true. What is certain, however, is that aging brings responsibility. We spend so much effort rushing from work to home to activity that we don’t take the time to think about what it all means. Carl Jung once said, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” Use these questions to look inside yourself and light the path towards your True North.

1. What do you think is the meaning of life? Do you live your life accordingly?

Look at these two questions separately, and don’t let your answer to the second question influence your answer to the first. I particularly like physicist Michio Kaku’s thoughts on the matter. He says, “Beyond work and love, I would add two other ingredients that give meaning to life. First, to fulfill whatever talents we are born with. However blessed we are by fate with different abilities and strengths, we should try to develop them to the fullest, rather than allow them to atrophy and decay… Second, we should try to leave the world a better place than when we entered it. As individuals, we can make a difference, whether it is to probe the secrets of nature, to clean up the environment and work for peace and social justice, or to nurture the inquisitive, vibrant spirit of the young by being a mentor and a guide.”

2. What do you think you were put on this earth to learn? What were you put here to teach?

We are all both teachers and students. What qualities do you display in your everyday behavior? Those around you are influenced by your actions. You may not have a formal role as a teacher or student, but each of us, particularly those in leadership positions, teaches others through our words and deeds. I often stress the importance of mentorship, and this question is a great way to explore ways in which you can mentor others – and to determine what mentors you might be lacking in your life.

3. If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would you say?

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other advances in technology give every person the ability to reach a global audience. If you captured the attention of the world, what would you have to say? This requires careful consideration – would you offer actionable advice (“Get screened for breast cancer”) or say something more generic (“Be kind to others.”) What could you say and how would you phrase it to motivate others to take action? 

4. Who or what energizes you? What makes you feel depleted? Do you thrive on chaos, or prefer order?

While the common definitions of introvert and extrovert focus on how social and outgoing one is, I prefer the theory that extroverts are energized by social interaction, while introverts find large groups more draining and are energized by time alone. Although tools like the Myers-Briggs test can be useful for identifying parts of your personality, you don’t have to define yourself with conventional labels. Determine the conditions under which you are most successful, and then set yourself up accordingly.

5. Why do you want to find your purpose?

You may have answered all of the questions in my 30 Questions to Help You Discover Your True North series, but if you don’t know the why of it all, what’s the point? Are you truly willing to make changes to your life? It’s much easier to remain where you are, doing the same things day in and day out. Once you’ve discovered your True North, are you prepared to take the necessary steps to steer yourself towards it? It can be frightening to venture into the unknown. Write down your answer to this question and keep it nearby as a reminder of your own True North.

 

CNBC: Target CEO hits the bull's-eye

Target's CEO, Brian Cornell, is no stranger to difficult decisions.

In 1981, Cornell stood in his UCLA dorm room, struggling with the biggest choice of his life. He could attend his college graduation, or he could fly to London to chase the girl who had "absolutely stolen his heart."

Thirty-four years later, Cornell faced another difficult decision. While dining with CVS CEO Larry Merlo, he and Merlo hatched a plan to sell Target's pharmacies and its in-store clinics to CVS.

In both cases, he made the decision to choose the important over the immediate.

The partnership with CVS represents yet another opportunity for Target to build its business. The transaction frees up resources for growth priorities — wellness and healthy foods, e-commerce, and new store formats like Target Express, small stores near college campuses and in urban areas. The move will also bring more guests to Target stores as CVS owns Caremark, a pharmacy benefits manager with over 70 million users.

Since taking the helm just ten months ago, Cornell has moved quickly to enable Target to regain its mojo, which had steadily slipped away in the past five years. He did so by making hard choices and refocusing the company on its roots that gave it the cache to be known among guests as Tar-Jay.

When Cornell took over, Target was not in good shape. Since 2007, the percent of Americans who say they've visited a Target store in the past four weeks has dropped by 30 percent, according to Kantar Retail. Its thrust into food was achieving mixed results; its long overdue e-commerce initiative was cumbersome to use; and its expansion into Canada was failing, as that division had lost $2 billion since opening in 2011. Then in December, 2013, the Target data breach burst into the open, affecting up to 70 million of its credit-card users.

Facing these difficult challenges, Cornell wasted no time in putting them behind him. After spending his first month touring stores, he announced that Target would focus on four key categories: fashion, kids, babies and wellness. Recognizing that Target's headquarters staff had become bloated, he slashed 2,300 positions. And he ventured into London to recruit Tesco's Mike McNamara as CIO, giving him a broad portfolio that includes Target's digital platform, information security, and its omnichannel strategy.

Cornell's toughest decision came last January. After visiting several of Target's Canadian stores, he announced the liquidation of the Canadian division, closing all 133 stores. I realized what courage he had not to throw good money after bad, and to reinvest south of the border. He described the decision as "the toughest of my career."

Hard decisions like these characterize great leaders. They build upon their company's roots and its strengths, and don't try to do it all. As my Harvard Business School colleague Michael Porter teaches, "Strategy is all about choices and deciding what not to do." That's precisely what Cornell has done at Target.

Freeing up investment dollars is enabling him to sharpen merchandising in focus categories, expand Target's presence in urban areas with TargetExpress, and invest $1 billion in Target's digital platform. 

These moves are also enhancing Target's same-store sales and profitability. Since Cornell took over last August, Target stock is up 40 percent, while rival Wal-Mart has declined 4 percent. As Target's first CEO to come from outside ranks, Cornell is reaching out to the local community, vowing to continue Target's policy of giving 5 percent of its pre-tax income to philanthropic causes.

For Cornell, "It's all about people." Upon arriving at Target, he moved from the 26th floor CEO corner suite to a smaller office down the hall. He then moved the majority of the executive team to the 26th floor to make communication easier.

Brian Cornell has hit nothing but bull's-eyes in the past year.

And the girl he chased in 1981? He and Martha have been married for twenty-five years.

Commentary by Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and the former chair and CEO of Medtronic. He is the author of the book "True North." Follow him on Twitter @Bill_George.

Disclosure: Bill George does not own any of shares of Target or any other companies mentioned here, nor does have any other business relationships with them.

Part 5: What Are Your Rocks?

A professor filled a jar with rocks and asked his students if it was full. They agreed that it was. Then, he added pebbles and asked again if it was full. His students acknowledged that yes, the jar was still full. He poured in sand, which filled the spaces between the pebbles, and his students confirmed that the jar was full. The professor explained that the rocks represent your top priorities. The pebbles are the things in life that are less important, and the sand is the little, every day stuff. Then, he dumped out the jar and filled it with sand. Once the jar was full of sand, there was no room for the pebbles and the rocks.

Are you filling your daily jar with sand first, or are you tending to the rocks? Answer these questions to guide you towards your True North – figuring out which priorities in your life are rocks, and which are the sand and pebbles.

1. If money was no object, how would you spend your time? What would your day look like?

A 2014 Harris Poll asked workers what they would do if they won the lottery. More than half said they would still choose to work, and 30% would keep their current jobs (although just 15% reported that they already had their dream job). The most common reason people gave for staying employed was “I would be bored if I didn’t work.” If that’s the case for you, you’re living to work and not working to live. While your job should coincide with your True North, there’s more to life than work. Think about your hobbies and the things you care about. For smart, hard-working people, boredom is never an issue.

2. If you were to donate everything you have to a cause or charity, which would it be?

What cause is dearest to your heart? Most people care about several different issues, from animal rights to homelessness. But if you had to select only one cause or charity to receive everything you own, which tops your list of priorities? When was the last time you did something to support this cause? Our top priorities are usually close to home – family, health, friends, and work. But you must care about the world at large, too. “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” 

3. What keeps you awake at night when you should be sleeping? What gets you out of bed in the mornings?

The moments before you fall asleep should be peaceful – what are the problems that disturb you during that time? This question doesn’t just address your priorities; it can also indicate your tolerance for stress. Are you worrying about issues you have no control over? There are some things in life that we simply cannot influence. Good leaders don’t waste time fretting over these things. They plan for every contingency and focus on the decisions that they can make. As to the second question, don’t merely think about what gets you out of bed grudgingly. What makes you leap from your bed with excitement and face the day with a smile?

4. What bugs you? If it makes you mad, you’re passionate about it! Can you make your anger productive?

Like all emotions, anger has its uses. What really perturbs you? I’m not talking about your pet peeves – I mean the things that really get you fired up. Channel your anger into passion, and you’ll be motivated to do something about it. Whether you’re changing your own life or changing the world, passion is the driving force behind your True North. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, it’s not where you should be directing your energy.

5. What price would you take to give up on your dreams? What price would you be willing to pay to achieve them?

The price you’d be willing to pay to achieve your dreams is a question you answer every single day as you make decisions about how to spend your time. Should you eat dinner with your family, or work an extra hour? Go for a run, or watch a movie with your significant other? We answer these questions differently depending on what our dreams are, but each decision requires that we give something up. The first part of this question is, to me, more interesting, although it’s less frequently posed. What would someone have to offer you for you to give up the pursuit of your dreams?

30 Questions to Help You Discover Your True North poses these five questions as well as several others. Think about each one. Time truly does fly, and it’s worth spending these extra minutes to make sure you’re not wasting the precious time you do have on things that aren’t as important to you. Figure out what your rocks are, so you can fill your jar with the important things in your life.

CNBC: Why Democrats should back Obama on TPP

From CNBC, posted June 16, 2015

American unions rallied together for a show of power after years of losing members and political influence. They garnered enough Democratic votes to shoot down their own president, Barack Obama. Sunday's New York Times explained how this coalition came together. The feature pointed out that the unions threatened Democrats who voted for the bill with loss of funding and support. Money talks louder in politics than sound policy.

In advocating enthusiastically for the trade bill, President Obama was following in the footsteps of another Democratic president, Bill Clinton. Clinton's support for the 1990s trade bills, the North American Free Trade Agreement and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, helped launch a jobs boom in America. Obama wisely saw the opportunity to do the same for American workers in today's era with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Obama's efforts were to no avail. 

Ironically, the defeated bill provided retraining assistance for workers dislocated by the trade bill. Lawmakers had crafted this legislation specifically to help the workers represented by the unions working so actively to defeat it. A further irony is that free trade agreements are heavily weighted to America's advantage because they open up foreign markets – in this case, Asian markets – to American goods, which face substantial restrictions in the form of tariffs and other limitations on their marketing. In contrast, American markets are already wide open to foreign goods with few limitations other than agriculture.

There is no doubt that globalization of the workforce – a trend that is inevitable in today's global world – is putting downward pressure on wages. For decades, labor unions have been steadily losing members. Additionally the public has gained greater insight into how certain union agreements hamper productivity, such as in the automobile industry. If labor fails to effectively partner with management and together create value for consumers, both labor and management will lose their jobs.

The reality of the trade bill's defeat means that more American manufacturers will be required by foreign governments to set up production and often research and development, thereby cutting production in the U.S. The trade bill would go a long way to alleviate that. As American companies expand globally, inevitably they add many more jobs here in the U.S. – engineering, manufacturing, marketing, finance, and management.

Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally directly addressed these issues shortly after taking over Ford in 2006. He saw that Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler were steadily losing market share for several decades and de-emphasizing cars (in favor of SUVs) because they were unprofitable and could not compete with German, Japanese, and Korean cars built in plants in the Southern states. He met with leaders of the United Automobile Workers and devised plans to bring jobs back to Detroit, based on lower starting wages for new workers with the goal of cost parity with plants in the Southern states. This plan worked. Ford's market share has grown dramatically, and its Midwest factories are flourishing.

A further reality is that many of today's workers will not be qualified for their positions by 2025 as increased technology is changing their job requirements. The only solution to this challenge is to retrain American workers for the jobs of the future. This is what Germany does so well through its apprenticeship programs and other worker training. And it explains how German manufacturers have grown so much in the era of globalization. Their quality and design expertise enable them to expand their export sales worldwide.

A natural compromise is to combine a worker retraining bill – something Democrats favor – with the trade authority President Obama seeks.

It's time for both sides to come to their senses and support the president on this bill – both the free trade agreement and the worker retraining. If lawmakers don't get this done, China will proceed to form its own coalition of nations willing to agree to free trade among themselves, and American companies and their workers will find themselves shut out of exporting to Asian markets. In this case, American workers will be the big losers as U.S.-based global companies will be forced to move more jobs overseas.

And the Democrats will become known as the party of the labor unions, not the party of job creation. It's their choice.

Commentary by Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and the former chair and CEO of Medtronic. He is the author of the book "True North." Follow him on Twitter @Bill_George.

Part 4: Strengths and Weaknesses

We each have certain assets and certain liabilities. You can maximize the use of your skills and talents and overcome your handicaps, but only if you’ve identified them. The fourth part in my series on Discovering Your True North helps you discover the positive qualities you may not even realize you possess, as well as any weaknesses that could be stumbling blocks to your success as a leader. Think about each question, and don’t just go for the easy answer. We all have a token response when someone asks us what our strengths and weaknesses are, but dig deeper!

1. What one word do you want people to use to describe you? What do you think they’d currently use?

If someone were to describe you to a stranger using only one word, what would you want that word to be? At its heart, this is a question of values. We all want to be known as intelligent, responsible, etc., but which of these traits is most important to you? The second part of this question deals with how people currently perceive you. Are you the person you want to be? And do you demonstrate those values to those around you?  

2. What would others say is your biggest asset? What would they say is your biggest flaw?

This is a tough question to answer objectively, so consider asking someone who knows you well (and who will break your biggest flaw to you gently!). You shouldn’t be astonished by what you hear; ideally, you’re familiar with your own strengths and weaknesses. You might be surprised, though, to learn which qualities people think you could really maximize, and which are harming you more than you may know. Are you taking advantage of these assets? How can you work on overcoming your flaws? 

3. What skills do people frequently compliment you on? These may not be what you think you’re best at.

What’s the nicest compliment you’ve ever received? This is a clue into what qualities you’d like to cultivate within yourself. There may be things that people often compliment you on that you simply brush off. For example, perhaps others frequently mention that you’re a good teacher, or that you communicate ideas clearly. Don’t take these skills for granted – not everyone has that ability. Instead, hone it and put it to use to further your goals.  

4. What do you not want others to know about you?

We all have character flaws and tendencies that we’d rather keep hidden. Maybe you always procrastinate, or you can’t seem to make it to meetings on time. If you have a recurring problem like that, make an effort to fix it! It’s easier to work on your problems than it is to suffer the consequences from them. Examine the answer to this question closely – maybe it’s a part of your personality, and you can’t or won’t change it. In that case, root out and conquer those insecurities.

5. Think about your talents, passions, and values. How can you use them to serve and contribute to society?

Your strengths and passions are the tools you will use to carve out your future. What are your tools best suited to create? Consider your talents, passions, and values separately. You may be considerably talented in one area, but if you don’t enjoy it or you aren’t passionate about it, you shouldn’t make it your ultimate goal. Lastly, think about how you can apply the things you love, care about, and are good at to improve the world in some way. Isn’t that the point, after all?

My blog on 30 Questions to Help You Discover Your True North offers several thought-provoking questions to help you find your way. In part five of this six-part series, I’ll discuss the role priorities play in discovering your True North.

Soccer’s FIFA Is Morally Bankrupt – Corporations Should Suspend Sponsorships Until Blatter Resigns

The fish rots from the head, and this is undoubtedly the case with FIFA and its leader, Sepp Blatter.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s indictment of 14 senior FIFA officials confirms what we all knew. FIFA is a deeply corrupt organization. Lynch, who collaborated with the police in Switzerland to arrest seven FIFA officials, detailed at least $150 million in corrupt payments over 24 years. At week’s end, Justice Department officials said they were preparing additional indictments.

The only objections came from Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose compatriots worked with representatives of Qatar to lock in the 2018 and 2022 World Cups for their respective countries. Putin seemed genuinely concerned that revealing the corruption that led to this surprise dual selection could jeopardize Russia’s chances for 2018.

That led UK Prime Minister David Cameron to speak out. Having lost the 2018 bid to Russia, Cameron bluntly called for Blatter’s resignation. “We cannot have accusations of corruption at this level and on this scale in this organisation, and pretend that the person currently leading it is the right person to take it forward. Frankly, what we’ve seen is the ugly side of the beautiful game and he should go, and the sooner that happens the better.”

Meanwhile, soccer leaders prepared to re-elect Blatter last week. The FIFA delegates meeting in Switzerland last Friday overrode the objections of the European nations and the United States, and voted overwhelmingly to re-elect the 79-year-old Blatter for a fifth term.

In defending himself, Blatter made the absurd claim that “I cannot monitor everyone all the time.” Really? Some 14 of Blatter’s closest subordinates have been criminally indicted, and he has no responsibility?

No self-respecting public company board would accept this response from its leader. Global CEOs are charged with monitoring the behavior of their subordinates. A key part of the job is to ask probing questions, build awareness of potential reputational risks, and identify issues like this. It’s governance malpractice for a governing board to not immediately relieve the chief exective of his duties in a circumstance such as this – particularly in light of Blatter’s very public and blatant statement abdicating responsibility for the situation. If he’s not responsible, who is?

The FIFA situation raises a difficult issue: How can corrupt global organizations be transformed when those governing them re-elect themselves? In this situation, they also have too much money and limited financial controls.

This week’s events demonstrate that national law enforcement is one avenue for justice. The other way, which would have swifter impact, is for FIFA’s commercial and media sponsors to withdraw their funding. Thus far, several major sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald’s, Adidas, Budweiser, and Hyundai, have said they are “reviewing the situation.” These high integrity global organizations should immediately suspend their sponsorships until FIFA has new leadership. The same goes for the television sponsors, Fox Sports and Telemundo. Blatter won’t survive for long if they cut off his cash flow.

Is your organization showing signs of moral decay? Do your leaders take responsibility for the integrity of the entire organization?

Leaders are responsible for creating a moral climate in their organizations, and ensuring that its business affairs are carried out with integrity. Of course, there will always be individuals who deviate from company policy, in which case high integrity leaders move swiftly to terminate them and take appropriate follow-up action to prevent repeat incidents.

The vast majority of today’s business leaders do precisely that. The exceptions, such as Blatter, give a poor name to all who view leadership as a higher calling. High integrity leaders must support firm action against those who destroy important enterprises like world soccer.

The sponsors whose funds are being used by corrupt leaders like Blatter and his compatriots should take definitive action now. Instead of “reviewing the situation,” they should collectively suspend their corporate relationships with FIFA. This definitive statement can reshape soccer and restore integrity. 

Part 3: Shape Your Future

We’ve looked at where you’ve come from and where you are now; it’s time to examine your future. Unlike your past and present, the future is vague and nebulous. Don’t let the unknown intimidate you. Each choice you make now will impact your path to your goals. Instead of worrying about what lies ahead, seize control of it. You are in charge of your own destiny, regardless of your circumstances. Don’t rely on luck to get you where you want to go; hard work trumps good luck every time. Answer these questions to narrow your focus and define your future.

1. What do you want your legacy to be? 10, 20, 50 years from now, what will your name mean?

In the grand scheme of things, we only have a short time on this earth. What are you going to do with it? Don’t just think about your legacy in 50 or 100 years from now. Think about your reputation in 10 years. What is important to you? What do you want to be known as? This isn’t necessarily fame and fortune. What do you want people to say about you when your name comes up in casual conversation? Will they talk about your philanthropic efforts and your generous soul? Your ambition and sharp mind for business? The skills and personality traits you hone now will become your legacy later.

2. Who do you look up to? Who are your mentors, both those you know personally and those who inspire you from afar?

Mentors are essential to success. They act as a sounding board in life and in business. Often, we’re so mired in our own problems or concerns that we can’t see the forest for the trees. A good mentor helps us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. When it comes to shaping your future, mentors can give you more than a helping hand. Look at the journeys of those who inspire you, even if you’ve never met them. When faced with decisions, where did they succeed? Where did they stumble? Learning from the lessons of those you admire is easier than trying to clear a new path to the same destination.

3. Fast-forward ten or twenty years. What is the one thing that, if you never pursued, you’d always regret?

This is a big picture question. Chances are your answer won’t be something like, “I wish I had taken that position at Google,” or “I wish I had worked more hours.” What is something you’ve always wanted to do? Perhaps you’ve always thought you could write a book. Go for it! You’ll never have to wonder what might have been. Many people have a goal that they want to pursue, but don’t because they are afraid to fail. In the long run, the regret of not trying your hardest to achieve your dreams will haunt you more than if you tried and didn’t succeed.

4. Fill in the blank: My life is a quest for ________. What motivates you? Money? Love? Acceptance?

What is it that you want out of life? Be honest with yourself about what truly makes you feel good. Think of the last time you felt an overwhelming sense of happiness. Were you surrounded by family and friends? Did you just get a raise at work? Maybe you were simply relaxing on the beach and reading a good book. What is the Holy Grail in your life? Don’t be too specific. Think about the general things you’d get out of it, like a sense of security and respect from others.

5. Now that you’ve answered these questions, what is your action plan? What steps will you take today?

You’re creating your tomorrows, today. Each moment in time sets the stage for all the moments following it. You can spend your time wisely, furthering your goals and creating a better future for yourself, or you can squander it. You’ve thought about your future and you have a good idea of where you’d like to be in the next 5, 10, and 20 years. What is the first next step to getting there? And why not take it today?

For more thought-provoking questions, read my blog on 30 Questions to Help You Discover Your True North. The fourth blog in this six-part series will help to identify your strengths and weaknesses. 

Part 2: You Are Here

A map is useless if you don’t know where you’re currently located. The questions in this blog, the second in a six-part series on “30 Questions to Discover Your True North,” are designed to help you determine where you are at this moment. Once you know where you stand, the path to your True North will be much clearer. Answer each question honestly and thoughtfully. Don’t get discouraged, and remember: where you are today is not where you’ll be tomorrow. The question is, are you moving forward or crawling back?

1. If you accomplish one thing by the end of the year, what would make the biggest impact on your happiness?

The year is almost halfway over. What could you do in the next six months that would make you the most happy? This doesn’t have to be work-related; maybe 2015 is the year you finally lose that college weight you put on 20 years ago, or you commit to a significant other. Perhaps there’s a certification you’ve always wanted, or you take the first steps towards going back to school. On New Year’s Day in 2016, what will you look back on and say, “I’m really glad I did that”?

2. What do you love most about your current job? What do you wish you could do more of?

If your answer to the first question is “money,” try harder. Even the worst jobs have aspects you love (or at least like). Maybe it’s a specific task or project you enjoyed working on, or you like your coworkers or the corporate culture. Keep this in mind as you develop your goals and seek your True North. The second half of this question is about the responsibilities and tasks you enjoy the most. Some people really like to network with others. You may long for those days where you tuck yourself away in your office and write code or crunch numbers. Since these tasks are already part of your job description, tell your superior how much you enjoy them, and seek out ways to take a bigger role in those activities.

3. List your core values. Use your company’s mission statement to list its core values. Do they match up?

What are your core values? What do you care about most, both in your personal life and in business? Think about your own personal “mantra” to help you figure out your values. Are you more of an “honesty is the best policy” type of person, or do you believe “the end justifies the means”? Honestly assess your priorities – if prestige, ambition, and opportunity for advancement are important to you, that’s okay. Acknowledge it and seek out a job where you can find those things. You’ll be happier than if you try to pretend you don’t care about them. Whatever your values are, look for a company that is in alignment with your vision.

4. List the five people you interact with most frequently. How is each helping you to reach your goals (or not)?

These five people may not necessarily be those we typically think of as the most important in our lives. Focus on who you interact with, not whose advice you value or who you care about the most. Who do you communicate with frequently? These are the people that will have a serious impact on your frame of mind and attitude. If you consistently have to deal with someone you dislike, that will affect your mood. After you’ve listed these five people, think about how they might be influencing you. Is each a positive force in your life?

5. What in your life is “on hold”?

We all have that goal in life that we’re going to get to… eventually. You think, “Once I do this, then I’ll start working on that goal.” You’d love to write a book, but you’re putting that on hold until you retire. You’d love to run a half marathon, but that’s on hold until you lose weight. There will always be an excuse not to do something. If these goals are important to you, don’t wait until tomorrow; start now! Don’t restrict yourself with imaginary chains. You can do what you love today – you just have to make it a priority.

For more thought-provoking questions, read my blog on 30 Questions to Help You Discover Your True North. In my next blog, I’ll discuss goal-setting for the future.

Part 1: The Power of the Past

Everyone makes mistakes, and we all fail at some point. It’s tempting to try to forget these failures, pushing them to the backs of our minds. But the mistakes we make lead us to better choices, and ultimately help us discover our True North. That’s why the past is the first thing I’m going to examine in this six-part series to help you determine what it is you’re looking for at this stage in your life - and the steps you need to take to get there.

While you don’t want to be a prisoner to the mistakes of your past, you do want to carefully examine your experiences for takeaways you can apply to your present and future. With that in mind, consider the following questions:

1. What is your biggest regret? If you could go back and have a ‘redo,’ what would you change?

Be careful with this question. It’s easy to get caught up in the many ways your life would have changed if you had made a different choice. The point of asking yourself this isn’t to follow the domino effect of doing something different, and any rosy fantasy of the future you missed out on is just that – a fantasy. Instead of focusing on ‘what could have been,’ think about why you made the decision that you made. Did you make the best choice at the time? Hindsight is always 20/20, after all, but you may have had to make do with the information at hand at that moment. On the other hand, maybe you made a legitimately bad decision. If so, why? Did you ask for advice from others? Did you get advice, but ignore it? Learn something from the mistake you made and move on.

2. What did you like to do when you were 10 years old? When was the last time you did that activity?

Soccer practice, arts and crafts, the school play…what did you love when you were young? For many people, the complications and time constraints of the day-to-day get in the way, and you gradually give up those things. But if you loved it then, you may find that bringing one of these activities back into your life will reinvigorate you. Your workplace probably isn’t putting on a play, but acting is a lot like public speaking. Join Toastmasters or seek out opportunities to talk in front of a crowd. You’ll get that same rush you used to get from acting – and improve your leadership and communication skills.

3. If yourself from 10 years ago met you today, would he/she be impressed with where you’ve gotten? Why or why not?

Imagine it. You from ten years ago bumps into you today, and you get to talking. What would a ten-year-younger you think of the life you lead? Would she be shocked to learn that you’re still working at the same company – and you haven’t gotten a raise the entire time? Would she be impressed by your time management skills, or horrified because you eat take-out almost every night? And the most important question: Would she have a point? How would you respond to your younger self’s criticisms and compliments? Priorities are dynamic; perhaps the goals you used to have are less important to you now. What do you think (or hope) you’d say if you met yourself in ten years?

4. When was the last time you embarrassed yourself?

The only way to grow as a leader and as a person is to step outside your comfort zone, and that means you’re going to feel embarrassed at some point. Again, you don’t need to throw yourself so far out of your comfort zone that you’re burning with shame. Take small steps. If you normally wouldn’t speak up during a meeting, make a comment or ask a question. If you have the opportunity to meet with a client or go out to lunch with a peer, do it. These baby steps will expand your comfort zone.

5. When was the last time you told a lie? Why? What would have happened if you told the truth?

Whether it’s a little white lie or a major whopper, this answer will reveal something about yourself and your motivations. Perhaps it was a “kind lie” and you wanted to spare someone’s feelings. But if you had told the truth in a kind way instead, what’s the worst that would have happened? Maybe you told your boss you started a project when you hadn’t. It may not hurt anyone (and you did start it right after you told the lie) but it does demonstrate that you need to work on your time management skills. You can’t lead authentically if you’re telling lies or half-truths. Understand the motivation behind any deception, and consider what the consequences would have been had you been honest. People will appreciate the honesty and reciprocate by being clear and open in their communication with you.

For more thought-provoking questions, read my blog on 30 Questions to Help You Discover Your True North. In my next blog, I’ll be looking at questions you can ask yourself to define where you are in the present moment.