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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Amazon Book Review: Thomas M. Loarie

This was originally published on Amazon.com

By Thomas M. Loarie 

“Walgreens is Waiting for Answers About Theranos”

“Attention Shareholders: Beware of the Board”

“Credit Suisse Settles ‘Dark Pool’ Case”

“Stanford Business School Steps Down After Affair with Wife of Direct Report”

“Bribery Case Hits UN”

“Volkswagen Chief Martin Winterkorn Resigns Amid Emissions Scandal”

“VC Arrested for Insider Trading Now Accused of Defrauding His Firm”

These recent headlines in the Wall Street Journal highlight the on-going problem of leaders who have “gone south” and have taken their organizations with them. Stanford business school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer would use these as examples of how “the leadership industry has failed.” Prescriptions for leaders to be more truthful are at odds with what goes on in the real world. “The ability to lie can be very useful for getting ahead,” says Pfeffer. “Manipulation is a foundation for social power…in fact; there is a reciprocal relationship between power and lying.”

That brings us to Bill George’s latest book, “Discover Your True North: Expanded and Updated.” In it, George brings his wisdom, observations, examples, and practices to bear on helping leaders be something more than what Pfeffer proposes. He encourages us to build on our natural leadership gifts and to stay on our “True North” track to inspire and empower others to excellence. According to George, our “True North” is the internal compass which, based on deeply held beliefs, values, and principles, “represents who we are at our deepest level.” Knowing our internal compass helps when pressures and seductions detour us from achieving our purpose in life. It is our lifesaver… alerting us to get back on track when the life being lived is not aligned with who we are at the deepest level.

George’s “True North” needs some reconciling to Pfeffer’s belief about the reality of leadership. Pfeffer talks about power for the sake of power while George talks about power that flows from character. This disconnect may be attributed to the lack of good role models for those seeking to be leaders. I have observed over the years that leadership training if not reinforced by good role models does not lead to “True North” leadership. It is hard work to develop the type of leader George talks about. It is “The Road Less Traveled” due to the required investment of time by both the student and the role model.

For this reason, I recommend “Discovering Your True North” but with the caveat that it is reinforced by a role model. This may be satisfied with George’s concept of a “support team” that he details in the book. I have worked with Bill George and can vouch that he is the real thing. I am sure that he provides the modeling needed to those he touches in the classroom and for those he works with in his consultancy.

In brief about this updated edition – George revisits his NYC Times best-seller and now business classic that was released in 2007. He integrates his personal insights gained as CEO of Medtronic and as a professor and Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School with new first-person interviews of 48 “authentic global leaders.” These leaders include many who have garnered the positive attention of the press and have inspired and empowered millions to excellence –Indra Nooyi, Jack Ma, Alan Mulally, John Mackey, Sheryl Sandberg, Michael Bloomberg, and many others. He also includes updates on the original 125 participants featured in his first book and includes a chapter on finding your “GQ,” your global quotient.

George also includes case studies of those who were seduced and made bad choices, which led to painful detours in their lives – Rajat Gupta (insider trading), Lance Armstrong (fraud and demonization of those who tried to get the truth known), and Michael Baker (fraud). It is early but we all may have something to learn from what appears to be a scandal of major proportions at Theranos. Did Elizabeth Holmes take time to find her “True North”? Did she take a detour? Will Theranos survive? For her, this book may be too late.

Those who read the first book will find this to be just as inspiring. For those who missed the first book, they will find this to be a treasure and regret they missed the 2007 edition.