Bill George One of 25 best
Leadership Books
Of All-Time

Go To

Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Category: Social Media

Engaging the Millennials

The Millennial generation — those offspring of the baby boomers — are not short on the “three D’s”: dedication, drive, and delivery.

Young adults today study harder and more often, engage in more community service, participate in greater numbers of extracurricular activities, and hold a more optimistic outlook on the future than any other generation in modern history.  Lauded by parents and pundits alike as beacons of youthful optimism that shine in uncertain economic times, these future leaders are eager for leadership opportunities and thirsty to impress.

Having grown up on Twitter and Facebook, today’s youth respect their communities and recognize the importance of staying engaged.  As the 2008 elections showed, Millennials proved they could walk the walk and flocked to the voting polls, many for the first time.  Moreover, Millennials appear to have a high moral compass.   Case in point: youth from around the nation responded to the earthquake disaster in Haiti with food drives led on Facebook, service trips, and fundraising efforts via email campaigns.  A number of my HBS students embarked on trips themselves to lend a hand in subsequent months, writing blogs and sharing their experience with others back home.

Millennials seem eager to stay in touch, any way they can, double-timing on iPads and Smartphones. They have grown up in a culture where the defining theme is “velocity,” both in terms of the rate of change and the pace of information.  Consumer and behavioral trends shift monthly, technology evolves constantly, and information flows with sometimes overwhelming abandon, saturating Millennials with 24/7 political newsfeeds and social networks. 

This hyper connectivity certainly has many useful purposes — workplace productivity, community engagement, and civic mindedness, among others.  But does it come at a price?

Despite their collective activity level and propensity for community engagement, this generation may be at risk of becoming too accustomed to constant exposure, of becoming too quick to say: “Got it – on to the next one.”  In charging ahead, are Millennials failing to take time to focus and reflect?  Are they so caught up in keeping up that they will ignore vital real-life lessons that are needed to gain the wisdom to stay pointed toward their True North?

Over the next decade, Millennials will be asked to step into important leadership roles and take part in helping to resolve the complex issues facing the U.S., and the globe.  As Timothy Egan notes in last week’s NY Times, they are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of actions taken today.  From foreign policy to the environment to international economic issues, Millennials will need to adopt a long-term sustainable view.  Who wants to create a startup, invent a new product, serve in politics, or generate a new business model 20 years if our society is selfish, partisan, and dysfunctional?

To develop the insights and the intuition required to address these daunting hurdles with experienced perspectives and informed temperaments, Millennials must commit to their long-term leadership development.  Such a commitment will prepare them for the more daunting challenges that will inevitably come their way.  Developing the qualities of emotional intelligence like self-awareness, introspection, empathy, and empowerment will determine their future success, but this requires the time and commitment to reflection and introspection.

Here are some of my ideas on how to develop these qualities:

  1. For my family and me the most important step we have taken is to meditate daily.  Back in 1975, my wife dragged me to a meditation retreat “kicking and screaming,” and I have meditated twenty minutes twice a day ever since. My sons – Jeff, a business executive with Novartis, and Jon, a head-and-neck surgeon – both meditate regularly.  Meditation has enabled me to find calm, creativity, and clarity, in spite of leading a high-stress life.
  2. A second approach is to take time for yourself to reflect.  There are many ways to do this – through prayer, journaling, jogging, yoga, or just sitting quietly.  The important thing here is to turn off all the instant communications and just be with yourself.
  3. A very different approach involves having a leadership development group (LDG) – six to eight people with whom you meet regularly.  Since 1975, I have been part of group of guys that meets weekly to discuss the important issues of life and to share our challenges and joys.  My wife and I are also part of a couples group that has met monthly since 1983.  These two groups have been a godsend in my life, providing support in difficult times, deeply honest feedback, and wisdom that have helped me in so many ways.
  4. A fourth idea is to get involved in service to your community, being engaged with diverse groups of people whose life experiences are entirely different from your own.  Community service, especially in leading volunteers, is an excellent way to develop skills like empowering others to lead.  You learn a great deal about yourself through helping others and understanding their perspectives about life. Service opens you up to developing compassion and empathy for others, especially those less fortunate that you. 

It is important to build habits and practices like these into your daily life at a relatively young age. You may be surprised at how you stick with them for decades.  At first, you may feel like you don’t have time for them.  That was my reaction, but now I realize that these practices make me much more efficient in using my time, more compassionate in dealing with other people, and ultimately more effective in leadership roles.  Most important of all, I feel better about myself and my life.

What’s not to like about that?  It’s the best way I know to stay on the course of your True North.

Connected Leadership (Guest Post)

I own an iPhone and a Blackberry, and I use both constantly.  Read articles.  Set meetings.  Watch videos.  Send and receive emails.  Check my Twitter feed.  Find the best lunch spot in a new city.  Chat with my friends and colleagues.

As one who’s start-up small business thrives on social media – particularly, constant communication with my team, my clients, and my potential clients – I cannot imagine maintaining my current level of productivity or efficiency without my smart phones.  As such, I would imagine other business leaders share a similar perspective, particularly as mobile devices become increasingly intuitive and practical. 

For those leaders still on the fence, however, here are 8 reasons why I think mobility is critical for leadership:

  1. Every bad product review left unattended or complaint unresolved is an open wound for your company.  Imagine the impact on a customer if you, the CEO, responds to his or her complaint, and actually fixes it.  Imagine the ripples in the pond when word spreads of your customer-centricity.  Little bad, and great good, can happen from genuine attempts at real-time problem-solving – and mobile web technology enables it more quickly.
  2. A definitive trend of the 21st century media has been an increase in velocity.  You cannot ignore the pace of change – the speed of news cycles, the acceleration of your own company’s operations, and the ferocity of your competitors.  Allowing yourself to be disconnected is to make way for others to sprint ahead.
  3. Crises – big (Toyota) and small (Google Buzz’s privacy hiccup) – do not wait for normal 9 to 5 business hours.  As Bill George has so often noted, the first and most difficult step in resolving a crisis is facing the reality of your situation, beginning with yourself.  Advanced mobile technology allows you to gather data, conference with your executive team, observe customer complaints, and mobilize around a response with the constraints of boardroom sitdowns.  Akio Toyoda failed for a number of reasons, but his sluggish response was one of the most glaring.
  4. Your employees live in the mobile web.  Ask Zappos’ Tony Hsieh or Google’s Eric Schmidt – each can attest to the inherent cultural benefits of open, active, mobile communication across social networks with employees.
  5. Your competitors live in the mobile web.  And they are taking your customers.
  6. Your family and friends live online.  Mobile technology offers much needed opportunities to connect with your spouse, children, friends and extended family to get a fresh perspective whenever you want or need to.  No leader is successful without an active support network.  Today’s mobile technology ensures you always have one.
  7. Your Web 2.0 culture-conscious customers expect you to be accessible by mobile, just as they expect your company employees to be.  Mobile facilitates an even simpler and accommodating evolution in customer-interaction, and will allow you to monitor that evolution in real time.
  8. Mobile usage increased by 110% in the U.S. in 2009, and 148% percent worldwide as measured by growth in pageviews (see: January Quantcast report).  Do you really want to have zero frame of reference as to the mobile lifestyle?  That’s a dangerous concession.  Get started now – if you’re new, there is a steep learning curve.

As my team, my family, and my friends often remind me, there’s always the “Power” button to set the necessary boundaries.  Set them and stick to them, but actively engage in the meantime.

In my experience, you’ll be a better informed, more genuine, and more effective leader for it.

Pepsi REFRESH: The Empowerment of a New Generation

I was very excited to hear about the Pepsi REFRESH project when it was announced at the beginning of the year.  CEO Indra Nooyi’s decision to allocate marketing dollars to a community-reinvestment effort deserves great applause as it stands as a prime example of progressive, conscientious 21st centruy leadership.  By shifting Super Bowl advertising dollars to philanthropy, Pepsi is making a smart investment in marketing and in communities. 

The program is simple.  Pepsi REFRESH invites anyone to submit a grant proposal for a project – all proposals are then judged by the Pepsi’s online community, from their dedicated Facebook fans and Twitter followers, and beyond.  Grants of $5,000 to $250,000 are awarded to dozens of applicants every month. 

This project is exciting on multiple levels.  First, it marks an encouraging departure from a dated era where corporate philanthropy and community empowerment was seen as a “nice-to-do,” only done to enhance a firm’s public image.  Over the past generation, corporate philanthropy has been impacted by Milton Friedman’s view that business is a “profit maximizing” entity, rather than an institution chartered by society as a steward of its financial and social well-being.  But now, the idea that philanthropy is better left to shareholders is fading away – and I am glad to see Pepsi reinforcing a new ideal.

Second, Pepsi Refresh represents a marketing innovation.  Indra Nooyi has long been at the forefront of progressive leadership, but green-lighting this project shows that she and her team at Pepsico are committed to exploring new ways of engaging customers.  Instead of bombarding viewers with Super Bowl advertisements, Pepsi is seeking out their customers where they live – offline and online – and delivering value to their communities.   Millions of Pepsi customers are engaging in social media and connecting online, actively seeking company engagement on this level. People want companies that seek out their advice and ideas, companies that talk with them in the way they want to communicate.

Third, this project is an investment in the next generation of leaders.  The Pepsi REFRESH project empowers community activists, students, small business owners, and non-profit overseers in an unprecedented way – with no-strings-attached investments in their projects and complete corporation-backed empowerment.  Not only is Pepsi providing funding for these projects, they’ve left the decision-making in the hands of the masses.  Votes online will dictate what project – what up-and-coming leader – receives funding, not votes around a boardroom.

The Pepsi REFRESH project represents a monumental effort to be a trend-setter by redefining corporate marketing and customer engagement.  If Pepsi is “the choice of a new generation,” then Pepsi REFRESH may well be “the empowerment of a new generation.”

Podcasts & Reviews: 7 Lessons For Leading In Crisis

At the World Business Forum this past September, I had the pleasure of hosting a reception with the top business bloggers in the country who in attendance cover the events.

I’ve remained in contact with many of them, and recently connected with Jonathan Fields for a podcast to discuss my latest book, 7 Lessons for Leading In Crisis.  We also took a deeper dive on crisis-time leadership and social media. 

Here’s what Jonathan had to say about the conversation:

“In this candid interview, Bill and I cover everything from leading in a time of crisis to the true meaning of success on a personal level. He reveals not only his thoughts on business, but on family, life, passion and people. And, you’ll never believe what he’s been doing twice a day since the 70s; it’s something he says has been instrumental in his success.”

You can listen to the entire conversation here: Behind The Leader: A Candid Conversation with Bill 

* * * * * *

WBF alum, Steve Todd was gracious enough to review 7 Lessons for Leading In Crisis.  I’ve included a few excerpts below:

“Overall I enjoyed the unique point of view on the financial crisis, as well as the framework for evaluating leadership. It’s a good reference book to keep handy during tough times.”

“If I want to evaluate my own leadership skills during a crisis, the book is an excellent place to turn. If I want to evaluate a public official, or a corporate executive, and formulate a thoughtful opinion of their performance during a crisis, I would refer to this book.”

You can read the rest of the review here: Book Review: 7 Lessons For Leading In Crisis.

Many thanks again to Steve and Jonathan!


Interview With “Hello Viking” On Leadership & Social Media

I recently sat down with Tim Brunelle at Hello Viking to discuss issues surrounding leadership, my lifelong passion, and social media, my recent fascination.  It was a great conversation stretching across the morning, and I’ve included some video highlights here, courtest of Hello Viking:

How important is humanity, transparency, and authenticity in corporate leadership?

How do you coach corporate leaders with regard to social media?