Bill George is a familiar face around campus as the Henry B. Arthur Fellow of Ethics and a professor of Management Practice teaching both Leadership and Corporate Accountability and the popular EC course, Authentic Leadership. His latest book, “True North: Discovering your Authentic Leadership” has jumped into the Wall Street Journal top ten rankings in just a few weeks.
As the former CEO and Chairman of Medtronic and a current board member of blue chips such as Exxon Mobil, Goldman Sachs and Novartis, Bill George speaks from a lifetime of real world leadership experience. “For business leaders, trust is the vital fuel that makes our system function effectively. When leaders violate that trust, they put our entire system of capitalism at risk, as well as the lives and livelihood of their customers, employees, and investors.”
In researching “True North” Professor George spoke to 125 business leaders from CEOs to mid-level managers and asked them to talk about their personal experience of leadership. He found that when interviewed leaders rarely talked about particular characteristics, traits, skills or styles that led to their success. Rather, they believed their leadership emerged from their life stories.
“The reality is that no one can be authentic by trying to be like someone else,” Prof. George explained. “There is no doubt that you can learn from the experiences of others, but there is no way you can be successful trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not an imitation.”
Prof. George argued that you can separate all leaders into two categories, those for whom leadership is about their success and those who are leading to serve others. The latter group finds inspiration in their life stories to make the transformation from “I” to “We.” The former group never makes that transition.
But how can you become an authentic leader? Prof. George is clear that there are no quick fixes or easy checklists. He argues that it takes years of hard work and development. The key is knowing the True North of your internal compass, and then preparing to stay on course in spite of the challenges and seductions that cause so many leaders to go astray. As Bill George explained, “the hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself.”
Bill George’s book “True North: Discovering your Authentic Leadership” is available in the Coop.