Monthly Archives: August 2015 How Much Has Our Perception Of Great Leadership Shifted Over The Past Decade And What Has Changed?

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.iStock_000050755292_Medium-forbes

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:

  1. Inspiring people with a vision
  2. Empowering your teammates
  3. Collaborating with diverse teams
  4. Appreciating cultural and ethnic differences on the global level, and
  5. 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

Leaders Search to Know Thyself

compass in hand on landscape backgroundHow comfortable are you with who you are right now?

Self-awareness is the foundation of authenticity, and thus it is at the center of your compass.  You develop it by exploring your life story.  As you do this, you need to understand who you are at a deeper level.  This is hard work but an essential step in your development as a leader.  A foundation of self-awareness leads to self-acceptance and ultimately self-actualization so that you can fulfill your greatest potential.

Becoming Self-Aware by Balancing Intensity and Reflection

The charge to “Know Thyself” may be thousands of years old, but following this advice is not easy to do.  As human beings, we have many aspects to our character.  We are constantly evolving, as we test ourselves in the world, are influenced by it, and adapt to our environment–all to find our unique place.  But you must be true to yourself to achieve what you seek from life and overcome the obstacles you face.

Self-awareness should be the starting point in every leader’s development.

When Stanford Graduate School of Business asked its advisory council the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness.  It is the center of your inner compass and an essential component of knowing yourself, discerning your passions, and discovering the purpose of your leadership.

Without being aware of your vulnerabilities, fears, and longings, it is easy to go off the track.  Gaining self-awareness begins with understanding your life story.

One of the most important skills leaders need to develop is the ability to see themselves as others see them.  Honest feedback is often hard to get, because far too many people tell leaders what they want to hear.  For this reason, authentic leaders have to seek out feedback.

This article was originally posted 8/28/15 on

Leadership Styles: Becoming an Authentic Leader

Business man making a presentation at office. Business executive delivering a presentation to his colleagues during meeting or in-house business training, explaining business plans to his employees.

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.

Brian Cornell, CEO of Target Corp.

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.

Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEOLikewise, 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.

Listen Actively
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
the students.”

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

6 Top Motivations That Drive The Best Entrepreneurs

Businessman Climbing MountainIn my experience mentoring new entrepreneurs and aspiring business leaders, I see far too many who seem to be driven by all the wrong reasons. Everyone seems to espouse extrinsic motivations, such as getting rich, having power, and fulfilling parent dreams, when in fact a focus on satisfying internal interests and desires will likely lead to more success, as well as satisfaction.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a couple of the best-known entrepreneurs of our time, and read about many more in the updated version of a classic book, “Discover Your True North,” by Harvard leadership expert and best-selling author Bill George. He makes a convincing argument that the best leaders and entrepreneurs follow their intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivations.

He emphasizes the value of finding a way to align your strengths with your intrinsic motivations, which he calls the sweet spot. Some of the most effective sweet spots and intrinsic motivations for today’s entrepreneurs would include the following:

  1. Making a difference in the world. When Bill Gates acted on his dream of putting a computer in every home and on every desk, he had no idea of the fortune it would bring to him, since he wanted only to make a difference. Extrinsic motivations often work against entrepreneurs by leading them to set unrealistic and overwhelming goals.
  2. Find personal meaning from building a business. In his book, “The Art of The Start 2.0,” Guy Kawasaki exhorts entrepreneurs to focus on making meaning, not money. He has said many times that if your vision for your company is to grow it just to flip it to a large company or to take it public and cash out, “you’re doomed.” Do it for meaning.
  3. Satisfaction of doing something great. Steve Jobs summarized his intrinsic motivation in 2005 at Stanford in a talk titled “How to Live Before You Die.” He said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
  4. Personal growth and accomplishment. To be a successful entrepreneur, one can never stand still. The best entrepreneurs enjoy the journey as much as the destination. They have a thirst for knowledge that helps them in their business, as well in their own personal growth. That synergy creates a sweet spot that maximizes their impact.
  5. Seeing the real value of one’s beliefs. When asked why he created Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg replied “It’s not because of the amount of money. For me and my colleagues, the most important thing is that we create an open information flow for people. Having media corporations owned by conglomerates is just not an attractive idea to me.”
  6. Helping others achieve their goals. If you want to achieve your goals, help others achieve theirs. Great entrepreneurs keep your eyes open for other businesses in a related space that can complement theirs. Elon Musk has opened up Tesla car battery patents for use by anyone, which obviously will benefit his business as well as theirs.

Most entrepreneurs will tell you that once they discovered the real purpose for their efforts, they found a new sense of commitment and leadership which allowed them to really inspire and empower others, as well as direct their own actions. At this point they can make the strategic decisions they need to really make a difference, enjoy satisfaction, and leave a lasting legacy.

Many have found that initial failure is one of the best teachers in this regard. I counsel new entrepreneurs to expect failure, and wear it as a badge of pride, rather than trying to hide it. In fact, most investors are wary of anyone who claims to have never failed, reading that claim as an indication of too much caution, or not able to face their own reality.

The primary message here is not to hide your real motivation from yourself, your team, or your investors. You can’t fool them all for very long, and you won’t be happy trying. If you can’t find any intrinsic motivations for what you are doing now, it’s probably time to take a hard look at your lifestyle and your future. Life is too short to be unhappy and unfulfilled for any part of it.

This article was originally posted 8/27/15 on Discover Your True North with Bill George

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!

This article was originally posted 08/21/15 on