Monthly Archives: September 2015

Anne Mulcahy: Just Keep Fighting

anne-mulcahyThroughout Discover Your True North, successful individuals discuss how they became authentic leaders. This forum is a chance to delve deeper into the thoughts and journeys of these influential leaders. In this profile, we will talk about empowerment with former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy.

Thank you for your time, Anne. You certainly experienced a crucible at the very beginning of your leadership at Xerox. Can you tell us about it?

Of course. When I took the helm at Xerox, we were bottoming out. I didn’t realize it at the time I was picked to be CEO, but I learned very quickly that the company was on the brink of disaster. We literally had only one week’s reserve of cash in the bank, and we were $18 billion in debt.

That’s a staggering figure. It must have been a shock.

Oh, it was. Our advisors were telling us to declare bankruptcy, my CFO was embroiled in an SEC investigation into our revenue recognition practices … it felt like being on the deck of the Titanic. It was a true crisis. To make it worse, my background was not in finances, or even in R&D. I was a salesperson first, and then worked my way into an executive role, but when it came to a crisis of this nature I really needed help.

It sounds like leadership challenge few people could rise to meet.

I don’t know about that. I believe people, especially good leaders, have a true strength inside them, a power that comes out when they’re put to the test. And I found out that I did. I simply was not willing to let my company fall into bankruptcy, and ruin the financial lives of the people who worked for us, who had worked so hard and given so much for a company they loved. I just wasn’t.

Ursula Burns, who would become my successor, said it best: “What do you say when times are tough? ‘Thank you very much, I’ll see you later?’” Ursula said that’s not what her mother taught her, and that’s exactly how I felt. I was not turning my back on my company or my people. I was willing to go to war for them, if that’s what it took. Ursula led the renewal of our R&D and manufacturing operations and made them competitive globally, and now is doing a superb job in leading the company.

You have a true fighter’s spirit, Anne. That much is clear. But what did you have to fight with? How did you win that war without the background or the experience in the financial world that you needed to understand the situation?

It’s simple: I counted on the people around me.

Leadership is not a lone enterprise. It can’t be. Too much depends on the success of a large corporation like Xerox for one person to depend only on her own talents and skills to get through a crisis. I needed a support group — I needed a team.

So I asked for it. I sat down with 100 of our top executives, was completely honest with them about the state of the company, and then asked them whether they were willing to fight with me. I told them they’d have my blessing if they chose to leave, but that I needed fighters by my side. All but two of them stuck with the company. It was such an uplifting moment.

I surrounded myself with my financial and R&D team, and had them grill me on specifics until I understood the aspects of my company I needed to know in order to successfully lead us.

And then I made sure that everyone talked to each other. I visited offices, I rode with salespeople, I fostered ongoing conversations between senior managers to problem-solve — I did everything I could think of to create relationships both within and outside of our organization. Because in the end, your relationships will save you. You cannot build loyalty without building relationships. And that’s what it took to turn the tide at Xerox: loyalty, and determination, and passion for our company. Everyone had to feel empowered to give their all, and feel accountable to each other for the results. They did, and it worked.

Did you ever think of giving up? Giving in and declaring bankruptcy?

No. It simply wasn’t an option for me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have hopeless days. I did — quite a few of them. It was a very challenging time. But again, relationships will get you through even the worst moments. I remember one particularly awful day, getting a voicemail from my friend Jim Firestone, who was then our chief strategist. He said that he believed in me — that they, my leadership team, believed in me. That was what I needed to hear to keep fighting.

I also had Warren Buffett on my side, which was powerful. He was one of the voices who suggested that the leadership team get out with our salespeople and hear firsthand what our customers needed. Times were tough but I never felt alone.

Well … it worked. Xerox reported more than $1 billion in net income in 2014. That’s quite a turnaround!

I’m so proud of my company. I’m proud of Ursula and her work since 2009 — she had quite a crucible with the economic downturn in ‘08, too, and she brought the company through it. We’ve come a long way.

Thank you, Anne, for sharing your inspiring story. We know it will encourage others who encounter hard times, whether in their businesses or in their lives.

I appreciate the chance to talk to you. And I hope I can stress to your readers that it takes a team to come through those hard times. It takes a “We” attitude — a willingness to lead from a place of collaboration, and to empower your team to do the best work they can, together, to meet their goals. Today’s leaders need to be cooperators and collaborators, not authoritarians. It really does work better that way. I never could have succeeded at Xerox without the support of every single person who was willing to pull together and say, “We will win this fight.” Fostering that kind of spirit is what leadership is all about.

Living An Integrated Life

rsz_istock_000024475299_smallAt a youth soccer game, four-year-olds swarm a ball. It’s a mass of kids pushing and shoving while, on the opposite end of the field, a few rogue players pick flowers. It’s a wonderful chaos, full of frantic laughter and smiling faces. But you’re distracted because your hip keeps buzzing. With the advent of smartphones, will we ever disconnect again?

Today, the business community works around the clock. Ever-present communication has replaced the days of going home from the office and returning the next morning at 8. It has become increasingly easy to get pulled off course in your personal and your professional life.

Achieving a balanced life — finding time for family, community, friends, and yourself — is more difficult than ever. You have to demand it, cultivate it. Occasionally you have to enjoy the hustle and bustle of regular life without work drawing you back. You have to find ways to disconnect.

Calling a timeout to review your balance

Stop for a moment, and assess your work/life balance. Think about your family, community, friends, professional life, and the time you devote to yourself. These four buckets constitute a life. You must devote time to each.

In Discover Your True North, I write:

If we sell our souls to the company, at the end of the day, we may find we have little to show for our efforts. If we seek organizations that nourish our souls, permit us to grow into fully functioning human beings, and enable us to integrate our lives, we can find fulfillment. (Chapter 8; p 166)

When I was an executive at Honeywell and later CEO of Medtronic, I found time to coach my sons’ soccer teams for twelve years, but always with a co-coach. In retrospect, I’m not sure how I found the time, but in retrospect, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Today, my older son, who runs an $11 billion company, is co-coach for his 8-year-old daughter’s soccer team.

Kimberly Eclipse, M.A., M.S. Ed, asks, “Are you truly living while you’re working?” For some the answer is no. They let their professional life push the other parts of life to the back burner. Authentic leaders do the opposite. They bring their entire self to work each day. This means the family man comes to work, the soccer coach leads a meeting, the whole person sits down with each client.

Rather than separate parts of your life — integrate

Why is the whole you important? Why are you merging the personal and professional?

In your pursuit of authenticity, I asked you to review your life story and learn from your crucibles. You were focusing on becoming more self-aware. Leaving all this knowledge at home and separating out a “work you” would waste this effort. While many organizations of the 20th century wanted you to come to work and leave “you” at home, today you have to use the whole you to reach your full potential as a leader.

In an article posted on the Harvard Business Review, Author Stew Friedman said that leaders find “ways to integrate the different parts of their lives to reinforce and enhance each other.” Everywhere he looked he found successful individuals who used who they were as a person to influence how and why they worked. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to rock icon Bruce Springsteen, Friedman points out that successful people channeled what made them a powerful person into creating a powerful product or being a powerful leader. When you give your whole self to the moment, you not only benefit personally, but it dramatically impacts your business as well.

When you are grounded in your approach to life and focused on your family, you can draw on this for motivation. When you wake up each morning knowing not only what you are doing, but why or for whom you are doing it, you will be more authentic, more genuinely you, and more effective.

Integration is the key to authenticity

When you find ways to integrate all the important parts of your life, you can define a vision for your organization that is in line with your character and goals. This is how you become an authentic leader: you build an organization founded on the values and principles you represent.

If you find yourself caught up in your professional life and unable to stop and enjoy a youth soccer game, blow a whistle and reset. It’s your duty as an authentic leader, someone growing in self-awareness, to carve out time in your life for living. When we were kids we brought our whole distracted selves to every event. As an adult, let’s bring our genuine, focused self to everything we do.

Learn more about this topic in Chapter 8: Integrated Life.

Post Bulletin: Summit Sets Sights on Health Care Delivery

Female doctor using digital tabletFour years after its creation, the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery kicked off its inaugural Delivery Science Summit on Wednesday.

The three-day conference at Mayo Civic Center is the ambitious initiative’s first opportunity to gather medical, big-data and clinical-research professionals in order to move academic initiatives closer to implementation.

The three goals of the gathering were “the holy grail” of health-care reform, in the words of Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. John Noseworthy: improve population health, improve the patient experience and better manage costs.

This means looking beyond the best treatments for illnesses, said course director Dr. Lois Krahn, to understanding the barriers preventing health systems from delivering those treatments on a consistent basis.

“We hope our participants will gain an appreciation of high-quality health-care delivery, that it’s important to get the right diagnosis, and critical to get the right treatment. But unless that reaches the patient, we will not reach our objective.”

The center was made possible by a $100 million gift from benefactors Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern, and its work is meant to be shared.

“It’s really a chance to begin to roll up our sleeves to fix health care as a team,” said Dr. Veronique Roger, director of the center, who said that a big challenge is learning how to take ideas into practice. “How do we get it to become business as usual, that’s the big question. It takes 17 years for information to get from the lab into practice. We need to compress that time.”

Speakers drew attention to integrated care and team-based medicine, historically Mayo attributes positioning the center to become a leading voice on the question of how to repair a fragmented system.

“We are organized around hospital needs and departments,” said opening speaker and former Medtronic CEO William George. “We need to organize health systems around patients, and not siloed departments.”

George also called for organizing care around disease states and not medical specialties, in order to insure that specialties work together. “All too often we are reimbursing outputs,” he said, “not outcomes.”

His other targets included “the unhealthy competition between primary and specialty care,” and the idea that only those at the top of the system can make change happen.

“Leadership happens at every level,” he said. “The missing element in health care is the absence of leaders. Each of us is called upon to lead and do what we can to make changes in the system.”

“We need a deeper understanding of the last three feet of health care,” he said, “the distance between me and my doctor, or my nurse or my receptionist. We have to understand the last three feet of medicine.”

The meeting drew 80 percent of its 350 attendees from within Mayo Enterprise, but also drew visitors from six countries and 23 states. It continues today through Friday at the Mayo Civic Center.

This article was originally posted 9/18/15 on

Star Tribune: Former Medtronic CEO Urges Students to find their “True North”


Former Medtronic CEO Bill George told students at Minnetonka High School on Thursday to find out who they really are and to stay true to that through the travails of life.

Everyone’s purpose takes some digging to pinpoint, he said, and he believes it is crucial for people to find their own “true north.”

George’s message went beyond life-coaching, touching on a tragedy still fresh in the community.

“Life is very precious,” he said.

George, 73, was referring to the loss of his mother and fiancée early in his life, but also a tragedy that was close to home for the audience. The school is still wrestling with the Short family murder-suicide last week. The children, Cole, who was 17, Madison, who was 15, and Brooklyn, who was 14, had all attended Minnetonka High School.

George said these tragedies often serve as a reminder of what he views as a major purpose in his life: making a difference.

George, who is now a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, has written books on this subject.

Minnetonka High School students in a professional studies program are studying one of his books, “Discover Your True North,” which focuses on leadership and ethics in business.

The program, called VANTAGE, is a yearlong course for juniors and seniors where students learn about business through projects, case studies and community mentorships.

George didn’t always know his “true north.” He’d thought he was on the path to becoming CEO at Honeywell, but realized he had lost his purpose. So George turned to Medtronic and immediately felt at home there, calling it the best time of his professional life.

“Stay on track,” he said to the crowd. “Know who you are.”

That message of experimenting before finding a perfect fit left an impact on students in the audience who are deciding on college and career options.

“I found it to be really insightful that the best way to find where you want to be is just to try it out,” said Smetana Larson, a senior in the VANTAGE program.

Huffington Post: Your Journey from I to We

iStock_000014894133_SmallAre you the hero of your own journey? Or are you a servant-leader who empowers others?

All of us start out in this world as individual contributors. In our early years we are measured by our grades, test scores, and solo accomplishments. As we enter the world of work, many of us envision ourselves in the hero’s image who can change the world. This is a perfectly natural embarkation point for leaders. Today’s leaders like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page have their own change-the-world narrative, yet as they matured, both have become outstanding leaders of others.

As we take on leadership responsibilities, our orientation must change. As GE’s Jamie Irick said in Discover Your True North, “If you want to be a leader, you’ve got to flip the switch and understand it’s about serving the folks on your team. This is a very simple concept, but one many people overlook. The sooner people realize it, the faster they become leaders.”

Irick captured the essence of servant-leadership. Robert Greenleaf, father of servant leadership, described servant leaders in 1970:

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform.

We call this journey the “I to We” transformation, because it requires that you shift your focus from your success to the success of others. In our classes for MBAs and executives at Harvard Business School, we realize this transformation is the most important one leaders experience.

Some leaders never get there, as they envision amassing legions of followers whose roles are to support them. If you fall into that trap, you will never engender great loyalty or commitment from your teammates, nor will you become an authentic leader.

Nonetheless, some fear that focusing on others may sidetrack them from reaching their personal goals. However, the opposite is true: As a leader, you can only achieve great things by being a servant leader.

Research has demonstrated conclusively that “other-focused” leaders lead more effective teams. As Wharton psychologist Adam Grant explains, “They do so by bringing out the best in others.” As a result, givers rise to the top of their profession.

When leaders stop focusing on their needs, they are more effective in developing other leaders. By overcoming their need to control everything, they learn people are more interested in working with them. A light bulb turns on as they recognize the unlimited potential of empowered leaders working together toward a shared purpose.

The graphic below captures some differences between “I” leaders and “We” leaders.


At the core of these two approaches is the leader’s belief: “I” leaders believe they have the answers, and the best results will be achieved if others follow their direction. “We” leaders, on the other hand, believe that superior results result from teams of people exploring possibilities, debating options, and agreeing upon a course of action. Underlying their approach is the belief that “people support what they help create.”

It took me a long time to learn this. In my early leadership roles, I had a clear vision of what needed to be done. I spelled it out clearly to my team and invited them to challenge it, spending most of my time selling others on my ideas. When you’re the boss, you can be quite “persuasive”! As one confidant said to me, “Bill, you’re not getting the best out of your team because you’re so forceful that you shut out their ideas.” Advice well taken. After that, I tried my best to draw out others before asserting my opinions.

Making the transformation from I to We requires introspection and cognitive reframing of how you see your role as a leader, and how much you respect others’ ideas and their willing commitment. For some leaders this requires a mid-career crucible.

Steve Jobs faced such a time when he was fired by the Apple board. During his early years, Jobs was the classic “I” leader. Wildly charismatic and visionary, he bullied, cajoled, inspired, and ultimately exhausted everyone around him. The board determined the company simply couldn’t handle his domineering, though brilliant approach. He went on a journey to rethink his life and leadership. As he said,

I didn’t see it then, but getting fired from Apple was the best thing that ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

As part of his journey, he purchased an animated movie company, which he renamed Pixar. There, he teamed up with two great innovation leaders, Ed Catmull and John Lassiter. From this experience, Jobs grew from a great innovator to a great innovation leader. That paved the way for him to return to Apple as much more of a “We” leader who knew how to use the talents of his teammates.

Where are you in your journey? Have you become a “We” leader? Or do you shift back into an “I” mode under pressure? How has this affected the results your team accomplishes?

As you make this transformation, you are growing into a “leader of leaders” who has unlimited potential to lead others to achieve great things. In so doing, you become a servant-leader. Isn’t this what leadership is all about?

The ideas in this article are drawn from Chapter 9 of Discover Your True North.

This article was originally posted 9/16/15 on


CNBC: Are Corporate Ethics Sliding Again?

iStock_000062915734_SmallJust when we thought we were past the corporate scandals of the past decade, two new crises have emerged at large global companies –Toshiba and United Airlines.

Last week, Toshiba announced an “accounting adjustment” of $1.9 billion, more than four times the original estimate in April when the problems initially surfaced. Toshiba’s problems extend back for seven years, and have cost CEO Hisao Tanaka and two key executives their jobs. They have acknowledged awareness of the improper accounting, which they attribute to short-term profit pressures.

These adjustments are not just accounting errors, they may be indications of potential fraud. If Toshiba was an American company operating under Sarbanes-Oxley, its CEO and CFO could be subject to criminal penalties.

That was followed by United Airlines announcing the resignation of its chief executive, Jeff Smisek, for his involvement in the corruption scandal with David Samson, former chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, involving special flights from Newark to Columbia, SC, where Samson has a home. In addition to Smisek’s resignation, two other top United executives involved in the scandal have also departed.

The former CEO of Continental Airlines, Smisek led the merger of United and Continental in 2010. As CEO for the past five years, he has been confronted by a host of operating problems from delays, computer problems and breakdowns in the reservation system plus difficulties with merging the unionized workers of the two airlines. This has led to enormous pressure on Smisek from United’s shareholders.

What is even more shocking about Smisek’s departure is that the United board has granted him a $4.9 million termination settlement plus 60,000 shares of stock worth more than $3 million. He was also awarded lifetime flying and parking privileges, this year’s bonus and his company car. This calls into the question whether the board exercised its responsibility to set a high bar on ethics for the company.

Scandals like these have no place in today’s world. They tarnish all corporations in the eyes of the general public. In both cases the CEOs were well aware of the rules and yet engaged in inappropriate and potentially illegal activities. For what reason? It appears they were responding to pressure from investors to improve short-term performance. That’s no justification for engaging in corruption, nor should we blame investors for demanding better results. And both scandals involved their subordinates as well. Will it turn out that the corruption at the top levels of United and Toshiba goes much deeper?

The CEO’s role is to develop sustainable strategies that enable their companies to perform in the near term while investing for long-term growth. In sharp contrast to Smisek’s leadership, Delta CEO Richard Anderson has done just that since the company emerged from bankruptcy and acquired Northwest Airlines in 2008. Delta’s employees are engaged and focused on their customers, its computer systems work well, and the majority of its flights arrive early. This has led to very strong bottom-line results.

These days the public and investors are entitled to demand that companies have integrity in their accounting and their dealings, and operate with openness and transparency. Neither Toshiba nor United did so. As a consequence, their reputations are deeply scarred.

Asking board members who presided over these debacles to take over as CEO is not right either, other than on an interim basis. Rather, the boards of Toshiba and United Airlines need to bring in high integrity leaders who can restore the confidence of their customers, employees and shareholders. Failing that, expect both of these giants to continue to decline.

The only good that can emanate from these situations will be if other companies’ boards and CEOs learn from them. Capitalism only works when its leaders put first their moral responsibilities to the company and society.

This article was originally published 9/15/15 on