Monthly Archives: January 2016 David Bowie and the Power of Role Models

David Bowie, the songwriter and actor whose work on records and in films inspired countless fans and artists across the globe, died at age 69 on Sunday following an 18-month battle with cancer, according to numerous reports.

redux-bowie-web_77603Regardless of the genre he was working in, Bowie was hard to categorize. But one kernel of wisdom business leaders can extract from his long and successful career is Bowie’s attitude toward role models and mentorship. Whereas most artists are notorious for concealing their artistic inspirations, Bowie openly paid tribute to his. And as an older artist–when he himself was a role model to the younger generation–Bowie took his mentoring duties very seriously.

In business, the power of mentors or role models to influence young entrepreneurs is well known. As leadership expert Bill George points out in his book, Discover Your True North, Mark Zuckerberg has thrived in large part because of his network of mentors, including Don Graham, former CEO of the Washington Post Company; Bill Gates and Marc Andreessen. “People always ask, How does [Zuckerberg] have the wisdom of someone 20 years older?” says George. “The answer is, he sought out really good mentors, early on.” Once, for spiritual guidance, Zuckerberg visited a temple in India at the behest of another of his mentors: the late Steve Jobs.

As for Bowie’s role models, you can find them if you focus on a pivotal early album in his career: 1971’s Hunky Dory. The album includes tributes to artists Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed. The three songs appear back-to-back-to-back on side two of the record. Taken together, they form a straightforward statement about Bowie’s artistic influences.

Warhol’s influence on Bowie is obvious in all the big-picture ways: Like Warhol, Bowie worked in multiple genres, pushed boundaries, and strove to defy the easy labeling of his work. More explicitly, Bowie made no secret of his admiration for the Velvet Underground (VU), a band Warhol managed and marketed. In 1972, Bowie co-produced Transformer, the second album by Reed, who was, of course, the Velvet Underground’s lead singer. Bowie also performed many a VU song in concert.

When it comes to Dylan, Bowie once told Melody Maker that the tribute song was his way of taking the rock leadership torch from Dylan. The song “laid out what I wanted to do in rock. It was at that period that I said, ‘Okay (Dylan) if you don’t want to do it, I will.’ I saw that leadership void. Even though the song isn’t one of the most important on the album, it represented for me what the album was all about. If there wasn’t someone who was going to use rock ‘n’ roll, then I’d do it.”

He did it, all right. He kept making great records for the next forty-plus years. And as the years went by, he himself became one of rock’s preeminent role models and elder statesmen. Just a few years ago, Trent Reznor, a legendary musician in his own right, told Rolling Stone that Bowie had helped to mentor him during a time of addiction. “I was nearing the peak of my addiction, and his role to me was kind of mentor, big brother, friend, and also he’d give me kind of shamanish advice,” Reznor noted.

Among the numerous things worth remembering about Bowie is that he lived a long life, especially by rock ‘n’ roll standards. The history of the modern-day music industry is filled with too many sad examples of stars who ended their own lives at a young age, for one reason or another. Bowie endured, and his staggering life’s work as an artist ensures that he always will.

This article was originally posted to on 1/11/16


Coaching for Leaders: Episode 225

On today’s show, we learn how to discover your True North with Bill George, one of America’s most seasoned business leaders.

Bill is a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and the former Chairman and CEO of Medtronic, the world’s leading medical technology company.

He is the author of four bestselling books, including True NorthAuthentic Leadership, and his most recent book, Discover Your True North, which is what he’s here to talk about today. 

This link was originally posted to Coaching For Leaders on 12/27/2015

Attune: The Role of Focus in Authentic Leadership


Reading glasses work well when you’re reading a book, but don’t try to drive across town wearing them. To do that, you need glasses that can change focus. The same is true with Attune-Website-300x300leadership. You need a different kind of focus to manage yourself, others, and the greater systems around you.

Attune: The Role of Focus in Authentic Leadership is a 40-minute streaming conversation between Daniel Goleman and Bill George about the three kinds of focus that are essential for enhancing your ability to give feedback, motivate people, and respond to changing situations in your environment.

Focus and Authentic Leadership

Their discussion draws on examples from their own careers and those of business and world leaders, and highlights the benefits of developing each type of focus.

Why inner focus? Self-awareness allows leaders to manage their inner world.

Why other focus? Developing empathy helps leaders build effective relationships and interactions.

Why outer focus? Awareness of larger systems helps leaders choose effective strategies.

Topics covered include:

Learn the three types of empathy

Find your leadership blind spots

Giving and receiving feedback

Handling the heat in crucible moments

Understand the dangers of groupthink

Order Now!

LinkedIn Pulse: Recognizing the Dangers of Groupthink

BGgroupthinkIn the classic Hans Christian Andersen story, everyone tells the Emperor what he wants to hear – that his new clothes are beautiful. No one wants to anger the Emperor, so they won’t tell him
he’s wearing nothing. It isn’t until a child names the truth that the Emperor learns he’s been
fooled by the weavers who were supposed to make him a special set of clothes.

What happened to the Emperor isn’t just the stuff of fairy tales, it’s the real-life experience of many high-level leaders who surround themselves with people who won’t report negative information for fear of repercussions. As leaders rise through the ranks, the less honest feedback they receive. High-level executives can become isolated and not understand the reality of their situation. Such leaders may not walk down the street naked, but lack of information can lead to poor decisions and missed opportunities.

My colleague Bill George and I talked about this question in our conversation forAttune: The Role of Focus in Authentic Leadership. Bill shared a first-hand experience with the dangers of groupthink.

“Early in my life, I worked in the U.S. Department of Defense as a civilian in the era of Robert McNamara and the Vietnam War. Some of the most brilliant people I’ve met in my life were at the high levels of the Pentagon. But, toward the end, they were walking off the cliff together. They suffered from groupthink. McNamara was so powerful, his team simply reinforced what he was saying. They didn’t take different perspectives. Any good leader needs to have a reliable team who will ask tough questions.”

Avoiding Groupthink

One way a leader can avoid groupthink is by honing your triple focus: yourself, others, and your larger situation.


First, a leader needs to develop self-awareness. It’s important to know your strengths and limitations.

How can you develop that self-awareness? One way to understand ourselves better is to seek honest feedback from trusted peers, friends, and family members. The key is to find people who can hold up an honest mirror and then to be open to what you see in the mirror, warts and all. Often, that means looking for a coach or support group outside of your organization. Such a resources can help you see where your biases limit your ability to take in information that contradicts your opinions.

The good news is that once you’re aware of your limitations, you can work to move beyond them. Tara Bennett-Goleman explains the neuroscience behind developing new habits in her book Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits. She describes five key steps to habit change, including familiarizing yourself with the self-defeating habit, being mindful, remembering alternatives, choosing something better, and practicing the new habit often.

Focus on Others        

Along with knowing yourself, you need to really understand the people around you. I call it other focus. Effective leadership depends on being able to tune into people, talk to them in a way they understand, motivate them, influence them, and listen to them.

Sometimes, the best way for a leader to focus on others in a group, to truly hear what they have to say, is to silence yourself. That’s one of the points made by Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie in their December 2014 Harvard Business Reviewarticle, “Making Dumb Groups Smarter.” They said,

“Leaders often promote self-censorship by expressing their own views early, thus discouraging disagreement. Leaders and high-status members can do groups a big service by indicating a willingness and a desire to hear uniquely held information. They can also refuse to take a firm position at the outset and in that way make space for more information to emerge. Many studies have found that members of low-status groups have less influence within deliberating groups (and may self-silence). Leaders who model an open mind and ask for candid opinions can reduce this problem.”

In our conversation for Attune, Bill shared an example of a time when his lack of focus on others stifled his team from saying what was on their minds.

“After a meeting, one of my co-workers asked, ‘Do you think everyone agreed with that decision in the meeting?’ I said, ‘Yeah, they all said yes, we even voted.’

His response was an eye-opener. ‘Well, there were three people backing their managers that were so angry, they could hardly speak to you because you blew over them, and forced them to say yes.’

After some thought I knew he was right. I had to go back, tail between my legs, and say, ‘I’m really sorry. I guess I didn’t hear what you were really saying.’ That allowed me to be open to honest conversation. I learned I need to seek out honest feedback and surround myself with people who have diverse viewpoints.”

The Big Picture

Beyond being aware of yourself and listening closely to the people around you, you need to be able to see the big picture. As Bill realized, one way to do that is to surround yourself with very diverse people, people whose expertise, experience, and worldview complements your own.

Of course, such diversity only is useful if you pay attention to what those different voices say. In a conversation about systems thinking with my colleague Peter Senge, we talked about the importance of developing a culture of mutual respect and appreciation so knowledge can transfer. Competitive coworkers can squash an idea before it even gets off the ground. In a more respectful atmosphere, you and other team members may say, ‘Wow! That’s really interesting. How do you do that?’

Think about your own situation.

  • What steps do you take to tune in to the big picture of your situation?
  • How well do you listen to the differing perspectives in your organization and outside of it?
  • How do you let those around you know that you value information that may differ from the majority viewpoint?

It’s Your Choice

Leaders without skillful self-awareness, other focus, and attention to their larger situation leave themselves open to being like the Emperor striding down the street naked. With well-tuned triple focus, you can be sure that you and your organization avoid the pitfalls of groupthink.

This article was originally posted to LinkedIn Pulse on 12/28/15.