Bill George launching leading-in-crisis book

Originally posted on the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal
By: Sam Black, Staff Writer

Former Medtronic Inc. CEO and Chairman Bill George said his fourth book “was not part of the plan.”

But during a long plane ride home from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, George jotted down some notes about leading in a crisis.

On March 5, he wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal called “Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis” that pointed out the current recession wasn’t caused by subprime mortgages, credit-default swaps or failed economic policies; the root cause was failed leadership. Now is the time, he said, for leaders to step forward and put their organizations on the right long-term course.

“I got calls from two publishers who wanted to turn this into a book, so I did,” George said. The 140-page book will hit stores Sept. 8. The cover price is $19.95, although is pre-selling the book for $14.96.

George said publishers never competed for him before, so he was writing the book at the same time he was personally negotiating a book deal.

He ended up with Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Hoboken, N.J.-based John Wiley & Sons Inc., the same company that published his first three books, mostly because the firm was willing to promote it heavily.

“They a made a commitment to make it their lead book for the entire Wiley operation this fall,” he said.

The publisher started with 50,000 copies – twice as many as it started with for George’s previous books.

“Initial orders are very strong,” he said.

George tried to hurry it into publication because he believes that the country is still very much in a crisis now.

“We’ve gone through the eye of the storm,” he said. “But I think the jobs crisis and many others are really just heating up.”

The book isn’t intended to be a retrospective of what went wrong. Instead, it is meant to be a look forward at what leaders can learn from this crisis so they don’t repeat the same mistakes, George said. The target audience is top executives, emerging leaders and people just starting out their careers.

The hardest step for most CEOs is the first one in the book — facing reality, which George illustrates with his own experiences dealing with a product recalls at Litton Industries, a Minneapolis microwave company, early in his career. He used many other executives’ stories as well to highlight examples of good and bad leadership during crisis. He said he mostly drew on second-hand accounts and news stories for these examples; there’s a five page list of references in the back of the book.

The six other lessons in the book are:

No. 2 Don’t be Atlas: Get the world off your shoulders
No. 3 Dig deep for the root cause
No. 4 Get ready for the long haul
No. 5 Never waste a good crisis
No. 6 You’re in the spotlight: Follow True North
No. 7 Go on offense, focus on winning now

To help promote 7 Lessons, George will host a free business event called Summit on Leading in a Crisis on Sept. 17 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Ted Mann Theater at the University of Minnesota. George will moderate a panel with CNN commentator David Gergen; Anne Mulcahy, chair and former CEO of Xerox Corp.; John Donahoe, president and CEO of eBay Inc.; and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chair and former Carlson Cos. Inc.

More about Bill George

Current: Author, commentator and professor of management at Harvard Business School; Board member of  Exxon Mobil Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, World Economic Forum USA and the Guthrie Theater.
Past: Chairman (1996-2002) and CEO (1991-2001) of Medtronic Inc.; previously served on the boards of Novartis and Target Corp. and as chair of the boards of Allina Health System, Abbott Northwestern Hospital, United Way of the Greater Twin Cities and AdvaMed, a national medical-device industry trade group.

Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, August 2004
True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George, David Gergen, Peter Sims, March 2007
Finding Your True North: A Personal Guide by Bill George, Andrew McLean and Nick Craig, June 2008
Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis by Bill George, Sept. 8, 2009