New York Times Dealbook: Big Shifts in the C-Suite

From NY Times Dealbook

Bill George, the former C.E.O. of Medtronic and now a Harvard Business School professor, has spent many years leading or teaching how to lead large corporations. For the latest book in his “True North” series, “True North: Emerging Leader Edition,” co-written with Zach Clayton and due out later this month, George talked to over 200 executives about how they mix leadership with purpose and how to lead through today’s crises. DealBook talked to George earlier this month about what he learned. The interview has been edited and condensed.

What do you think of the state of corporate leadership?

We are going through a massive change, as the occupiers of corporate suites shift to the Gen Xers and the millennials. We are moving from the command-and-control power base leadership that was typical of the generation of leaders taught by Jack Welch to much more empowerment leaders. Instead of managers of people, these new leaders will be more like coaches. And we need that.

How should C.E.O.s like Howard Schultz at Starbucks address what seems to be a resurgent unionization movement?

I am not in favor of nonunion workplaces organizing. But I think that companies need to be employees-first. That’s how Starbucks used to be, but over time they have become more bureaucratic and that’s what has led to this effort. Companies have been neglectful of their frontline workers. C.E.O.s today need to be out with their frontline employees, need to lead with their heart as well as their head.

Do you think C.E.O.s should be speaking out more on issues like the recent Supreme Court ruling on abortion and other political and social issues?

Right now, there is a lot of concern on how to handle that. People are rethinking their lives after Covid. Does my company have a sense of purpose? A strong position on diversity and inclusion? A plan for climate change? People are reassessing their careers, and employees want to know this.

I wrote this new book to show how some younger C.E.O.s are stepping up and leading in a different way than when I was. We need to leave behind the idea — the Jack Welch model — that employees are a cost.