November 04, 2015

Catholic Business Journal: LEADERSHIP MATTERS: Recent Headlines and Finding Your True North

These recent headlines in the Wall Street Journal highlight the ongoing problem of leaders who have “gone south” and have taken their organizations with them:   “Walgreens is Waiting for Answers About Theranos” … “Attention Shareholders: Beware of the Board” ...  “Credit Suisse Settles ‘Dark Pool’ Case” …  “Stanford Business School Steps Down After Affair with Wife of Direct Report” … “Bribery Case Hits UN” … “Volkswagen Chief Martin Winterkorn Resigns Amid Emissions Scandal” … “VC Arrested for Insider Trading Now Accused of Defrauding His Firm”

Stanford business school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer would use these headlines as examples of how “the leadership industry has failed.” Prescriptions for leaders to be more truthful are at odds with what goes on in the real word. “The ability to lie can be very useful for getting ahead,” says Pfeffer. “Manipulation is a foundation for social power…in fact; there is a reciprocal relationship between power and lying.”

And this brings us to Bill George’s latest book, Discover Your True North: Expanded and Updated.  In it, George brings his wisdom, observations, examples, and practices to bear on helping leaders be something more than what Pfeffer proposes.

Author George encourages us to build on our natural leadership gifts and to stay on our “True North” track to inspire and empower others to excellence. According to George, our “True North” is the internal compass which, based on deeply held beliefs, values and principles, “represents who we are at our deepest level.” Knowing our internal compass helps when pressures and seductions detour us from achieving our purpose in life. It is our lifesaver… alerting us to get back on track when the life being lived is not aligned with who we are at the deepest level.

George’s True North needs some reconciling to Pfeffer’s belief about the reality of leadership.

Pfeffer talks about power for the sake of power, while George talks about power that flows from character. This disconnect may be attributed to the lack of good role models for those seeking to be leaders. I have observed over the years that leadership training—if not reinforced by good role models—does not lead to “True North” leadership. It is hard work to develop the type of leader George talks about. It is “The Road Less Traveled” due to the required investment of time by both the student and the role model.

For this reason, I recommend Discovering Your True North with the caveat that it be reinforced by a role model. This may be satisfied with George’s concept of a “support team” that he details in the book. I have worked with Bill George and can vouch that he is the real thing. I am sure that he provides the modeling needed to those he touches in the classroom and for those with whom he works in his consultancy.

Brief Summary of this updated edition – George revisits his NYC Times best-seller, and now business classic book, that was released in 2007.  In this 2015 updated version, he integrates his personal insights gained as CEO of Medtronic and as a professor and Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School with new first-person interviews of 48 “authentic global leaders.” These leaders include many who have garnered the positive attention of the press and have inspired and empowered millions to excellence –Indra Nooyi, Jack Ma, Alan Mulally, John Mackey, Sheryl Sandberg, Michael Bloomberg, and many others. He also includes updates on the original 125 participants featured in his first book and includes a chapter on finding your “GQ” (your global quotient).

George also includes case studies of those who were seduced and took detours – Rajat Gupta (insider trading), Lance Armstrong (fraud and demonization of those who tried to reveal the truth), and Michael Baker (fraud).

It is early yet, but we all may have something to learn from what appears to be a scandal of major proportions brewing at Theranos. Did Elizabeth Holmes take time to find her “True North”? Did she take a detour? Will Theranos survive? For her, this book may be too late.

Those who read George’s first book will find this updated editon to be just as inspiring. For those  who missed the first book, they will find this new edition to be a treasure (and will regret having missed the 2007 edition).

This article was originally published in Catholic Business Journal.