August 10, 2015

Forbes: Bill George: His View On The Next Generation Of Leaders

Article by Dan Schawbel for Forbes, posted August 10, 2015

I spoke to Bill George, who is a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Business School and former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, the world’s leading medical technology company. Bill spoke about the latest update to his bestselling book called “Discover Your True North“, gives examples of successful leaders, explains the leadership qualities of the next generation of leaders and more.

Bill is a board member of Goldman Sachs, Exxon, and the Mayo Clinic. George has been recognized as “Executive of the Year” by the Academy of Management, “Director of the Year” by the National Association of Corporate Directors, and received the prestigious Bower Award for Business Leadership – given annually to the nation’s top business leader.

Dan Schawbel: Why did you decide to update your classic book now and what did you do to expand on your work?

Bill George: Since its publication in February 2007, True North has had great resonance with leaders of all generations, and now with the Millennials, and has continued to be widely purchased and used in educational programs. My goal was to write a follow-on book that retained the essential elements of True North yet goes deeper into authentic leadership to include all we have learned about leadership in the past eight years. In addition, I wanted to broaden the group of interviewees by interviewing 47 new leaders who are more global and more diverse, with many more females, more nationalities and more racial minorities.

Discover Your True North introduces new ideas like post-traumatic growth (PTG) to cope with crucibles, an in-depth understanding of the role of emotional intelligence and self-awareness and how they are developed, the journey from “I to We,” global leadership and developing global intelligence (GQ), and the need for corporations to become “stakeholders in society.”

Schawbel: Can you give an example of one or two leaders you added to the book and how they found their true north?

George: Here are some examples of leaders who discovered their True North:

Ken Frazier, chair and CEO of Merck, is the grandson of a South Carolina slave who is carrying on the narrative started by his grandfather in standing against the crowd and going your own way to help solve the world’s problems, through large investments in high risk research to treat chronic diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, has focused his company on its True North: bringing sustainability to consumer products while expanding into emerging markets to address the world’s environmental challenges.

Indra Nooyi, chair & CEO of PepsiCo, introduced Performance with Purpose nine years ago to shift the company’s business mix to healthy foods and beverages to address the global obesity problems.

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, is China’s first global leader who is linking two billion Asian consumers with Western products from one million small businesses to address the jobs challenges around the world.

Schawbel: What new types of leaders have you been paying attention to and what leadership qualities have been transferred from one generation to the next?

George: I am very pleased to see the emergence of many more authentic leaders since my 2003 book, Authentic Leadership, was published. Today’s leaders learned the pitfalls of the charismatic leaders of 1990s and 2000s, who were often imposters focusing on their self-interest instead of their institution’s best interest. They recognize that authenticity has become the gold standard for leadership. They also know that the hierarchical leadership style of the past is ineffective with today’s generations, so they are leading in inspiring and collaborative ways. In other words, they have made the “I to We” journey, which many leaders of my generation never did.

The younger generations of Millennials and Gen Xers want to make a difference now and not work in a stifling or political bureaucracy. They are paving the way for the future of leadership –leaders that care about solving real problems, not just getting to the top.

Schawbel: Do you believe that leaders are born or made? Why?

George: All of us are born with gifts of leadership that are unique to us. We must develop ourselves to become effective as authentic leaders who make a difference in the world, and avoid the pressures and seductions to chase money, fame and power. This development process takes rigor and continues throughout our lifetimes as we gain greater self-awareness, a sense of our leadership purpose, and the capacity to empower other leaders.

Schawbel: Can you talk about some of the leadership qualities that Obama has and why he’s been either effective or not effective as president?

George: President Obama has a clear sense of his True North, understands and lives his values, and focuses on the areas of great importance to him and the nation. He has a long-term view that at times has been pulled off course by his need to satisfy domestic political pressures. Yet he has governed with great integrity and never compromises his basic beliefs. His weakness comes in trying to do too much himself, and in not building a strong team around him so that he can delegate to others in his administration. He could be much more effective if he built more collaborative relationships with members of Congress.

Dan Schawbel is the Founder of, a research and advisory membership service for forward-thinking HR professionals.