February 27, 2007

True North and Valentine’s Day

It is just four weeks and a day until the official launch of True North, and the excitement of our team as well as my own excitement about the launch is growing rapidly.

(For those of you who would like the first copies off the press, I suggest you pre-order True North at a handsome discount from www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnobel.com. We guarantee that you will have your copy prior to the March 15 launch date.)

Why did I write True North (with wonderful help from Peter Sims)?

After I wrote Authentic Leadership, many leaders asked me, “How can I become an authentic leader?” Admittedly, I never answered that question, as one critical reviewer pointed out. Jim Collins, in his best-selling Harvard Business Review article on Good to Great rhetorically asks a similar question, “How can you become a Level 5 leader? The answer is, we do not know.”

Over one thousand studies done in the last fifty years have failed to produce verifiable answers to that question. My colleagues at Harvard Business School encouraged me to find out the key characteristics, skills, competencies, and styles of authentic leaders that made them so successful.

With the assistance of my colleagues Diana Mayer and Peter Sims, I set out to find out. In the space of just six months we interviewed 125 authentic leaders from business and non-profit organizations, ranging in age from 23 to 93, about how they developed as leaders. These in-person interviews lasted an average of seventy-five minutes, resulting in 3,000 pages of transcripts. All in all, it represents the largest, in-depth study ever conducted on how leaders develop.

The results were striking. These 125 leaders did not identify any characteristics or competencies that made them successful. Instead, they talked about their life stories and the people and the transformative events (which we call “crucibles”) that enabled them to find their passions and the purpose of their leadership and to lead authentically. They shared their motivations, the ways their values were tested, and the many things they did to sustain their leadership, in spite of the pressures and seductions they faced in their leadership roles.

Most importantly, they talked about their “True North,” which many described as their inner compasses that enabled them to stay true to who they are and to their deepest beliefs when faced with the enormous pressures and seductions they faced in their leadership roles. That´s why we decided to title the book, True North, and to use the metaphor as a compass to guide you on your leadership path.

In True North we share well over one hundred stories told to us by these authentic leaders – some short and some quite extensive – that capture the essence of how you can discover your authentic leadership. And we include a series of exercises that I have used in my course at HBS, “Authentic Leadership Development,” to give you the tools to guide you on your way.

A warning: there are no quick fixes here, no easy answers. (If you want easy answers, pick up a book of fables at the airport the next time you are taking a flight. By the time you arrive, you will feel a lot better, but you won´t know any more about how to become an authentic leader.)

Becoming an authentic leader takes a lot of work on your part because ultimately you are responsible for developing yourself as a leader. Mentors, courses, and books like True North can serve as a guide, but there is no way to get there other than taking responsibility for developing yourself. But doing so is a heck of a lot more rewarding.

I hope you will go on-line and pre-order True North, and then send me your reactions and your stories to this website. I will take the best of them and use them in the many speeches and media appearances coming up as a way of illustrating your True North – without violating your confidentiality.

Good reading!