Harvard Business School Senior Fellow, former CEO of Medtronic and True North co-author Bill George is back with a follow-up to his seminal 2007 leadership guide.
The clarity of the true north concept broke through and the book became a bestseller, and essential reading for anyone charting a pathway to the top, but as George tells The CEO Magazine, times have changed enough that it was time to revisit the idea.
“Business is undergoing a massive generational change in leadership from Baby Boomers to Emerging Leaders – that is, gen X, millennials and gen Z,” he says. “This change will shift leadership from ‘command and control’ executives who focus on IQ to authentic leaders who stress the essential qualities of EQ (emotional intelligence), self-awareness, passion, compassion, empathy and courage.
“These are all matters of the heart that must be developed through real-life experiences, not in a classroom.”
Meeting new challenges
As such, George has teamed up with millennial tech entrepreneur Zach Clayton to publish True North: Emerging Leader Edition, an updated volume which seeks to address the challenges leaders face today.
“Today’s employees only want to work for organizations that have a clear purpose and values that they align with,” he says. “Purpose today means making a difference in the world through your work; examples include impacting climate change, improving health, reducing income inequality, leading diverse, inclusive teams, helping people build secure financial futures and building healthy communities.”
“Today’s employees only want to work for organizations that have a clear purpose and values that they align with.”
In publishing the 2007 True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, co-authors Bill George and Peter Sims challenged readers by posing a deceptively simple question: ‘Why do you want to lead?’
To discover the answer meant finding one’s true north – their leadership calling. It was, George said, the sum of a leader’s values, beliefs and purpose. It was also highly personal; no two true norths could ever be the same.
“To determine your purpose, you have to be authentic,” George says. “Otherwise, you’re merely chasing someone else’s purpose. That leads you into the traps of seeking money, fame and power for their own sake, where you can never have enough.”
Without a clear purpose, George says companies and leaders are more likely to fall short of success. “When you focus primarily on making money using short-term metrics, you inevitably run your company into trouble, as we’ve witnessed at Meta/Facebook, General Electric, Wells Fargo and Boeing.”
Analyzing failure and success
For the Emerging Leader Edition, George and Clayton interviewed a variety of successful and emerging business leaders of the moment about their successes and failures, and how these coalesce to shape their approach to leadership.
Several of the original True North’s high profile disciples shared how they used the book’s teachings to make more than a splash in their industries. “Satya Nadella transformed Microsoft from a transaction business to a relationship organization by focusing on self-awareness, empathy and being a ‘learn-it-all’, not a ‘know-it-all’,” George says.
“Emerging leaders should look to the leaders of yesterday for how not to lead, and instead collaborate with fellow leaders on how to address today’s complex problems and multiple, intersecting crises.”
“Mary Barra rebuilt General Motors by bringing it out of bankruptcy with her authentic, transparent style of acknowledging mistakes and correcting them, and with her clear vision of ‘Zero Emissions’, as she coaches her leaders to reach their full potential.”
But the business world of 2023 is a very different place than it was 15 years ago. Transparency has become a far more valuable currency than ever before. “Transparency is essential for individuals to build trusting relationships, to admit mistakes, to be vulnerable and to ask for help,” George says.
The arrival of a more emotionally intelligent wave of leaders has already begun, he adds, and has led to an impressive shift in business targets.
“I’m very positively impressed in the ways emerging leaders are so deeply committed to having a positive impact on the world, and how willing they are to change jobs and careers to find their sense of purpose,” he says. “For them, diversity is a given, so their key becomes creating inclusion, belonging and empowerment among their teams.”
George cites Best Buy CEO Corie Barry and Aditya Mittal, CEO of Arcelor Mittal, as particular highlights of the current crop. “Barry is an exceptional leader who transformed her organization around ‘transforming lives through technology’, while Mittal is making the world’s leading steel company more energy efficient,” he says.
While there are lessons to be learned in the rear-view mirror, George warns young leaders not to look too closely at the past for guidance. “Emerging leaders should look to the leaders of yesterday for how not to lead, and instead collaborate with fellow leaders on how to address today’s complex problems and multiple, intersecting crises,” he says.
“They can also look to senior leaders willing to share their wisdom on how to make this world a better place for everyone.”
True North: Emerging Leader Edition is available now.
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