Discover Your True North
August 10, 2015
Bill George helps orient leaders toward their most authentic selves, their True North.
I remember shipping Bill George's Authentic Leadership when I first arrived, and wondering what, exactly, authenticity meant in leadership. And I wasn't the only one. George says that when that book came out in 2003, the most common question he received was "what do you mean by authenticity?" This was the era of the charismatic leader, of Jack Welch's Straight From the Gut, and everyone wanted to be just like Jack. I wasn't much interested in that, or the business culture of the time, on the heels of Enron and the dot-com bubble, the economy on it's slow inexorable march toward the Great Recession. But I was always an avid reader, and always interested in economics and politics (if not business and leadership, per se) so as I traversed the company, spent some time in customer service and dabbled a little in accounting, I'd take home some of the books that came through from journalists and economists (still largely my favorites), but I left most of the management and leadership books alone.
But, in early 2007, when I finally ended up in my current, irregular orbit somewhere around the marketing nebula, it became essential that I start learning more about what these books contained, and quickly. Luckily, that coincided closely with Bill George's True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. I actually didn't read it right away. But, this was when we were ramping up a series of author events here in Milwaukee called LeaveSmarter, and we were fortunate enough to get Bill George to come into town for one of them. And I. Was. Floored! He was the first person I had ever heard talk about leadership as a personal journey, a process of self-discovery instead of a series of tactics. He was telling the audience that leadership is more about our internal compass than our external image or style, that true leadership is not about charisma, but authenticity. And, paradoxically perhaps, that leadership it is more about developing oneself than leading others. That is because, when you are your authentic self and lead with purpose, people will want to follow you; you'll no longer have to persuade them to with style and other subtle coercions.
It was a revelation, and certainly not only to me, especially as it was there for those looking for a different way to do things as the economy crumbled around them. Since then, a new generation of more authentic leaders is coming to the fore. And just next week, a new edition of the book, Discover Your True North, is being released to reinvigorate the conversation. As Bill writes in the introduction:
Today authenticity is seen as the gold standard for leadership. No longer is leadership about developing charisma, emulating other leaders, looking good externally, and acting in one's self-interest, as was so often the case in the late twentieth century. Nor should leadership skills be conflated with your leadership style, managerial skills, or competencies. The capabilities are very important, but they are not the outward manifestation of who you are as a person. You cannot fake it to make it, because people sense intuitively whether you are genuine.
The hierarchical, directive leadership style so prevalent in the past century is now fading fast in favor of today's collaborative leaders, who believe in distributed leadership at all levels. The old notion of leaders as the smartest guys in the room—as Enron CEO Jeff Skilling typified—has been replaced by leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ).
Because of this move toward greater authenticity, we are blessed with much higher caliber leaders today. In discovering their True North, they have committed to leading with purpose to make a difference in the world and leave behind lasting legacies.
George, of course, wouldn't take sole credit for this trend. He'd tell you (and does in the book's Preface), what those that came before him did to lay the foundation for the work he's doing—specifically Warren Bennis. He also mentions Peter Drucker. These are men who saw in leadership and management not just the fortunes of companies, but the fortunes of the world. When asked how he became interested in leadership, Bennis once replied that "it was impossible to live through the 1930s and '40s without thinking about leadership. There were giants on the earth in those days." And seeing the difference in how those giants—FDR, Churchill, Gandhi, Hitler—affected the world, he knew the stakes. David Gergen, in his introduction to this edition, articulates why, more than anyone else, Bill George in the heir apparent to Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis. And I think that makes sense. He carries on their tradition of viewing leadership and management as a fundamentally personal, yet ultimately profoundly impactful practice.
In a manifesto he wrote for our ChangeThis website in the depths of the Great Recession, he urged leaders to find ways of Moving Beyond "Short-termism" and I think it's still one of the best pieces we've ever published. I feel like that message is also slowly taking hold. But there is obviously so much more left to do. If you're ready to play a part, or just need some added insight and inspiration to keep going, Bill George will help you Discover Your True North. And it makes sense that the new edition of True North would carry an entirely new title, Discover Your True North,
because a full 60 percent of the content is brand new. There are 47 new
interviews. So, even if you've read the original, you'll want to throw
your hat in the ring for this one.
We have 20 copies available.