Monday, November 10, 2014

Review of "True North" by Bill George and Peter Sims - A Practical Guide To Authentic Leadershp

"True North" by Bill George and Peter Sims, has been sitting on my "To Be Read" shelf for awhile.  I finally pulled it down and drank from the refreshing stream of wisdom and insights that flowed from the authors' minds and spirits.  Having served very successfully as Chairman and CEO of Medtronic, Mr. George has carved out another career as a much loved and respected professor at Harvard Business School, where I have had the privilege of interacting with him on several occasions.

The authors and their research assistants interviewed well over 100 successful leaders whose stories are profiled in "True North."  The resulting work is simultaneously inspiring and humbling.  Each chapter ends with an urging to take the relevant self-assessments that populate Appendix C.  The book is so powerful and so helpful that I am already figuring out which of those whom I coach and mentor will most benefit from receiving a copy.  The book is a step by step exposition of how truly authentic leaders got to be that way, beginning with telling their life stories.

The authors are very helpful in breaking leadership into three life phases:

  • Preparing for Leadership - up to age 30
  • Leading - 30-60
  • Giving Back - 60 and beyond 

One of the characteristics of the Preparing for Leadership phase is "bumping up against the world." Here is how Randy Komisar, former CEO of LucasArts, describes this phenomenon:

"We begin life on a linear path where success is based on having a clear target.  Life gets complicated when the targets aren't clear anymore, and you have to set your own targets.  By rubbing up against the world, you get to know yourself.  Either do that, or you're going to spend your life serving the interests and expectations of others." (Page 18)

The authors describe some of the bumps in the road that often confront young leaders, I was reminded of a recent conversation with a Special Forces officer who was about to lead his unit on a dangerous deployment.  He was facing some leadership challenges within the unit, and was brainstorming with me about how to overcome those frustrations and detours:

"You may reach the point in your journey when your way forward is blocked or your worldview is turned upside down by events, and you have to rethink what your life and your leadership are all about.  You start to question yourself: 'Am I good enough?'  'Why can't I get this team to achieve the goals I have set forth?'  Or you may have a personal experience that causes you to realize that there is more to life than getting to the top." (Page 44)

A crucial stage in the development of a leader is learning to transition from "I" to "We."  This transition is explained eloquently by my friend, Jaime Irick, West Point grad, Harvard Business School grad and President of GE Lighting:

"We spend our early years trying to be the best.  To get into West Point or General Electric, you have to be the best.  That is defined by what you can do on your own - your ability to be a phenomenal analyst or consultant or do well on a standardized test.  When you become a leader, your challenge is to inspire others, develop them, and create change though them.  If you want to be a leader, you've got to flip that switch and understand that it's about serving the folks on your team.  This is a very simple concept, but one many people overlook. The sooner people realize it, he faster they will become leaders." (Pages 44-45)

It is clear that mentoring is an important part of every authentic leader's journey.  And what may not be clear on the surface is that mentoring relationships must be a two-way street and both parties must benefit and grow the the relationship.

Through this book, Bill George has once again expanded the pool of those he is mentoring, for reading his inspiring account of the life stories of a rich variety of authentic leaders leads to growth, and places in our hands a tool that we can use and then pass on to those we in turn are mentoring.



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