Bill George: Lessons in Authentic Leadership

Bill George, senior fellow at Harvard Business School, author of Discover Your True North and former chief executive officer at Medtronic, discussed the core leadership qualities of authenticity, values and ethics, and shared lessons learned from some of the world’s most successful leaders.

On the importance of being an authentic leader: “What’s happened to my generation of leaders is that we’re focusing on charisma, on style – on all of the things that really are not what’s important. What’s important is someone’s character and whether they’re genuine. When you talk to them, can you trust them? You know when you meet someone if they’re authentic or not. You can’t be something you’re not. You have to build where you are – build on those strengths and if you’re a wise person you know your vulnerabilities. And then I think you have the capacity to really use other people with greater strengths than you have.”

On the path to leadership: “[Foundational leadership] is making the journey from ‘I to we.’ You start out, go to school, get good grades, get into the right schools – it’s all about you. You go to work and you’re expected to perform individually – you get ratings [as an] individual performer. But in leadership it’s when you make the journey from being the hero of your own journey to being the leader. It’s really not about you. You’re there to serve the people on your team.”

On making the commitment to lead: “The one thing I say about leadership is you have to develop yourself. The company can send you to programs. It can do things to help you develop, but you have to say, ‘I want to develop this way.’ You have to set your goal and do it because it’s no different than being a great athlete or a great musician. You would not go to Carnegie Hall and play the cello unless you practiced every day and you wouldn’t play in the US Open unless you practiced every day – leadership is no different. You have to practice every day and the more you practice, the better you get. And when do you learn? When you get beaten. I didn’t learn when I won. When I got beaten I found out all my weaknesses. Don’t fear that experience – learn from it.”