Discover Your True North : A book review by Bob Morris

Discover Your True NorthDiscover Your True North (Expanded and Updated Edition)
Bill George
John Wiley & Sons (2015)

“You are the author of your life”…for better or worse.

This is an expanded and updated edition of many of the insights and counsel first introduced by Bill George in Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value (2003), True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership (2007) with Peter Sims, Finding Your True North: A Personal Guide (2008), co-authored with Andrew McLean and Nick Craig, and True North Groups: A Powerful Path to Personal and Leadership Development (2011), co-authored with Doug Baker.

Years ago, Warren Bennis defined leadership as “character in action.” In the Preface to Discover Your True North, George cites these remarks by Bennis: “It is not just a superficial question of style, but has to do with who we are as human beings, and with the forces that have shaped us. The process of becoming a leader is much the same as the process of becoming an integrated human being.” In fact, I presume to add that, however different leaders throughout history may have been in most respects, all are authentic in that they know what their True North is. Their lives were guided and informed by it.

Much of the material in this volume was generated by interviews of 47 global leaders: “how they discovered their True North, developed as authentic leaders, became global leaders, and stayed on the course of their True North throughout their lifetimes…their stories and beliefs about leadership showed a high level of congruence with the earlier interviewees.” (About 125 leaders were interviewed for True North 2007.) The 47 include (in alpha order) Warren Buffett, Arianna Huffington, Donald Graham, Arianna Huffington, Steve Jobs, Sallie Krawcheck, Nelson Mandela, Alan Mulally, and Sheryl Sandberg.

For those who don’t already know, George explains True North as “your orienting point — your fixed point in a spinning world — that helps you stay on track as a leader. It is derived from your most deeply held beliefs, your values, and the principles you lead by. It is your eternal compass, unique to you, that represents who you are at your deepest level.

“Just as a compass needle points toward a magnetic pole, your True North pulls you toward the purpose of your leadership. When you follow your eternal compass, your leadership will be authentic, and people will naturally want to associate with you. Although others may guide or influence you, your truth is derived from your life story. As Warren Bennis said, ‘You are the author of your life.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of George’s coverage:

o Introduction (Pages 1-11)
o Your Life Story Defines Your Leadership (20-21)
o The Journey to Authentic Leadership (25-40)
o Why Leaders Lose Their Way (44-47)
o The Collapse of Mike Baker (50-51)
o Daniel Vassela’s Long Journey (57-60)
o Crucibles of Leadership: Oprah Winfrey, (61-67)
o Coping with Tragedy (74-75)
o Becoming Self-Aware (82-87)
o Vulnerability Is Power (89-92)
o Reflection and Introspection (92-95)
o David Gergen: Crisis Strengthened His Values (103-105)
o Jon Huntsman: Testing Values Under Pressure (111-115)
o Warren Buffett Finds His Sweet Spot (123-128)
o The Power of Sharing Openly (147-148)
o Coach [Bill] Campbell: Silicon Valley’s Leading Mentor (152-154)
o True North Groups (155-157)
o Measuring Your Success (176-177)
o My Defining Leadership Experience (194-196)
o Penny George: It’s Never Too Late to Become a Leader (211-213)
o Anne Mulcahy: Empowering People in Crisis (219-224)
o Empowerment Is Accountability (235-238)
o Paul Polman: Transforming Unilever’s Global Leadership (243-247)
o Developing Global Intelligence (251-256)

In one of Warren Bennis’ several dozen books, Geeks and Geezers, he and co-author Bob Thomas introduce a process — they call it a “crucible” — during which, under severe stress, some executives become a great leader and others do not. Here’s what they say: “In interviewing more than 40 top leaders in business and the public sector over the past three years, we were surprised to find that all of them—young and old—were able to point to intense, often traumatic, always unplanned experiences that had transformed them and had become the sources of their distinctive leadership abilities.

“We came to call the experiences that shape leaders ‘crucibles,’ after the vessels medieval alchemists used in their attempts to turn base metals into gold. For the leaders we interviewed, the crucible experience was a trial and a test, a point of deep self-reflection that forced them to question who they were and what mattered to them. It required them to examine their values, question their assumptions, hone their judgment. And, invariably, they emerged from the crucible stronger and more sure of themselves and their purpose—changed in some fundamental way.”

This is precisely what Bill George has in mind when stressing the importance of locating one’s True North and then following it. “I hope that you, too, will commit to becoming an authentic leader who will Discover Your True North. The world faces important problems. Your leadership, teamed with that of other leaders who are similarly committed, is needed to build sustainable business, government, and non-profit organizations that collectively make this world a better place to live for all the people who inhabit it.” Quite true. All such organizations need effective leaders but principled, value-driven leadership is also needed in families, communities, and all other human relationships.

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