In 2007 I wrote about Bill George's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show, where the former Medtronic CEO shared his views on leadership. This morning, thanks to Tim Dorman, Managing Director at the Authentic Leadership Institute, I had the chance to hear George talk in person at the Stanford Faculty Club, along with Tim's colleague Nick Craig. I didn't get a photo of George, which is why I'm recycling the video still at right from Charlie Rose, but I did catch a number of compelling quotes that reminded me of the power of his vision. I've added headings in bold, and occasional paraphrases are shown [in block brackets]:
A leader's job: Your first job as a leader is to bring people together. Your last job is to say, "Thank you." And in between a leader is a servant and a debtor.
A leader's effectiveness: You'll know how good you are [as a leader] when you've been around long enough to fix your own mistakes. Anyone can come in and fix someone else's mistakes.
How NOT to choose leaders: We've been choosing leaders for their charisma, their image and their style. I think we need a whole new era of leadership.
Motivation: People are motivated by looking for meaning and significance in their lives... Think about your work. Do you and the people around you think you're part of something special? Because I think that's what people are looking for.
Leadership development: Are leaders made or born? I think that's the wrong question. [Even if you have natural leadership potential], you have to develop your skills, and you have to develop yourself as a leader... It starts with the leader within. Every leader who has failed...has failed to lead themselves.
Strengths and weaknesses: HR management [has been] too focused on fixing weaknesses. But by fixing your weaknesses, we may take away your strengths.
Authenticity: So many leadership development programs [that focus on communication styles and related skills] really don't work because the person isn't in touch with who they are.
George also laid out four key tasks for any leader: Align, Empower, Serve, Collaborate:
Align: The toughest job is to align people around a mission and a set of values... You can't just put out a mission statement and a list of values--well, you can do that, but it won't get the job done. You have to talk about it all the time.
Empower: We need to disavow ourselves of the notion that leadership is power over other people. Leadership capacity is the ability to empower other people to step up and lead.
Serve: The notion of maximizing shareholder value has degenerated into maximizing short-term shareholder value, and it's going to destroy our economy... [Business has to serve society, and we can do that by serving customers, but we need to take a longer view.]
Collaborate: [No one organization can do it alone. Leaders must be able to work across organizational boundaries.]
Finally, George spoke about three factors that are essential for a leader's development: 1) Real world experience--and specifically the opportunity to fail and to learn from mistakes, 2) Feedback from peers and subordinates who will give you the unvarnished truth, and 3) A commitment to an ongoing practice that "causes you to go inside yourself and reflect on what's important," such as meditation, yoga, tai chi or journaling. Given my own struggles with meditation, discussed in a recent post on happiness, I was particularly struck by George's comment that he has meditated for 20 minutes twice a day for the past 30 years.
(I'll have more to share later, but thanks again to Tim and his colleagues at ALI for an thought-provoking experience.)
UPDATE: Here's Part 2.