Reflection on True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership (2007) by Bill George with Peter Sims
The purpose of Bill George’s book True North is to help both young and experienced leaders develop in their self-awareness in order to maximize their efforts as leaders. Though slanted towards the business community, the lessons offered are easily applicable to leaders in the public and social sectors as well. The author argues that through a critical reflection of a leader’s personal story, core competencies, held values, and motivations can lead to the discovery of their “True North”. Such characteristics that authentic leaders demonstrate include self-discipline, contagious passion, honesty, and integrity. Authentic leaders remain true to themselves despite the situation. They are essentially the same person at work as they are at home with family or out in society.
Bill George defines True North as the internal, moral compass that guides a person’s beliefs and behaviors in all aspects of an integrated life. George makes the claim that when leaders become authentic, vulnerable, and transparent, their leadership ability is strengthened enough to not only earn success, but also to sustain them through challenges, setbacks, and adversity. When organizational as well as personal crises do arise, a leader who is deeply guided by their True North is more likely to preserve and experience growth through the trial. Authentic leaders who are in synch with their True North are able to align their teams around a common purpose, empower others to their full potential, and produce superior results. They tend to value serving others over being served and usually have an ambitious desire to make a difference in the world.
True North makes an incredible contribution to the study of a focused life. Most prominently, this advancement is made through its analysis of the life stories of 125 leaders from a wide range of age groups. Selected not only for their achievements, but also for their reputation of authenticity, each individual account shows how living by a genuine and ethical compass is often more critical than living by a timetable or a clock. Throughout the book, George shares candidly about his experiences, good and bad, as CEO of Medtronic, as well as his wife’s battle with cancer. Other well-known leaders profiled include Warren Bennis, Jack Welch, A.G. Lafley, Charles Schwab, and Howard Schultz. Though the names of some of the other interviewees may be less recognizable, the powerful truths shared in their personal accounts will convict the reader to examine their own life. By providing chapter exercises for considering the circumstances of our own context, George teaches his audience the necessity of reflecting on the past in order to refocus the present and fashion a more positive future.
George distinguishes between three stages on the journey to authentic leadership: preparation typically birth until age thirty; leading from age thirty to sixty; and giving back between the ages of sixty and ninety. Though this triad of developmental stages surely is not accurate for every leader, it does complement the decadal timeline review suggested by other students of life calling and leadership, such as Bobby Clinton and Parker Palmer. One advantage of George’s three stages is that by showing how leadership development happens at every phase the reader can pinpoint where they may be in the process and determine the next step in creating a life of meaning. Therefore, this model of learning and self-discovery can be of tremendous assistance to all ages, especially the recent graduate, midlife professional, or the senior adult looking to create an encore chapter in life.
The concepts that brought about the most personal resonance include the benefits from leading with strengths to minimize weaknesses and fulfill a specific mission. George illustrates that by cooperating with others who have complimentary abilities requires a sense of security common among authentic leaders. Also, a person may have several passions that though seemingly unrelated can, coincide to complement one another in directing purposeful leadership. This element of leadership passion is also rooted in personal experiences. George writes that “For most leaders, passion comes from their life stories. By understanding the meaning of key events in your life story and reframing them, you can discern what your passions are that in turn will lead you to the purpose of your leadership” (p. 158). Other advantages that aid to the developing of an authentic life and leading with purpose can be the seeking out of mentors and support groups that are mutually beneficial. Such practices can dramatically expedient personal leadership and professional advancement, years before their time.
The emphasis on a high regard of values, translates leadership principles into action. Therefore, values are similar to the needle on a True North compass. They are evidenced by pointing the direction to travel. For this reason, George clarifies the differences in intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. While the latter is more concerned with materialistic accumulation, a positional title, or the approval of others, the former is derived internally and focused on a life of meaning. For authentic leaders, joining to help with a social cause is typically more important than expanding their social status. In addressing the cultural shifts in employment from the previously dominate manufacturing industries to a more knowledge based workforce, people now have the privilege of vocational options. George shows through his own story in the medical field, that career and calling do not have to be compartmentalized. Whether in corporations or nonprofit ministries, authentic leaders with a focused life are able to leave a legacy.
In the Epilogue, George, calls the reader to contemplate that which they will be remembered for. The notion of legacy assumes a goal to be realized and an impact that transcends generations. So then, the need for critical reflection of self should also include a process for determining success. While monetary rewards are important, the leaders interviewed cautioned about making financial incentives the only factor. Instead, being true to who you are and allocating room for family and personal relationships, community involvement, and spiritual practices are essential for living a satisfied life of significance.
The most crucial concept I plan on integrating into my life and ministry from the book True North, is the adaptability of leadership styles. Of the six leadership styles discussed: directive, engaged, coaching, consensus, affiliative, and expert, I associated most with the engaged and coaching styles. Engaged leaders seek to be involved with everyone at all parts of the organization, and lead through influence and motivation based on relationship. Coaching leaders are focused on the development of others. They lead by helping teammates come to new realizations and improve performance though introspection and counsel. Both engaged and coaching leadership styles are centered on the ability to work with others and multiply the team’s talent exponentially. The power of the leader is ironically found in the way they empower others. This type of interdependent relationship yields greater degrees of creativity and commitment. As a leader in the local church, the need for authenticity should be obvious. Helping people to grow in faith and also to discover their authentic identity are the primary functions of my ministry philosophy. True North will serve as a great reminder for the need to be transparent and vulnerable while committing to the cause I have in Christ