True North

Discover your Authentic Leadership

– by Bill George

p.xxiv: If you are guided by an internal compass that represents your character and the values that guide your decisions, you’re going to b fine. Let your values guide your actions and don’t ever lose your internal compass, because everything isn’t black or white. There are a lot of gray areas in business.
– Brenda Barnes, Sara Lee CEO

xxv: the problem is that we have a wrongheaded notion of what constitutes a leader, driven by an obsession with leaders at the top. That misguided standard often results in the wrong people attaining critical leadership roles.

p.xxvii: [describing subjects in the book] Rather than waiting to get to the top to become leaders, they looked for every opportunity to lead and to develop themselves.

“All of us have the spark of leadership in us, whether it is in business, in government, or as a nonprofit volunteer. The challenge is to understand ourselves well enough to discover where we can use our leadership gifts to serve others. We’re here for something. Life is about giving and living fully.” — Ann Fudge, Young & Rubicam CEO

p.xxxii: [diagram] Dimensions of authentic leadership: Purpose, Values, Relationships, Self-discipline, Heart (spokes on a wheel of “The Authentic Leader”)

Becoming an authentic leader is not easy. First, you have to understand yourself, because the hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself. Once you have an understanding of your authentic self, you will find that leading others is much easier.
Second, to be an effective leader, you must take responsibility for your own development.

Xxxv: [Diagram] compass rose w/”Self awareness” at center. N=Values and Principles, E=Motivations, S=Support Team, W=Integrated Life.

p.8: What emerges from these stories is that virtually all the leaders interviewed found their passion to lead through the uniqueness of their life stories.
Not by being born as leaders.
Not by believing they had the characteristics, traits, or style of a leader.
Not by trying to emulate great leaders.

p.21: “Don’t worry about the challenges. Embrace them. Go through them even if they hurt. Tell yourself, thre is something to be learned from this experience. I may not fully understand it now, but I will later. It’s all part of life, and life is a process of learning. Every challenging experience develops your core of inner strength, which gets you through those storms. Nothing worth doing in life is going to be easy.” — Ann Fudge, Young & Rubicam CEO

p.28: Before people take on leadership roles, they should first ask themselves two fundamental questions” “What motivates me to lead?” and “What is the purpose of my leadership?” If honest answers to the first question are simply power, prestige, and money, leaders risk being trapped by external gratification as the source fo their fulfillment. There is nothing wrong with desiring these outward symbols as long as they are combined with a deeper desire to serve something greater than oneself.

p.31: [Turning failures into successes] “You don’t have to be perfect… you can start off on a bad path and recover. You can turn most failures into successes if you ask yourself, what can I learn from this so that I can do better next time? … If you’re open, you can learn a lot more from failure than success. …

When you’re successful, you take it for granted and move on to the next thing. Failure forces you to reflect. What went wrong? How could I have done this better? It’s an opportunity for you to take responsibility. The path of least resistance is to blame it on someone else. I failed many times but learned from each experience and usually managed to come back stronger. I kept plugging away and eventually was successful.” – David Pottruck, former CEO of Charles Schwab

p.33: [Derailment: Losing sight of your true north] Imposters, who lack self-awareness and self-esteem; Rationalizers, who deviate from their values; Glory Seekers, who are motivated by seeking the world’s acclaim; Loners, who fail to build personal support structures; and Shooting Stars, who lack the grounding of an integrated life.

p.34: [Rationalizers] “Denial and projection are the enemies of reality.” – Warren Bennis

p.36: “Whether you are right or not, there is a price to be paid for arrogance.” … [regarding MCI’s culture] “The internal competition was mean-spirited and at your throat. It was eating me up as I was becoming less effective and less committed to the company. If your values are not consistent with the people you’re working with, you should not be there.” – Kevin Sharer

p.53 [getting tough feedback] One of the hardest things to do is to see ourselves as others see us. When we receive unexpected critical feedback, we tend initially to be defensive – to challenge the validity of the criticism or the critics themselves. If we can get past those feelings and process the criticism objectively, however, constructive feedback can trigger a fundamental reappraisal of our leadership.

p.55: Have you ever had a difficult time absorbing constructive criticism? Hard as it is to take in, feedback provides the opportunity to make the transformation from focusing on ourselves to understanding how we can be effective motivators and leaders of others… This requires letting go and trusting others.

p.60: “Wherever you go, there you are.” – Jon Kabat Zinn, mindfulness meditation expert.

Part two:

p.65: Discovering our authentic leadership requires us to test ourselves, our values, and our beliefs through real-world experiences.


  • Self awareness: What is my story? What are my strengths and developmental needs?
  • Values: What are my most deeply held values? What principles guide my leadership?
  • Motivations: What motivates me? How do I balance external and internal motivations?
  • Support Team: Who are the people I can count on to guide and support me along the way?
  • Integrated Life: How can I integrate all aspects of my life and find fulfillment?

p.67: In their interviews, leaders said that gaining self-awareness was central to becoming authentic leaders. For this reason it is at the center of your compass.

p.68: To protect yourself from harm, you may develop a false self by building protective layers and, in so doing, become less authentic. [cf: SDI model]

p.69: [advice] not to be so forceful in meetings because I was shutting down people who had something to contribute. That was also keeping me from gaining their support for the eventual conclusion. …

Leaders with an exceptionally high IQ get too intellectually involved and have trouble being tolerant of others. You have to have a certain level of intelligence at the top; maybe 90th or 95th percentile, but it isn’t 99th. Above that level, you need leadership skill, interpersonal skills, and teamwork more than you need a few extra points of IQ.

p.70: “You cannot motivate people unless you talk and walk in the same way. How can you expect an employee to be pleasant with a customer if you’re not pleasant with the employee?” – Don Carty, former American Airlines CEO

p.71: “If someone is self-aware, you can have a more authentic interaction with them.” – Debra Dunn, former Sr. VP and HP

p.73: [Story of Dave Pottruck, ] “Much like Alcoholics Anonymous, I went back to my colleagues and said, ‘I’m Dave Pottruck, and I have some broken leadership skills. I’m going to try to be a different person. I need your help, and ask you to be open to the possibility that I can change.’ … Denial is the biggest challenge we face. The only way to overcome it is to be honest with yourself and not make up excuses. This has helped me accept criticism, listen to it, and take it seriously, as painful as it may be.”

p.74: We must get outside our egos and listen to feedback we don’t want to hear. Young people often have not developed the self-esteem to see their mistakes and take accountability for them.

p.75: [Andy Grove (Intel), to Dave Pottruck] “When you got promoted to CEO, did that make you a better man? Well, then, do you think because you’re no longer CEO of Schwab, you’re not a better man? Hold your head high. You’re as good as you were last week.”

p.76: Perfection is not the goal of authentic leadership. Rather, it is to be true to who you are while continuing to develop yourself into a more effective leader.

p.77: [Feedback] “The breakfast of champions.” – Joel Peterson (Stanford)

p.78: Dave Dillon, (Kroger CEO) “Feedback helps you take the blinders off, face reality, and see yourself as you really are. … When I get defensive, I go back to the individual and apologize. I tell him, ‘My reaction was against me, not you. My defensiveness is a mechanism to help me cope with unpleasant personal news. I assure you I hold you in higher regard because you shared that with me.’”

p.82: Self-awareness is only half of the challenge. You still have to accept yourself. But with self-awareness, accepting your authentic self becomes much easier. You see yourself clearly and accurately, and you know what you truly believe.

p.83:Once armed with a high level of self awareness and self-acceptance, it is much easier to regulate yourself and your feelings. Your anger and emotional outbursts usually result when someone penetrates to the core of what you do not like about yourself or still cannot accept. By accepting yourself just as you are, you are no longer vulnerable to these hurts and are prepared to interact authentically with others who come into your life – your family, friends, coworkers, even complete strangers. Free of having to pretend to be someone you are not, you can focus on pursuing your passions and fulfilling your dreams.

p.86: Leadership principles are values translated into action. … Principles enable leaders to prioritize their values and demonstrate which ones trump others.


  • Values: the relative importance of the things that matter in your life.
  • Leadership Principles: A set of standards used in leading others, derived from your values. Principles are values translated into action.
  • Ethical boundaries: The limits placed on your actions, based on your standards of ethical behavior

You do not know what your true values are until they are tested under pressure.

p.90: You may not know for certain what your values are until you find yourself under the pressure of having your values in conflict, or you find the values of the people with whom you work differ from your own.

p.97: “The human heart and the human soul have an enormous amount of capacity to change directions in a positive way if we just keep outsiders from influencing what we’re doing” – John Huntsman (The Huntsman Corporation)

p.98: [Nayaarana Murthy (Infosys)] First, the only way to remove poverty is to create new jobs and more wealth. Second, there are only a few people who can lead the creation of these enterprises and create jobs and wealth. Third, these people need incentives to create wealth in a fair manner. And, finally, it is not the responsibility of the government to create jobs or wealth; the government’s task is to create an environment where a fair incentive system encourages people to create more jobs and more wealth.

p.107: “What motivated me was the notion that you can have a far greater societal impact in large corporations than you can in a small enterprise.” – Don Carty, former CEO of American Airlines

p.109: “The path of accumulating material possessions is clearly laid out. You know how to measure it. If you don’t pursue that path, people wonder what is wrong with you. The only way to avoid getting caught up in materialism is to understand where you find happiness and fulfillment.” – Debra Dunn, HP Executive.

p.111: “Why would you want to spend your time doing work you don’t enjoy? These should be the best years of your life. There is so much energy that results from feeling valued and connecting with what you’re enthusiastic about. That is when you add the greatest value.” – Dave Cox, former CEO of Cowles Media

p.118: Without strong relationships to provide perspective, it is very easy to lose your way. … Leaders must give as much to their relationships as they get from them so that mutually beneficial relationships can develop.

p.119: In your partner’s eyes, positions and accomplishments mean little, but the essence of who you are means everything. Because most leaders are so well defended against criticism, only those with whom they have a genuinely loving relationship can penetrate the armor protecting their core.

p.124: Many people are afraid to approach potential mentors because they do not want to ask for something. They fail to realize how much they can contribute to the mentor. To have great mentors, Warren Bennis tells young leaders, they have to recruit them.

p.125: Mentors are not necessarily people who make you feel good about yourself or tell you that you can do anything you want to do. Sometimes the best mentors provide tough love by being critical as a means of teaching.

p.126: [re: maintaining friends and contacts] “You can start to grow another tree, but it’s going to take ten years or more. Wouldn’t it be a crime to cut a tree down just because you were tired of it?”– Kent Thirty, DaVista CEO

p.127: Like mentoring, friendship is a two-way street where both parties benefit from the relationship. If it devolves into a situation where one person is doing all the giving and the other all the receiving, the friendship will not last long.

p.134: For authentic leaders, being true to themselves by being the same person at work that they are at home is a constant test.

p.137: Warren Bennis does not like the word balance. “Balance is an engineering term that means you put the little weights on each side, and if you’re really a good person, you’ll come out equal. We have to be aware that we swing back and forth. It is choices all the time, not balance.”

p.139: “There’s no doubt in my mind that a happy personal life is a valuable facilitator for balanced leadership.”

p.141: Leading is high-stress work. There is no way to avoid stress when you are responsible for people, organizations, outcomes, and the constant uncertainties of the environment. The higher you go, the greater your freedom to control your destiny but also the higher the level of stress. The question is not whether you can avoid stress but how you can control it to maintain your own sense of equilibrium.

p.143: “You ought to pay somebody to do whatever you don’t want to do. You’ve got enough money. Use it to buy time”

p.147: Have you defined what success means for you and for your life? Unless you have thought through the answer to that question, you are at risk of letting others define success for you or trying to keep up with their definitions of success. Only when you can define what is most important in your life can you set the right priorities for your life and become an integrated leader.

p.154: “I had fallen in love with what Avon does. I realized I would prefer to be number two in a company with this impact on society than to be number one in another company without it. If you don’t love your work, it is too great a sacrifice. … Passion is such an important quality. The infectiousness of your leadership must be apparent to the people, or you can’t charge forward. If you don’t love it, you can’t fake it.” – Andrea Jung, Avon’s first female CEO

Follow your compass, and not your clock.

p.158: Understanding your passions is not as easy as it sounds. For some leaders, a transformative event in their lives awakens them to seeing what their passions are. For others, finding their passion requires letting go of their security blankets and stepping back from the expectations others have of them.

p.160: It is difficult to determine your passions in the abstract. Discerning them takes a combination of introspection and real-world experiences before you can determine where you want to devote your energies. Without that understanding, you are vulnerable to jumping from one high-status role to another without ever finding fulfillment.

p.164: … we defined a leader as someone who brings people together to pursue a shared purpose. Gaining alignment around purpose is the greatest challenge leaders face.

p.175: We are grateful when people genuinely listen to us. Active listening is one of the most important abilities of empowering leaders, because people sense such individuals are genuinely interested in them and not just trying to get something from them.

p.127: [stories of the value of just “showing up.”] Showing up at important events or at unexpected times means a great deal to people and enables them to take their leaders off their proverbial pedestals and see them as real people.

p.180: The most empowering condition of all is when the entire organization is aligned with its mission, and people’s passions and purpose are in sync with each other. It is not easy to get to this position, especially if the organization has a significant number of cynics or disgruntled people. Nonetheless, it is worth whatever effort it takes to create an aligned environment.

p.183: We can build relationships only if an employee is affirmed and empowered, enjoys clarity of direction, and understands the vision and mission of the company” – Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO of Carlson Companies.

p.185: Once you empower people to lead around a shared purpose, you are well positioned to achieve superior results through your organization.

p.185: The style of an effective leader must come from an authentic place. That will only happen when you have a high level of self-awareness, are clear about your values, and understand your leadership purpose.

p.191: If you simply adopt an organization’s normative style or try to emulate someone else’s style, your lack of authenticity will show through. Under pressure and stress, leaders tend to revert to their least attractive styles – from being highly directive or passive aggressive to completely withdrawn. That is why you should find a leadership style that is authentic to you and continue to refine it.

p.192: Most nonprofit organizations need consensus leaders to motivate the various constituent groups.

p.193: “ Don’t be afraid of power, but be responsible with it.” – George Schultz

Earlier in my career, I foud myself backing off to a powerful executive. A colleague challenged me: “Why are you giving away so much power to him?” Recognizing that he was right, I started challenging the executive more and found he was willing to let me take the lead.

Many of the most effective leaders gain influence by using power more subtly. Engaged leaders influence people by getting them involved in decisions and persuading them. Coaching leaders gain influence by their ability to counsel with people and help them think through issues and improve the way they perform.

p.195: Leadership Style and Power Matrix

p.194: The irony is that the more power one accumulates, the less it should be used. Viewed another way, by exerting your power, you are taking away the power of others. Authentic leaders understand they need power to get things done, but they learn to use it in subtle ways.

p.196: “Leadership must always be put in a context. If you take the best corporate leaders and make them senators or president, they may not succeed because that is a different context.” – Narayana Murthy

p. 197: “My model as CEO is the prime-ministerial one, where if you don’t have the support of independent, strong, and knowledgeable cabinet members, you don’t have a job.” Kevin Sharer, CEO at MCI


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