In his new book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, former Medtronic CEO and Harvard Business School Prof. Bill George tackles the traits that make for a good leader. He interviewed 125 leaders in business and other walks of life, ranging in age from 23 to 93. They include former statesmen like George Shultz and corporate stars like Starbucks founder Howard Schultz. George spoke with Assistant Managing Editor Tim Smart.
It seems that you are saying leaders find their authenticity from some meaningful life event.
A lot of them come in the workplace, and a lot of them come in life. That is why I say it is a dangerous thing to bifurcate your life.
Do you think the corporate world requires bifurcation?
I think the corporate world pushes people into that. I think it is important you not fall into that trap of trying to impress the world-or, if you are a CEO, your shareholders.
We're hearing more today about the authentic leader and less about the number-crunching executives.
I think there's a sea change taking place. I think the post-Enron group of leaders have a very different view of leadership than their predecessors. What happened in the '90s was there was so much pressure for the short-term gains.
So the era of the "celebrity CEO" is over?
I hope so. But I'm not entirely confident of that. If you want to be a celebrity, go into media or the movies.
How is globalization changing business?
If you look in my class at Harvard Business School, my wife says it looks like the United Nations. It's bringing all different cultures into a blended workforce. I think today every executive, every leader of any size enterprise, needs to be global.
Is it harder finding people willing to be leaders?
I think a lot of powerful executives are saying that to get regulations relaxed. I do think what is coming is a collision of systems. We've shortened the time frames, but basic, fundamental change of an organization takes five years. Yet the expectations of Wall Street are becoming even shorter, and beyond that, there is so much hot money in private-equity and hedge funds.
So where do we find the authentic leaders?
The problem isn't the lack of potential leaders-it's a wrongheaded notion of what a leader is. This often results in the wrong people attaining leadership positions. But now I think there's finally a recognition that motivation matters. The orientation should be to building a great organization or business.
At Wells Fargo, Dick Kovacevich has been doing this for 20 years. Howard Schultz at Starbucks, 15 years.
Self-awareness seems to be a major trait needed for leaders, but isn't it hard for someone who's very successful and isolated from "real people" to maintain that?
A lot of leaders surround themselves with sycophants. Their feet never hit the ground because they're on a red carpet all the time.
This story appears in the April 23, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.