Authentic Leadership

Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value
Author: Bill George


Jossey-Bass seems to publish books that take the moral high road. This one certainly does. George retired in 2001 after 10 years as CEO of Medtronics, a medical device company. Reflecting on the Enron and similar scandals, he makes the case that we need new leaders, not just new laws to bring us out of the corporate crisis. By candidly reflecting on his own lessons, he demonstrates how to develop the five core dimensions of authentic leadership: purpose, values, heart, relationships, and self-discipline.

"Timeless leadership is always about character, and it is always about authenticity." (Warren Bennis, Foreword)

Key Chapter: Chapter 1. Becoming an Authentic Leader

"Authentic leaders genuinely desire to serve others through their leadership. They are more interested in empowering the people they lead to make a difference than they are in power, money, or prestige for themselves. They are as guided by qualities of the heart, by passion and compassion, as they are by qualities of the mind." "They lead with purpose, meaning, and values. They build enduring relationships with people. Others follow them because they know where they stand. They are consistent and self-disciplined. When their principles are tested, they refuse to compromise." (12)

"The test I used with our team at Medtronic is whether we would feel comfortable having the entire story appear on the front page of the New York Times. If we didn't, we went back to the drawing boards and reexamined our decision." (17)

Authentic leaders demonstrate five qualities: (18)
  1. Understanding their purpose
  2. Practicing solid values
  3. Leading with heart
  4. Establishing connected relationships
  5. Demonstrating self-discipline

"Leaders are defined by their values and their characters." "At the heart of leadership is the leader's relationship with followers. People will entrust their hopes and dreams to another person only if they think the other is a reliable vessel." (quoting David Gergen, 24)

Key Insights

"Think of your decisions being based on two concentric circles. In the outer circle are all the laws, regulations, and ethical standards with which the company must comply. In the inner circle are your core values. Just be darn sure that your decisions as CEO stay within your inner circle." (quoting Congressman Amory Houghton, former CEO of Corning Glass, p. 16)

"Leadership for what purpose? If you lack purpose and direction in leading, why would anyone want to follow you?" "If people feel you are genuinely interested in serving others, then they will be prepared not just to follow you but to dedicate themselves to the common cause." (19)

"Leaders are defined by their values and their characters. The values of the authentic leader are shaped by personal beliefs, developed through study, introspection, and consultation with others-and a lifetime of experience. These values define their holder's moral compass. Such leaders know the 'true north' of their compass, the deep sense of the right thing to do." "Integrity is the one value that is required in every authentic leader. Integrity is not just the absence of lying, but telling the whole truth, as painful as it may be. If you don't exercise complete integrity in your interactions, no one can trust you. If they cannot trust you, why would they ever follow you?" (20)

"The capacity to develop close and enduring relationships is one mark of a leader. The detached style of leadership will not be successful in the twenty-first century." "They insist on having access to their leaders, knowing that it is in the openness and the depth of the relationship with the leader that trust and commitment are built." (23)

Warren Bennis observed that most leaders he interviewed "passed through a crucible that tested them to the depths of their being and enabled the successes they realized later in life." Your values are not solid until they have been tested by pressures to compromise or you have to deal with potential conflicts between them in the context of difficult decisions. This is not easy when the outcome is uncertain and there is a lot at stake. (37)

"There is nothing worse than leaders who preach good values but fail to follow their own advice, or who set double standards for their employees and themselves. If you want to see employees become cynical, just watch what happens when the top executives behave in ways inconsistent with company values." (38)

You can't really lead authentically without compassion. "It is your life experiences that open up your heart to have compassion for the most difficult challenges that people face along life's journey." "Every day we have opportunities to develop our hearts, through getting to know the life stories of those with whom we work…." (39)

"Enduring relationships are built on connectedness and a shared purpose of working together toward a common goal." "It is in sharing our life stories that we develop trust and intimacy with our colleagues." "Trust is built and sustained in the depths of these relationships…" (40-1)

"Balanced leaders develop healthier organizations." "In the end they achieve better results on the bottom line." (46) "Finding a balance between your work and home life is one of the most difficult issues any leader faces." (48) "The key …is to examine it continually…." (51)

"The best-kept secret in business is that mission-driven companies create far more shareholder value than do financially driven firms." "It is only through a sense of purpose that companies can realize their potential." "Employees today are seeking meaning in their work." "You cannot inspire employees by urging them to help management get the company's sock price up." (61-64)

"Values begin with telling the truth, internally and externally. Integrity must run deep in the fabric of an organization's culture. It guides the everyday actions of employees and is central to its business conduct. Transparency is an integral part of integrity. The truth, both successes and failures, must be shared openly with the outside world." "Values have to be discussed at every opportunity, constantly reinforced, and consistently reflected in the actions of management at all levels." "Inculcating values throughout an organization starts with the leader, who sets the standard of behavior for everyone in the organization." (71-72)

"Leaders may spend a decade in building trust and lose it all in a single act." But "What appears to be a compromise of values in a single instance is usually the final act in a series of compromises." (75)

"The purpose of any company boils down to one thing: serving its customers." "Executives must recognize the employees who are actually serving customers…and provide the environment that empowers and rewards their efforts." "Achieving and sustaining very high levels of customer service requires continuing focus on aligning employee interests with customer needs." (87)

"If we examine organizations that are highly customer-focused, they are usually headed by leaders with real passion for serving the company's customers." (89)

"If leaders treat their employees well, employees will treat customers well. It is as simple as that." (155)

"Transparency is key to dealing with shareholders. Communications these days are so fast and open that it is essential for the leadership to communicate exactly the same messages inside and outside the company." (158)

"One of the most important things leaders do is to prepare for their own succession. The mark of authentic leaders is how well their organization does after they are gone." (187)

"What will be your legacy? At the end of your days, what will you tell your grandchild you did to better humankind?" (199)

Authentic Leadership
Jossey-Bass, 2003, 202 pp.

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Book Notes by David Mays
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