bill george true northThis post is excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from “Discover Your True North, Expanded and Updated Edition” (August 2015) by Bill George. Copyright (c) 2015 by Bill George. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

Bill George is a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former chairman and CEO of Medtronic.

When I graduated from college, I had the naive notion that the journey to leadership was a straight line to the top. I learned the hard way that leadership is not a singular destination but a marathon journey that progresses through many stages until you reach your peak. I was not alone. Of all the senior leaders we interviewed, none wound up where they thought they would.

Former Vanguard CEO Jack Brennan believes that the worst thing people can do is to manage their careers with a career map: “The dissatisfied people I have known and those who experienced ethical or legal failures all had a clear career plan.” Brennan recommended being flexible and venturesome in stepping up to unexpected opportunities. (read more…)

We live in the mountains outside of Denver at 8,400 feet above sea level. When people learn that, they assume I’m a snow skier. They’re surprised when I tell them I’m not.

I did try, years ago.

I went to college in Southern California. One of my roommates was a very good snow skier. His family had a cabin up in Lake Tahoe. He took a bunch of friends up to the cabin for a long weekend of skiing.

I’d never had ski lessons. I spend much of my senior year in high school surfing in Orange County, so I thought I might be able to transfer some of those skills to the slopes.

My roomie, Tom, gave me some basics our first morning on the mountain. I was all decked out in new blue jeans. I didn’t have any mountain wear so I took what I had. I had work gloves, not snow gloves. (read more…)

While making a mad dash to board an airport train last week, I ran into Stephen — literally ran into him — as we both jockeyed to squeeze ourselves in among the other harried travelers. We had not seen each other since our days as middle managers when we both worked for the same large multinational firm.

Stephen was incredibly fun back in those days, as well as ambitious, hard-working and among the most brilliant men I knew. Anyone who worked with him for more than 30 minutes could tell that they were in the presence of genius and that Stephen was going straight to the top. His co-workers would joke that they’d all be reporting to him one day.

I couldn’t get over how great Stephen looked. He had that same glow about him, that same mischievous gleam in his eyes that told you he had a lot going on in that impressive brain of his. (read more…)

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” ~ John C. Crosby

One of the most important roles of a leader is to provide workplace supervision. It is our duty to manage others in their work – particularly those who are newer and/or less experienced — and ensure that they perform their duties correctly and on schedule. Without such supervision, it is generally assumed that workers will slack and underperform.

But if we want our people to grow in their positions and achieve optimal job satisfaction and retention then we need to also provide mentorship. (A 2013 Vestrics study found that employee-retention rates in their sample group of mentors and mentees climbed 69% for the mentors and 72% for the mentees over a seven-year period.)

Mentorship is a relationship that is created between an experienced professional and a less experienced mentee or protege. Its primary purpose is to build a support system that allows for the natural exchange of ideas, a forum for constructive advice, and a recipe for success. (read more…)

Everyone says self-awareness is essential to effective leadership. It is, but there is another aspect to awareness that may be equally compelling and sadly overlooked. It’s self-management.

It’s one thing to know yourself. We know what we do well. Yay! That’s why we are so good at what we do. We may even know what we are not so good at it so we ignore it. Boo! That can hurt us.

Enter self-management. Self-management is a form of self-control. We do not control events; we merely control how we respond to them. For instance, I know I have a tendency to become short with customer service agents who, let’s face it, have the thankless job of dealing with people like me who think we have better things to do with our time than waste it with people like them.

So after much trial and error, I have taught myself to be more polite. (read more…)