David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

Authentic Leaders

post # 388 — June 15, 2007 — a Managing post

I’m coming late to the party here, because Bill George’s book TRUE NORTH (written with Peter Sims) is already a best-seller. It’s a follow-up to George’s AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP book, and here’s his description of the five dimensions of authentic leadership:

1. Pursuing Purpose with Passion

2. Practicing Solid Values

3. Leading with the Heart

4. Establishing Connected Relationships

5. Demonstrating Self-Discipline

George is the former CEO of Medtronic and is now a professor at the Harvard Business School, as well as a board memeber of such firms as Goldman Sachs, Target and Novartis.

The TRUE NORTH book contains the stories of 125 prominent individuals judged by George to be authentic leaders. It makes for fascinating and inspirational reading.

George obviously intends us to believe that we can learn from these stories, but I walked away believing that, even though there were commonalities among the people profiled, each achieved what s/he did because of who they WERE. As Gorge stresses, these people were formed and forged through their early life experiences.

Which makes me worry and wonder? Can we ordinary folk really learn from these examples? Can the dimensions isted above (which are really personaliity characteristics and deeply-formed attitudes) really be affected by books, speeches, training programs, consultants?

Is leadership development an oxymoron?


Coert Visser said:

Management books suggest that if we study other successful companies and closely copy what they seem to have done, we can achieve the same success. Books for personal effectiveness do the same. If we closely look at successful individuals we can copy their success and we’ll be successful too. But there is one thing we can’t copy by definition. The successful companies and individuals which make it to the books have usually discovered themselves how to develop success. When we try to copy exactly what they have done this is usually the very difference between us and them. They did not copy anybody. Instead, they discovered their path to success themselves. Here are some more thoughts about this: We can’t copy our way to success / We can’t copy our way to success (2)

posted on June 15, 2007

Erik Mazzone said:

Take this comment with a grain of salt, as I haven’t read either book (yet remain cheerfully willing to offer a somewhat uninformed opinion, nevertheless):

It would seem to me that the point of any book espousing “authentic leadership” stands for (or ought to, at any rate) the basic principle that leadership ability comes from drawing on one’s inherent strengths and life experience. Not that those strengths or experiences need to conform to a particular standard. Rather, that adherence to broader principles combined with honoring personal authenticity (of strengths and biography) is the key.

In other words, becoming a great leader is like climbing a mountain. There may be multiple routes to the top, but any climber who expects to summit must adhere to certain common principles, ie: adequate oxygen supply, temperature-appropriate clothing, etc.

So, no — leadership development is not an oxymoron. It may just need to be approached differently.

But then again: I’ve neither read the book nor climbed a mountain, so what do I know?


posted on June 15, 2007

Susie Wee said:

Another interesting topic! I’ll take a stab at it… In order to understand the question of who can learn from this, I think we need to consider nature vs. nurture. In terms of nature, I think the “learner” needs to be a purposeful, passionate, sincere person. That’s hard to fake or teach. In terms of nurture, I believe that people are a product of their experiences or inexperience. So, their inexperience or experience to date might have led them to believe that such behaviors are not effective, appropriate, or acceptable for the workplace.

For example, when people interview for their first jobs, they often believe they have to act a certain way (I see this all the time!). They work hard to act very professional to try to fit in because they think they should. At this stage, they don’t realize that the interviewer probably wants to hire a person, not a robot. So, the book could help. Actually, many seasoned workers also may not have made this realization!

Also, a worker might have been in a job where they were beaten up for expressing their passion or purpose if it was against the grain. Hopefully this person finds a work environment where their opinion is valued. But, they could also benefit from the book to let them know that this is valuable.

Overall, I’m seeing this book can be a validator and confidence booster for people who are purposeful, passionate, and sincere at heart. Does that count as learning? Perhaps this is aligned with Coert’s view of discovery.

posted on June 15, 2007

Jennifer said:

I think that people become who they are as they grow. This becoming can happen by accident and be shaped by the things that randomly happen to you, and this can also happen on purpose. You can choose to be whoever you want to be. I think if you want to be a great leader, and focus on these things, that you can, no matter who you are right now.

I do not believe that people are just born leaders. I think that they become leaders through circumstance combined with CHOOSING to do the things that leaders do. I know we all know people who face adversity and crumple, and I know we all know people who face adversity and let it shape them into something better than they were before. It has to do with outlook, and choosing whether or not to be defeated. I am so thankful that we are capable of changing. I hope to be a great leader someday. I also hope that when I am a great leader, I still think “I hope I am a great leader someday.”

posted on June 15, 2007

Joseph said:

I find all these very interesting. Can leadership be learned from others? I have read both Authentic Leadership and True North and what I’ve gotten from both is refreshing: That you must actually find your own leadership and be authentic in it. I find it especially helpful to read True North or Authentic Leadership when I am feeling off track with my own authentic self as a reminder that I can indeed find my own leadership and that being authentic is better than not being authentic.

In response to what Coert Visser said, YES – you are Absolutely Right! Leadership cannot be copied. I think that’s the whole point that Bill George was making in his book. He’s also mentioned in interviews that so many management books try to list all the qualities of a leader and he’s glad we haven’t figured it out because if everyone were trying to be someone they weren’t (ie copy what a book tells you to do) then we would not be authentic and we would also be less effective.

posted on June 16, 2007

Stephanie West Allen said:

I have heard from several people (both academy grads and others) that the best leadership training occurs at the service academies (e.,g., West Point). Any thoughts on that assertion?

From the HBR aricle on authentic leadership:

>>When 75 members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness.< <

I do not think many of the leadership development programs are looking at this capability, do you?

Quite frankly, I think a liitle of this as descibed in the New York Times might be a good component of any leadership devlopment. Mindfulness is a component of self-awareness.

More at my post “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership”: Dr. Seuss for adults.

posted on June 16, 2007

Greg Krauska said:

David, True North offers 2 powerful tools to help leaders choose and shape their individual “authentic leadership” style.

  1. Stories
  2. Questions

The stories reveal the challenges and competing tensions faced by each of the executives interviewed, the course they selected, the results and their reflections about what happened. These stories give the reader the ability to put themselves into those situations and ask, “What would I do?” Having read those stories, can we use their lessons to shape future decisions? Absolutely!

The exercises (if used) in True North give a leader a chance to reflect on valuable questions that help illuminate and hone his or her leadership style. The questions are very straightforward. Answering them may take some reflection.

I believe a leader who has given thought to their values in advance faces less internal conflict and can therefore focus attention externally, to the people he or she serves. Leaders who can remain true to high standards and values under stress can rally others who are searching for their internal compass.

I agree with Joseph – leadership cannot be copied. People can see through a fake very quickly. Effective leaders learn from their personal lessons and experiences (“crucibles”) to shape their own, authentic approach.

So, if one chooses to read the book and learn from the questions, then no, “leadership development” is not an oxymoron.

posted on June 20, 2007

Jerome Alexander said:

Strange, I see nothing in any of these characteristics that I have not observed in ordinary people. Why is it only important when these traits manifest themselves in the financially successful and powerful? Why must we always learn something from these types? Aren’t there things that they could learn from us commoners? Or wouldn’t sell any books to the wannabees?

posted on June 28, 2007

Benjamin Lorch, Berlin School of Creative Leadership said:

I agree with Erik Mazzone that there are many ways to “reach top the mountain” of leadership. Reading a few books and studying the lessons of others will certainly help anyone hoping to better their leadership skills. However, I think the best training for any leader is to have served under another great leader who has provided mentorship and set good examples. In my experience, the best leaders are themselves not teachers but learners themselves.

Good leaders also offer respect to all those that come before them because they know not what a “stranger” may offer.

That said, the most successful leaders seem to be those who push themselves and others VERY hard. When this is not done well there can be a lot of blood spilled.

posted on July 4, 2007

Structured Settlment loan said:

I believe in only one thing that Be youself and you will achieve all your goals in life. By following other people and books, we only get aware about them but originality comes from inner self.

posted on April 18, 2008