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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 March 2007
It is preferable but not imperative to have read previously published Authentic Leadership before reading this book which Bill George also wrote, with Peter Sims. In the former, George observes that authentic leaders are first and foremost authentic human beings. For me, this is his key point and because it seems so obvious, it may also seem simplistic. On the contrary, he has cut through all the rhetoric and urges his reader to examine her or his own core values. For most of us, that is an immensely difficult, perhaps painful experience. In this context, I am reminded of the fact that in The Inferno, Dante reserves the last and worst ring in hell for those who, in a moral crisis, preserve their neutrality. Throughout all manner of organizations, there are women and men who are authentic leaders and should be commended. The reality is, their respective organizations need more of them. Indeed, all of us in our global community need more of them. In Authentic Leadership, a truly unique and compelling book, George challenges us to join their number.

What we have in True North is a further development of George's concept of authentic leadership but also a rigorous, revealing, and rewarding analysis of what George and Sims learned during their interviews of more than 100 leaders. Most of their names were previously unfamiliar to me, although all are eminently worthy of the attention they receive. (That's a key point: Many - too many - studies of "leadership" limit their attention to C-level executives - usually "celebrity CEOs" -- when, in fact, authentic leadership is needed at all levels and in all areas of an organization, whatever its size and nature may be.) At twenty-three, Jonathan Doochin was the youngest leader interviewed; while a senior in college, he created Harvard's Leadership Institute. Ninety-three-year old Zyg Nagorski was the "senior" leader" interviewed for this study; after running the Aspen Institute's Executive Programs for a decade, he stepped aside at seventy-five and then, with his wife, started the Center for International Leadership and continues to conduct values and ethics seminars eighteen years later.

George and Sims discuss an unusually diverse group of men and women in terms of what is characterized as a three-phase "journey to authentic leadership" which begins with character formation and culminates (not concludes) with full development of authentic leadership within five separate but related dimensions: pursuing purpose with passion, practicing purpose with passion, practicing solid values, leading with heart, establishing connected relationships, and demonstrating self-discipline.

Hundreds (thousands?) of self-help books on leadership also invoke the "journey" metaphor while suggesting all manner of "phases," "stages," "dimensions," etc. What sets this book apart from them is the authenticity of what interviewees share so candidly and so generously. More specifically, as in Geeks and Geezers co-authored by Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas, those interviewed recall especially difficult experiences such as the death of a spouse or a child, losing a high-profile job, an extended illness, a failed marriage, etc. In fact, what Bennis and Thomas refer to as a "crucible" is all about the only personal experience shared in common by those whom George and Sims interviewed.

I was tempted to cite some exemplary "crucibles" provided in the book but have decided not to because each should be presented within the context of the lively narrative. However, I will observe that, for me, some of the most interesting and valuable material in this book focuses on coping with severe hardships of one kind or another. Long ago, Jack Dempsey observed that "champions get up when they can't." Authentic leaders must first become authentic people and, more often than not, that process requires experiencing and then overcoming being "knocked down." To paraphrase Dempsey, authentic leaders get up.

It is worth noting that throughout the narrative, most of those interviewed emphasized the importance of establishing and then nourishing personal relationships. This is especially true of those who are entrusted with leadership responsibilities. More often than not, what George and Sims characterize as a process of "peeling back the onion" to locate the "authentic self" requires the assistance, indeed the direct involvement of others. David Pottruck (former CEO of Charles Schwab) offers a compelling example of someone who created all kinds of problems for himself in his professional career and personal life until, finally and probably desperate, he assembled his colleagues and said "I am 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." Pottruck credits others and especially his third wife, Emily, for helping him to become - finally - an authentic person.

What about the title? According to George and Sims, True North is "the internal compass that guides you as a human being at your deepest level. It is your orienting point - your fixed point in a spinning world - that helps you stay on track as a leader. Your True North is based on what is most important to you, your most cherished values, your passions and motivations, the sources of satisfaction in your life. Just as a compass points toward a magnetic field, your True North pulls you toward the purpose of your leadership." Many readers will appreciate the provision of several self-audit exercises in Appendix C, each of which is dedicated to issues addressed in a specific chapter. I presume to suggest reviewing all of the exercises first before beginning to read this book, then proceed chapter-by-chapter, pausing to complete the appropriate exercise per each.

I was especially interested in what George and Sims have to say about "Empowering People to Lead" (Chapter 10). Appropriately, they stress the importance of mutual respect which they view as the "basis for empowerment" (I agree). Peter Drucker despised the word "empowerment." (I don't. Only misapplication of it.) Just as authentic leaders must first be authentic people, empowered cultures must be comprised of empowered people. CEOs as diverse as Anne Mulcahy (Xerox), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Roy Vagelos (Merck), and Marilyn Carlson Nelson (Carlson Companies) have much of value to say about how to empower people throughout any organization and precisely the same values should also guide and inform relations with those outside the given organization.

Although George and Sims eloquently advocate the importance of developing leadership at all levels and in all areas of a given organization, they correctly emphasize the necessity of having leadership provided by a wholly authentic CEO, one thinks of power only in terms of first-person plural pronouns. In this context, I am reminded of a passage in Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching:

Learn from the people

Plan with the people

Begin with what they have

Build on what they know

Of the best leaders

When the task is accomplished

The people will remark

We have done it ourselves.

Those who share my high regard are urged to read the aforementioned Authentic Leadership and Geeks and Geezers as well as Success Built to Last co-authored by Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson, Michael Ray's The Highest Goal, James O'Toole's The Executive's Compass and Creating the Good Life, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Andrew Ward's Firing Back, and David Whyte's The Heart Aroused.
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on 2 June 2009
Bill George was highly respected for his integrity as the CEO of Medtronic and is now a professor at Harvard Business School where he teaches a required MBA course on "Leadership and Corporate Accountability". George coined the phrase "authentic leadership" in an earlier book. True North sets out what it means for a leader to be authentic, with (if you answer the challenging exercise questions at the end of each chapter) a programme to start a leader (that's all of us) on a lifelong journey of self development to establish his/her authenticity. The book is based on interviews with 125 leaders and is liberally peppered with quotations and case examples from them.

True North starts the reader on a journey of leadership development to understand the key traits of authentic leadership: purpose, values, heart, relationships and self-discipline. George encourages the reader to develop his/her internal compass built around:

* 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 fulfilment?

With the discovery of a leader's personal True North, he/she is then set up to start the process of defining their purpose and passion and using these to empower other leaders. This transformation marks out truly effective leadership, with results that are visible to all.

There will be those who fail somewhere along the way. Authentic leaders learn from their failures, realign their compass and do better. Bill George categorises those that don't in terms of a failure in some element of their internal compasses, and we just need to look around us at the business and political worlds to see some fine examples. Writing shortly before the world's financial stability started to unravel, the author is almost prophetic.

"What concerns me are the many powerful business leaders who bowed to stock market pressure in return for personal gain. They lost sight of their True North and put their companies at risk by focusing on the trappings and spoils of leadership instead of building their organizations for the long term. Many of those who failed walked away with enormous financial settlements.

"The result was a severing of trust with employees, customers, and shareholders, as public trust in business leaders fell to its lowest level in fifty years. In business trust is everything, because success depends upon customers' trust in products they buy, employees' trust in their leaders, investors' trust in those who invest for them, and the public's trust in capitalism."
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on 1 June 2007
Considering the intangible nature of leadership, those who read about it want to know that those who write about it are properly experienced and credentialed. Bill George certainly qualifies. He is a management professor at the Harvard Business School, a member of several corporate boards, and the former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, the medical technology stalwart. George, and writer Peter Sims, the founder of an investment company, interviewed 125 leaders to discover what authentic, ethical leadership is all about, what its essence is and what it requires. This book represents the fruits of their enlightened, comprehensive research efforts. We recommend it to anyone who leads others. George and Sims see leadership as a quest, not a destination. This book is an excellent starting point for your journey.
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on 10 June 2013
In a very readable format and with some impressive, high achieving contributors (by way of interviews), this is a great aid to all current and aspiring leaders
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on 28 August 2010
This is a good source of information if you are stuck and want to know where your leadership skills lye. It also tells you how to be a true leader and the kind of skills required. At the end of reading this book I was more certain of my individual leadership style and choice of style. It's worth the read.
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on 8 November 2012
Interesting read on the train, but unfortunately, the message isn't supported by guidelines, etc. Just examples of succesful people, talking about how they are mixing personal & professional goals.
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on 15 March 2014
Very worth reading to enhance your Leadership and very enlightening I strongly recommend a read of this outstanding book, inspirational
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on 5 May 2014
Excellent inspiring book that really got me thinking about who I really am and how I want to be remembered.
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on 14 January 2017
Well rounded leadership book. Wish I read it 10 years ago.
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on 10 August 2007
I am not sure if the authors are clear on their objectives for this book. It certainly contains a wealth of information about leadership characteristics and behaviours but little practical advice.

It is also inspirational in places; however, I am left with what feels like a collection of random cameos of leadership wisdom, which in themselves are useful, but together lack cohesion. If the book is trying to say `look, the world of leadership is very complex, random and idiosyncratic' then it achieves this very well but if they are trying to provide direction in such a world then the book clearly fails.

There is no framework for potential leaders to follow, the authors only state that if you know your true north and your values you can be authentic, which is about as useful as a chocolate teapot at a tropical tea party.

If you are a successful leader already I dare say you would agree with most of this book but if you are an aspiring leader then providing the compass without a map is very cruel.
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