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Success Story Podcast

Bill George – Businessman, Author & Harvard Professor | True North: A Clarion Call to Emerging Leaders – Step Up and Lead Now!

By February 20, 2023September 24th, 2023No Comments

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About The Guest

Bill George is a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, where he has taught leadership since 2004. He is the author of four best-selling books: 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis, True North, Finding Your True North, and Authentic Leadership, as well as True North Groups. His newest book, Discover Your True North, was published in August of 2015 along with its companion workbook, The Discover Your True North Fieldbook.

Mr. George is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic. He joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and chief operating officer, was a chief executive officer from 1991-2001, and was board chair from 1996-2002. Earlier in his career, he was a senior executive with Honeywell and Litton Industries and served in the U.S. Department of Defense.

Mr. George currently serves as a director of Goldman Sachs and The Mayo Clinic. He has recently served on the boards of ExxonMobil, Novartis, Target Corporation, and Minnesota’s Destination Medical Center Corporation. He is currently a trustee of the World Economic Forum USA. He has served as board chair for Allina Health System, Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, United Way of the Greater Twin Cities, and Advamed.

Talking Points

  • 00:00 — Intro
  • 01:45 — Bill George’s origin story
  • 04:33 — How many people pursue careers that they’re not fulfilled or happy with?
  • 06:24 — The concept of True North
  • 10:49 — How to effectively action authentic leadership in an organization
  • 12:28 — Leading an organization 30 years back vs now
  • 15:24 — How and when should a leader take a stand?
  • 17:32 — When should a CEO take a social stand?
  • 20:10 — Advice for people who want to expand their business overseas
  • 22:35 — Bill George on leading without True North
  • 24:57 — What is Mark Zuckerberg trying to accomplish as a leader?
  • 27:05 — Is there a place for a leader to be charismatic?
  • 31:05 — Challenges leaders are going to experience in the next ten years
  • 34:29 — What businesses are actually making a difference in the world?
  • 35:56 — What can the new generation of leaders learn from the last generation of leaders?
  • 37:57 — Advice for emerging leaders
  • 39:41 — Where can people connect with Bill George?
  • 40:47 — What does success mean to Bill George?

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What is the Success Story Podcast?

On this podcast, you’ll find interviews, Q&A, keynote presentations & conversations on sales, marketing, business, startups, and entrepreneurship.

The podcast is hosted by entrepreneur, business executive, author, educator & speaker, Scott D. Clary.

Scott will discuss some of the lessons he’s learned over his own career, as well as have candid interviews with execs, celebrities, notable figures, and politicians. All who have achieved success through both wins and losses, to learn more about their life, their ideas, and insights.

He sits down with leaders and mentors and unpacks their stories to help pass those lessons on to others through both experiences and tactical strategies for business professionals, entrepreneurs, and everyone in between.


Host of the Success Story Podcast:








Machine Generated Transcript


people, leader, ceo, organization, lead, business, hubspot, medtronic, employees, real, spoke, life, emerging leaders, self awareness, business leaders, person, calls, scott, leadership, years


Scott D Clary, Bill George


Scott D Clary  00:00

Welcome to success story. I’m your host Scott D. Clary. This success story podcast is part of the HubSpot Podcast Network. The HubSpot Podcast Network has incredible podcasts like entrepreneurs on fire hosted by John Lee Dumas, entrepreneurs on fire Stokes inspiration and share strategies to fire up your entrepreneurial journey and create the life you’ve always dreamed of. Listen to entrepreneurs on fire or success story, wherever you listen to your podcasts. today. My guest is Bill George. He’s a former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic. He joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and CEO Oh, he was chief executive officer from 1991 to 2001, and board chair from 96 to 2002. He is currently a senior fellow at Harvard Business School where he’s taught leadership since 2004. He received his BSC with high honors from Georgia Tech, his MBA with High Distinction from Harvard University, where he was a baker scholar and honorary PhD from Georgia Tech Mayo Medical School University of St. Thomas Augsburg College and Bryant University. We spoke about all things leadership, he spoke at one of his favorite topics TrueNorth. What does it mean? And why do leaders need to find it? We spoke about stakeholder capitalism, why that’s so important. We spoke about how leaders know when to take a stand on social issues, and how to take a stand on social issues. We spoke about authentic leadership, what does it mean? How do we define it, so it’s not just a buzzword, we spoke about the challenges that emerging leaders are facing, what lessons the new generation and next generation of leaders can learn from the last and most importantly, some of Bill’s most pertinent advice on leadership and effective leadership and leading organizations for emerging leaders.


Bill George  01:44

I was the kid that tried too hard to become a leader before he was ready in part two to follow my father’s admonition that he wanted me to make up for his failures and to lead a large corporation. I ran for office seven times in high school and college and lost all seven. And one of the best things that ever happened to me was some seniors at Georgia Tech, my undergraduate alma mater, took me aside and said, Bill, no one’s ever going to work with you, much less be led by you, because you’re moving so fast to get ahead. You don’t take time for other people. And they were absolutely right. I was trying to lead without understand leadership is all about building relationships. And then in the middle of my career, I was enrolled to becoming CEO of Honeywell, I was one of the two leading candidates for the job. And, you know, life was good. And wife, Penny, I’ve been married for 1516 years, we had a son just got in high school, one in junior high. And one day I was driving home and I looked at myself in the rearview mirror. And what I saw was a miserable person, me. And that was because I was almost like faking it to make it I was trying to pretend like I was the right person to be CEO and say, just the right thing. And dress a certain way even wear cufflinks which I never have worn and trying to impress the board of directors, and top management. And what me everyone else can see I was inauthentic. But But except yours truly. So I wanted to go home and talk to my wife that night. She said, Bill, I’ve been trying to tell you this for a year, you just refuse to listen. So I went to


Scott D Clary  03:23

my wives always know. They always know


Bill George  03:25

exactly. And I think I was trying too hard to grab for that brass ring that my father wanted me to get. And I want you I meant to go up the next day. And he said, Well, you turn Medtronic down for a job three times, why’d you do? And I said, Well, you can see the coming out Scott. I always thought he’s gonna run a large company. It’s kind of a midsize company. And sometimes, I didn’t fully perceive how midsize companies can become quite large, because at that time, we were like 750 million sales. Now I think the company’s like 32 billion. So it’s grown up a lot. But more importantly, I really had to face myself and to say, what did I want it leadership is not about a title. It’s about who you’re working with. And what’s the purpose and a Medtronic, I found the right environment for me, where we had the mission that our founder created and restoring people to full life and health, very value centered organization. And so I fit right in and it was the best 13 years of my professional career. And everything has happened the last one two years in writing and teaching at Harvard Business School, that’s followed for that.


Scott D Clary  04:33

How many people do you think don’t have that self awareness and push themselves into a career that they’re not fulfilled or happy with? That that version of you that was going to go into Honeywell, where you were sort of not acting as yourself not acting as your true self to try and get this role? Do you feel like that’s at an executive level? Do you feel like that’s the significant portion of CEO C suite? Could that lead to depression, anxiety, frustration and jobs? Certainly that’s for


Bill George  05:01

sure has, historically that was clearly the case in the 90s when I was CEO, and more recently, I think it’s changing now the CEOs we see in our new CEO program that I lead at Harvard Business School, are much more self aware. And so you see, in my book, Sachin Adela talks about the importance of such self awareness and empathy and qualities like that. And I think the younger leaders today, realize that they have to lever their hearts as well as their head. It’s not enough to be the smartest guy in the room. But you really have to have qualities like passion for your business, which I didn’t have it Honeywell, compassion for the customers, you’re serving empathy for your employees, and maybe most of all the courage to make bold decisions. And I think a lot of leaders, Scott, are too concerned about external political external adulation, money, fame and power. You know, the prestige that comes with having a lot of money, a big house, getting written up in the newspaper, having power of a lot of people measuring it by how many people you have, those things really don’t matter at all, and they certainly aren’t lasting. What really matters is, are you doing something you really love. And so I’m encouraging all the leaders I worked with, and mentor, you got to do something you love or better quit and sit out in the beach and decide what it is you want to do.


Scott D Clary  06:23

I feel like that’s sort of the theme of, of some of the work that you’ve put out. So the concept of true north, I want you to describe that concept. And I think that that’s, that would be the epitome of finding your purpose in your calling in a professional and personal sense, correct? Is that what true north means?


Bill George  06:43

Absolutely. True North is who you are at the deep at your deepest level. It’s the beliefs that you have, that you’re raised, whether you have the values that you live by the principles you lead by, and where you find real joy and satisfaction and fulfillment in your life. Again, it’s not about the external motivations, like money, fame, and power, those things will come along, by the way, but you have to find the right place for you, which we call your sweet spot where you are highly motivated by mission and values. And see, that wasn’t true at Honeywell, their mission was making money. And those days, that was some time ago, 30 years ago. But you know, and you aren’t you have common engineers can be really good and be yourself. And I think today, it’s all about being authentic. And that’s what younger leader younger people in your organization and millennials, which are more than half of your employees are looking for, they want you to be real, they aren’t interested in somebody who’s terribly impressive, they’re much more interested in someone who cares about them.


Scott D Clary  07:46

It’s interesting, though, because when CEO is real, and authentic and vulnerable, that’s, that’s super scary, because then it opens up all the flaws in the business and it makes things seem not as, and in reality, things probably aren’t as great as the CEO would like them to be. So for for a leader, actually, I want to I want to double down on TrueNorth first, and then I want to understand how they can best do that while building and scaling an organization. So first, a leader that’s that you have somebody who wants to lead an organization, whether or not they’re building from the ground up, or they’ve worked their way up, and they’re trying to figure out where they want to place themselves and position themselves as a manager or an executive VP, C suite, Director, whatever. How do you discover your TrueNorth? How did you discover your TrueNorth outside the fact that your your wife calls you out on being miserable and not being happy and not being in the right spot? How can a leader effectively figure out and define their true north so that they can make more meaningful career decisions?


Bill George  08:50

Well, I think you have to spend a lot of time developing your self awareness. It starts with understanding your life story, who you are, where you come from. Those are your roots. So it’s like a giant tree is is nourished by its roots, your your values and the principles that you and beliefs you have. But beyond that, then you kind of deal with the difficult times as we started out asking question difficult time well, those define you much more than the good times the good times you tend to think you’re better than you are. And it’s when everything gets stripped away that you realize who you are You look yourself in the mirror. And I strongly advocate to practices for everyone, including all the CEOs who work with from MBAs to CEOs and that’s one take 20 minutes a day for some form of introspection. I’m a meditator. I’ve been meditating for 45 years, could be some form of mindfulness. It could just be going for a long walk, taking a jog or something you kind of clear the mind put all the electronics away and think about how do I show up today was I the kind of leader I wanted to be with? I was excited about what joins I feel for for Know what, and those are really important questions to ask yourself every day. That’s the first one. Practice I recommend people add. The second one is get honest feedback, have people around you that tell you what you don’t want to hear that tell you the truth or how you’re coming off. I had a lot of people around me Medtronic, your argument, I would say, Bill didn’t handle that meeting. Well, today, a lot of people are upset. You need people around to tell you the truth. And I think 360 feedback, particularly from your subordinates, and your peers, is the most valuable thing you can get. And every class I teach it to HBS. So I get feedback somewhat. It’s kind of painful, but it’s that feedback is how you learn. Otherwise, you can be deluding yourself about how well you’re doing. That’s the honest feedback.


Scott D Clary  10:48

And and then let’s so then the follow up on that. You figured out who you are, as an individual, you have a feedback loop in place, you have time set aside for self awareness, introspection. So you’ve now slotted yourself into an organization in a spot where you want to be with a team that you want to work with. But that whole concept of authentic leadership and even like radical candor and transparency, for leader, that’s usually probably a very scary thought. So how do you effectively action that in an organization without jeopardizing the organization? Well, I


Bill George  11:26

think that’s a very good question, because it is scary. And I know for a long time I tried to be to be the guy that had all the answers. And, you know, then you’re not really using the people you work with. I think it’s extremely important, Scott, for leaders to admit their mistakes. Because if you don’t admit your mistake, then the people working for you can’t admit theirs. And that’s a form of vulnerability, and or to say, I need your help. I don’t know how to solve this problem, will you help me, and people invariably will help you if you’re willing to admit that. But if you think you act like you have the answers, when everyone knows you don’t, you’re gonna be in trouble. So I think that opening up now, you just don’t go to a town hall with 10,000 people. And you know, and totally do that. And, but you can be very comfortable with people you’re closest to, and you need to know who those people are. And that’s why it’s so important that people have around you, both in your key leadership roles, but also people who will mentor and guide and support you.


Scott D Clary  12:28

Yeah, and what has and when you look at this, the average leader and what they’re dealing with in organizations, let’s let’s look at what a leader would have to deal with 30 years ago versus what they’re dealing with now. So what is the difference in how you lead an organization? What are the norms? And what, what is the sort of the status quo of what leadership is? And then also, why are some of the principles that are true north principles timeless? So what has changed? What has stayed the same? And how did these, how did these principles effectively, these will be applicable in right now, and also in, you know, 1020 30 years from now?


Bill George  13:08

What 20 years ago, were admiring the command and control style, the all powerful white American male, if I may say, you know, Jack Welch was the epitome of that. But there were dozens of others who tried to emulate that style, and played it out. And I think everything has changed. Because today, the people you work with have changed dramatically. They want you to be real, they don’t want you to be an image, they don’t want you to be some person in the corner office, driving, you know, a Porsche, you know, they wonder who you are? And what are the challenges you face and who you are, you need leaders today, you need to be out with their employees not sitting in looking at statistics sitting in their offices, or having meetings in their conference rooms, they need to be out with their people and employees today want to know, is this person for real? Can I trust this person? And can I am I willing to give everything I’ve got to this organization, because if I don’t trust the leader, I won’t do it. And so that’s the big change. That’s a huge change. And the reason I’m wrote the book for emerging leaders is I really feel like we need to have this generational change from the, from the baby boomers, if you will, to the Gen Xers and the millennials and eventually the Gen Z’s to take over leadership organization, because they grew up in this they understand. The other thing I would say, Scott, there’s been an enormous change in expectations of our leaders. In the old days, you can just kind of put your head down, do the job, delegate out all the work and make the numbers make your quarterly numbers stockmarkets pleased and everything’s fine. That’s not true. Today, we’re looking for leaders to have a position on public issues to represent their employees in public. When George Floyd was murdered here in Minneapolis, any CEO in this town that not only He had to speak out. But beyond that needed a real plan to recognize the flaws in the organization relative to diverse people and how they weren’t being treated properly and getting the opportunities. And that’s what people expected. And frankly, the CEOs in this town stepped up. But that’s a big change, to know where you stand on things. And your employees want to see that you’re real. And you’re out there.


Scott D Clary  15:24

And Minneapolis was basically ground zero for one of the most topical social issues in the past two years. And obviously, you you had proximity to that, and you had CEOs that had proximity to that. But when you deal with something like that, as a CEO, there’s no playbook you didn’t learn you didn’t even learn about this. I mean, probably before and HBS, maybe now there’s, there’s more education and understanding about how to react and how to do things differently. But outside of just improving your organization and improving di and di within an organization. How do How does a leader react? How does a leader take a stand? When should a leader take a stand?


Bill George  16:04

Well, I think anything that relates to your mission and values, I think every corporation has to be clear about its mission or its purpose, same thing, and what its values, and if it violates that, and say you value diverse people, and if it violates that you better step into it. The real backstory about jpg, Disney is unlike Bob Iger, he didn’t represent his employees. And then he shifted position in mid mid term and got himself in a political Maelstrom with the governor of Florida. But was look the problem was a he didn’t step out and take a stand on things. So leaders today are doing that. And not just because it’s expected, but because they’re being chosen because they care about these issues. And that’s really important. But I think you can’t speak out on everything. So you need to concentrate on issues that are really important to your organization, to its mission and its values. And that’s what it comes down to. So that’s the only grounding you have there. Like you said, Scott, there’s no crisis playbook for these things. There’s no COVID crisis playbook that existed three years ago, there was no playbook for, you know, a black man being murdered by a policeman. And with a video that goes viral around the world. There’s no playbook for this. So that’s why you have to know how to step up. And you have to be have experienced that having led through crises, because if you haven’t today, you’re not going to be ready when the big crisis comes along.


Scott D Clary  17:32

And, and so something as close to home as George Floyd, it makes a lot of sense for somebody to take a stand on. But when you look at other topical global events, like Ukraine, for example, where you can’t necessarily make a ton of changes within your organization that are going to be directly tied to what’s going on in Ukraine. So should for example, something like that? Should a CEO take a social stance on that? Even if they don’t have international? Like, you know, international reach? Is that something that’s, I guess what, like, hit that threshold for a CEO speaks out? Or does that start to seem like a distraction to the core business?


Bill George  18:14

Both, I think they have been forced to work coming out of Yale is kind of calling people out. But I think you know, and there are outstanding companies like Cargill, in this community, Johnson Johnson, who may have the greatest respect, are staying in Russia. Many hundreds of companies like Goldman Sachs were served on the board are pulling out. But I think each company has to make its own decision then say why j&j would say, you know, our credo calls for us to provide life saving drugs to people, and we can’t pull those out. But yeah, I think people had to take a stand, have to take a stand on that. Now, a trickier one is China. Because, you know, you can easily give up your business in Russia, where it’s going, but it’s pretty hard to give up the Chinese marketplace. This is much trickier. And the Chinese government has been so punishing of anyone speaks out, like what happened, Jack Ma, who I featured in a previous book, a co founder and CEO of Alibaba, former CEO, fantastic leader, you know, and he’s been more or less isolated and disappeared for weeks, months at a time. This


Scott D Clary  19:22

is very, he was very outspoken, and he got to the point where he was almost too outspoken. And that’s what I guess that spooked him a little bit.


Bill George  19:29

Well, Martin spoke to him. I think he got taken down, so to speak. Not, you know, not physically, but I think he was isolated. But I think you know, business leaders now in China and I, frankly, trying to stay over the sand of the radar. Not many business leaders, American business leaders or European are gonna go out and criticize the Chinese Communist Party or President Xi himself. They’re trying to stay below that radar screen because it’s important. So I think some pragmatism and good judgment comes in here. It’s easy. You just say, we disagree with Russia doing Ukraine, China, you have to find a way to work with them, it’s going to be the world’s largest economy, you can’t just ignore it.


Scott D Clary  20:09

That’s difficult for an emerging firm, an emerging leader, because there is no black and white answer to this question, but it’s something that somebody who’s listening to this podcast may be struggling with. So when when you take a stance on that, how do you how do you navigate that situation? How do you how do you choose to? I don’t know, choose to expand your business or not. It’s one of the largest economies in the world. What would your advice be to somebody who is building a business start not already International, but somebody who is starting to grow overseas? How do you manage that relationship?


Bill George  20:50

Well, I can’t be respectful. I’ve lived overseas twice, and traveled all over various countries, early on establishing our business, I think you have to be respectful of the culture going into, I think that’s very important. And you’re not part of the political system of that country. So stay below that. Even if you’re in a neutral country, like Switzerland, where I live to our Belgium, which is the center of Europe, you’re just being informed, but you’re you’re not in a position to start telling people what to do. So I think you try to do your business and you work out things that are really important to you, like, you know, your products getting into the marketplace, acceptance of your respect for your patent intellectual property and your patents. I think that’s essential. That’s a big issue in China. So I think you have to have a policy, how are you going to handle these things. And again, just in that case, all these countries, I say, keep your head down, do the job, and don’t get too engaged in the kind of local political issues that they may have.


Scott D Clary  21:55

I just want to take a second and thank the sponsor of today’s episode. HubSpot. Now, if you want to organize your business, you need a CRM. If you actually want to grow your business, you need HubSpot CRM, with HubSpot, your sales, marketing, customer service, and ops teams will have access to all the same dynamically updated data, so they won’t get their wires crossed on where customers in their journey or how to convert them. Plus HubSpot. CRM is easy to buy and easy to use. So you don’t have to waste valuable time onboarding your teams, or managing software and you start seeing value right away. Learn how HubSpot can help your business grow better and 2023 and get a special offer of 20% off on eligible plans at pod. Very smart. One thing that I thought was an interesting point in your book was a chapter that you actually wrote about leading without a TrueNorth. And you brought two interesting stories, you brought up the story of Mark Zuckerberg, and then you also brought up a story of Elizabeth Holmes. So obviously, two very different case studies there. But speak about speak about leading without TrueNorth in the context of maybe less, obviously, Mark Zuckerberg, and more obviously, Elizabeth Holmes,


Bill George  23:06

Elizabeth Holmes created a fraudulent company,


Scott D Clary  23:10

I call her obviously,


Bill George  23:12

the medical field that fingerprick is not going to replace the blood drawn to clean blood drawn from your arm that you could do 400 tests. And she never proved it and never tried to prove it. And kind of made a lot of statements that simply weren’t true. And I was on the board of mayo at the time. And they were not going to even think about that because they knew scientifically wasn’t going to work. So but she got a lot of adulation. And she became a superstar. And when wanted to be successful. I feel sorry for her because she’s now going to jail. But she never was the real deal. Now, Mark Zuckerberg has a different case. He here is a brilliant guy that had incredible breakthrough. I mean, the leading social media site, he really established social media, along with Twitter and others have followed. But he had 19, he jumped in, and really never had a chance to develop himself as a leader. And so at first he had mentors like Don Graham, who was on his board, former owner of the Washington The Washington Post, Sheryl Sandberg became his partner. She was terrific, more mature, older person you could converse with, but now he’s kind of abandoned all that. And he’s become much more of a loner. It’s very sad, because he’s pulling back. Now he’s trying to be macho going on Joe Rogan and things like that. This. He’s really very much at risk right now. And so I worry for him. And I think he got caught up in how many how many people are on the Facebook platform 2.2 billion all became a numbers game. And he lost sight it was he creating the kind of organization to kind of culture and the kind of sites and so he lost control of his site to grow too fast. A sad story and one that was not going to end well.


Scott D Clary  24:58

What so what is your what is your opinion In all this because you mentioned he’s going on Joe Rogan, I saw a clip of him doing martial arts the other day. What is he trying to accomplish with this as a leader? Like, how do we sort of take what he’s doing now? And look at that as a case study for what you shouldn’t evolve into as a leader, which I’m not really sure what it is anymore? To be quite honest. It’s weird. But what is he? What is he trying to accomplish? And how do we how do we sort of highlight what you can do to avoid turning into what Mark Zuckerberg turned into, he was just too focused on numbers because focusing on numbers is not inherently a bad thing. Focusing on business success, that KPI is not a bad thing.


Bill George  25:38

No, these are about it. I’m not about numbers at all. This is about charisma. He’s trying to be charismatic. This is a huge trap. I see this happening saddening to an extent with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos as well. They’re getting caught up in this kind of charisma trap. And, and the media loves to play that gives them a lot of a lot of coverage. But this is not where you should be. I mean, trying to be a super alpha male, all three of these guys probably are not the cool guys at high school, and so already become cool. Now, you know, it seems like that in martial arts and all this stuff, you know, get back to being a human get back to being real to being honest and open. But I sadly, I see people get caught up in that even Jack Welch get caught up in the last five years, uh, you know, trying to be the CEO of the century, you know, and you kind of get caught up with your own press, you know, as you know, Scott, the media can build you up and take you down pretty quickly. And so I say to people, be grounded in who you are, keep your friends from high school and college be a real person. I coached soccer for 12 years with a group of young boys growing up from seven to 19. Well, boy, that keeps you grounded, I can tell you, they all came from middle class families, one of them with a homeless kid, you know, you know, I learned a lot from their lives, and you got to stay grounded, maybe at work in a soup kitchen or something where you’re, you don’t get caught up in your own. He’s excessively thinking you’re better than other people. This is a real danger.


Scott D Clary  27:05

Now, it’s interesting, because you mentioned there’s sort of a dichotomy between Jack Ma was a great leader was very outspoken and was shut down. But then all of a sudden, these leaders that maybe were not so outspoken, tried to become outspoken, and you praised the fact that Jack Ma was outspoken for a period of time, he’s a great leader. But then you also highlighted the fact that people that weren’t outspoken are trained to almost artificially become charismatic. So is there a space for a leader to put themselves out there to be charismatic and running a business who’s built I guess that personal brand correctly? who’s done it so that they are still authentic but they don’t they do put themselves out there? They do build a community, a tribe a following, but it’s not cringe. It’s not. It’s not obtuse, it’s it doesn’t seem forced?


Bill George  27:56

Well, this will surprise you. But I think Mary Barra has and CEO of General Motors, so she was one of my former students before she was CEO. And you know, she is put it out there and two very, very bold promises, like, our vision is zero accidents, zero pollution, zero congestion. And wow, that’s, of course, Mission Impossible, but she’s working towards it. And she phased out all electric cars. And I know her people that are working on this, it’s the real deal. And what she here’s a woman that started on a production line at General Motors had, you know, she said, 40 years, they’re working with people, and so she knows how to help she understands the lives of frontline people. She’s an example of something. Now that one’s done exceptionally well is, is chip Berger, Levi Strauss. Now Levi Strauss has always had a position of speaking out. So chip does. And it’s not about charisma. It’s not about his ego. He has none of that vowel. But he’s taken a clear stand. And when he calls gun safety, not gun control gun safety, because, frankly, my customers, a lot of them are young girls and boys are scared. They’re in schools, and I have to take a stand, I want to take a stand. And he recently took a stand out abortion, he said, this is a business issue. This is not just a social issue. It’s a business issue. We have to take care of our employees and provide for their needs for their healthcare needs. So here’s a guy another one. Close to that is Marc Benioff, who has taken on the homeless issue in San Francisco. He even proposed a tax for the tech companies to pay for helping the homeless in San Francisco. Got a lot of criticism for that, but hey, to his credit, he’s out there. And so I admire people like that. Mark is more charismatic than Saint Mary or chip but I don’t think it’s about he’s not trying to be that’s just what he believes.


Scott D Clary  29:45

So ultimately, it’s about you just you just amplify what you actually believe. And then you don’t you don’t play into some some media narrative of who you should be or you don’t try and build this. Build a cult following exactly. Okay, I got it. I love it,


Bill George  29:59

man. If you don’t plan to a narrative what you should be, yeah, to be yourself. And if you should be, you know, a macho person, you know and have $500 million yacht like Jeff Bezos says, Come on, man, you know, really do you know I went to Alan Paige, who I know well, as a friend I wrote him up in the book is he’s such an amazing person. His commitments not to football is education. And Alan has a foundation. I said, Alan, how many people could get a two year education saying vote, vote check, and learn how to be a welder learn how to be a computer specialist or do computer graphics? How many people could do that? For 500 million? I said about 60,000. So maybe we should put our money into these things instead of yachts. So he’d be a cynic.


Scott D Clary  30:46

No, it’s good. I mean, there is a point. There is a point where I mean, how much money is too much money. Right? When you start talking about $500 million? Yacht? It’s a little bit.


Bill George  30:56

Yeah, I mean, you have a nice home, I have a nice home. But yeah, it’s got to be one that you really want to live in, that that’s becomes a burden.


Scott D Clary  31:03

I want to talk about, I want to talk about some of the things that you experience at HBS. And probably some of the things that have influenced your book and, and some of the content that you put out into the world. So what are some of the what are some of the new challenges that leaders are going to be experiencing in the next 10 years? Emerging? Well, they’re all coming


Bill George  31:23

down to what is the role of business in society and see, this has changed dramatically. And it was kind of signaled three years ago, when the Business Roundtable said, it’s no longer shareholder primacy. It’s its stakeholder, of course, shareholders are a very key stakeholder. But so businesses today are being looked to by society to solve big problems, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s racism, you or it’s healthcare, income inequality, I think it’s terrible that we have in the United States, a $7, and a quarter minimum wage, I don’t care. You know, if you’re working in a small restaurant that just doesn’t fly, people can’t live on like that. And we have do we have, for instance, business needs to take a role on this income inequality. And I think the best way to do that is to raise people at the lowest levels, to understand take COVID The frontline workers are what guys are COVID, the rest of us are on Zoom screens. But they got us through COVID, they were risking their lives to stack shelves at Target or be a barista at Starbucks, or like my son, who’s a surgeon at UCSF, he’s not doing that from home, I assure you. So I think that’s what business is being called upon. It’s interesting. Scott, that 10 years ago, business was at the bottom of the animal, trust me the least trusted now, of course, that was a big impact of the banking collapse and the recession that followed. But now it’s the most trusted, which is shocking to me. Why Why would business be? And I think people because of the political gridlock we have and the political conflicts we have. People are looking to business leaders not to take not to be blue or red, but to take a position to help solve problems and they business has the resources to get things done. And I think that’s terrific.


Scott D Clary  33:09

It is terrific. But you know, what’s actually very frustrating when you said that it just made me think of something. People are looking to businesses to take a stand because they do have the resources. And they have the brains, and they have the ability to do all these incredible things. But the one position that you see businesses taking more often than not, is unfortunately red or blue. It’s not it’s not something that’s going to fix the world. It’s businesses that seem to just double down on on, again, a trending political narrative, which doesn’t really serve anybody doesn’t really Oh,


Bill George  33:38

and some of them are getting into purpose washing as it’s called. But the business leaders, the CEOs, I know, don’t want to do that. They’re saying, Bill, I want to engage and taking on the some of these difficult problems, but I don’t want to get involved in politics. And I said, Well, it’s pretty hard not to get drawn into it. But I they they’re not I don’t I find most of them pretty centered, maybe a little bit right of center, because they’re business people. But they don’t want to get involved in extreme causes. I can tell you, they’re their heads are said in running their business, but using it to make a difference. So we hear this word woke. I don’t think any business leader that I’ve ever met could tell you what that word means, you know, if they want to work on climate change, is that being woke? Or is it trying to solve all our diverse employees, they want more women and senior executives that’s have been Whoa, this is just having a better leadership team,


Scott D Clary  34:29

and what businesses what businesses are doing really good jobs at at anything pick up pick a topic who’s leading the way in terms of actually making change at a global scale or even at an organizational scale?


Bill George  34:43

Well, I was talking to the CEO of ArcelorMittal. Who, you know, he he we’re talking about climate change because a lot of people are talking about purchasing credits. And obviously the steel business world’s leading steel producer throws off a lot of co2, you know, he’s investing 10 billion dollars. That’s public information. $10 billion in reducing the impact. It’s not going to go to zero, but he’s working very hard to get there. Paul Polman at Unilever has worked extremely hard on the whole climate change problem, I think, good for him, because we’re seeing people out there taking clear positions of why it’s so important to have sustainable products that have benefited Unilever tremendously under his under his watch. And I mentioned a couple of the others that I think are doing a really good job like, like Jeff Berg and Marc Benioff. I think it’s terrific. Indra Nooyi took a real stand on nutrition and very challenging when he PepsiCo. But he she did it and she stuck, stuck with it for 12 and a half years as CEO and had a significant impact, just lowering the amount of sugar and sodium in their products and developing other products that were very healthy, so good for her.


Scott D Clary  35:56

And what what do you what do you think a new generation of leaders can learn from the last generation of leaders?


Bill George  36:03

Well, they can learn what not to do in many years. And that’s really that’s more important than you think. Learning what not to do. But I think you know, I’ve featured in my book, a number of role models among the baby boomers have been mentioning some of them, but you know, people like Satya Nadella Well, I tell you there’s a person has incredible wisdom but self awareness. Now he has a baby boomer, but anyone can learn from what he’s doing. He’s He’s incredible. What he is done in turning around Microsoft from the disaster was under Steve Ballmer. Wow, liquid he’s done in eight years. So that’s an example of a person you can learn from. It’s all about self awareness. It’s about having empathy. And as he said, We got to go from no at all is to learn it alls. And so anyone thinks, Oh, we’re the smartest people needs to rethink it. You want to create an organization I was with one of the largest insurance companies in the world the other day, and they want to create a learning organization. That’s what you have to do. We have to constantly be learning, learning about our customers, learning about our clients, learning about our business, learning about how we fit in the role of society if we’re going to reach a broader markets. And so I think that’s what’s really key. So you can learn a lot from a number of people. If you bear Joe Lee just did a fantastic job turning around best by getting the employees inspired. He calls the human magic, it’s kind of a euphemistic term. But that’s what he did. He got him really excited frontline people, and he went out and worked with the frontline people. So I think CEOs need to rethink their role completely in their, in their companies, get out of the meetings and get out of their own offices and get out with the people get out with the customers I spent well over half my time with employees and customers on the front lines, just go to the lunch room and sit down and go production worker and say hey, how’s the quality days? They’ll tell you, Mr. Shorts, we have problems are you


Scott D Clary  37:53

let me learn pretty damn quick. You’ll learn very quick. What so what would be your biggest or your best piece of advice for emerging leaders coming out of coming out of school now?


Bill George  38:04

Well, number one is first, just figure out who you are. That’s your that’s your tuner. But then find a place to go to work where your purpose and figure out your purpose, it may take you some time as it did me figure out why are you why are you spending less I’m leaving, I’ll tell you it’s not easy. It’s a lot of pressures, you’re gonna get criticism. And but you know, you, you figure out your purpose and then find an organization which is aligned with it. See, it took me a long time to 10 years at Linton and 10 years at Honeywell before I finally found a place where I was really aligned with the purpose because I was diluted by running a big organization and getting caught up in that. So I think that’s the most important thing if you can find that alignment between what you want to do with your life and, and the purpose of the organization. I think the absolute worst thing I’ve heard Scott in recent years is this thing and are talking about this last few months quiet quitting this the worst thing you can do just give the absolute minimum to your job. Why would you do that life is short. You know we can We should enjoy life. It’s not fun, then quit and go somewhere where you’ll find joy and fulfillment. That’s the most and lead with your heart. I think I’ve been telling Pete students at Harvard Business School that since 2004, and they first of all they they were laughing at first, but it’s it’s very serious. You have to leave your heart not just with your head, if you can remember nothing else. It’s not about the smartest person in the room. It’s about leading with your heart with passion, compassion, empathy and courage. If you can remember that you can become a great leader.


Scott D Clary  39:41

I love it. Okay, I want to I want to get some socials and some links from you. And then I have one last question I ask every guest so before we close this out, where should people connect with you? So all the socials website, where can people get the book? Anything and also any closing thoughts that you want to you want to drop Before we close that,


Bill George  40:01

well, I’ve built as my website and got lots and lots of materials, there are articles I’ve written shows like this one accumulated there. I’m very active on LinkedIn, try to respond to the comments I get on Twitter, to a lesser extent on Facebook. So those three sites as well as it’s not hard to find me. But I would encourage people, I’d love to get into a dialogue with everyone listening to this show. Now, so that’s, that’s what’s, that’s how you connect. So final thoughts. Final thought to everyone is, be who you are, and lead with your heart as well as your head to become a great leader and really use your life to make a difference in the world. And if you can do that, you’ll have a very fulfilling life.


Scott D Clary  40:47

I love that last question that I asked everyone. How you’ve had an incredible career, what does success mean to you?


Bill George  40:55

May making a difference in the lives of other people. I decided the only through line to my purpose going all the way back to college years, when I was mentoring a lot of people and coaching a lot of people about their leadership, right to the very president, which is what I do today, whether they’re students teaching in the classroom, or whether people I know in other walks of life, and my whole goal is to enable people to reach their full potential. When they do that. I get excited when I see a Mary Barra doing so well. That excites me. It’s not about what I do. It’s about what others are doing.


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