Positive Leadership

Finding your True North (with Bill George)

September 07, 2022 Jean-Philippe Courtois Season 4 Episode 1
Positive Leadership
Finding your True North (with Bill George)
Show Notes Transcript

Season 4 of the Positive Leadership podcast is here! 

We are getting started with a wonderful guest: Bill George, a former business executive best known for his books about finding your True North as a leader. 

Listen to the full episode now to hear the incredibly open, personal and insightful conversation between JP and Bill. 

Feel free to let JP know on social media about which parts resonated with you most, and don’t forget to subscribe. It’s going to be a great season. 

BILL GEORGE:  I was driving home one day, a beautiful Fall day, and looked at myself in the mirror. And what I saw was a miserable person – me. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: When Bill George was in his late 30s, he had a moment of recounting. At the time, he was working as an executive at a multinational conglomerate, Honeywell, and was the leading candidate to become the next CEO.


BILL GEORGE: I had nine divisions and three groups and a huge hierarchy, and I don't like bureaucracy. I really was losing sight of who I was and I was chasing numbers. And so I went home and told my wife what I was feeling and she says to me, “Bill, I’ve been trying to tell you that for a year, you just refused to listen.” And she was right.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So Bill left Honeywell and he took the number two job at a smaller firm, a medical technology company, Medtronic, whose mission, restoring people to full life and health, connected with Bill’s core values and principles. 


BILL GEORGE: And frankly, it was the best thing I ever did, not just for my career, but for my marriage, my family, and all the people I have a relationship with. And everything that’s happened since then came out as a result of that. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I'm Jean-Philippe Courtois, JP. This is Positive Leadership, the podcast that helps you grow as an individual, a leader, and ultimately as a global citizen. For any leader at any level in any organization, clarity of purpose is the key in [PH 00:01:35] creation of success. You need to know where you’re heading and why you’re headed there. And a compass provides the ideal metaphor. Just as a compass points to the magnetic north, so your personal compass directs your past and pulls you forward. That’s the [PH 00:01:54] thesis of discover your true north, Bill George’s best-selling leadership classic. He’s just brought out an Emerging Leaders edition, which I would highly recommend. So [PH 00:02:05] very well welcome Bill. 


BILL GEORGE: Jean-Philippe, it’s a privilege to be with you today. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Thank you so much, Bill, from wonderful Colorado. 


BILL GEORGE: It is, you should come here. I understand it’s hot in Europe this summer. You might come over here to Colorado where it’s wonderful in the mountains, come join us. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Bill is so much more than a leadership theorist. As well as holding senior roles at Honeywell, Medtronic, he’s served in both [PH 00:02:30] Alexa Mobile, Novartis and Target, and today teaches leadership at the Harvard Business School. I was really excited to talk to him about his journey and the principles that underpin his leadership philosophy. 


Let me start, Bill. So you wanted to become a leader I think from a very early age, and I think you were encouraged by your dad. Why was that so important to him and to you. In a way, how much did your parents shape who you are today?


BILL GEORGE: My father was a brilliant man. He thought he should be a leader, and he never succeeded at that because he had some characteristics – being impatient, lacking tact, things like that – and these are things that I’ve had to work on all my life. I remember when I was about nine or ten he took me aside and said, “Son, I believe I failed as a leader, and I’d like you to become the leader I never became.” He even then said, “You know, son, you could be head of a major company. I’ve held stock in this company in Atlanta, Georgia, since 1937, it’s called the Coca-Cola company. You could be head of that company someday, son.” It isn’t where I wound up but it’s kind of a heavy trip for a little kid. So I joined a lot of organizations in junior high and high school thinking I'm going to be a leader. I was never chosen to lead anything – no organization, never elected to the student council. The kids at my school didn't appreciate me as a leader. Because I hadn’t learned the essence that leadership is all about relationships. It’s about trust and building a relationship with people, and I hadn’t really learned that message. So I went far away from home, to Georgia Tech, 800 miles from my home in Michigan, and one of the very best things that ever happened to me in my life is some seniors pulled me aside and said, “Bill, no one’s ever going to want 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 that was like a blow to the solar plexus, because they were right. So I spent about a year, kind of my own self-help plan, went back to talk to the people who’d rejected me to try to understand. I had lacked self-awareness, I had a lot of blind spots, and that was a great gift they gave me in opening me up.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It’s wonderful to hear you, Bill, sharing this moment when you heard that deep feedback on yourself. I know it takes sometimes a lot of time for people to [PH 00:04:55] glean these, or to even solicit feedback from others, or to accept the feedback, whatever it is.


BILL GEORGE: I consider feedback the breakfast of champions. I’ve gotten a lot of that. In fact, I never teach a course at Harvard, Jean-Philippe, where I don't get detailed feedback from all the participants. My son used to say, “Dad, why are you putting in red all the negative comments?” I said, “That’s where I learn.”  


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: One of the things that struck me about Bill almost as soon as we started talking was his deep level of self-awareness. Many leaders don't have much self-awareness, but Bill George does. On the one hand, it isn’t surprising. He’s been reflecting on his actions and behaviors that trigger in others for so long now, since the time actually he was at college. And self-awareness and self-knowledge is the key to his leadership philosophy. But how do we get to having that deep understanding of who we are? For Bill, it has to do with understanding your life story, by processing major life events, particularly difficult events, what Bill calls your “crucible moments.” 


BILL GEORGE: A crucible is when you come face to face with yourself and everything is stripped away. All the pretense that you’ve been living around – your title, your net worth – all of those things are gone because you’ve had something that really…maybe you got fired from your job, maybe you realize the personal impact of your parents getting divorced, or maybe you got rejected by your best friend or girlfriend or boyfriend. Or maybe you got divorced. Really sad things. But it causes you to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “Who am I and what do I want out of life?” You know, when you’re doing well – and I remember coming out of school, I’d done well in school, I did well at Harvard Business School, I went to work in the government, everything was sailing – you start to think you’re better than you are. And you don't realize that life is not always like that. And my mother died – I was closer to my mother than anyone else in the world being an only child, we travelled together a lot while my father was off consulting – but when she died it was a great loss. But that was what I call, Jean-Philippe, the natural order of things, parents die. But then I got engaged to be married to a woman from Georgia, she was living about three blocks away from us in Washington. About six weeks before the wedding she started having headaches and we checked it out and they said there was no problem. And I got a call three weeks to the day before the wedding on a Sunday morning and her parents said she had died that morning. Later diagnosed when they did the autopsy, a malignant brain tumor, a glioblastoma. And I was just devastated, because here’s a woman that was doing great work in the Appalachia region of West Virginia, helping people out, and just to disappear, and I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. We talked the night before about final plans for the wedding three weeks away, but it never happened. That was probably the lowest point in my life. I felt very much alone in the world. But it made me think about what’s important in life. And being there, being genuine, being real, being there to help people every day. And that’s what I took away from those two deaths that were kind of in those days about 15 months apart. I think it’s helped me ever since realize it’s all about humanity, it’s all about people, and can you be there and help people. 




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: For Bill, reflecting on our crucible moments, reframing them with the benefit of hindsight, is crucial to understanding ourselves and to becoming an authentic leader. Until we’ve done that, he says, we can’t reach our full potential and find our purpose. 


BILL GEORGE: The crucible helps you realize what you want out of life, who am I, and what can I bring to the world. What is going to be my unique contribution to the world? I believe the purpose of any organization, whether it’s for-profit, non-profit, healthcare, you name it, has got to be to have a positive impact on the lives of people. Whether it’s through addressing climate change, addressing inequality, addressing war, poverty, or healthcare, the health of people – when you can unite people around that higher purpose, that higher calling, that’s when people get inspired. It’s about a purpose that we can all relate to. And it’s particularly important for the frontline people, because they’re the ones in touch with your customers every day. They’re the ones that are really doing the work. We leaders should be on the bottom of that supporting them. And I’ve seen in all my work now, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people, I’ve mentored hundreds more, that those times in their life – and we do this in the classroom and I ask people to unpack that – and some people kind of ignore it, you know? So that’s really I think important to understand because if you can process your crucible you can actually really grow from that experience. I feel I grew from those experiences, as painful as they were. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Thanks so much for sharing those very personal stories, Bill. I think they talk not just to our minds, to our hearts, and in my case, one of my crucibles was back in 2006. I was actually flying back home from a very long exhausting week, visiting businesses, customers in Asia. And I was flying back from Sydney, Australia, back to Paris, as you may know for sure is a very long flight. And as I came back home I felt a huge pain in my – actually in my chest. And luckily I was home, because my wife decided to call the emergency service. And she was so right because I was in the hospital ten minutes after and I was in good hands with a doctor who figured out that I had actually a blood clot coming to my lungs and on my way out of life. And literally I was saved by being in Paris, because that could have happened on the plane. As you know, some people actually have that issue as they travel long flights, that happens. And obviously as I recovered from that for the couple of weeks after, it gave me more not just to think about but more to do about my priorities in life. So I can relate to what you say, and a few other moments in my life that have truly shaped in a way the core values and the ways I want to spend my time with all the people that matter the most to me in the future. 


BILL GEORGE: I found a lot of people kind of deny their crucible and just say, “Well, nothing ever happened, I just go on.” And then you’re going to repeat the same things you did. So you’re probably a great example of that post-traumatic growth of thinking, “How can I grow from this experience?” rather than just cutting yourself off at the neck and pretending it never happened. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yes, absolutely, Bill. So let me shift gears, Bill, and reflect on some other podcast guests quickly I had also. I know you’re going to actually know a number of them. I had the opportunity to have a special guest, Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever and founder of Imagine. And he shared with me, and our listeners of course, the story he shared a few times. This 2008 moment when he was in Mumbai in the Taj Mahal hotel where he was dining with the management team and where there was a terrorist attack, and where a lot of people died and he survived along with a few others. And after that attack, he decided to really give another meaning to his business life as well. And so this is when actually he got deeply engaged with transforming Unilever as you know with the Unilever Sustainability Plan, and have a deeper connection to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.


BILL GEORGE: He’s one of my closest colleagues in business. We met first in Davos in 2009, early 2010, shortly after he became CEO of Unilever. He has not only transformed Unilever, but beyond that, there’s probably no better example of someone who leads with a sense of purpose. He took on sustainability and climate change as his purpose. So a great example. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So anyway, it’s one example among a few I’ve seen which are pretty amazing in terms of those crucibles and the way they connect with our professional and personal lives. And so really I’d like you, Bill, to visualize the way you define or compass. And for listeners, at the center you’ve been putting the self-awareness. On the East you’ll find I think your sweet spot. On the South you have your support team. And if you go West you’ve got your integrated life. We’ll come back to that later, it’s an important concept I think. And you have your values and principles at the True North as well. So I’d love you clearly to talk more about that compass. In particular I think the concept that people get less understanding of, the support team. And really define what a support team is all about in your life, and what has been a critical role for you. 


BILL GEORGE: Leadership can be very lonely and the higher up you go the lonelier it becomes. The buck stops with you, there’s no one… And so you need to have a team around you. I think your team starts with one person with whom you can be completely open about everything. For me that’s my wife Penny. To you it could be your spouse, best friend, mentor, therapist, but someone you can share everything. So Penny is always there to guide and help me through challenging times. I have a men’s group and we talk about everything, and frankly some of the people in the group now are having some significant health problems, so we’re there for each other. You need people you know who are there for you. 




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Listening back, I was struck by what Bill had to say there. I think a good support team is critical to being a leader. It’s so important to have someone who will give you a reality check when you need one. Who will pull you back down to earth if you’re getting too high in yourself. And also someone who can give you encouragement when you’re too down on yourself. Often when people talk about having a support team, they talk about having a mentor or coach. But the way Bill defines support team is pretty extensive. It could be your spouse, it could be your friend or someone away from your personal circle. But it needs to be someone you trust. In fact, my experience, the best support teams are composed of different types of people. People whose world views are different from your own. As well as helping you gain perspective, a good support team reduces stress and helps build your skills and morale. 


What I loved in the way you talk about in the book, you even add more details, is I think the intentionality you built into your life, to meet with, as an example, those groups of people you mentioned, right? Where every week I guess or every month you get together, for 40 years I think you said, or how many years you’ve done that.


BILL GEORGE: Yeah, true.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I guess with your wife Penny as well, different moments in life. And I think that habit of having a repetitive way to connect with people where, whom you should be anyway authentic, you can get the real Bill in front of you as a mirror back to you, played to you as a mirror, is so critical. Very often leaders think that they are supermen and superwomen and they don't need any help, right? And so having that support team and being explicit about it, not just when you’re on the rescue mode, is super important. 


BILL GEORGE: And you need leaders around you at work too who can give you that kind of feedback, so-called truth tellers and someone who will tell you what you don't want to hear.




BILL GEORGE: The worst thing you can have is to surround yourself with sycophants who will tell you how great you are. That’s a sign you’re in trouble.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Bill, I’d like to come back to a very important element of your philosophy of leadership as well which is really the story telling. I think you’ve been borrowing this quote from John Barth. He said, “The story of your life is not your life. It is your story. It’s the way you connect the dots between your past and your future. It’s the way to find your passion, your failures, and your crucibles” too again. So why is this story telling so important?


BILL GEORGE: I think you have to go back and process your life, and you mentioned “connecting the dots.” In my own case when I was running for office the failing was that the title was more important than the relationships, and that’s why I lost. Then when I came back to my Honeywell experience, now this is 25 years later, I repeated the same thing. I was grabbing for that brass ring called CEO. That wasn’t what was important, it was what we were trying to do. And at Honeywell I couldn't relate, the mission was making money, and I couldn't relate to that. Medtronic, then it could bring people together. But it was that connecting the dots in your life, and if you don't do that you’ll continue to repeat the mistakes you made again and again. But the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, what’s our role in this world, why are we on earth, it’s really important I think to take time to reflect. And one of the things I found, I’ve been a meditator for 45 years and that’s an opportunity to really reflect on my life and think about it, and then think about how these things do connect and how they come together, and am I being that kind of person I want to be. So that’s why I think stories… You know what’s really interesting, the academics don't really accept this as really about leadership, but I found the firsthand personal story that so many leaders – we’ve interviewed over 220 people for a [PH 00:19:30] version to True North, including 50 new people for the Emerging Leader edition, younger leaders – but the stories they told us were really compelling, and they transformed their lives. And so people used their story to transform their life, like Paul Polman did. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: How would you recommend to listeners – and some of them may be part of that emerging leader generation, early on in their careers or their lives – how can they come up with their own stories of their lives? What do you think about shaping that? And of course, many times you reshape the stories of your life. 


BILL GEORGE: You do. And you don't really understand your own story until you hear yourself telling it to someone else. We do this in the classroom. All the courses I teach, every talk I give, I ask people to process that, and then talk about the crucibles. And some people advised us not to do that. I said, “No, no, this is essential, it’s a building block for where you’re going.” And so I think it’s really important. That’s why we believe in the small groups, what we call a True North group of five or six people. And the first thing we do in every group, whether it’s a small group at Harvard Business School or a small group at the companies I work with, or my own, is tell our stories, to share our stories, because that’s who we are. You have to write it down so you really look at it, and then you read it back to yourself and then you share it with a colleague. It’s confidential, it’s private, but to do that helps you reflect on your own life – who am I? Who am I in this world? If you don't do that, if you go out and try to change the world without doing that, you won’t be successful and you won’t be able to sustain your engagement in your leadership. 




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Writing down the story of your life, writing down your crucibles, your purpose, and connecting the dots to where you want to go is such an incredibly useful exercise for all of us. It is something I do with the people I coach in my foundation. And there are all sorts of different methodologies. Some people like writing down a purpose statement. You need to find a method that works for you. But what I found really interesting about Bill’s method is the importance he places on the crucibles. These key [PH 00:21:50] transforming moments in our lives. One thing to remember is that eliciting a sense of purpose in life is not an outside-in divine inspiration kind of thing. It is an inside-out evolving process. The story you have of your life is likely to change over time. 


So, Bill, I like us to come back again always to the compass, which is on the cover of your book, by the way. We visited the South with you talking about the support team. I’d like you to bring us to the North, okay, and talk about purpose, values, and heart. How do these dimensions evolve over time and how do you again recommend people, leaders, people who aspire to become real leaders, to think about that purpose, definition of raison d’etre in French, and values in heart to guide their lives and their contribution to the world. 


BILL GEORGE: Well, leadership today is leading from the heart. Now what do I mean by your heart? Your heart is where your passion resides, where your compassion for the customers, the people you serve as a servant leader. Empathy, having empathy for the problems that your colleagues and people around you and your family, everyone’s had difficult times. And then finally, courage. And courage is a subject that’s not well understood. You learn this through dint of challenging experiences, and then having the courage to be who you are and stand for something. And that’s very close then to how you shape your values. And I would contend that we connect through our hearts, not through our heads. And those are all matters of emotional intelligence. And here’s the good news. IQ really doesn’t change from the age of 10 to 60. If you’re not great at math you’re probably not going to become a math genius. But EQ does change. I had to learn self-awareness. I had to really practice that to get to focus on my blind spots and have other people point them out to me through feedback and through introspection which I do through meditation every day. That’s processing that’s helped me gain that. But these qualities you get out of that. And you’re doing something that you feel really good about, you feel positive. You bring a positive energy over it. You have a passion for it. In my previous jobs at Litton Industries and Honeywell, they were considered engineers companies, you check your passion at the door. Well, that means I only bring in half of myself. I bring in my brains but not my heart. And why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't I be concerned? Oh, my colleague Jean-Philippe just had a heart attack, something happened, he had a blood clot! Oh my God, I’ve got to go to the hospital and see him, see what’s happening, how can I help them and be there for his wife or whatever? See, if you don't have that…that’s what people remember, they remember your humanity. And I think when you process your crucible and it opens the door, maybe in your case it said, oh, I’ve got work to do. I'm alive today, I’ve got another 30 years here to do really good work on this earth. And so then that shapes your purpose. It’s hard to find hour purpose when you’re 15 and 20 years old. You can find your True North, who you are, but then that leads you to what I call your North Star, and that’s that fixed point in the sky, it’s your purpose. As I went back and processed, people said, “Oh, your purpose changed over time.” Actually, it really didn't. I was helping people get through college by mentoring, by coaching them, I was trying to shape people that I was close to in college as leaders. That really hadn’t changed. That’s all I do now. I don't actually…I'm not CEO of anything, I'm not president of anything, I'm just trying to help other people become better leaders, because that’s my purpose. And because I think if people become better leaders, then it’s that…you mentioned ripple effect, it’s that huge ripple effect that they have on other people. And I can tell you the opposite of that are toxic leaders that have an incredibly negative effect. So I think these things you mentioned, leading with your heart, values and purpose, are all connected. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I’d like to come back a little bit about the ripples of positive leadership. You’ve got to start with yourself, me, I, who am I? And you mention of course the way you can work on yourself, the way you can get feedback or you can get mentoring, you can get support team, and so on, and so forth. I’d like you to share more on that authentic leadership definition that you’ve been discussing in our book as well. In particular the way you’ve been talking about transformation from “I” to “we” as one of the most important changes we all have to do if you really want to become that servant leader you discuss. How did you learn yourself, if you could share the way to move from I, me, Bill, to we, and what would be your practice advice to our listeners to fill your path? 


BILL GEORGE: You know, early in life, everything is about performance basically as an individual. You get good grades, you take tests, you get into the right university. You come out of there, your first jobs or as an individual contributor. We’re often judged as that. But you’ve got to make that transition from “I” to “we.” And I think when you come through the “I” position you start to think people are there to serve you, and that’s just wrong. I believe we’re all servant leaders. We’re there to serve other people. And if we do that well, then we become “we” leaders. Now some people use the “we” language to talk about “I”. Well, what’s the difference? See, “we” leaders are primarily concerned with the welfare of their people, the development of their people, and reaching their full potential. “I” leaders take the credit for what other people do and they create a toxicity, and frankly, that’s why people quit, because I don't want to work for a person like that. In a global organization we’ve got to have hundreds of leaders, but they have to be aligned around purpose and mission. They don't align around $3.91 a share this year. You think they do, but they don't. But people will align around a common purpose and mission. What do you do when you’re in Russia and someone asks for bribes, and maybe they do it in a veiled way, but you know it’s… You need to go back to those core values, because oftentimes, you know, business often is done in the grey area and things are not so-called black-and-white. And I think those values are what help you think through a problem. What is our company’s values, what are my values? 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Absolutely, Bill. I’d like now to actually enter the last part of our podcast. Time we see is going very fast. I’d like to talk about some of the new developments that have happened the last couple of years around ourselves. With the pandemic, I think there’s been a very important element that you describe in your book called integrated life. That people realize, and not just realize, but want a lot more these days. Integrating your work and home life is probably one of the most difficult challenges for leaders, at least to do something about it concretely. So coming back to your authentic leadership compass, when you talk about the integrated life of a leader, what would be your top three steps you recommend basically for people to drive and build that integrated life? 


BILL GEORGE: Let me start by saying, I wrote my book for emerging leaders really as a post-pandemic book. Now as we speak, the pandemic has become endemic and people still have it. But I think we’ve never had an event in my lifetime that’s been as traumatic to everyone in the world as Covid. Now in some ways it’s led to people leaving their jobs, “I don't have a sense of purpose in my work,” and making career changes. But it’s caused everyone to reflect on “what do I want out of my life?” I think we all need to do that. And so I think to think about your life in a series of areas, what we call buckets. Your work life obviously, but more importantly your personal life, which I think is very important that you have a personal life. Whether you go for a long walk or a jog or something to introspect. And then your friends and community. And you can put those in two buckets or one bucket. But are you nourishing each aspect of your life. Leadership is a long journey. So don't think it’s a rocket ship to the moon and then you become CEO, it’s not that at all. And so to do that you really have to have a fulfilled life. You have to have that support team around you and you have to say what do I want out of life? So here’s what I say, here are the tips I have. Think about the end of the day and you’re on your deathbed, what is it you would have wanted people to say about you in your eulogy or what were the most important things in your life? Think about that now and actually think about how you’re devoting your time, and then be very conscious. Because I can tell you, most of your companies, people listening to this, will take all of your time if you give it to them. But you won’t be a good leader for that company if you’re one-dimensional. So you need to nurture all those aspects of your life.




JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: What Bill says there is so true. Nurturing the different aspects of your life, finding a better work/life balance is a goal for every professional. And yet, discovering ways to create new routines can be a challenge. The first step as Bill says is to think deeply about how you really want to spend your time. You need to be disciplined about ring fencing the time to pursue your passions. Whether it is exercising, reading, yoga, or spending time with your family. Book your holiday and time off in advance, and give yourself time to focus on the right set of priorities across those different buckets that Bill mentioned. And plan where you want to make your impact. Often we don't do enough of that. I’ve always found having a long-term plan useful in helping spread out the workload, and to identify at a glance which project I should be working on right now. 


Last question. I'm afraid we are coming to the very last question, Bill. You spent 20 years speaking to leaders at the very top of the organization, CEOs of large companies, and now you’ve been also engaging with many conversations with young emerging leaders as you call them, particularly in the new edition of your book. When I read – there were actually two editions of your book, the last one, the new one, I was looking for the new things. And I picked the table where you define the change between the 20th century leadership and the 21st century’s leadership. And what I notice is a few things, actually. One is, you suppress one characteristic, which is a surprise to me to be honest to you, being US centric to become more of a global citizen of the world. I didn't see that any more in the new definition. I’d love to get your feedback because I believe that not just the US, any country in the world would need a lot more global awareness, but that’s my conviction. And you’ve been adding two characteristics on the table. One is authentic leadership, that we discussed a lot together in this podcast, and the second one of course is also empowering leadership. So would you mind telling us your framework and what you capture out of the discussion with all those new emerging leaders. 


BILL GEORGE: Well, I think the emerging leaders today are global, they’ve lived all over the world, and you have to be. We live in a global world. So I didn't call it out specifically. If you think about it, I was raised in an era, and the business schools taught how to manage through stable times. The last 20 years have been anything but stable. We’ve careened from one crisis to the next, from 9/11, to the financial meltdown, to Covid, to now the war in Ukraine, to inflation, recession, who knows what’s ahead. So leaders today, the younger leaders, have lived through these crises all around the world. And I think it’s that adaptability that they bring to it that’s going to be critical for their success. So I think it’s time for these emerging leaders to step up and take over. 


One of the ideas that’s very different is, I grew up in an era of “command and control,” and I didn't like it. But those leaders, you know, epitomized by Jack Welch who was a great leader in the 80s and 90s, and even in your company, in Microsoft, one of the great leaders, probably the greatest business leader in the world today is Satya Nadella. Why? Because he transformed everything, from know-it-alls to learn-it-alls. But also he brought empathy. Why did he bring empathy? Well, he learned that through his son Zane who was born with cerebral palsy and tragically passed away this winter at age 26. He was learning from his own son about the challenges of life, and he brought that to everyone at Microsoft. And I’ve seen a transformation of this great company. I think a lot of companies need to go through that transformation. 


But I like to think of the leader who empowers people as more of a coach than a director. And so coaches care for people. And people won’t listen to you until they know you care about them. And then, yeah, you organize people, it’s like a great soccer team, you’ve got to get everyone in the right position on the field. That’s what I call their sweet spot, where you’re highly motivated and you’re really good at. Play to their strengths! Why play to their weaknesses? Then I think you’ve got to get people, as we talked throughout this broadcast, aligning them around mission and values. And when you can do that, you then challenge them. You can step up. You’re not reaching your full potential. And then finally, I can help you do that. Let me bring some other people in. Maybe I'm not the expert, I’ll bring people in who are. We’re working on a computer installation we’ve got to bring in the experts to help with. So I think the leader as coach is the way that we’re going to… And that’s the way you become a leader of leaders is to help others become better coaches for their own people.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Well, Bill, thank you so much, so much. I mean, from the bottom of my heart and for all of the listeners, for talking to our hearts, and I think for inspiring all of us to living our true North Star every day.


BILL GEORGE: Well, thank you, and I look forward to being with you. Maybe I can see you in Paris, I haven’t been there in a couple of years because of Covid and I'm looking forward to being back. So thank you, Jean-Philippe. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Thank you so much, Bill. 




You’ve been listening to Positive Leadership with Jean-Philippe Courtois. A big thank you to everyone who’s got in touch recently via LinkedIn or Twitter. Jeanette wrote in to say how grateful she is for the nuggets of wisdom she’s found in the series. And Vanessa in New Zealand absolutely loved the recent episode with Whitney Johnson. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please leave us a comment or write in. And if you have a specific question about leadership you’d like me to dig into, just tell me. And subscribe now wherever to get your podcasts. That’s it, goodbye.