Real Leaders are Authentic, Even When They’re Wrong
Harvard Business School professor Bill George says more people of character ought to run for office... but probably won't.
Bill George is professor of management practice 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. With co-author Doug Baker he recently published True North Groups.
Mr. George is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic. He joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and chief operating officer, was chief executive officer from 1991-2001, and 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 director of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and the Mayo Clinic and also served on the board of Novartis and Target Corporation. He is currently a trustee of the World Economic Forum USA and Guthrie Theater and a former Trustee of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has served as board chair for Allina Health System, Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, United Way of the Greater Twin Cities, and Advamed.
He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2012. He has been named one of "Top 25 Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years" by PBS; "Executive of the Year-2001" by the Academy of Management; and "Director of the Year-2001-02" by the National Association of Corporate Directors. Mr. George has made frequent appearances on television and radio and his articles have appeared in Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and numerous publications.
Mr. George received his BSIE with high honors from Georgia Tech, his MBA with high distinction from Harvard University, where he was a Baker Scholar, and honorary PhDs from Georgia Tech, Bryant University, and University of St. Thomas. During 2002-03 he was professor at IMD International and Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland, and executive-in-residence at Yale School of Management.
He and his wife Penny reside in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Bill George: Take two contrasting leaders, President George Bush, whose policies I didn't like, and President Barack Obama, who sometimes wasn't the greatest administrator in the world, but both of them are people of character and they've been true to who they are. I can disagree with the policies or I can disagree with the way they run the government; it doesn't mean they're not people of character. And I think they're quite authentic. Unfortunately, a lot of times in politics with the high media intensity and the long cycle we have — I mean right now we're in the middle of a political campaign that's running 16 months, 18 months; that's way too long. How about six weeks like the Brits do it? But you do test people in that period, but you get into a lot of media playing the media. I'm not blaming the media; I'm just saying they play the media and it creates a lot of attention and they say dumb things. Today's world, everything you say is going to come back to haunt you. Everything I say on this show is like recorded for all times. Everything I write in my new book, Discover Your True North, I've got to stand behind for all time. I could admit that I was wrong, but you said it. I said it and it's with you. So I would like to see more authentic people running for president and holding political office, unfortunately I think a lot of authentic people, leaders have gotten turned off by the whole process.
Donald Trump is an amazing phenomenon. I didn't like him, especially didn't think he was authentic when he was running his companies because it was all about him. It was a big ego trip with Donald and it's all about charisma or even fame charisma or trying to look good trying to attract people to you who's not about serving other people. And then he did the Apprentice show and I didn't like the approach — I've got fired. Now he's running for office. I don't think he's ever held an office in his life, so he certainly is not credentialed to be president of the United States. I hate to think his finger's on the nuclear bomb. That would worry me a whole lot. But actually he'll say one thing and then say something totally different a few months later. He says whatever suits him. And there's a lot of anger there towards different groups and he really is dividing various groups, exact opposite of what I believe. I believe we accept people for who they are. If you were born outside of the United States, if you're a different gender, different color, different sexual preference, we accept people for who they are. It's what happens to the person inside, not attacking people kind of generically. I think this is wrong so I'm not at all happy with the Donald Trump phenomenon. But I admit it's attracted a lot of people and many other people are angry at the government too, so he's attracting them.
Bill George is a Harvard Business School professor and author of several books, the latest being Discover Your True North, which places a keen focus on the practice and pursuit of authentic leadership. What does George think of the state of leadership in American politics? Even though he hasn't always agreed with Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama, he acknowledges that they are both men of character who strive to be authentic in their duties and demeanor. This isn't always the case, particularly when so much of today's political game involves playing to the media.
And then there's Donald Trump, who as of this writing is currently polling well above the other 2016 Republican hopefuls. George says Trump's image and character are artificial products. Trump's focus is and has always been on sales. He talks out of both sides of his mouth. He changes positions when it suits him best. He constantly shifts the Donald Trump he presents to the world and this is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is that dishonesty is not a firm foundation on which to build a leadership platform.
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