True leadership is the answer to the nation’s economic woes
Good companies only exist under good leaders, according to Bill George, author of the best-seller True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. George delivered a talk by the same name at Johnson on Oct. 20, as a guest speaker for the David J. BenDaniel Lecture Series in Ethical Leadership. The Harvard Business School professor and former Medtronic CEO has always had a passion for leadership, he said; he believes true leadership is the answer to many of the nation’s economic problems.
According to George, one should develop leadership skills early, and practice them every day in building relationships and interacting with others. “You don’t just become a leader when you become a manager or CEO,” says George. “It’s something that you should be all the time - all your life.”
George also explained that leadership is largely about value. Good leaders not only value their coworkers and customers, but also create valuable products. “The reason people loved Steve Jobs is because he, and his company, created products that people depend on and enjoy using,” George said. The role of a company in society is to create a meaningful product to serve customers’ needs, he explained, and one of the greatest sins of leadership is putting personal interests ahead of the interests of the company and its customers.
In George’s opinion, one of the best examples of a company with “top notch” leadership is Target, where he recently served on the board of directors. At Target, there is a firm belief that if corporate leaders don’t treat workers (aka team members) well, then they won’t treat their customers (aka guests) well, either. “When welcoming guests into your home, you want them to feel special, and Target does that by providing customers with clean, organized and well-lit shopping environments,” George explained. “Target makes an impeccable effort to make workers feel like they’re part of a team and keep them happy. Their philosophy is so simple, and yet brilliant,” he said.
George believes that the economic downturn of 2008 could have been avoided if only more companies had had excellent, knowledgeable leaders. “Lehman Brothers didn’t go down because of accountants or administrators. It went down because its leaders failed the company, and all of their customers,” he said. In order to get the country back on a good economic track, companies need good leaders to guide them into the future. “Since 2008, the game has really changed, and we don’t know what direction we’re heading in just yet. It’s up to your generation of leaders,” he said to the MBAs in the audience. “Ask yourselves what you’re going to do to make a difference in the world and how you’re going to lead it.”