Bookcase Leadership Authenticated

Authentic Leadership
By: Bill George
Publisher: Jossey Bass
Price: $48.00

I ordered this book after reading the author’s thoughts on leadership in recent issue of Fortune magazine. The article, entitled ‘Why it’s hard to do what’s right’, struck cord. Bill George had some sensible things to say about life at the top of the corporate tree and the pressures to over-pluck the fruits available there.
The book comes with glowing endorsement from leadership luminary Warren Bennis, who also edited it and includes it in his collection of writings “devoted to new and exemplary contributions to management thought and practice”. Bennis calls it book that “looks deeply and critically at vital questions such as: What are the purposes of the corporation and other organisations in today’s world? The metaphor of the organisation as machine that creates values for shareholders is too simplistic…”
As Bennis also points out, the recent spate of corporate scandals and crimes has “had devastating effect not only on the stock market but more importantly on the honourable profession of management”. With this month’s issue of Management magazine focusing on just this topic the timing seemed right.
This book is sometimes very personal expose. It fuses the private beliefs and professional experiences of very successful American CEO. Bill George was, for most of his career, CEO and chairman of Medtronic, leading US medical technology company. He successfully turned NZ$2.2 billion capitalisation company into business with $120 billion of shareholder value. And he did it by being an “authentic leader”.
Authentic leadership is about “being yourself; being the person you were created to be”. For George, leadership is not about style, not about developing the leadership characteristics of others to emulate – this approach is the opposite of authenticity. And here the media cops bit of drubbing for its propensity to focus on the style of leaders rather than their character. George suggests, and with perhaps some justification, that the media’s preoccupation with “making heroes out of celebrity CEOs is at the heart of the crisis in corporate leadership”.
The author thinks modern organisations – private, public, not-for-profit, whatever – need authentic leadership. They need to be led with personal honesty and commitment to the stewardship of the assets. There is resonance of the ‘leader as servant’ philosophy as espoused by former AT&T executive Robert Greenleaf. “When leaders are dedicated stewards and lead in an authentic manner, they build enduring organisations that do great good for people and make an enormous difference in the world,” according to George.
He suggests that the best-kept secret in business is that mission-driven companies create far more shareholder value than financially driven ones and he approaches leadership from that perspective. “I made vow to myself (on joining the company) to build on the Medtronic mission to create such valuable company that it could not be taken over.”
The first part of this four-part book deals with the personal journey George made to become an “authentic leader”. It’s interesting but at times little heavy on his parallel spiritual discovery for my personal taste, reflection no doubt of the cultural difference between secular Kiwi and American Episcopalian.
But at the core of the author’s belief system is set of five qualities that make up the essential authentic leader.
They are:
* Understanding your purpose;
* Practising solid values;
* Establishing enduring relationships;
* Leading with heart; and
* Demonstrating self discipline.
His five characteristics of the authentic company parallel closely the five dimensions of the authentic leader. For purpose read mission and vision, company values link to personal values, empowering employees to serve customers equates to heart, for relationships read enduring and committed organisation and, self discipline links to results for all stakeholders.
George argues that the responsibilities of authentic leaders extend well beyond bottom-line success. Authentic companies succeed over the long term if they have sound governance and build leadership succession for several generations.
This is an accessible, easy-to-read book of successful leader’s experiences. It is compassionate but wise. The majority of it focuses on the lessons drawn from leading successful enterprise in an enlightened and ethical way.
If you are thinking about whether to step up and lead, George suggests you ask yourself two simple questions: “If not me, then who? If not now, when?” You could do worse than read this book as preparation for discovering your answer. M

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