Living and Giving

The Self-Esteem of Leadership, Part Two

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How Compassion Inside First, Leads to External Success

Pamela Hawley’s continued series, “7 Minutes with a CEO,” in an interview with Bill George, Harvard Business School Professor and former CEO of Medtronics

We continue in our discussion starting with the importance of respect and compassion inside first, as leaders. 

Pamela: So leaders can struggle like everyone else.  What’s the antidote?

Bill: When we have the essential elements of self-esteem, we are here to help others grow.  I think it starts with ourselves.

Pamela: So as we push ourselves to grow, we can help others grow.  And what do you consider an “unsuccessful” leader? What have you learned?

Bill: The true drive behind successful leaders is that the internal standards of respect and upright living are what guide them.  The leaders who fall lack these qualities and are therefore driven for what is considered “success” by the world.

This “success” is external factors: corruption, money, sex, what is perceived as power…they use to make themselves feel better. Yet the lures of power, sex and money are not really the issue.  They are external validation—and they seem to be quite powerful.  But they actually lead to powerlessness. Now I can see how leaders who fall for sex or money are not only carrying others down, but also themselves.

Pamela:  So in failure, it’s “the external” that would pump us up.  In success, it’s the internal – our agreement for self-respect from ourselves, starting there.  It’s our integrity and doing the right thing, which allows us to be successful.  Can that mean that success is manifest before any actions even take place?

Bill:  Success and leadership is in your heart. It\’s in your mind. And it\’s ingrained in who you are, before it manifests itself in your life. It\’s your commitment, ever-renewing covenant and promise with yourself.   Ongoing.   Not event-specific.

Pamela: Bill, thank you. It\’s inspiring and encouraging to know it\’s every minute.  It\’s an enduring commitment, not an on-off button.  Leadership doesn\’t turn off at 5 p.m.  Do you have any helpful advice for aspiring and current leaders?

Bill: I\’d say first is self-awareness. And No. 2 is compassion for oneself.

Pamela: So it sounds like we really have to be conscious of how we work inside, and also be gentle with ourselves. It\’s not just being an outward pillar of strength.

Bill:  The leaders who can’t follow this guidance of self-awareness and compassion — don’t like themselves. They therefore can’t like or respect others. And they fail to lead.

Pamela: Bill, thank you for this wise, insightful view.  While some may call it squishy, it sounds like we need to believe, love, cherish ourselves.

Bill: Yes, and then live our lives accordingly. That\’s demonstrating true leadership.

Bill George is a 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.  He was inspired to join Medtronic in part by the deaths of his mother and his fiancée from illnesses, 18 months apart; he was drawn to Medtronic’s mission of saving the lives of the sick.  Earlier in his career, Mr. George was a senior executive with Honeywell and Litton Industries, and served in the U.S. Department of Defense.

Mr. George and his wife Penny live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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