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February 5, 2016

10 Minutes With: Bill George.

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Naropa University President Chuck Lief recently interviewed several influential thought leaders who spoke at the Mindful Leadership Summit in Washington, DC, in November 2015. Here, Chuck Lief sits down with Bill George, the former Chairman and CEO of Medtronic, and is currently the Henry B. Arthur Fellow of Ethics at Harvard Business School.
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Chuck Lief: How would you take the relevance of your professional career and what you’re now teaching at Harvard Business School on authentic leadership, and share this with individual entrepreneurs and social innovators?

Bill George: Leadership today is about the alignment, empowerment, and collaboration between people to accomplish a common task. The workforce is changing drastically in front of our eyes, and the large bureaucratic structures are being changed from within by Millennials and Gen Xers because they’re not tolerating bureaucracy. What we need to do is change the relationships, and we need to value the people doing the work. We need less managers and more genuine leaders. The real issue is that we need to change our relationships away from boss/subordinate, and instead toward one where the leader inspires and empowers the people around them. If you can get agreement on the mission and values around that common task, then you can accomplish anything.

Chuck Lief: So how does a leader today train himself or herself to become skillful in fostering collaboration and alignment?

Bill George: I prefer that people go through an authentic leadership program because it gives them the capabilities to become skillful. It starts with yourself—you need to start with yourself. Gaining self awareness isn’t easy—you have to go through a process of self-reflection and introspection about things that are really important to you. And it helps to have a group around you—I call it my True North group—who will provide honest feedback.

Chuck Lief: Is there value in having a mentor to help become an authentic leader? 

Bill George: You may not need a trainer, but you definitely need someone who’s committed to helping you go deeper into yourself. It can’t be superficial though. For instance, are you willing to share your vulnerabilities, your weaknesses, and those things that scare you? Uncovering this is part of discovering the authentic you.

Chuck Lief:  In the mindfulness field, there really isn’t a credentialing body for people who are training in mindfulness. Is there a concern about quality of the mindfulness training?

Bill George:  I’m a practitioner, and I think the credentialing bodies shut down creativity. Google doesn’t have a credentialing body, and neither did Medtronic. We want people to explore the questions for themselves. At Harvard, we don’t provide the answers—we provide the questions.

If you’re in a toxic environment, it will rub off on you, and you will become toxic. If you work in a hedge fund or on Wall Street, you’re going to become a not nice person. So claim your life, and follow your heart. The heart is where compassion and passion and empathy and courage resides, and if you cut yourself off at the neck and just do your job from an intellectual perspective, the rest of you becomes dull, closed, and you become threatened by new things. You need to stay open and follow your heart. I don’t think credentialing bodies make sense because it means we’ll be judged.

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Check out more interviews from this series:

10 Minutes With: Congressman Tim Ryan.

10 Minutes With: Motley Fool CEO & Co-Founder, Tom Gardner.

10 Minutes With: Sharon Salzberg.

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Author: Chuck Lief 

Editor: Travis May

Image: Courtesy of Bill Rigler

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