Bill George is the author of two books, True North and Authentic Leadership. He is the former CEO of Medtronic
Tom Gardner: Can you talk about the major difference for leaders between the use of the word "I" and the use of the word "we"?
Bill George: I define it as takers and givers. We've seen a lot of takers in the game, like Armstrong at AT&T
The "we" leaders are much more concerned with, "What can the team do?" Now, it is not totally unselfish. They just see the power in an empowered team. Rather than keeping the power to themselves, they empower people at all levels. They empower people to step up and lead, even people without direct reports. I think it's that sense of trying to empower other people that gives the "we-ness" to it. That includes sharing the credit, showing the recognition that we are all in this together, and that when we fail, I will take responsibility as a CEO. And if we succeed, we all get the credit.
Gardner: So, can everyone be a leader? Should everyone try to be an authentic leader, and can everyone ultimately become one?
George: I think anyone who wants to be can be a leader in their own way, even people who are great creative, technical people in the development group, or great sales people. Maybe they wouldn't be the best CEO, but they certainly can lead in their own way. They can set the standards for other people, and they can demonstrate a certain level of enthusiasm and commitment that can cause other people to want to perform better. I think people who want to be leaders can do so, if they can be themselves. Those that fail typically are the ones who are trying to be something different than who they are. They come across as fake.
Gardner: In True North, you mention that the CEO of Kroger
George: I knew Dave Dillon as CEO of Kroger, if that is who you are referring to …
George: When he was still in college, I knew him when he was at Kansas, and we got to know each other very well in those days, and he is just a terrific human being. He is about as authentic a leader as they come. We were together at the Microsoft Summit, and I was running a panel, and I actually called on him in the audience to talk about how you find purpose at Kroger when you are competing against Wal-Mart
Dave talked about how he empowered people to believe that working in the grocery industry was a very proud profession, one that had dignity, and that people's job was to help their customers feel like they were getting good service every day. He wanted every customer to feel that today is better for their having come into Kroger. Dave is just that kind of person. That is the way he conveys himself. And he never takes the credit. And he says when he gets upset, he realizes it is because he has really done something wrong. He's a very real and genuine person.
Gardner: What was the inflection point for you in your journey to become an authentic leader?
George: Well, it's something I had wanted to be all along, but I had a lot to learn. I had to struggle with my own ego. I lost seven elections, one in high school and six in a row in college. So, seven straight. That told me I really needed to rethink my relationships with other people. I was, in those days, trying to get ahead so fast, moving so fast, that I really didn't have time for other people. That gave me a number of years in college to practice my leadership, right into graduate school. I worked on being not self-focused, but focused on helping other people and mentoring. That's how I really got into mentoring other people and helping them.