Bill George on Leadership

Bill George is professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School and former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, the world’s leading medical technology company. Under his leadership, Medtronic’s market capitalization grew from $1.1 billion to $60 billion, averaging 35 percent a year. He is the author of the best-selling Authentic Leadership and a board member of Goldman Sachs, Target, and Novartis.

His board membership at Goldman Sachs certainly leaves him with something to answer for (which I don’t think he does in this webcast). With the damage that company has done to the USA economy you certainly can’t excuse a board member of responsibility for the actions that company has taken. You can listed to his first few minutes and don’t get the idea that he was a leader of the company most responsible for the credit crisis.

His words do sound nice but seem a bit short on much new. Lots of the “new leadership ideas” (like today you can’t have one leader that everyone follows – isn’t that at least 20 years old as a well know bad idea?). Also the idea that an organization exists to provide value to customers not to maximize shareholder value. I understand more people do not understand this point, so it is nice a Harvard MBA professor is pushing this idea (but again it isn’t new at all).

I guess I am a little disappointed in the video but others seem to like it and I do think he makes worthwhile points, just nothing really special (from where I sit). I did like how he discussed value tests come in real life.

I share what seemed to be his opinion that talking abstractly about values is less important than actions you take in the real world. I must admit I am getting more and more frustrated in the lack of moral and ethical values in those with power in our society (this is my feeling, not the speakers). And I do not have must patience for their ability to try to explain away their unethical behavior. I repeatedly see our lack of accountability of those with power (just look at how many people are in jail for all the hundreds of billions of financial fraud in the last few year (what maybe 5 people? 10?) and compare that to those in jail for much much less damaging crimes that have less power). His blog has some posts worth reading.

Related: Jeff Bezos Spends a Week Working in Amazon’s Kentucky Distribution CenterHarvard’s Masters of the ApocalypseAn Introduction to Deming’s Management Ideas by Peter Scholtes (webcast)Eric Schmidt on Management at GoogleLooting: Bankruptcy for Profit

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6 Responses to Bill George on Leadership

  1. I think the lack of accountability applies to most of society, not just for those in power. From health care to roadways, from water & sewer systems to food, we the people refuse to acknowledge that we have to pay for the services we want. We reject rate increases and taxes to fund these amenities, and then complain when bridges collapse, water pipes burst, or diseased meat enters the food supply. This isn’t to exculpate the crooks who have driven companies (and the economy) off a cliff. But We have to hold ourselves accountable first, before looking to the failings of corporate (and political) leaders.

  2. Kenal Rose says:

    I would like to thanks for introduce Bill George. First time i heard about this men. I like your post and comment.

  3. John Hunter says:

    I agree we need to be responsible. I am disappointed in who we elect to represent us. But we clearly continue to elect the same type of people. We can’t claim that we are not choosing the elected leadership we get.

    We also systemically fail to do things like save for retirement. This is a clear area where you can see millions of people are being irresponsible. And it is not a short term issue.

    But I do hold those who have greater authority (business and government leaders) to higher expectations. That is my personal view. I see it as: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” Luke 12:48.

  4. Evan Leonard says:

    I complete agree with your sentiment about the disregard of ethics from management. The root of the problem as I see it lies in the current legal definition of a corporation as a shield from individual culpability, that prevents top management from being accountable. There is much similarity in this situation to that of slaves prior to emancipation. If an owner ordered the slave to do something unethical, it was the slave that bore the punishment. Corporations are modern slaves to the egos of those who “lead” them. In the emerging reality where organizations are a meta-culture surrounding the “co-creators” within them, is it right that a few individual wield the power to force them to do things against their “own conscience”?


  5. Evan Leonard says:

    John, the issue of elections is an interesting one. The scale at which our current governing system operates, is not what it was designed for. In 1776 electing a representative meant choosing a person who you trusted *to take a horse across the country* and represent your *sparely populated* and *homogenous* portion of the country in DC.

    The number of sub-groups that a single official has to respond to is incredible. The human mind cannot keep all of them in its awareness. This leads to crazy decision making based on external analyses. Officials can’t and don’t use their own judgement to decide what is best for their constituents because there is *no way* to conceive of *all* your constituents at once.

    Put simply “democracy” as we practice it has guaranteed us certain rights, but modern cross-cultural complexities are not addressed.

    We have outgrown our system.


  6. Rick Foreman says:

    John; It is apparent that society has been desencitized by the lowering of standards over the years. While completing a degree in management ethics, I became aware of the lack of leadership ethics in all areas of our society. It is also interesting that most expect this in the church but not in business. Yet, Jesus chose His disciples from the work place. Unfortunately many have tried to separate our moral obligations along professional and personal parameters; when in essence there is only one set of parameters. As you so perfectly noted, “to whom much is give, much is required.” Servant leadership places the emphasis on how I might serve/support others, rather than “what’s in it for me.” In a “what about me” society, we’re losing the very foundation our nation was established on. Leadership involves the sacrifice of others and not others for the promotion of self. Great post and reflection. Thanks for sharing.

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