True North by Bill George



Anyone who follows their internal compass can become an authentic leader. You must understand your motivations in order to get where you want to be. By knowing your purpose and pursuing it with passion, you can influence and inspire others on your journey.

24 lessons

True North

– by Bill George & Peter Sims –

1) Know Your ‘True North’

True North is the internal compass that guides you successfully through life. It represents who you are as a human being at your deepest level. It is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track as a leader.

2) Anyone can be a leader

You don’t have to be born with the characteristics or traits of a leader. You don’t have to wait for a tap on the shoulder. You don’t have to be at the top of your organization. You can step up and lead at any point in your life.

3) Understand yourself

Becoming an authentic leader is not easy. The hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself. You must take responsibility for your own development. Once you have an understanding of your authentic self, you will find that leading others is much easier. When you know yourself, you can find the passion that motivates you and the purpose of your leadership.

4) Pursue your purpose with passion

Most people struggle to understand the purpose of their leadership. In order to find their purpose, authentic leaders must first know their passions. In turn, their passions show the way to the purpose of their leadership. Without a real sense of purpose, leaders are at the mercy of their egos and narcissistic vulnerabilities.

5) Your life story defines your leadership

Asked what motivates them to lead, authentic leaders consistently say they find their motivation through understanding their own stories. Begin by asking yourself: What is my life story? In understanding and framing your story, you will find the calling to lead authentically.

6) Practice the right values

Leaders are defined by their values, and values are personal – they cannot be determined by anyone else. The values of authentic leaders are shaped by their personal beliefs and developed through study, introspection, consultation with others, and years of experience. The test of authentic leaders’ values is not what they say but the values they practice under pressure. If leaders are not true to the values they profess, people quickly lose confidence in their leadership.

7) Establish enduring relationships

People today demand personal relationships with their leaders before they will give themselves fully to their jobs. They insist on access to their leaders, knowing that trust and commitment are built on the openness and depth of relationship with their leaders. In return, people will demonstrate great commitment to their work and loyalty to the company.

8) Demonstrate self-discipline

Authentic leaders set high standards for themselves and expect the same from others. This requires accepting full responsibility for outcomes and holding others accountable for their performance. Self-discipline should be reflected in their personal lives as well, because without personal self-discipline it is not possible to sustain self-discipline at work.

9) Leadership is a journey

There is no such thing as the instant leader. Your journey to authentic leadership will take you through many peaks and valleys as you encounter the world’s trials, rewards, and seductions. Becoming an authentic leader takes dedication to your development and growth, as there will be many temptations to pull you off the course of your True North.

10) Don’t lose touch with reality

Leaders who focus on external gratification instead of inner satisfaction find it difficult to stay grounded. They reject the honest critic who holds a mirror to their face and speaks the truth. Instead, they surround themselves with supporters telling them what they want to hear. Over time, they lose the capacity for honest dialogue, and people learn not to confront them.

11) Don’t be self-absorbed

The role of leaders is not to get other people to follow them but to empower others to lead. They cannot elicit the best performance from their teams if they are in the game primarily for themselves. In the end, their self-centeredness keeps other people from leading. Why should they, when it is for the leader’s glory and not the team’s success?

12) Be self-aware

Without self-awareness, it is easy to get caught up in chasing external symbols of success rather than becoming the person you want to be. It is difficult to regulate your emotions, control your fears, and avoid impulsive outbursts when you feel threatened or rejected. Without being aware of your vulnerabilities, fears, and longings, it is hard to empathize with others who are experiencing similar feelings.

13) Be open to feedback

One of the most difficult things in becoming self-aware is seeing ourselves as others see us. Although it can be difficult to hear, leaders need accurate feedback to identify their blind spots. We must get outside our egos and listen to feedback we don’t want to hear.

14) Self-awareness and acceptance will help you overcome insecurities

Your anger and emotional outbursts usually result when someone penetrates to the core of what you do not like about yourself or still cannot accept. By accepting yourself just as you are, you are no longer vulnerable to these hurts and are prepared to interact authentically with others who come into your life. Free of having to pretend to be someone you are not, you can focus on pursuing your passions and fulfilling your dreams.

15) Know your values

What are your most deeply held values? What principles guide your leadership? As we search for our True North, it is important to acknowledge how easy it is to get pulled off course. The pressures to perform, the ingrained fear of failure, and the rewards for success can cause us to deviate from our values. By knowing our ethical boundaries and testing our values under pressure, we are able to get back on track.

16) Find your motivation

You will be most effective as a leader when you find opportunities that highly motivate you and utilize your greatest capabilities. One without the other is insufficient. To find them, you must understand your deepest motivations and be honest with yourself about your capabilities.

17) Build a support team

Leaders do not succeed on their own. Authentic leaders build support teams that will counsel them in times of uncertainty, be there in times of difficulty, and celebrate with them in times of success. Strong support teams provide affirmation, advice, perspective, calls for course corrections when needed, and, above all, love.

18) Develop an integrated life

To lead an integrated life, you need to bring together the major elements of your personal life and professional life, including work, family, community, and friends, so that you can be the same person in each environment. This will help you to stay grounded by being true to yourself.

19) Be vulnerable

Above all, leadership is a human undertaking. When leaders reveal their vulnerabilities, they develop trusting human connections with others that motivate and empower those they engage.

20) Love yourself

The key to self-acceptance is to love yourself unconditionally. To do so, we have to learn to accept ourselves as we are, with all our warts and our flaws, rather than wish we were different. Learn to love your weaknesses as much as you revel in your strengths.

21) Exploit your strengths

Brilliance comes only from exploiting your strengths. Many of the most extraordinary people in history were tremendously flawed individuals. Yet there was a part of them that was ridiculously gifted and enabled them to achieve amazing things through their leadership.

22) Find a mentor and form a mutually beneficial relationship

Many authentic leaders have has a mentor who has changed their lives by helping them develop the skills to become better leaders and the confidence to lead authentically. But if people are only looking for help from their mentors, instead of being interested in their mentors’ lives as well, the relationship will not last for long. Lasting relationships must flow both ways.

23) Find time for yourself

To manage the stress created by our leadership roles, we need personal time to relieve the tension. Some people practice meditation or yoga to center themselves and relieve anxiety. Some people find they can release tension by jogging at the end of a long workday. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you establish a routine that enables you to manage the stress in your life and gives you time to think clearly about life, work, and your personal issues.

24) Treat others with mutual respect

To bring out the best from teammates, authentic leaders must develop trusting relationships based on mutual respect. Treat others as equals, be a good listener, share life stories, and learn from each other.