Book Summary: True North

Old-school leadership is on the verge of extinction. The old idea that CEOs (such as Enron's Jeff Skilling) should be the brightest individuals in the room is being replaced with a new perspective. Good emotional intelligence is more important than intellect.

This sort of leadership necessitates that you be yourself to lead effectively. The genuine you is what will allow you to discover your True North. It is the internal compass you'll use to steer you through the most difficult situations as a leader.

When you discover your compass, you'll be seen as a real leader, and your workers will want to join up with you and collaborate with you.

It will not be simple. According to Bill George, author of True North and current Harvard Business School fellow and past Fortune 500 CEO, it involves a continuous process of commitment and learning.

It will make you cope with the most difficult person you've ever had to lead: yourself. But, in the end, it'll be the only way to bring your life and business to where you want them to be.

The 12 principles to help you stay true to your True North are outlined below.

Your Journey to Authentic Leadership

We begin by examining our path to genuine leadership.

Framing Your Life Story

A person reading a book while sitting on stacks of books; showing the means of framing a life story.

The life you've lived thus far has molded you into the person you are. You can't separate your leadership style from your life tale.

As Howard Schultz remarked, "The reservoir of all my life experiences shaped me as a person and a leader."

For example, he recalls seeing his father in a complete leg cast after accidentally falling on a layer of ice at work when he was a youngster. He was a delivery person who had lost his job and the health coverage that came with it due to what happened.

Since he had nothing to fall back on, his family suffered. As a result, he aspired to develop a company that valued its employees and offered health insurance to all of its employees. Starbucks now employs 191,000 people, all covered by health insurance.

All great leaders have figured out how to channel their unique personal experiences into something bigger. People who have structured their life stories in a way that helps them and moves them forward, not as victims.

Currently, your job is to look back on your life and identify the events that might serve as motivation and inspiration for your leadership.

That's where you'll begin your search for True North.

Losing Your Way

As we grow as leaders, we must fight against all types of distractions that might pull us out of our course. This is something that may and will come to all of us. This isn't a matter of right and wrong; it's a matter of people.

According to George, there are five main kinds of leaders who have lost their path. Knowing how to recognize yourself in them can assist you in diagnosing the problem before it becomes a severe one.

Imposters are shrewd and aggressive leaders who advance through the ranks of an organization. They are great admirers of Machiavelli and spend a lot of time worrying about corporate politics rather than getting things done.

Rationalizers appear to be in control, but they always have an excuse for why things went wrong, generally blaming external factors or subordinates. One common tactic is to eliminate financing for items that can help the firm develop in the future (such as research) to meet their numbers today.

Glory Seekers. Extrinsic benefits and attention are how these people identify themselves. Their goals are wealth, popularity, and power, and nothing will stop them from getting them.

Loners avoid building deep bonds with others, finding mentors, and forming support networks. Their conviction that they can and must succeed on their own is their undoing.

Shooting Stars. These people prioritize their professional growth over all else in their lives. They want to rise to the top as soon as possible and leave firms that do not advance them rapidly enough. They suddenly find themselves at the summit, overwhelmed by their lack of knowledge along the way.

As George puts it, modern leaders' real job is to enable others to lead. You can't accomplish that if you're only in the game yourself.

Dealing With Crucibles

A female going through tough times as she puts a frown face and a rainy cloud representation on top of her.

Even if you avoid the danger of losing your direction, you'll face serious challenges in your professional and personal life.

Fortunately for us, Abraham Maslow discovered that the most important human learning experiences aimed at self-actualization were misfortune and trauma. In other words, the greater the obstacle, the greater the chance for progress.

The loss of a loved one, sickness, prejudice, failures, or the loss of a job—all are examples of crucibles.

To endure these crucibles, George advises, you must trust in yourself and your life's mission, as well as find the inner strength and fortitude to persevere. Most essential, you'll require the approval and support of people closest to you.

Here's when it gets interesting. Traumatic events can result in post-traumatic growth and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research.

Consider some of your most distressing life events to date. What steps did you take to resolve them? What impact did the encounter have on your worldview? Are those beliefs still limiting you, and might you redefine them to empower rather than limit you?

Developing as an Authentic Leader

Now we shift our attention to becoming Authentic Leaders.

Developing Self Awareness

It's essential to begin delving deeper to understand ourselves even better now that we're starting to comprehend how we've matured as human beings (and therefore, leaders) up to this point.

As George points out, this is difficult but necessary work in our leadership growth.

Exercising introspection and receiving honest criticism in your life is the greatest way to get there.

Meditation is currently the most popular reflective practice. Is meditation not for you? Some individuals find that reciting a centering prayer, going on a long walk, or having profound conversations with a loved one helps them better understand themselves.

Honest feedback in your life will allow you to see yourself as others see you, which is important for escaping your ego.

During this process, you'll undoubtedly learn things about yourself that you don't appreciate. This is why it's also critical to exercise self-kindness and acceptance.

What Are Your Values?

If you become self-aware, you'll spot the values and principles that drive your leadership.

It also helps you to establish what is most essential in your life. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all set of values; it's up to you to figure out what yours are.

You may then apply these to your leadership principles, which George describes as your values translated into action.

The value of "concern for others," for example, may be translated as "establish a work climate where individuals are recognized for their contributions, given job stability, and allowed to reach their full potential."

Lastly, it would help if you established your ethical boundaries or the constraints you impose on your behavior based on moral standards.

Making these three points explicit is a significant step toward discovering your True North.

Finding Your Sweet Spot

A male carrying an elephant up the stairs showing that he is concentrating on his strengths rather than his flaws.

The junction of your passions and your best skills is your sweet spot. When you identify it, you'll be motivated to do great things and confident in your ability to do so since you'll be utilizing your talents.

Warren Buffet is the personification of the sweet spot. He explains it like this:

"I get to do what I like to do every single day of the year. I tap-dance to work, and when I get there, I think I'm supposed to lie on my back and paint the ceiling. It's tremendous fun."

The route is straightforward but difficult.

To begin, you must concentrate on your intrinsic rather than external reasons. This entails, to a large part, discovering what you enjoy doing to do it.

Second, you must concentrate on your strengths rather than your flaws.

This isn't to suggest you won't have vulnerabilities or extrinsic motives. However, your aim with them is to manage around them so that they don't become too difficult for you to handle.

Find Your Support Team

As previously said, having a solid support system is critical to your leadership development.

These are the long-term bonds you've formed with family members, best friends, mentors, and maybe a small number of close pals. These are the folks that care about you as a person and will provide you with the strength you'll need to get through the expected setbacks you'll encounter.

Safeco's CEO, Paula Rosput Reynolds, says that when you get home after a long day and your coworkers think you're a fool, or something has gone so horribly wrong that it seems terrible, you need someone to tell you, "I love you unconditionally."

Make time in your schedule to invest in these connections since these are the ones you need to create and cultivate before you truly need them.

One approach to be really intentional about this? To form a True North Group, which George defines as a group of individuals who gather regularly to address critical topics in their lives.

Integrating Your Life

Successful leaders have hectic schedules. John Donahoe, the former CEO of eBay, remarks that it will if you allow the world to mold you. It would be best if you made intentional decisions to live the life of your dreams.

According to George, CEOs who have a life outside of work create greater outcomes than those who submit everything to the company's demands.

Your job life, family situation, personal life (including hobbies and contemplation time), and community and friendships may all be viewed as buckets in your life.

It's easy to slip out of balance if you don't make time for each of the buckets in your life.

On the other end, if you keep all of your buckets in check, you'll arrive at work feeling more grounded and ready to face whatever obstacles the day or week throws at you.

Your True North Meets the World (From I to We)

This final section focuses on how to utilize what you've learned about your True North as a more successful leader in your company.

From I to We

A good leader making decisions with his team as he focus on bringing the best in them; and making the transformation from I to We.

Leadership is about helping people and bringing out the best in them, not attracting followers.

Making the transformation from I to We necessitates several changes:

  • from making decisions based on self-interest to making decisions based on purpose
  • from "I can accomplish it alone" to "A team with complementary talents is required."
  • from commanding and leading others to teach and guide them
  • giving credit to everyone, from leaders to teams

It's not a simple path to take since it necessitates the loss of your ego. But it also reveals something much more important: your life's purpose. It empowers you to use your unique talents to make a lasting impact on the world.

Consider whether you've completed the shift yet. And if not, consider what else is required for it to be finished.

Your Purpose

Since you've made the shift from I to We, it's time to figure out what your leadership's mission is.

Your mission is the means through which you may turn your True North into a positive impact in the world.

As George points out, articulating your objective clearly and thoughtfully is critical - so why should others want to follow you if you aren't clear about what you're doing?

Most leaders discover that their mission is rooted in their own history. Sometimes it's an experience from your childhood that motivates you to pursue your dreams. Most people require some leadership experience before discovering their actual calling.

Andrea Jung, the former CEO of Avon, was passed up for the top job when she was 39 years old. "Follow your compass, not your clock," Ann Moore, then-CEO of Time Inc., advised her. Fast forward 2 years and Jung had discovered her mission (women's empowerment) and had become CEO.

Of course, if you want to have an effect, you'll need to put your mission into action and align your company around it. Your mission statement should express your True North if you're launching a business.

If you work for another organization, you must discover alignment between your Truth North and the goal of that company. It's time to move on if you can't.

Empowering Other Leaders

A female leader wearing a cape representing empowerment.  A good leader not only empower her members but other leaders as well.

You may form an emotional connection with your followers. It grants you the authority to lead once you've made the journey from I to We and know what your leadership's mission is.

This is crucial since today's workforce, particularly millennials, are looking for leaders who will inspire them and allow them to make decisions about how to accomplish goals.

This is the most effective method for developing future leaders, fostering healthy cultures, and achieving long-term outcomes in the big scheme of things.

George believes building mutual respect can be achieved by the following:

  • treating others as equals
  • listening attentively
  • learning from those around you
  • sharing life experiences
  • finding methods to align the objective

Gaining mutual respect is one of the most critical things you can do to encourage creativity in your team.

You will develop an empowered atmosphere if you can achieve those things and fill your leadership positions with individuals who can do those things.

However, you must understand that empowerment does not imply the freedom to do everything you want. Rather, it entails the flexibility to fulfill your obligations consistent with the company's objective.

If empowerment is to be successful, it must be accompanied by responsibility.

Global Leadership

A laptop with a picture of a world map, showing that there are difficulties of leadership in the global environment.

Lastly, we must consider the difficulties of leadership in a global environment. You'll require geopolitical understanding, the ability to reinvent business models for new regions, the ability to establish diverse teams, and the ability to redesign organizational frameworks in global jobs.

A comprehensive discussion of this issue is beyond the book's scope and definitely this summary. We will state that we all need to be learning to pay attention to how we can be called upon to lead in these situations. And to recognize that what works in one region of the globe may be completely ineffectual in another.

To offer us a framework for this, George brings us to the notion of global intelligence, which consists of the seven aspects listed below:

  • Adaptability
  • Awareness
  • Curiosity
  • Empathy
  • Alignment
  • Collaboration
  • Integration


Leadership is difficult. It's much more difficult if we aren't true to ourselves and don't take the time to seek our True North.

It's difficult, exhausting, and at times impossible labor. But if we persevere, the return will be enormous—a good way to live.

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