Discover Your True North – Bill George [Book Summary]

by Nick

The book “Discover Your True North” is a guidebook that will serve as an internal compass for you and teach you to remain yourself while developing the skills you need to become a true leader. By revealing these values ​​and understanding motivation, you get the tools you need to build a professional life, not forgetting who you really are.

Bill George is a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and a board member at ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and Novartis. He is also the author of the best-selling book, The Real Leader.

Peter Sims founded the Leadership Perspectives course at Stanford Graduate School and is the co-founder of the London office of Summit Partners.

This book is available as:

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Find the True North, and Let It Move Towards You to Become a Better Leader

At times, it seems that the greatest leaders on the planet are controlled by some kind of supernatural power. They are too focused, too smart and always make the right decisions, unlike us, aren’t they?

Not really.

The authors of this book interviewed the 125 greatest leaders and discovered that they are not very different from all of us. They have unique traits that, nevertheless, cannot be called a pair of leadership clichés, such as “vision” or “talent”.

Rather, these leaders are able to concentrate on the right things; they know which problems are most important and focus on them. Why? They follow the True North, which, like a compass, shows who they really are and leads them to become better than they were.

As the book shows, when the world around you seems messy and everything gets out of control, your personal True North keeps you on track, inspires and reminds you of who you really are. Find your True North to become a great true leader.

In this book you will learn:

  • How fishing unexpectedly gave motivation to the head of The Gap;
  • What touching inspiration changed Oprah’s approach to leadership; and
  • Why great leaders have self-awareness at those moments when it is necessary to discover their own weaknesses.

Find Your Own Inspiration and Desire for Leadership From Your Own Life Story

We all have life stories that have been shaped by our past relationships or events. True leaders, however, absorb much more from this experience than we do.

True leaders are real people, which is reflected in their worldview and worldview. They motivate others for something unbelievable.

Understanding the meaning of key events in your stories makes it easier for you to find and focus on the Real North. This, in turn, will put you on the path to becoming a true leader.

A case in point was Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks. When an accident caused his father to lose his job, his entire family lost health insurance. Schulz’s mother was pregnant and unable to work, so his parents borrowed money and did not pay bills.

Schultz vowed that he would create completely different working conditions for workers if he had the opportunity, and thus Starbucks became the first company in the United States to receive medical insurance even for those who worked only 20 hours a week.

In this case, the memories of his father and the experiences of Schultz led him to become a true leader.

The stories of true leaders influence their personal life, and also become a real inspiration in order to contribute to the outside world.

Take Rita Clark King, the former president of the General Mills Foundation. Remaining a poor black woman who grew up in Georgia, both poverty and discrimination were constant obstacles to King’s life. However, she won a scholarship and received a doctorate in thermochemistry.

King’s goal was to create more opportunities for the poor and help others overcome obstacles such as racial and gender discrimination. She was inspired by her own story, remaining honest with herself, and always kept the course of the True North.

Money does not make leaders forget who they left behind; rather, they give a sense of responsibility for them.

Self-centeredness Can Make You Lose Your Inner Compass

When you begin to receive recognition and the rewards that follow, you are at risk that you go out of the way to becoming a leader.

There are five leader archetypes that most often lose the direction of the True North: Impostors, Rationalizers, Seeking Glories, Loners and Falling Stars. Impostors need self-awareness and self-esteem in order to achieve goals using cunning and aggressive methods. They think politically, and, having received power, care little about how they are perceived.

The weakness of rationalizers is that they deviate from their own values. These are managers who never take responsibility, but do everything possible to fulfill their own responsibilities. Innovators sacrifice the long-term success of the company in favor of their own praise.

The seekers of glory are the ones we all know. They work and are motivated by external factors like money, fame, power, and recognition.

The problem with single people is that they do not know how to develop personal support systems, such as close relationships or communication with mentors. Imagine someone who thinks he can and should be a loner. Remaining so focused on his own goals, he does not understand how his behavior in the environment is perceived.

Shooting stars live unstably. They rise too fast to learn from their mistakes, and they never have time for family or friends. Their sudden rise to power leads to overwhelming personal and professional problems. A real example of one of the archetypes, the impostor is Philip Purcell, a former CEO of Morgan Stanley, who was supposed to create financial services by combining investment banking and brokerage business. Purcell built the base by cunningly manipulating people and eliminating those who doubted his leadership qualities. Many were disappointed with his “leadership” style, and some talented workers left.

At a time when many can go astray, we can return to it, understanding that leadership is not a concept that concerns you, but how to empower others.

True Leaders Empower Others in Their Path

Some leaders believe that their strength lies in their ability to motivate others to follow them – but this is just a myth. The ability to remain a true leader is not an understanding of how to get real support, but rather the motivation of others to reach their full potential.

This is often a crucial experience to make you understand the true purpose of your leadership.

Oprah Winfrey, for example, once conducted an interview in her show with a woman named Trudy Chase, who was sexually abused in her childhood. During the interview, Winfrey remembered her own problems and could not cope with emotions.

From that key interview, she realizes that her goal lies far behind her own goal and, instead, helps other people around the world, especially women.

Winfrey’s story demonstrates the kind of events that all leaders experience. It is during these difficult moments that you realize that your true leadership qualities are not only about achieving the best for yourself; rather, the inspiration of others so that they become better.

After experiencing this transformation, you will abandon the idea that you are the hero of your own story and come to the point that you will lead others to something greater.

We see a similar example in the story of Steve Rothschild. As vice president of General Mills at the age of thirty, he felt like a man much older than his age and did not enjoy the management of his own team. A year later, he decided to leave the company, realizing that his vocation was to help poor, destitute people to become financially wealthy and develop strong families.

Therefore, he set himself the goal of providing employers with skilled workers by training unemployed adults by founding Twin Cities RISE!

Your goal as a leader in the True North. Further chapters will bring you even closer to the compass that will guide you.

Self-awareness Will Keep You on the Right Track.

Know yourself – advice that has existed for many years, but it is not so easy to follow. In the end, we are complex creatures with many factors that influence our character.

That is why you need a compass that will help you adjust your actions according to how you want to live. When your compass is working, it directs you to the True North.

Self-awareness lies at the bottom of your compass. You need to know which roles you play the best of all, along with your natural forces and interests.

A key feature of self-awareness is that it helps give you self-confidence. Take, for example, Adobe CEO Bruce Chiesen; he felt insecure about working in a technology company because he was not an engineer, but he knew that he had the skills in business and marketing, and was also quite capable of learning to engineer. Such an assessment of his own abilities returned to him the confidence that she was working correctly on the way to becoming a CEO.

Another reason why self-awareness is so important is that it helps fill in the gaps with colleagues, complementing them. For Ned Barnholt, a former Agilent CEO, self-awareness allows leaders to see their own weaknesses, which also makes it possible to build strong teams.

Barnholt had enough self-awareness to understand that accounting is not his strongest side. Therefore, he surrounded himself with people with strong financial skills.

On the other hand, a lack of self-awareness can lead to big problems. For example, David Pottrack, a former CEO of Charles Shwab, worked hard and couldn’t understand why his colleagues were offended by him. He was shocked that his boss gave him a low rating due to the fact that his colleagues seemed to do everything only for himself personally.

Potok had to work hard to overcome these blind spots and get an idea of ​​what others think of him. And it paid off. After he received the support of his colleagues, Pottrack achieved outstanding success.

Use Your Values ​​and Principles

When the foundation of your compass is based on self-awareness, you now need to uncover the values ​​and principles that will lead you on the path to gaining leadership skills. What is most important to you? Maintain your own integrity? Or maybe help other people?

When you understand what is really important to you, you are well equipped to receive leadership principles that will determine your leadership style. In essence, these principles are further transformed into actions.

It’s easy to live with values ​​when everything is going well. But when you are pressured – for example, when your success, career or life is at stake, the same values ​​can succumb to major changes.

For example, David Gregan, a former adviser to presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, wanted to live in accordance with the principles that were characteristic of his family.

But when the Watergate scandal occurred, Gregen felt that he could not resign because he did not want to feel like a rat running from a sinking ship. Even taking into account the fact that he himself was not at the center of the scandal, his career was at risk.

Seeing the opacity of Nixon’s actions, both before and after the scandal, and after he misled the public, Gregon realized that transparency remained his main leadership principle.

Your values ​​and moral compass can be verified in any way. But when you reveal the True North, your values ​​will remain unchanged.

Take Narayana Murphy, the founder of Infosys, who wanted to show that it is possible to do business in India without corruption and gain wealth through legal means.

For example, due to the fact that she refused to pay bribes, she had been waiting for the telephone line to be installed for a year! Despite the fact that this prevented rapid growth at the start, Murphy’s leadership principles of honesty instilled discipline in the company – everyone who worked for the company appreciated it.

According to Murphy, there is a direct connection between the company’s value system and the success that they have been enjoying for 24 years.

Find the Right Motivation to Get the Most Out of Your Abilities.

In addition to self-awareness and values, true leaders also need the right motivation. Of course, to get this, first, you need to know what exactly motivates you.

There are 2 types of motivation: external and internal. External motivation, such as good grades, rewards, or high salaries are measured by the outside world.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is determined by your own understanding of life – in other words, your True North. Such motivation is often close to your life story or concerns personal development, satisfaction from performing a certain job or staying true to your own convictions.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within, so it is more subtle than extrinsic. In fact, many people often do not use it, although it is very powerful. Indeed, the obsessive focus of society on material goods and the accompanying social pressure make many leaders seek international recognition, instead of doing what motivates them from the inside.

For example, many young leaders hold high salaries in order to repay loans. They believe that in 10 years they will be able to find a job that they really like. Instead, they become attached to this lifestyle, lose their motivation, and cease to be happy.

The key to developing true leadership qualities is not rejecting external factors, but balancing them with internal motivation.

Bob Fisher, the head of The Gap, is a great example of how to balance. At 20, he went fishing in the northern fork of the Feather River, where he saw the remains of rusty mining equipment. This inspired him to take care of the environment.

This environmental awareness led to Fisher’s new inner motivation. He led his staff to look at what the company can process and joined the Natural Resource Protection Council (NRDC). His initiative not only helped the environment (intrinsic motivation), but also gave general recognition to the company (extrinsic motivation).

Build Your Support Team by Investing in a Long Relationship

Everyone needs support and recognition, even high-class leaders who seem confident in themselves. Great leaders understand this and build great teams as a result.

Indeed, many true leaders had mentors who changed their lives, helping to develop their abilities and self-confidence.

Mentors do not necessarily make you feel great about anything, but they provide the tough love you need to learn important lessons.

Do not be afraid to contact potential mentors. There is always something to learn from experienced people who want to help and make you better.

Dave Dillon, who was vice president of merchandising at the Fry supermarket, a division of the company owned by the Dillon family, was 20 years old. One day, he was called by Chuck Fry, the man who sold the supermarket to the Dillons. He invited Dave to walk around the store; since then they have been talking for at least an hour a day. Fry taught Dillon how to use the company’s potential to the maximum.

Like mentors, groups can be a powerful source of support and advice to help you become a leader.

The most effective of them consist of peers who regularly meet and discuss the most important thing in their life.

One of the authors, Bill George, meets every Wednesday morning for 75 minutes with a group of men that was formed 30 years ago. In fact, he and other members see this group as a powerful component of their lives. This allows them to more easily recognize their own ideas, values, understand vital issues, and also receive honest feedback when they are needed.

You do not even need to leave the office to find such a group – look inside the company. Your colleagues face the same problems and open their eyes to what you do not see.

Team building does not end with personal support and mentors; your loved one, family and close friends are also part of this support.

Leadership Can Be a Lonely and Insulating Occupation; So Try to Keep a Good Relationship

Use all aspects of your life so that you are always honest with yourself.

As we can see, true leadership is not only what you are in the office. In order to get the most out of the Real North, you need to lead a united life.

A united life is one that unites all the important elements of your personal and professional life, including work, communication with your family and friends, so that you remain the same person in a different society.

Many people wonder how you can live a rich personal life and do a wonderful job at the same time. Here it is! You just need to realize that you cannot be everywhere and for everyone. Sometimes it is necessary to make exceptions.

Take Chris Johnson, the rising star of Medtronic. After being promoted to head of Medtronic, Johnson realized that she spends too much time away from her family on grueling international trips.

She left the company and moved to another smaller company, so as to spend more time with her daughters. In essence, she gained freedom in the balance between work and family. This balance required her victims in the form of career growth.

Moreover, true leaders know how important it is to stay near the ground – this saves them from becoming impudent and not forgetting who they really are.

One way to achieve this is to find a return point to stay on the ground. Many true leaders have a special place that they can go to with their family to recover.

Akshata Murphy, who grew up in Bangalore, the daughter of Infosys CEO Narayana Murphy, regularly returns to India to see old friends and her large family.

You cannot avoid the stress of leadership, but you can find a balance between personal and professional life.


Not every leader can be considered real, but only one who follows his “True North” and remains whole. By learning the various aspects of your character and motivation, you can develop your own internal compass, which will always guide you correctly.

Take the New York Times test. Before moving on with any ethical decision, ask yourself. How would I feel in a situation if everything that happened would be described with all the details on the front page of the New York Times? If this thought scares you, rethink your own decisions. If you are proud of it, act, even if you know that in the future, you may be subject to criticism.

Why You Should Read “Discover Your True North “?

  • To find a  balance in work and personal life.
  • To gain more leadership skills.
  • To achieve certain goals.

This book is available as:

AudiobookeBook | Print