The Future of Leadership (from a conversation with Bill George)

Bill's perspectives on Leadership support the servant-leader model and his work has been referenced as an example of measurable success through servant leadership.

Through ExecuNet, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bill George, a former CEO of Medtronic, now a professor at Harvard Business School and author of True North, Finding Your True North and Authentic Leadership. Bill’s perspectives on Leadership support the servant-leader model and his work has been referenced as an example of measurable success through servant leadership. As a result, I was excited to hear Mr. George speak and ask his views on technology’s impact on future leaders.

In the beginning of the call, Mr. George defined his views on authentic leadership. Bill stated that we need 4 things from leaders:

  1. Alignment
  2. Empowerment
  3. Service
  4. Collaboration

Bill also spoke of the many challenges facing leaders today. Chief among these challenges were the economy and shifting expectations between Baby-Boomers and Generation X. For the economic challenges, he suggested this era will produce more authentic leaders than before, stating that “leading through a crisis is the real test (of leadership)… coming through this crisis will launch more great leaders as a result.” As for the challenges presented by differing expectations across generations, Bill had several excellent points, including:

  • The Baby-Boomer generation of leaders has been too “Me focused” (over all)
  • Generation X is more “We Focused” than “Me focused”
  • Today’s younger work force is not motivated by the “Command-and-Control” model, resulting in talent acquisition challenges for companies still operating under this model

Other challenges he thought leaders of the future would need to address included:

  • Today’s organizational model is too focused on the “proven skills” of individuals
  • We need to be more focused on talent and capacity to learn (the rate of change will not slow)
  • Our organizational models need to evolve into a more integrated solution, more “like the Internet” and less “hierarchical”
  • The “Taker type” of leaders (those that only take, while others only give) will not succeed in the future
  • We need to focus on “Ready, Fire, Aim” – the market is changing so quickly now that organizations focused on “Ready, Aim, Fire” will have difficulty passing “aim”

I asked Mr George his views on the impact technology is having on today’s leaders. The focus was on the evolution of social technology, asking how these technologies are impacting leaders today and how leaders of the future can leverage these technologies to be more effective. His thoughts included:

  • Social technology is part of the answer to being a more effective leader
  • We are just getting started in our capacity to leverage this technology
  • We will still need small, peer-based groups, but not as many of the hierarchical groups
  • Legitimate networks will be necessary – not just mass connections
  • Great leaders of the future will be successful networkers and leverage people and tools to find answers and solve problems quickly
  • We are becoming more global and technology is connecting people as they move all over the globe
  • Technology is enabling everything he discussed today (less hierarchy, more “we focused”)

I am grateful to Bill George and ExecuNet for creating this opportunity. Mr. George is an example of how Authentic / Servant Leadership models succeed and are, in many ways, even necessary to ensure the success of our organizations of the future.


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Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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