Point: Leaders must communicate and connect, which means providing vision and revealing vulnerability
Story: At the World Business Forum last week, former President Bill Clinton was asked about his lessons on leadership. His answer was threefold:
- It begins with a vision of where you want to go: you have to articulate where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there
- A leader has to continually communicate and sell the vision
- Leaders need to understand people, not just policies
That last point about leaders needing to understand people was the comment that was most retweeted during the live-tweeting of Clinton’s talk. It was the point that resonated the most deeply with the audience.
Fittingly, Clinton’s closing comments provided the perfect circle back to Bill George’s opening keynote the day before. Bill George, former Medtronic CEO under whose leadership the company’s market cap grew from $1.1 billion to $60 billion, spoke about authentic leadership during a time of crisis.
Being authentic builds trust and helps people understand who you are as a leader. “In a time of crisis, you need people who tell you the truth,” George said. Authenticity requires strength because it means, at times, revealing vulnerabilities. Although revealing vulnerabilities seems counterintuitive and very hard for leaders who want to seem all-knowing, George has said:
“When you open yourself up to others and share your fears and shortcomings, you connect with people at a deeper level. Exposing your vulnerabilities is an open invitation for others to share openly with you. In the process, you gain a higher level of support and commitment from people, as well as their respect.”
How much do you share? Bill George offered an example from his own life: As Medtronics’ CEO, he regularly sent out emails to all the employees about the state and health of the company. In 1996, seven years into his tenure as CEO, George’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. George found himself writing an email to employees revealing his wife’s personal health rather than presenting the company’s financial health. To George’s surprise, 18,000 employees (more than half the company) replied to his email, offering their support and sharing their own stories of loved ones who had battled cancer. “It was a personal connection,” George reflected. “We’re hungry for those connections.”
- Build personal connections with those you lead
- Create, communicate, and cultivate a vision
- Be authentic, revealing both weaknesses and strengths
For More Information
Bill George’s blog is at http://www.billgeorge.org/blog/
[Bill George shared the email story during a pre-forum reception he held for World Business Forum Bloggers on Oct. 5, 2009]