#25a – Leading in a Time of Crisis by Bill George, The Women’s View
I was running so hard to be CEO of Honeywell that I was losing it. I was trying to impress the board of directors. I came home and told my wife this. She said, “I’ve been telling you this for a year, and you didn’t listen.” It’s always those closest to you who see it. When I walked in the doors of Medtronic, I knew it was where I fit. It was like coming home to a place where I’d never been before. We were making a difference in all kinds of tough diseases.
What are you going to do when you leave this world? What is your legacy? Be part of that small group of people that is changing the world.
The above is an excerpt from Bill George’s speech at the 2009 World Business Forum in New York that I’m attending with an eye toward women’s issues. Bill George is an HBS professor and former CEO of Medtronic. George gets a high rating from the ChiefHotMomma for addressing issues and trends important to women, their lives, and their businesses.
Here are his top seven leadership skills for leading in a crisis. Aside from the recession, I always feel there is some sort of crisis going on whether it’s life or business. I really liked these points.
What’s the purpose of all this leading? What is it leading to?
George emphasized our ability as leaders to make a difference in the world, and, to “Get down there on the playing field.” Don’t think of yourself as a leader? Keep reading. I’ve had some of my most valuable leadership lessons not with the hoity-toity analysts I managed, but rather babysitters and interns.
Don’t just analyze other leaders, get in there and do it.
#1 – Face Reality, Starting With Yourself.
- You need truth-tellers around you. Are you living/working in a culture of candor or a culture of denial?
- Admit your mistakes. This is very hard, but it must be done.
- Example: A pharma company was trying to get their product through FDA. They kept trying to move farther and farther up the ranks of the FDA versus correct the product’s problem. They stopped and said, “Wait – if you were a regulator, would you approve this product? “ They did a 180 and all team members were sent to the drawing board to strategize about a new plan. When the team gathered, the CEO kicked off the session by admitting his mistakes. He had been pushing growth too hard. The team had never seen this before. It cost them $1 billion in sales. The stockholders didn’t like it, but, they saved the drug, kept their integrity with the people they serve and the government regulators, and got the company on the right track.
- Example: I had an intern one time who I loved dearly. She was a high culture fit with my educational women’s leadership venture – The Hot Mommas Project. There were often excuses for why different things weren’t done. She wasn’t facing reality about her own role in delaying work products. It was hard, because I really liked her. I told her honestly about some of the areas where I was looking for improvement. She didn’t like it. But, you know what, months later she is an incredible success and achieved all her goals. I was one of the truth-tellers around her.
#2 – Don’t be Atlas: Get the World off your Shoulders.
- We need teams to get the job done.
- Bill George considers his wife Penny a very wise advisor and mentor.
- Example: Bill George surrounded himself with a team that understood the business when he became CEO of Medtronic. He, alone, could not understand and do it all. He also meets with a men’s group for advice on tough issues. His wife Penny is a brilliant advisor and mentor. He likes to jog and meditate and works to keep that up.
- Personal example: I have struggled with what items to outsource in my business, and life. I try to view it as an experiment and then be patient with the trial and error. I’m not great at being patient. However, two kids and 1,853 temper tantrums later I am better at it. I keep a list on my computer desktop called “Things I need help with.” There is a personal and a professional category. When I start doing something that I think, “Man – do I need help with this!” I put it on the list and discuss it with a staff member (or family member). Don’t be the world’s worst teapot: Recognize when you’re about to blow.
#3 Dig Deep for the Root Cause
- Anyone who studied the Toyota “5 Whys” in a business class will get this one immediately. It’s a great lesson. Don’t stop asking “why” until you get to the REAL cause of the problem.
#4 Get Ready for the Long Haul
- Example: Ford borrowed $24 billion dollars got a 3 year head-start on redesigning cars. They didn’t go bankrupt when the financial crisis hit.
- Exxon is investing during the downturn so they are ready for the next 25 or 50 years.
#5 Never Waste a Good Crisis
This crisis may be your opportunity.
- Crisis is an opportunity for change
- We need to stop trying to save jobs, we need to create new jobs. We’re focused on saving big business. We need to support entrepreneurs and be value creators.
- Personal Example: Out of a huge personal crisis came The Hot Mommas Project. I talk about it here on Jennifer Moore’s Pink Heels site. Now, we are the world’s largest library of women’s success stories and teachable role models. It all started with a crisis.
#6 You’re in the Spotlight: Follow True North
When the spotlight is on you, will you step up?
- Social media is here. You don’t control the message anymore.
- Take a leadership role, get out and tell your story. Own the problem.
- Good example: Johnson and Johnson and the Tylenol scandal. The CEO stepped up during his time in the spotlight.
- Bad example: Lead toys and Mattel (recalled millions of products). The CEO failed in the moment of truth. He blamed Chinese manufacturers instead of owning up.
#7 Go on the Offense: Focus on Winning Now
Don’t be a victim, get out and focus on winning. How are you going to get out in front and be a leader? Shed weaknesses, and then play to strengths.
- You need the offensive team, not just defense. These people will create the strategies that will be enacted when the down turn is over. It’s NOT the same as the defense team.
- There is no replacement for good execution plans. A must.
- Example – Steve Jobs developing iPod. What did this have to do with computers?) He had courage to go on offense and totally change the game.
- Example – CEO of Pepsico got out in front of the game and campaigned against childhood obesity. (is one of 15 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 as mentioned in yesterday’s Women’s Business fact sheet).
- Personal example: I am reminded of a Success in the City-hosted talk featuring Helen Thomas. She talked about how suffragettes fought for our right to vote, but she reminded us all that the fight is still not over. Bill George is reminding us about this too. Get in there and fight.
Women mentioned during talk:
Penny George – Psychologist and president of the George Family Foundation. Bill’s wife!
Wendy Kopp – Wendy founded Teach for America
Indra Nooyi – Pepsico CEO
Extra inside info:
At a bloggers reception last night, Bill and I spoke about women and the importance of supporting women globally. He is on the board of Goldman Sachs and is involved with their 10,000 Women initiative. Research backs it up. A GEM study shows that economic growth correlates highly with female entrepreneurship in that country. So, women and entrepreneurship is good for your country’s economy no matter where you are. That is pretty powerful.
Stay tuned for more speaker highlights.
Want to let someone know you believe in them? Sponsor a case writer with your nomination. Every $25 allows a case to be permanently archived on our educational site. Mention your nominees name and email in the PayPal note.