This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Discover Your True North" by Bill George. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is it hard getting your employee’s attention? What are some ways to become a better leader?

There are a lot of responsibilities when it comes to leadership, and it can be easy to fall into traps that make you a bad leader. But according to Bill George’s Discover Your True North, there are three steps to optimize your leadership so you can reach your full potential.

Find out how to be a better leader and be the change in your workplace.

1. Find Your Ideal Role

George says that your ideal role will showcase your strongest skills and allow you to spend time doing things you’re highly motivated to do. To identify this kind of role and learn how to be a better leader, reflect on your strengths and your intrinsic motivation (motivation that comes from within, like the desire to create a more equitable world). If you’ve done some earnest introspection about your core purpose, you’ll likely already have a good understanding of what kind of work you’re intrinsically motivated by.

(Shortform note: In addition to finding a position that takes advantage of your unique strengths and that you’re willing to do without external rewards, Laura Vanderkam identifies a few additional elements to the ideal job in 168 Hours: It allows you to have autonomy over how you do your work, to engage in work that’s challenging but not too hard so you can easily immerse yourself in activities, and it provides an environment with supportive coworkers.)

George gives the example of Warren Buffett as a successful business leader who found his ideal role in the business world. He writes that Buffett could have made a lot of money working as a stockbroker, focusing on trading and selling stocks for clients frequently to make a commission on the trades. However, Buffett knew this wasn’t the kind of work he was excited about or what he was best at. Instead, he chose to run his own investment firm, where he could implement his own investment philosophy (investing in companies long term). Running his own investment firm enabled Buffett to tap into both his strengths as an investor and his intrinsic motivation to do work that he enjoys.  

(Shortform note: In her biography of Buffett, The Snowball, Alice Schroeder says that Buffett’s passion for investment stemmed from his childhood love of collecting and his fascination with numbers, as well as his desire for independence. His entrepreneurial endeavors throughout his adolescence suggest that Buffett keyed in on his core purpose early in life and often carved out opportunities to pursue it.) 

In contrast, George warns that if you’re in a role where you’re solely extrinsically motivated (by external rewards like a prestigious title or a high salary), you risk falling into the trap of sacrificing your core purpose and your ethics for material gain. For example, if you’re primarily motivated by receiving praise from your boss (rather than enjoying your work), you might start to sacrifice quality just to maintain high output and keep getting accolades. This pattern could then continue indefinitely, even if it isn’t aligned with your core purpose or values. 

George says that ultimately, external rewards will be unfulfilling because they don’t stem from an inner desire like your core purpose does. In addition, when you’re striving for things like money, fame, and power, you tend to make unhealthy comparisons between yourself and others, leading to dissatisfaction no matter how much you achieve. Therefore, George asserts that a desire for external rewards should always be balanced by your core purpose and intrinsic motivations. 

(Shortform note: Some research suggests that balancing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation alone may not be enough to avoid the unfulfilling cycle of chasing material rewards. Experts explain that even if you’re doing a job that intrinsically motivates you, excessive external rewards (like a large bonus) can reduce your intrinsic motivation due to what’s called the “overjustification effect.” In this process, when you receive rewards for doing something, you start to think that you performed the behavior because of the extrinsic reward and therefore become less motivated to do it without any reward (as you would have initially).)

2. Support Your Team Members

George’s next piece of advice for strong leadership is to enable your team members to do their best work rather than trying to micromanage or force others to do what you want. He argues that this is important because younger generations expect their leaders to give them respect and autonomy over their work. Therefore, adopting this style of leadership will help you attract employees to your organization and advance your core purpose.

To implement this team-oriented style of leadership (what George calls the “I to We” shift), you must build strong relationships with your employees and use feedback and introspection to increase your self-awareness. George says that to strengthen your relationships with team members, you have to be vulnerable and show mutual respect. This gives you more credibility as a leader and establishes the supportive and non-hierarchical dynamic that millennial employees prefer. For example, if you’re providing constructive feedback to a team member about their work habits, you might tell them that you also struggled with some of those same behaviors in the past and let them know that you’ll provide any additional support they might need to improve. 

In addition to relationship-building, soliciting feedback is an important way to ensure that you’re supporting your team to the best of your ability. George advises you to process feedback objectively and follow it up with introspection about your behavior and how you can genuinely improve your strategies moving forward. He asserts that feedback is necessary to adapt your leadership style to your colleagues and the circumstances. For example, a person who’s newer in your industry may want more guidance, whereas a veteran employee might prefer to work more independently. Therefore, you may need to have one-on-one conversations to get feedback and understand these individual needs. 

3. Adapt to the Globalized Business World

George’s next piece of advice for becoming a strong leader is to embrace the needs of a globalized business world. He argues that today, industries need to look toward global markets to expand, and businesses need leaders with specific skills that go beyond those of the past. These include geopolitical knowledge, awareness of the diverse needs of overseas markets, and the ability to navigate other cultures

(Shortform note: This component of George’s advice assumes that your core purpose can be scaled up to the global level, so it may not be as relevant for someone whose organization is focused on a local mission. However, for more locally focused leaders, it may still be important to understand the diverse needs of their community.) 

George asserts that one aspect of geopolitical savvy is knowing what regions may experience political unrest that could influence your business prospects there. You may also need to understand how market trends are different in other countries depending on the culture. For example, in some regions, people might be more accustomed to using public transportation to get around, or they might be more environmentally conscious than the average person in the US. Thus, marketing cars in these places may require a different approach, or a new, experimental product instead. 

Another skill that’s important for the globalized business world is being able to thrive in new places and cultures. George says that leaders have to be open-minded and flexible about different ways of doing things—for example, tailoring a line of food products to incorporate culturally relevant and locally produced ingredients. George argues that the best way to prepare for these skills is by spending time abroad when you’re young. He says this will help you expand your horizons and learn about navigating cultural diversity. 

(Shortform note: In The Culture Map, Erin Meyer echoes George’s statement that the globalized business world requires a new set of skills centered around cultural and geopolitical understanding. Meyer also dives deeper into the many ways that cultural ignorance can lead to misunderstandings in business settings. She defines eight areas in which cultures may differ: communication, feedback, thinking, leadership, decision-making, trust, disagreement, and time perception. Although it’s also important not to overgeneralize cultures, these categories may help leaders identify their cultural knowledge gaps, particularly if they have less geopolitical knowledge or less experience living and working abroad.)

How to Be a Better Leader: 3 Steps to Superb Management

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Here's what you'll find in our full Discover Your True North summary:

  • Why being true to yourself is more important than having talent or charm
  • Guidelines anyone can follow to become a leader in their organization
  • How to identify your purpose and ethics based on your unique experiences

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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