The One Lesson That Changed This Successful CEO's Career

September 28, 2016

In the late 1980s, Bill George was an executive vice president at Honeywell, and was pushing hard to be the company’s next CEO. That effort included wearing expensive clothes and cufflinks he otherwise wouldn’t wear and dropping names of high-profile businesspeople he had met with, in an attempt to impress people.

One day, George realized what he was becoming – something he was not. So he went home and told his wife his concerns. She had a simple response: “Bill, I’ve been trying to tell you this for a year; you just refused to listen.”

George realized she was right, he had ignored her feedback and that his pursuit of the Honeywell CEO job was bringing out a side of him he didn’t like. So, he decided to take a job he previously rejected: COO of Medtronic.

Two years after taking the COO job, George became the CEO of Medtronic, and helped build the medical device company into the $100 billion corporation it is today. To George, it was all because of that advice he finally listened to.

“(The decision to join Medtronic) opened up everything that's happened in my life for the last 25 years,” George said in his LinkedIn Learning class on authentic leadership. “All because I finally had some self awareness, and got some honest feedback that I actually listened to and decided to take the advice and make a major change in my life.”

The point of George’s story?

In George’s LinkedIn Learning class, he continually stressed the importance of being a self-aware, authentic leader. And one of the most important – and most challenging – parts of achieving that is actively seeking and listening to feedback.

The problem is often the further a person climbs up the corporate ladder, the less honest feedback they hear. Their subordinates, eager to impress them, tend to give their opinions more weight and are reticent to say anything negative.

Hence, George said it’s critical to have people in your life you trust who are willing to give honest feedback. George himself relies on his wife and a men’s group he’s been part of for more than 40 years.

“One of the hardest things any leader has to do is to see themselves as others see them,” George said in his LinkedIn Learning class. “And that is really much more difficult than you think. It's been really hard for me, because a lot of times I feel like I have no idea how I can read people, how they're receiving the ideas I have, and how we're really engaging. And it's the only way I know of to do that is to get honest feedback from people.”

Specifically, George said that everyone invariably has “blind spots” that prevents us from seeing our full selves. To counter that, he recommends consulting the “truth tellers” in your life who will care about you enough to give you honest feedback, and then to truly consider their advice.

“I think you'll find you're a much more effective leader when you do that,” George said in his course. “You're much more authentic; you're much more real. And a lot of the baggage you're carrying with you, you can chuck aside and just be real.”

Bill George’s class on being a self-aware, authentic leader is free to all, even for those who do not have a LinkedIn Learning subscription. Click here to watch it today.