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In his new book True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, published by John Wiley & Sons, Harvard professor Bill George, a former CEO of Medtronic, and his team interviewed 125 top leaders in an effort to identify and understand how leadership qualities are acquired.

Previous academic studies have not been able to produce an absolute profile of the ideal leader, since leadership styles are so different, and this book does not claim to do so either. What is clear, however, is that effective leaders are highly complex human beings who cannot be adequately described by simple lists of traits. Surprisingly, many of the outstanding leaders interviewed for this book, all of whom have learned to optimize their roles to achieve superior long-term results, dont view themselves as leaders at all.

But one thing is for sure: Good leaders are not born that way. It turns out that becoming an effective leader is not a short-term event; it is a marathon journey. Preparing for leadership can be a long process, during which a person forms his or her character and learns to understand himself and his values. In doing so, capable leaders develop an inner moral compass – the product of their life experiences, passions and motivations – to help direct them through future good times and bad.

Successful leaders consciously develop a set of values – ethics, integrity and principles – to which they can be true. They set high standards for themselves and those who work for them. Real leaders have a positive outlook and the courage to make difficult decisions, even under stressful conditions. They have highly developed interpersonal skills. Authentic leaders are motivated, consistent and self-disciplined, both in their work and personal lives.

People need to develop their own approach to leadership; imitating someone elses style wont work. They must accept responsibility for developing themselves, and not expect their organization to do it for them. Leaders should also be prepared to reinvent themselves, if necessary, to lead their team through changing conditions.

Real leaders have compassion and empathy for those who work for them. They are not self-centered; they have learned to think in terms of we, not I. They are able to unite their people around a common purpose. Their team members do not follow; they work together as an integrated, cooperative unit.

Effective leaders learn to surround themselves with people who are not like themselves. They recognize their own strength and weaknesses, and they know that they cannot hope to succeed without help. The complementing strengths of other team members are essential. Leaders know that a diversity of skills is an important element of any effective team. They are receptive to honest feedback, even though it may be negative. They know that listening only to people who reinforce their own views can be damaging.

With employees, leaders are challenging, inspirational, respectful and willing to share the credit. They are good listeners, handle power responsibly, and treat their subordinates as equals. They have a steady, confident presence, and they support their people. They develop trusting relationships with teammates based on mutual respect. And leaders know that in the business world, trust is everything – with employees, customers, suppliers, government and the public.

Next month: Leaders Share Certain Qualities

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