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Bill George
Scholar/Former CEO

Bill George

Bill George is a management professor at the Harvard Business School, the former Chairman and CEO of Medtronic, Inc., and the author of several best-selling books on leadership. His latest release is 7 Lessons for
Leading in Crisis
.

A Safari Lesson

The reality in today's world is that leaders have to stay in touch with their organizations and with rapidly changing events on a 24/7 basis, even while on vacation. Think of President Bush at his Crawford, Texas ranch in August 2001, receiving an intelligence briefing on Al Qaeda's plans to attack the U.S. but not dealing with it immediately. So President Obama can ill afford to ignore what's going on while he and his family are vacationing on Martha's Vineyard.

This isn't new. With one exception, I was always available on a 24/7 basis while I was CEO of Medtronic. The exception came over the 1995-1996 holidays when my family and I went to Tanzania on an 11-day camera safari with only a remote radio contact. Arriving in Nairobi on January 6th, my CFO called urgently to say that Medtronic stock was down 25% due to an erroneous story in Barron's. By then, it was too late to do much about it -- but it was a good lesson for me.

Today's electronic tools like the iPhone actually make it easier, although there is the temptation to spend all your time on the computer instead of relaxing with family and friends -- a bad habit to get into.

By Bill George

 |  August 10, 2009; 11:34 AM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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So why aren't my comments going through?

Posted by: nbahn | August 11, 2009 8:21 PM
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@davequ--

I absolutely agree with you. The fact that the Harvard Business School hired him speaks volumes to the character of that school. Quite frankly, Bill George strikes me as being quite egotistical. This begs the question as to why did the Washington Post hire him, anyway?

Posted by: nbahn | August 11, 2009 8:19 PM
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@davequ--

I absolutely agree with you. The fact that the Harvard Business School hired him speaks volumes to the character of that school. Quite frankly, Bill George strikes me as being quite egotistical. This begs the question as to why in Hades did the Washington Post hire him, anyway?

Posted by: nbahn | August 11, 2009 8:17 PM
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@davequ--

I absolutely agree with you. The fact that the Harvard Business School hired him speaks volumes to the character of that school. Quite frankly, Bill George strikes me as being quite egotistical. This begs the question as to why in hades did the Washington Post hire him, anyway?

Posted by: nbahn | August 11, 2009 8:13 PM
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@davequ--

I absolutely agree with you. The fact that the Harvard Business School hired him speaks volumes to the character of that school. Quite frankly, Bill George strikes me as being quite egotistical. This begs the question as to why the hell did the Washington Post hire him, anyway?

Posted by: nbahn | August 11, 2009 8:11 PM
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I TOTALLY DISAGREE with Bill George.

What kind of a leader builds a weak dependent team that cannot be trusted to take the reins when the CEO / whoever is on vacation / unavailable / sick / run over by a truck??

Out of loyalty and duty to any company I worked for, I always tried my best to build and promote growth within my team and do my best to make sure things run smoothly and proper intelligent leadership and decisions can be made when I was "unavailable."

Anything else would be egotistical and selfish.
Company first: build a strong team of future leaders that can step up confidently in times of crisis, illness, or merely a two-week vacation.
That's what true good leaders DO.

Posted by: davequ | August 11, 2009 3:25 PM
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I think that Mr. George took the wrong lesson from his safari vacation story. An erroneous story was published driving the company's stock price down 25%, and the company's reaction to that: do nothing until we can get the CEO on the phone. It would have been much better for Mr. George, and Medtronic, for the CFO to have had the authority (or be willing to take the initiative) to take actions to correct the erroneous information first, then seek contact with the CEO to explain what happened and what had been done to correct it. Being a leader does not mean that no one can take any action when you are not in the office, rahter it means that if you are not available those that you lead already know what to do and feel empowered to take action when the CEO is unavailable.

Posted by: pete20 | August 11, 2009 2:12 PM
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This is where the divisions between big corporation leaders and entrepreneur leaders come into sharper focus.
BigCorp leaders are all responsible to someone else; even the CEO has a boss – the Shareholders, while the Entrepreneurial Leader take a calculated risk, leave someone else in charge or accept the consequences of not being 24x7 for a period of time.

But as you go down the line to leaders in BigCorp Inc., unplugging is often not an option. Due to:
1) The work just piles up waiting for your return. Which means you can get 40 hours off; to return to, 60 hour weeks playing catch up.
2) Leaders wanting/needing/requiring to ‘Shape the Game’ even when away.

It would be foolish approach to think you can unplug for more than a long weekend and expect the world, your customers and the organization not to change during the time you were out.
The Europeans have (d)evolved to a more structured approach where a month (August - typically) when business slows down and most people plan to be away.

While that was true for us in the United States when we were an agrarian society, harvest time dictated when kids would be out of school to help on the farm; now it is more often the school calendar that determines when the family takes a vacation while the parent(s) log in remotely to work.
Think about Teddy Roosevelt’s hunting trips, morphing into Presidential Ranches which are really remote White Houses, to Air Force One - a flying White House to now when the President is always in touch and command. For the individual citizen this may be contrasted with the 1950’s when throwing all the kids in a station wagon for a month visiting the in-laws, or beach or mountain was the family vacation. Daddy called in to the office once a week to find out if everything was fine. To the sixties when working conference vacations to the seventies where Mom took the kids away, to the eights and ninety where vacations were encumbered with mobile phones and laptops to remotely login in to know what was going on and get work done. Now in the times of Blackberrys, iPhones and Pocket PCs when the buzz word is a ‘Stay-cation’ perhaps we have come full circle and will never be unplugged. In the future with more virtual workers perhaps the vacation will no longer be needed at all, thus eliminating a leader ever being ‘unplugged’ except where lack of technology forces leaders off-line.

In mean time; I’m off to my holiday!!

Posted by: Firozerao1 | August 11, 2009 11:27 AM
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History lessons have more value. Every battle is won before it is fought. The mystery of grace is that it's never too late. I better get logged out now and go shooting.

Posted by: Dermitt | August 10, 2009 3:48 PM
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