Over the past several months of speaking with different groups across the country, many people have asked me how I started on my path of self renewal, self awareness and self acceptance. My first steps began quite a few years ago.
Shortly after completing graduate business school at Stanford, I took a marketing job with Pillsbury. I was installed in a new product effort to come up with frozen desserts. My colleagues and I never could come up with anything that housewives could not easily do without.
I was also getting feedback that the commercials I developed were too “racy” for the shoppers in middle Iowa, which was always our primary target audience.
The crowning blow was when I voted against adopting the Pillsbury doughboy as the feature for all of our refrigerated products. I didn’t need a Ph.D. to realize this marketing gig was not for me. I felt like a failure and none of the other opportunities they offered were appealing.
While I was feeling low, I was exposed to a Pillsbury leadership and organizational development program based on the managerial grid. Having been the assistant freshman baseball coach in my last years at Texas as well as a coach for a Babe Ruth league while in the Army, I gravitated toward leading these courses. Still it was a significant divergence from the general management track that we were instilled with at Stanford.
In the middle of this inner quandary, John W. Gardner, a remarkable public servant, educator, and president of the Carnegie Corporation, spoke to a local alumni gathering about using his theme of self-renewal to continue uncovering talents and interests throughout our lives. One of his ideas that I captured was “Life isn’t a mountain climb that has a summit. Nor is it a riddle with an answer. Nor a game that has a final score. Life is an endless unfolding, and if we choose, an endless process of self-discovery and taking advantage of interesting new opportunities as they present themselves.”
This was an incredibly freeing message for me at an opportune time. I sought out Mr. Gardner and shared my dilemma. He was very encouraging to try something else and to accept that many divergent paths can lead to happiness and fulfillment.
Along with my very supportive colleague and mentor at Pillsbury, Dr. Sy Levy, I moved into the field of leadership and organizational development, which has been my focus for over 40 years as an executive, consultant, executive coach, writer, and teacher.
Now I’m renewing myself again with a venture of encouraging the development of personal growth groups through the True North Groups Institute.
Keep the Gardner lessons in mind as you travel through your career and stay nimble and flexible to capture the challenges that excite you at the time. Gardner also taught, “Meaning is not something you stumble across. Meaning is something you build into your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”
For more reading on the topic, I recommend the flowing books available from Amazon:
- John W. Gardner, Self Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society
- John W. Gardner, Excellence: Can we be Equal and Excellent too?
- Richard J. Leider, The Power of Purpose: Finding Meaning, Live Longer, Better.
All the best, Doug
True North Groups, providing the opportunity for people to get to know each other on a deep, person-to-person level, continue to bring engaged and energized communities together. When I spoke at recent Heartland Thought Leader Gatherings in San Francisco and Minneapolis, we drew some of the biggest crowds that the organization has seen. People are drawn to the idea of being in community in a new, deeper way.
I am very pleased that we continue to receive good questions. I’m continuing to address some of the questions. Feel free to post your own thoughts and comments.
“Do you really think these groups work for people within the same company? I would be reluctant to share on a personal level with people at work.”
- Yes, I do believe that these groups work within an organization. And, of course we know that True North Groups aren’t for everybody. We strongly recommend that within a company, potential participants be invited to apply for group membership. Voluntary participation makes it more likely that the participants want to go deeper in self awareness and self development, and are willing to share on a more personal level.
- In any kind of leadership development that has an impact on a person's core being, there are risks. However, the short and long term benefits far out-weigh the risks for most individuals and organizations.
- Each participant is required to sign the Member Contract. By doing so, they agree to strict confidentiality regarding anything discussed in the group, and also agree to suspending judgment and not pushing other members to share beyond their comfort area.
- The groups have successfully respected confidentiality in potentially competitive situations such as Harvard School of Business
- We agree that some company cultures would not be conducive to successful True North Groups consisting of solely their associates. For these firms, a multi-company approach may be a better approach.
“We are using action learning groups for our high potential leadership development program. How is this different?”
- Action learning groups have been used successfully in many organizations. Typically their primary purpose is to accomplish a task and reflect on how the team came together to accomplish that task.
- This is different from a True North Group that has a primary purpose of self-awareness and personal development.
“How can I join a True North Group?”
- One of the best ways to be part of a True North Group is to start one yourself. Talk with 1-2 friends about being in a group, see if you are all interested in similar goals from the group, check to see if others would commit to on-going regular meetings. Then invite other people into the discussion on forming a group. As noted in the book, groups of 6-8 people are optimal.
- Some of the online meeting tools, such as Meet Up could be helpful in bringing a group of like-minded people together. Starting off as strangers can work well, as long as you have similar goals and agree on the commitment and structure.
- For a group of friends of associates, you have a choice of bringing in a facilitator or starting the group being peer-led. (True North Groups: A Powerful Path to Personal and Leadership Development. Bill George and Doug Baker, BK Publishing)
- We will be offering some short seminars for people who want more support to start a group.
Please continue to ask questions and share your thoughts on True North Groups.
All my best,
It’s been a month since the launch of our book True North Groups: A Powerful Path to Personal and Leadership Development (Bill George and Doug Baker, BK Publishing). I’ve been delighted to meet many of you in our various discussions and presentations, and very pleased at the number of people who are drawn to the True North Groups’ concepts.
Along the way, a number of people have posed questions to me. I’ve responded to some of them below, and will continue to provide responses in future blogs. Feel free to post your own thoughts and comments.
“As I listen to the discussion about True North Groups and the support they provide to individual members, it sounds a lot like my book club. I’ve been in my book club for over 10 years, and we talk about our personal lives a lot. How is this different from a True North Group?”
I’m also a member of a book club and enjoy it very much. However, my True North Groups are the most meaningful to my life. There are a number of things that make True North Groups different from most other groups, including book clubs:
- The primary purpose of a True North Group is self-awareness, self-renewal, a focus on heart versus head, with improved emotional intelligence as an outcome. Groups such as book clubs start with the purpose of reading and discussing books. From those discussions, the members may more deeply explore certain topics or get into deeper personal discussions.
- True North Groups follow a set of topics that are designed to build that self-awareness while also creating a safe, tightly bonded group.• We recommend a certain structure for True North Groups, such as limiting the number of members to 6-8, and having each member agree to a set of principles and behaviors that create the norms for the group.
- True North Group members are developing and refining skills such as active listening, giving & receiving feedback and being both a leader & a follower among peers.
- Both groups build friendships. My experience indicates that True North Groups retain their members for a longer period than book clubs.
“Why do you call them True North Groups?”
- True North Groups are designed to help members identify and follow their “True North.” As Bill George wrote in his book by that title, True North represents what is most important to us in life: our beliefs, our most cherished values, our passions and motivations, and the sources of satisfaction in our lives. True North is the orienting point that keeps us on track as human beings and as leaders. It represents who we are at our deepest level.
- In future blogs, I’m going to write more in depth about the elements of True North and how our group processes incorporates them.
More to come. Please continue to ask questions and share your thoughts on True North Groups.
All my best,
Welcome to our new site! We are delighted to have you join others interested in our work.
Over 35 years ago, Bill George and I founded a small men’s group. It continues to meet every Wednesday morning. Over the years, this group has been an important part of our lives. It’s a place where we have explored the important questions in life, clarified and reinforced our own “true north” values, and experienced the wonderful support and feedback that occurs in a high-trust group.
Our conviction of the value of these groups is what motivated us to write the book True North Groups and to start the True North Groups Institute. Based on our personal experience, and how we have seen these groups work in a variety of situations, we feel strongly that these groups enrich participants’ whole lives and make a positive impact on leadership in all facets of society. (The book is now available in stores and as an e-book.)
What is a True North Group, and how does it differ from other groups?
- 6 to 8 people coming together on a regular basis, following a structured curriculum.
- The primary purpose is the journey of self-awareness that creates stronger leaders. The members follow a structured method to guide that journey. Most other groups have a different primary purpose, and sometimes they delve into more personal discussions.
- Participants develop their hearts and their humanity, forming a more balanced head-heart combination
Our groups have worked effectively in large corporations, at the Harvard Business School and other academic institutions, and in groups with mixed professionals.
Focusing on Corporations & Other Organizations
True North Groups create a sustainable foundation for all leadership development. Similar to people who stay healthy by eating right, exercising and focusing on preventative medicine, participants learn and practice healthy and helpful skills to build their own foundation. It complements all other leadership development work.
Within larger corporations, one great application is using the True North Groups with emerging high-performing/high-potential leaders. Often the budget dollars are stretched tight for this population of important leaders in the talent pipeline. Using True North Groups, these individuals develop a solid foundation of self-awareness and also build other skills such as active listening, listening without judgment, disciplined commitment, and giving and receiving feedback. A True North Group bonds tightly, and creates a safe, supportive and challenging place for leaders to grow throughout their careers.
Within the Institute, we have assembled a team of highly skilled professional facilitators experienced in assisting organizations install these groups.
We look forward to hearing from you, and expanding the number of people benefitting from True North Groups.
All my best, Doug