At Dinner With Bill George

“We connect through our weaknesses, not our strengths,” says Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and author of Authentic Leadership, “Human fraility is where we connect.”

George says that when he sent e-mails to Medtronic employees on the latest quarterly results, he would never get a response from anyone, no matter how good or how bad the numbers were.

It was only when George informed colleagues of his wife’s bout with breast cancer that he received an overwhelming response. Suddenly, he connected with his employees in a deep and enduring way. Hundreds of Medtronic employees, he recalls, from all over the world responded with their own e-mails, thanking him for his being so open.

They shared their own stories of personal traumas, and the e-mails continued for several years. “Looking back on their responses,” adds George, “I believe they indicate just how much people desire that kind of connectedness with their leaders.”

The story also had a happy ending for George, who lost his mother to a heart attack at the age of 24 and a fiancee to a brain tumor weeks before their wedding. His wife, Penny, completed her chemotherapy and fully recovered from the ordeal.

As he writes in his book, “It took me several years to establish deep relationships at Medtronic, to build the trust of all our employees, and to let people get to know who I am and what I believe in. My experience with my wife’s breast cancer unexpectedly opened up those relationships.”

Would your leadership style allow you to be as candid and vulnerable?