For Bill George, it’s easy to differentiate between a manager and leader: A manager spends too much time doing paperwork while a leader spends most of the day interacting face-to-face.
George should know. He was chairman and chief executive of Medtronic, a global medical technology firm. During his decade as CEO, Medtronic’s market cap grew from $1.1 billion to $60 billion and the head count soared from 4,000 to 26,000 employees.
Today, George teachesat Harvard Business School. He’s the author of Authentic Leadership and Finding Your True North.
Managing People at Work interviewed George:
MPAW: When you started as CEO in 1991, did you anticipate such exceptional growth ahead?
George: We were fortunate to be in a decade where we had the wind at our back.
MPAW: How did you instill leadership in your managers?
George: In today’s world, you don’t exert power over anyone—especially under 40. They’ll just quit. People are looking for someone to empower them and step up and lead. You cannot use a power model.
MPAW: How do leaders empower? What do they do every day that works so well?
George: You’ll find them spending one-third of their time talking with customers, visiting stores, walking the factory floor.
MPAW: Is that how you spent your time?
George: I saw over 1,000 [medical] procedures. I watched our technical salespeople advise doctors in the operating room. I put on the greens. It’s in those interactions that you can see what made the company go and not go.
MPAW: What did you learn?
George: I remember one time a catheter literally fell apart in a doctor’s hands as he was trying to put it in. He got so mad that he threw it at me—blood and all. I had quite a long discussion with the salesperson afterward. By seeing those kind of things, it causes you to take action. You’ve got to get out and see things firsthand.