Excellent leadership requires as much self-consciousness as confidence. Omar Bradley’s advice to “set your course by the stars, not the lights of passing ships” reminds me “True north is the internal compass that guides you successfully through life. It represents who you are as a human being at your deepest level… is based on what is most important to you, your most cherished values, your passions and motivations, the sources of satisfaction in your life” writes Bill George in True North.
As a leader I often speak of stated and operational values, what we say and what we do. I find it helpful to question the words that come out of my own mouth. It is easy to believe what we say is true when as often we say what we want to be true. That is where healthy dialogue comes in. I learn from being challenged. I’ll give a specific example. I spent four years at an all-boys Catholic high school and then three years in a male seminary followed by three years in the mostly male army. For ten formative years with men I hadn’t studied with or listened seriously to women. I came back from war to a college where feminist students rightfully claimed the microphone and was taught by men and women professors from all faiths and those who had none.
I was fortunate to learn from women and to have my Catholic male assumptions challenged, to be disagreed with and had to unlearn some of what I thought was true. I also observed the lights many passing economic and philosophical ships. I reexamined my values and clarified my true north.
When were your values challenged? Did you readjust your true north?