A journey, not a destination

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a leader. On the other hand, I wouldn’t call myself a follower either. “I am a rock. I am an island.”

I am an individualist looking for a community. But I’ve been living in my own head for way too long and I often don’t know how to play well with others. That’s not to say that I don’t try my best to be a team player and get along with others. But there is a point at which I start to say to myself, “There has got to be a better way.” And I feel myself starting to disengage when I make my opinions known and I feel like I am not being heard. Am I being too abrasive or annoying, or am I simply an ineffective salesman? Perhaps, influencing is not my gift.

I might have grand ideas about being a Renaissance man, but the reality is that I can only accomplish so much on my own. When I have reached the limits of myself, I won’t be able to go much further. Burning the candle at both ends just means that I’m going to burn out sooner than the rest.

So, why am I finishing a degree with a focus in leadership? It’s not so much about aspiring to be in a position of leadership as realizing that I am already in positions of leadership without actually recognizing it. If I’m leading unintentionally, I’m probably not doing it well. So, I need to learn what good leadership looks like, and if I see a discrepancy with what is and what should be, I need to have the courage to step up and lead, especially if no one else is willing. It’s no use saying to myself, “Someone should do something about that.” If not me, then who?

The Journey

Chapter one of Bill George’s book, True North, starts out with a quote by John Donahoe, President of eBay:

Leadership is a journey, not a destination.
It is a marathon, not a sprint.
It is a process, not an outcome.

This leads into the rags to riches story of Howard Schultz, Founder of Starbucks. Schultz’s story is a chronicle of overcoming his fear of failure and a feeling of being an underdog to becoming a star high school quarterback and receiving a scholarship to Northern Michigan University, becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree (p. 5). The idea for Starbucks came when he was selling coffee filters.

On a buying trip to Italy, Schultz noticed the unique community experience that Milanese espresso bars played in their customers’ daily lives. He dreamed of creating a similar sense of community in the United States, using coffee as the vehicle. (p. 6)

Schultz was determined not to repeat history and sought to overcome the difficulties that his father experienced, trying to make a living for his family, but losing his job as a result of an injury at work. Vowing to create a company with compassion as a foundation, Schultz built Starbucks with the vision that he would take care of his employees with fair wages and health care benefits.

George highlights the stories and comments of several leaders in this first chapter, exploring the journey to authentic leadership:

A Map for the Journey

  • Your life story defines your leadership
  • The journey to authentic leadership
    • Phase 1: Perparing for Leadership
    • Phase 2: Leading
    • Phase 3: Giving Back
  • The winding path: there will be ups and downs
    • Character formation
    • Rubbing up against the world
    • Stepping up to lead
    • Crucibles
    • Peak leadership
    • Generativity: wisdom and giving back (Erik Erikson)


A journey, not a destination:

Of all the leaders over forty we interviewed, none wound up where they thought they would be. (p. 15)

Adventures in uncharted territory:

Vanguard CEO Jack Brennan believes that the worst thing people can do is to manage their careers with a career map: “The dissatisfied people I have known and those who experienced ethical or legal failures all had a clear career plan.” (p. 15)

Friction creates the spark:

As Randy Komisar, former CEO of LucasArts, says, “This is your opportunity to rub up against the world.” (p. 17)

There will be challenges:

“Struggle and tough experiences ultimately fashion you.”
— Ann Fudge, CEO of Young & Rubicam

Working up slowly to greater responsibilities:

You need those early experiences to learn the lessons that will help prepare you for challenges later in your career. Those who move up the ladder too quickly find themselves in a precarious place. They think they are heroes, but when real challenges and the realities of failure hit them, they’re unprepared to deal with them.
— Dan Schulman, CEO, Virgin Mobile USA

On hitting the wall:

In truth, it is the difficult experiences that prepare you to lead your organization through the challenges you will face.
— Bill George