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Five Ways True North Groups Can Save Leaders

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Five Ways True North Groups Can Save Leaders

Bill George and Doug Baker argue for the value of True North Groups in their new book of the same title. Leaders and others need a small group of people with whom we can have in-depth discussions and share intimately about the most important things in their lives -- both personal professional.

Here are five traditional pitfalls all leaders encounter and how True North Groups help them avoid such scenarios:

Pitfall #1: No one for you and other leaders to talk to about challenges and dilemmas. The missing link for many leaders is having a safe place where they can share their experiences, challenges, and frustrations, and get honest feedback.

True North Groups provide small, intimate peer groups where people talk openly about their issues in confidential settings. There are not very many places left where a leader can voice his or her concerns and issues without getting tangled up in corporate politics, disclosure issues, or similar problems, and yet all humans need to communicate, share, and even vent. True North groups provide the arena for such exchanges.

Pitfall #2: Getting on the slippery slope to unethical behavior. All leaders face ethical dilemmas and doing the right thing is often not as easy as it sounds. Because group members maintain each other's trust, a leader who feels that he or she is veering too close to an ethical precipice and get support and advice from others who have also been in the same space.

In a True North Group where people share their deepest feelings and greatest difficulties, group members feel comfortable in challenging you when they think you are losing your bearings or deviating from your beliefs and values. Because they know your life story, they are able to perceive how prior events in your life or your motivations may be influencing your decisions today.

Pitfall #3: Having blind spots that keep you and other leaders from seeing their impact on others. Most leaders have blind spots - characteristics they are unaware of - that tend to get in the way of understanding how their leadership is impacting others. Effective leadership comes from a place of authenticity, which is the essential quality of leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence, or EQ. In our experience, we have not seen leaders fail for lack of IQ, but have observed many leaders fail who lacked EQ. The essence of EQ is having a high level of awareness of yourself and your impact on others.

True North Groups provide the feedback that enables leaders to understand their blind spots, open up hidden areas, and gain a deeper understanding of who they are. These groups offer a unique environment for people to develop self-awareness, self-compassion, authenticity and ultimately, self-actualization.

Pitfall #4: Trying to be someone different than who you are. An important part of leadership is accepting yourself -- your weaknesses as well as your strengths -- and having confidence that others will accept you for who you are. However, this is a lot easier said than done. Our natural inclination is to show strength and hide weaknesses -- even more so if you're in a leadership position.

The support and confidence the group will give you enables you to face difficult situations in your life and work and navigate them successfully. Many people report they discuss life experiences with their True North Group that they have shared with few people in their lives. Others report seeing their crucibles in entirely new ways. This can lead to a healthy reframing of one’s most difficult experiences. Revisiting painful and difficult times and exploring their dark sides can be a healing experience.

Pitfall #5: Not appreciating others for their differences and what can be learned from them. We are all prone to judgment of others based on their backgrounds and experiences because we tend to be wary of those who are different from us and don't readily trust them.

In a True North Group you learn to accept others, celebrate their differences, and learn from people whose life experiences differ from yours. This dynamic gives you the capacity for sharing yourself in intimate ways and for being more open with others. In learning about crucibles others have faced, you realize you are not alone in facing great challenges. Intimate sharing builds trust among group members and leads to higher levels of self-awareness and sensitivity to others.