Book Review: True North, by Bill George and Peter Sims

I’ve been a fan of Bill George for years. He helped me ponder the issue of balancing work and family, and has been a role model for me. As CEO of Medtronic, he grew the company’s market cap 60-fold, delivering a 35% annual return to shareholders, and he coached his sons’ youth soccer teams the whole time:

I strongly support your belief in balance. I used to take my son to day care as well. He may seem young now, but he will grow up very quickly. The time you spend with him now is very formative in your relationship, and cannot be replaced by spending more time with him when he is 20+.

When my younger son graduated from high school, I felt very proud that I had never missed an important event in their lives due to business. Now at 30 and 27 1/2, my sons feel like very close friends: we talk over everything and have great times together. Both boys are very proud that I coached their soccer teams for a total of 13 years.

At the end of the day, what is more important to you, your family or your money? One is a lasting legacy, the other just disappears when you die.

You CAN have a successful career and a successful family life – you just have to work at balancing the two every day. More hours on the job do not make you a better executive or a better leader.

What Bill and Peter Sims have done in their new book, True North, is to expand on Bill’s concept of Authentic Leadership by telling the stories of 125 different business leaders, ranging in age from 23 to 93, to show that the path to success lies with knowing one’s authentic self, deciding which values and principles matter, discovering what motivates you, and then finding people who can help you build a life on these truths.

To me, what really works about the book is how Bill and Peter have gotten these business icons to open up about their lives, and to talk about their very real struggles and problems. Somewhere in the book, you’ll find someone you identify with, whose story can show you that you’re not alone in the challenges in your life.

The book must be touching a nerve–it hit #7 on the Wall Street Journal’s list of business bestsellers, and #37 in the same category on Amazon.

If I have any criticism of the book, it is that I wish I had more of a chance to follow the stories of the individual business leaders, rather than focusing on the book’s big themes. That’s one of the reasons why I loved Po Bronson’s Why Do I Love These People more than his best-selling What Should I Do With My Life. But I understand why Bill and Peter structured the book as they did–telling 125 different stories would make it a 1,000 page book!

Regardless of any minor quibbles, I highly recommend True North for its focus on the all-important inner components of leadership, and for the glimpses it provides of the lives of successful leaders, warts and all. In a world in which garbage like “The Secret” sits atop the bestseller lists, it’s nice to see something like True North do well.

Bill and his team actually emailed me to note that True North is now #6 on the WSJ’s bestseller list, and #6 on Amazon’s list of leadership books. You can learn more about the book at their Web site,

5 thoughts on “Book Review: True North, by Bill George and Peter Sims

  1. Okay, I’m sold. You were right about the book on slash careers, so I hit one-click on this one, too. Is this what they call “superdistribution?”

  2. Rob,

    I’m glad you like my book picks! Now make sure you go out and pick up “Why Do I Love These People.”

  3. I’m with Rob, I think I’ll check this one out..

  4. It’s a good read. I told the authors that it starts a bit slowly, but the raw material is very good.

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