N is for Focusing On Your Team’s North

Old Compass

There are several ways that leaders use the term North in relation to leading a team or organisation.

One approach is based on the principles of authentic living and leadership. These have been highlighted in the writings of people such as Stephen Covey and Bill George. They both refer to the concept of True North.

Stephen encouraged individuals to clarify their guiding principles and translate this into an inner moral compass. They could then follow this compass in their daily life.

Companies could benefit from following a similar approach, said Stephen. Here is an extract from an article he wrote on this theme. You can discover more at the Franklin Covey Canada website.


Principles are like a compass. A compass has a true north that is objective and external, that reflects natural laws or principles, as opposed to values which are subjective and internal.  

Because the compass represents the eternal verities of life, we must develop our value system with deep respect for “true north” principles. Principles are proven, enduring guidelines for human conduct. 

There is little disagreement in what the constitutional principles of a company should be when enough people get together. I find a universal belief in: fairness, kindness, dignity, charity, integrity, honesty, quality, service, and patience.

If you focus on principles, you empower everyone who understands those principles to act without constant monitoring, evaluating, correcting or controlling.

Principles have universal application. And when these are internalized into habits, they empower people to create a wide variety of practices to deal with different situation.

Bill George applied the compass approach to authentic leadership. Here is an extract from an article he wrote on this topic for the Huffington Post.

This provides an introduction to his book Discover Your True North. You can discover more via the following links.



True North is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track as a leader.

It is derived from your most deeply held beliefs, values, and the principles you lead by. It is your internal compass, unique to you, representing who you are at your deepest level.

Authentic leaders are true to themselves and to their beliefs. They have discovered their True North, align people around a shared purpose, and empower them to lead authentically.

Because they engender trust and develop genuine connections with people, authentic leaders are able to motivate them to achieve higher levels of performance.

As servant leaders, they are more concerned about serving people than their own success or recognition. 

Discovering your True North takes a lifetime of commitment and learning, but its rewards are unlimited.  

Focusing On
Your Team’s North

Another approach is to refer to your team’s goal as its North. Different leaders do this in different ways.

The European leader of a global organisation I worked with, for example, took over a network that lacked direction. Meeting his Board in the United States, he made clear contracts with them about the agreed picture of success. They agreed on their view of North.

The leader then invited me to run a super teams workshop with his country managers from across Europe. During the session he explained the big picture to people. He described the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

The leader also explained that he would aim to manage by outcomes, rather than by tasks. People would be encouraged to make clear contracts about their contributions towards achieving the goals. They would then be given freedom within parameters.

People would be expected to deliver the agreed goals and follow the principles, but how they did this was up to them. They would also be expected to proactively keep their stakeholders informed about their progress towards delivering the goals.

Returning to the big picture, the leader reminded people of the aim. He said:

“This is the goal … This is our North.”

Different leaders explain the team’s aims in different ways. Some often cover the following themes when explaining the big picture.

Slides North.001

Slides North.002

Slides North.003

Slides North.004

Slides North.005

Slides North.006

Slides North.007

Good leaders believe in giving their people the full picture. People can then decide if they want to contribute towards achieving the picture of success.

The leader I mentioned earlier did this during the workshop for his country managers. People welcomed the approach, because it provided them with a sense of direction. They also understood the reasons for working towards their version of North.

At one point, however, one country manager asked how the leader would convince people who had doubts. The leader answered in the following way.

“I will visit each country and explain the big picture to all your people. I will explain the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

“I will also explain the routes we could have taken and the reasons for working towards our version of North. It will then be up to each person and department to decide if they would like to contribute on the journey.

“People will be encouraged to use their strengths and knowledge to help us to reach the goals. If they do not want to contribute, then we will find people who want to help us to reach North.”

Imagine that you lead your team at work. If you feel it is appropriate, how can you use this approach in your own way?

How can you clarify the team’s purpose, principles and picture of success? How can you then communicate the team’s version of North?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to clarify your team’s version of North.

Describe the specific things you can then do to communicate your team’s version of North.

Describe the specific benefits of taking these steps and ensuring people work towards the team’s version of North.

Slides North.008

Slides North.009

Slides North.010

Slides North.011

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>