True North Groups: A Powerful Path to Personal and Leadership Development

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Bestselling author Bill George (True North 150,000 copies sold) and longtime corporate executive Doug Baker have participated for decades in a unique small group of peers dedicated to personal growth and leadership development. In this book they provide the first practical guide - including detailed instructions, rules, and resources - for anyone to start and manage such a group on their own.

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Preface

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SINCE 1975, WE HAVE BEEN ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN small, personal groups that serve as the inspiration and the basis for True North Groups. True North Groups comprise six to eight peers who meet on a regular basis to discuss the important questions of their lives and to support each other during difficult times.

These groups have been a godsend in our lives and in the lives of hundreds of people we know. They have helped us navigate personal challenges with our families, our careers, and our health. They have provided a forum for addressing life’s most difficult questions about our beliefs, our values, and the meaning and purpose of our lives.

Over the years we have frequently been asked by friends and acquaintances, “How can I form such a group?” Originally, we set out to write a book to answer that question, a “how to” manual for creating True North Groups, as both of us do in our work these days.

As we interviewed a wide range of people participating in groups and studied the small-group movement in its larger sociological context, however, we recognized there is a much greater need for these groups and that they are part of a broader societal shift toward forming small groups. Thus, we expanded our focus to looking at the essential role True North Groups can play in human growth and leadership development and in filling the void that many of us feel in our lives.

 

Chapter 1: True North Groups

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IN THE INTRODUCTION, WE EXAMINED THE BENEFITS of having a small, intimate group in our lives to support us during challenging times and enable us to live lives of joy and fulfillment. Let’s begin by focusing on what True North Groups are and how they work.

What is a True North Group? It consists of six to eight people who meet on a regular basis to share their personal challenges and discuss important questions in their lives. At various times your True North Group will function as a nurturer, a grounding rod, a truth teller, and a mirror. At other times the group functions as a challenger or an inspirer. At their best, the members of your group serve each other as caring coaches and thoughtful mentors.

Your True North Group is characterized by high levels of trust between your members, something that may be hard to find at work or even in your community. When you feel self-doubts, your group helps build the courage and ability to cope. The trust of your group enables all members to be open and intimate, building on your shared commitment to maintain strict confidentiality.

 

Chapter 2: Your Personal and Leadership Development

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NOW WE TURN OUR ATTENTION TO THE QUESTION OF how True North Groups can help you grow as a human being and develop as a leader. By offering a simple structure accessible to a wide range of individuals, your group provides the opportunity to explore your life, your beliefs, and your values more deeply. In doing so, it offers a powerful path between your personal life and the larger organizations you are part of, and supports your leadership roles.

First, some context. As a result of myriad leadership and economic failures in the past, both personal growth and leadership development are undergoing a significant rethinking. Macroeconomic theories prevalent for the past thirty years convinced many opinion leaders that people are motivated by monetary gains alone and act only in their economic self-interest.

As a result of economic difficulties in the first ten years of the twenty-first century, these theories are being widely challenged. This is triggering a reassessment of the limits and importance of monetary gains. More importantly, it is rekindling desires to find a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in life.

 

Chapter 3: Forming Your Group

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BY NOW YOU ARE LIKELY INTERESTED IN FORMING YOUR own True North Group. This chapter provides you the details about how you should put your group together. Toward the end of the chapter we look at converting your existing group into a True North Group and creating your group in other settings — in your company, educational institution, or community organization, and even from remote locations.

Let’s begin by examining a women’s group that was formed eighteen years ago and has been together ever since.

In 1992, Karen Radtke, a property management executive, met Jane Cavanaugh, shortly after Jane moved into the Wrigleyville neighborhood of Chicago. At the time, Cavanaugh was single and struggling to make a career in acting, while Radtke had been recently divorced. The two women formed an immediate bond that still exists today.

They talked about forming a group that would focus on their shared concerns. Radtke contacted five additional women, all of whom were strong, independent people who were successful in their professional lives. In those early years none of them had children and few had outside connections, so the group also became their primary social network.

 

Chapter 4: Norming

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NEXT, WE EXAMINE THE PROCESS OF CREATING NORMS that enable your group to work together effectively and permit your members to achieve their goals. Norms include the rules, values, behaviors, work methods, and taboos that describe how a group functions.

Every group, family, marriage, and partnership has a set of norms. Some of these are explicit; others are unstated but detectable through observation and reflection. Not all of them are positive. Some poor behaviors in families, groups, and organizations can become normative and thus go unchallenged.

We believe it is important that your new group set explicit norms for how the group will operate. As your group decides questions of gender, meeting schedule and location, number of members, and mode of leadership, you are establishing the initial norms for your group. Some norms may change early in the group’s life as the group either concurs with these initial ideas or proposes alternatives. As the group settles into a routine, more important norms will emerge.

 

Chapter 5: Storming

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HAVING ESTABLISHED THE NORMS NEEDED TO SUSTAIN the group’s vitality, we turn our attention to the other side of the coin: behaviors that may impede your group, which we call storming.

Because all of us are flawed human beings in our interactions with others, groups eventually experience a storming phase. Yet many groups fail to acknowledge the difficulties they are having. Denial is as alive and well in groups as it is in families, marriages, and other social milieus. However, it is much more constructive to address members’ concerns in a proactive manner.

New groups go through a honeymoon phase when things are going smoothly and members are in harmony. Over time, irritations at how the group operates or how some members behave will inevitably grow. Storming kicks in when things are not going well, when there is tension, or when some members feel the group is not meeting their needs. Let’s look at some storming issues faced by one group and how it handled them.

Jane Cavanaugh was part of a group of professional women that had been meeting for three years. The women in this group shared deeply, the members participated fully, and no one dominated the discussions. This led to high satisfaction among the members.

 

Chapter 6: Performing

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NOW THAT YOUR GROUP HAS ESTABLISHED NORMS AND resolved its storms, it has earned its way into the performing stage. Performing is a term that describes a True North Group when it focuses on meaningful discussions and its members are in sync.

High-performing groups can sustain themselves for twenty years and more, but achieving this state takes committed members; thoughtful, ongoing programs; and adherence to group norms. When these conditions are present, there is generally a high level of satisfaction among the group’s members.

In November 1976, Ted Cushmore, a corporate executive, and Lynn Truesdell, a trial attorney, gathered for breakfast to discuss forming a group following the model of a spiritual weekend they had attended earlier that fall. The group’s development began slowly as Cushmore and Truesdell each invited one friend to join the group. These first four members started meeting each week in a nearby restaurant.

The noise and lack of intimacy in the restaurant made their meetings difficult, so they moved to a nearby church. Although none of the members attended the church, its setting seemed more appropriate to the group’s spiritual focus.

 

Chapter 7: Reforming Your Group

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THERE IS A TIME IN THE LIFE OF EVERY GROUP WHEN it faces such major issues that a significant restructuring of the group is required, as fine-tuning is unlikely to address the issues. Instead, the group needs to step back to reexamine itself and determine how its purpose and structure need to be changed. This deeper look can be accomplished at an off-site retreat. Here’s the story of a group that went through not just one but two such restructurings.

The group began uneventfully in 2004 as a mixed-gender group of four men and three women. Doug was the professional facilitator and Craig Neal played an important role in gathering new members. For the first three months attendance was strong, participation was excellent, and all members seemed pleased with their new colleagues.

Suddenly, the group started to fall apart. Two people had serious family matters that forced them to resign. A third person encountered a business crisis that caused her to drop out. Another woman disappeared with no further contact and did not respond to phone calls or e-mail messages.

 

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