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Bill George is professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, where he has taught leadership since 2004. He is the author of four best-selling books: 7 Lessons for Leading in[…]

Now that your future is uncertain, here’s what you shouldn’t do: follow the money, says Bill George, Harvard management practice professor.

Question: What is your advice to recent business school graduates trying to plan their careers in a time of increasing uncertainty?

Bill George: Well you can’t plan your career today. Careers, there is too much uncertainty, exactly. You’re right. And there is too much volatility and your career you cannot predict it. In fact, some of the greatest opportunities is stepping up to a situation you never expected. That’s what Anne Mulcahy did when she became CEO of Xerox and so I tell my students you need to prepare yourself from within. Forget about all the outside style and impression and communications and all that stuff. That’s not relevant. It’s the person within. Define what you’re really passionate about and then go to work in that area. You know if you’re not passionate… I had a student come see me yesterday and he said, “Do you think I ought to go to work in finance?” I said, “Are you interested in finance?” He said, “No, but do I need it on my resume?” I said, “Absolutely not.” “Find what you’re passionate about and go do it.” “Follow your heart and do the things and you will be wildly successful and you’ll make a lot more money than you ever dreamt of.” If you lead with the money you’ll probably get a lot at first and it will taper off. If you let the money on a slow build up you’ll probably be much more successful because you will have performed. You will have grown as a leader and by the way, you’ll have a lot… You’ll feel a lot more fulfilling because at the end of the day what are you going to tell your granddaughter you did to make a difference in the world? And if it’s just about making money for your family you’re maybe pretty disappointed.

Question: How should business school students think about financial opportunity as it relates to personal opportunity?

Bill George: Well first of all I think that is the calling we all have is to do something that benefits society and we will benefit from that ourselves and so I think rather than starting out the other way around and then figuring out later what can I… Can I give some of my money away to charity? This is the wrong way to think about it. You have to do that right from the get go and because you’re developing and those opportunities to really make a difference and to dig into really tough problems like healthcare, energy, the environment, education, world peace, poverty, innovation these are the tough problems we face as a society. Digging into those problems you’ll grow as a person. You’ll grow as a leader and you’ll do just fine financially and at the end of the day you can’t take that money with you, but you can take with you the sense that hey, I really made a difference. I left a legacy behind through the work I did and the people I touched.

Recorded on December 9, 2009



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