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5 Lessons for Values-Based Leadership from Harry Kraemer

by Lynette Silva

Book Cover: From Values to ActionRecognize This! – You don’t have to be manager of people to be a leader of people. To lead, relate to other’s needs and always remember where you came from.

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Evanta Chicago CHRO summit. It was an honor to be a part of a tremendous roster of industry leaders and speakers. Case in point – Harry Kraemer who kicked off the event at the governing body dinner. Harry, former chairman and CEO of Baxter International and current professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management MBA program, shared insights on how to be a better leader from his new book From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership.

I took away 5 key lessons and reminders from both Harry’s talk and his book, summarized here.

1. Understand the Key Characteristics of Leaders

Leaders keep things simple, demonstrate common sense and start leading as soon as possible. To keep things simple, always ask two questions: “What’s the issue we’re trying to resolve?” or “What’s the opportunity we’re trying to take advantage of?” These questions help put things into perspective and expand thinking more globally outside of the narrow, immediate issue. Leaders also don’t wait until they have a team of direct reports to start leading. Leadership is all about the ability to influence people to do what they might not otherwise do. This requires honestly relating to people.

2. Identify and Avoid “Those Guys”

“Those guys” are the people in the organization we tend to point to when we say, “It’ll never work. ‘They’ already said no to a similar idea five years ago.” Leadership growth is slowed by spending too much time waiting on “those” guys or worrying too much about what “those guys” would say or do. To overcome “those guys” syndrome, ask people two questions: “Whatever your job is, are you one of ‘those guys’ who can actually do something?” and “Whatever your job is, are you watching the movie or are you in the movie?

3. Establish Rules of the Game

The rules of the game all leaders should share with their teams are simple. Every problem or issue you bring to my attention = +1 point. Every solution you bring to my attention = +1,000 points. Whoever has the most points wins

4. Think Globally

Ask yourself, do you want to be a truly phenomenal head of ____ group? Or do you want to be head of the company who happens to know a lot about _____? (The blank can be filled by any function – HR, marketing, finance, etc.) Real leaders have their functional role, but their real job is helping the head run the company. Always look across functions to identify the global need and solution.

5. Apply 4 Principles of Leadership to Get People to Change and Lead

If you want to be a leader of others, you must first understand yourself. Applying these for principles (daily, if possible) will prepare you.

  • Practice self-reflection – Don’t confuse activity and productivity. Take time to turn off noise and ask yourself:
    • What are my values?
    • What do I stand for?
    • What is my purpose?
    • What am I going to do about it?
    • What did I do right today to advance of all of those?
    • Where did I miss and what can I do better tomorrow?
  • Seek balance – Understand ALL sides of the story (there’s generally more than two).
  • Develop true self-confidence – Know what you do know and what you don’t know (and who knows what you don’t know) and learn every day. Ask yourself: Are you comfortable admitting “I don’t know” and “I was wrong.”
  • Internalize genuine humility – Understand why you are really successful. It’s likely a mix of luck, timing (right place, right time), your team (other people who’ve helped you succeed), and the talents you were given. Always remember people don’t relate well to egomaniacs. Remember the cubicle and never forget what it was like for you when you started out.

Harry ended with this reminder: To lead at any level, know what you are really at and the people who know what you don’t know.

What additional leadership lessons have guided you?

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