Prof. Kraemer on ‘Becoming the Best’

harry-kraemer.jpgProf. Harry Kraemer does not do Q&As.

He does Q&Os.

“I have very few answers but a lot of opinions,” Kraemer said recently. One thing he is passionately opinionated about is leadership, and many of his thoughts on the topic can be found in his new book, “Becoming the Best: Build a World-Class Organization Through Values-Based Leadership,” which is available for purchase today.

In his first book, “From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership,” Kraemer showed how self-reflection, balance, true self-confidence and genuine humility are the four traits of today’s most effective leaders. In “Becoming the Best,” he explains anyone can apply these principles to become a values-based leader and help create values-based organizations.

9781118999424.pdfDrawing on his own experiences as the former CEO and chairman of Baxter International, as well as those of other notable leaders and organizations – including prominent Kellogg alumni, such as Doug Conant ’76, Rick Waddell ’79 and Jai Shekawat ’96 – Kraemer lays out a pathway for understanding the principles and putting them into practice, by striving for the five bests:

  • Best Self
  • Best Team
  • Best Partner
  • Best Investment
  • Best Citizen

Kraemer, who is a clinical professor of strategy at Kellogg, took time to talk about the book and what students can learn from it.

IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE THREE BIGGEST MISTAKES PEOPLE MAKE IN THEIR ATTEMPT TO BECOME BETTER LEADERS?

Leadership really doesn’t have anything to do with titles, org charts or positions. It really is all about your ability to influence people, and the only way you can influence people is by being able to relate to them. As soon as you realize that you can relate to people, then you can lead them.

Another mistake is that people are very conscientious and want to move up within their organization. They think that to do this, I need to convince you that I’m irreplaceable, that you can’t operate without me. Rather than making yourself irreplaceable, the faster you make your replaceable, the faster you will become a leader and move through the organization. If you can’t be replaced, how can you move up in the organization? That does, however, make one big assumption: that you’re very good at what you do.

As for a third mistake, I think a lot of people have this thought: “I want to figure out a way for people on my team to like me. I really want to be liked.” If you focus on being liked, there’s a pretty high chance you won’t be respected. Interestingly enough, though, if you focus on being respected, and do it in a reasonable way, you can actually be liked.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING STUDENTS PURSUING THEIR MBA CAN TAKE AWAY FROM THE BOOK?

Before you lead others, you really have to figure out how to lead yourself. In the book I talk about the five “bests,” and the first “best” is becoming your best self. If I can become my best self and understand my values, what I stand for and what difference I can make, if I can wrap my head around that then I’m well on my way to being a better leader.

HOW DO YOU INCORPORATE THE LESSONS YOU DISCUSS IN THE BOOK TO YOUR TEACHING IN THE CLASSROOM?

In my Value Based Leadership course, I really focus on practice and experience. What is it like to be a GM, or manage 1,000 people, or 50,000 people? What do you do as a leader when dealing with change or controversy? I take a very practical approach.

I bring a different CEO or senior leader into class every week, so over the course of 10 weeks, students are getting a lot of different perspectives. They can learn how to lead a large organization or a small organization, one that’s public or one that’s private, one that’s for-profit or one that’s non-profit, and so on.

The goal is to provide as many different perspectives as possible. In the book I try to do the same thing.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A PROSPECTIVE STUDENT WHO IS CONSIDERING GETTING THEIR MBA?

Really take the time to figure out why you want to go to business school. What are you trying to accomplish? What are your goals? How does getting an MBA help you achieve your overall objectives and purpose?

WHY WOULD YOU RECOMMEND A PROSPECTIVE STUDENT PURSUE THEIR MBA AT KELLOGG?

Somebody who wants to be a leader realizes that being a good leader is about the ability to influence and relate to people, and Kellogg’s model is based on teamwork and building teams, I think Kellogg has an enormous advantage over other schools.

Additionally, if you’re going to be a leader, you want to be able to have an overall holistic, global perspective. The fact that Kellogg takes a broader perspective — so that the focus is to really understand the inner workings of a variety of disciplines — means that, in my opinion, you’re much better prepared to be a manager and leader of a global organization.

All proceeds from “Becoming the Best” will be donated to the One Acre Fund, an organization that carries out its values-based leadership in support of farmers in Africa.

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