Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2006Kellogg School of Management
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Theory: A delicate balance of self-confidence and humility defines true leaders
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  Harry Jansen Kraemer Jr.
  Harry Jansen Kraemer Jr.
Read what KSA President Nathan Lucht '07 says about putting this theory into practice

Theory: A delicate balance of self-confidence and humility defines true leaders

By Harry Jansen Kraemer Jr.
Adjunct Professor of Management and Strategy

With apologies to Voltaire, who once said, "Common sense is not so common," I believe that most great thoughts, at root, are based on common sense, including those associated with the major components of business leadership.

During my 22-year career with Baxter International, in a range of roles including CFO, president, chairman and CEO, I was fortunate to lead many teams among the global healthcare company's 50,000 employees in 100 countries. Along the way, I often reflected on effective, values-based leadership and what it encompasses.

As I did, I understood the importance of communicating these insights in a clear, straightforward way.

A delicate balance

To me, leadership is a delicate balance of true self confidence and genuine humility. It includes understanding the significant value and influence that you, as an individual, can have in any position in an organization. It is the knowledge that your opinions and views are important, leading you to make sure your supervisor or team makes no decision without your input. You believe it is appropriate to challenge the team in a respectful way, not driven by the need to "be right," but rather to "do the right thing."

Being truly self confident means recognizing that you may not be the brightest, quickest or most articulate team member, but that you are nevertheless comfortable with who you see in the mirror. This confidence is not egotistical or self-serving. It's grounded in a genuine desire to make a powerful, constructive difference.

Balanced with self confidence is genuine humility. With it, leaders understand they are no better, no more important, than any other team member. Leaders never forget where they came from or take themselves too seriously. Instead of considering success a result of solitary efforts, leaders recognize their teams' contributions, and maybe even those of a larger force, "upstairs."

Eight critical rules

As a well-balanced leader sets out to affect an organization, eight major areas are key.

1. Values. Without them, a team has nothing on which to build its foundation. Values provide the core of the enterprise, the moral absolutes, and serve as the cardinal compass point. A leader must live these values, setting the example, and must do so consistently and constantly. Team members must thoroughly understand the values and the repercussions of not living them.

2. People development. An organization's most important asset is its people. With the right individuals in the right positions, continuous recruitment, training, feedback, development and retention, a leader can build a team capable of achieving virtually anything.

3. Clear direction-setting. The leader avoids ambiguous, lofty vision that may confuse. In setting a clear direction, a leader must draw on substantial team feedback. Simple directions help ensure that others will understand.

4. Communications. A leader must communicate continuously to all team members, employing various tools so each person understands the team's goals in detail. Doing so demands the leader is extremely articulate and willing to repeat important information over and over.

5. Motivation. A fun, engaging leader, able to energize every member of the team, is effective. Leaders need to rally team members facing multiple priorities to focus on the importance of the agenda at hand. Doing so requires the ability to articulate this agenda clearly and powerfully.

6. Management 101. Some leaders mistakenly believe it's their role to set direction while others execute. Delegation is appropriate; but the leader must be close enough to the planning, organizing, executing and measuring of performance to assess progress or determine necessary changes.

7. The Four Cs. Change, controversy and crisis will be ongoing, and a leader must be prepared to address these with courage. Fear and uncertainty are unavoidable, but a leader needs to demonstrate courage. Doing so reassures team members that despite challenges, the leader, with significant input from the team members, will set a clear direction and concrete plan for execution.

8. Social responsibility. Today's world presents an amazing number of challenges, calling for leaders to step forward, take ownership and present solutions to effect positive change. A true leader is compelled to lead his organization in a manner fitting a responsible citizen, and strives to make a difference both within his organization and outside his organization, on a global basis.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University