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Procter & Gamble COO Bob McDonald spoke about values-based leadership at the Donald P. Jacobs Center on Oct. 6.

P&G COO, Bob McDonald

Man with a plan: P&G COO Bob McDonald on ‘values-based leadership’

By Aubrey Henretty

10/7/2008 - “If you don’t plan it out,” said Bob McDonald during an Oct. 6 visit to the Kellogg School, “you won’t be an effective leader.”

Long before he became Procter & Gamble’s chief operating officer, McDonald knew the value of a good plan. When he was just 11 years old, he said, he wrote his congressman for permission to apply to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Though McDonald had to wait a few years to meet the minimum age requirement and pass West Point’s admissions exam, the plan worked, and today he is a proud West Point alum.

McDonald spoke to a large student audience in the Donald P. Jacobs Center, sharing his perspective on “values-based leadership,” a topic at the core of the Kellogg School’s educational philosophy. The event was sponsored by Leadership Initiatives through the Dean’s office.
Bob McDonald, COO of P&G
Watch video of Bob McDonald's presentation.

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“People like to work for leaders that are predictable,” McDonald said. “They like to work for leaders that have a purpose in their own lives and a values system they can follow.”

McDonald said he advises his own employees to step outside their day-to-day routines and find a larger purpose for living. “Whatever you do,” he tells them, “don’t make your goal in life a position at Procter and Gamble. You need something a little bigger than that.”

He also emphasized the importance of thinking globally.

“It used to be good enough to be an effective leader in your own country, your own culture,” he said. These days, good leadership is “not treating people the way you want to be treated, but the way they want to be treated, which means you have to know how they want to be treated.”

McDonald cautioned students to avoid spending too much time putting out figurative fires. “In your last leadership experience, were you trying to catch people at succeeding, or were you trying to catch people at failing?” he asked. “We end up working on things that are going wrong instead of things that are going right.” He added that small victories and positive reinforcement add up quickly: “Everyone wants to be successful, and success is contagious.”

McDonald dismissed the idea that a leader’s goal should be to make herself indispensible to an organization. Instead, he said, great leaders build great teams that keep the organization running smoothly no matter who is at the top. “The true test of leadership isn’t what happens when you’re there,” he said. “It’s what happens when you leave.”