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Professor Harry Kraemer explains how values-based leadership anchors executives to doing the right thing.

Values based leadership skills

Values-Based Leadership: Becoming Your Best Self

Four principles that show you how to lead yourself — and others

Untitled Document You have the title. You have the corner office. You even have your name engraved on the door.

However, according to Professor Harry Kraemer, Clinical Professor of Strategy at Kellogg School of Management, that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a leader. “You have to be able to lead yourself before you can lead others,” Kraemer said in a recent webinar. This theory is what he refers to as values-based leadership, which is comprised of four principles:
  • Self-reflection
  • A balanced perspective
  • True self-confidence
  • Genuine humility
Engaging each of these principles means that you can be a well-rounded leader who earns others' — and your own — respect.


Kraemer’s first principle of leadership is self-reflection, and he makes sure to emphasize that it is not the same as self-absorption. “It’s thinking about, ‘What are my values, what am I going to do about it?’” says Kraemer. Self-reflection is not a one-time process, and it’s not as though leaders should self-incubate; they won’t re-emerge newly formed after retreating into themselves for several hours. It’s an ongoing process that addresses three key questions:
  1. If I’m not self reflective, is it possible for me to know myself?
  2. If I don’t know myself, can I lead myself?
  3. If I can’t lead myself, can I lead others?
When leaders are able to reflect on what they know they do well and where they have room for improvement, it allows them to check in with their values and anchor themselves to their principles. “Through self reflection, you do two things — the right thing and the best you can do,” says Kraemer.

A balanced perspective

The second principle is a balanced perspective. Value based leaders have an opinion, but they understand all sides of the issue because they recognize there are multiple sides to the story. Leaders who listen to all of their team members not only make more informed decisions, but they are more transparent when they make the final decision. In fact, leaders who follow through by explaining final decisions to their team members earn more respect because every team member will know he or she is listened to and understood. The leaders who gain all perspectives will ultimately do the right thing rather than focus on being right.

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The other key component of a balanced perspective is work-life balance, which Kraemer simply calls “life balance.” After all, work is but one part of our lives, and leaders need to take care of the other important pieces — family, health and spirituality, for example. Gaining life balance frames decisions and allows you to bring your whole self to the conference-room table when you have to make big decisions. If you don’t take care of yourself, can you be in the position to lead an organization?

True self-confidence

The third principle of values-based leadership is true self-confidence. Though it seems like there’s a clear difference between true self-confidence and no self-confidence, Kraemer says that the “true” is a necessary distinguisher. According to Kraemer, many can fake a confident exterior, but behind the facade is a lack of conviction. On the other hand, a truly self-confident person is comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” and, “I was wrong.” That’s because a truly self-confident person cares more about doing what’s right than being right.

A truly self-confident leader is also transparent — with herself and others. Such a leader has a full grasp of what she knows and doesn’t know and will work toward growth. In doing so, she’s more relatable to her team and is a better player. Nobody likes a know-it-all.

Genuine humility

Values-based leadership includes genuine humility as its fourth principle. While successful people can attribute their accomplishments to a variety of factors, including their inherent skills, luck and good timing; the truly humble remember where they came from. The leaders that remember that they once started in a cubicle and once had a first day of work are the ones who won’t get caught up in the hype. As Kraemer says, “They don’t read their own press clippings.”

The truly humble leader is sensitive to the fact that she’s had success, yet continuously connects to her experiences of moving up the ranks and not having any of the answers. Doing so allows her to relate well to every member of her team. Her team members, in turn, will be loyal to her.

Putting it all together

Living all four of the principles of a values-based leader allows you to become your best self. Once you have achieved your best self, you’re in a position to lead others, says Kraemer. To live these values, leaders need to start by examining their organizations as they step into new roles or new organizations. Start by determining if the values and expectations are clear and do the following:
  • Make it clear how you’re going to operate the organization.
  • Attract and hire great people to build a good team. To keep that team healthy, give good feedback so people know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and how well they’re doing it.
  • Set expectations and effectively communicate them. This isn’t something you do in a mere email blasted to the entire company. Repeat the message and stay transparent to unite your team around the cause.
  • Continuously motivate your teams and examine how you can help them increase their effectiveness.
  • Focus on execution and implementation to generate growth for your people and profits.
  • Be prepared for the three Cs: Change, Controversy and Crisis. Something will inevitably go wrong, but staying anchored to doing the right thing and the best you (collectively) can do pulls you through in the end.

A leader’s job is not finished there — and in fact, is never done. Leaders can’t establish a framework and let it operate on its own; they need to stay close to what’s happening to assess where they need to course correct to continue generating growth.

Are you done?

After becoming your best self, best leader, best partner and best team member, there’s one more thing Kraemer advises you to do: become the best citizen.

Being the best citizen is proactively tackling the biggest social challenges that exist globally. We always assume one of the “other guys” in the room will do something instead of doing it ourselves, which is not leadership behavior. If you’re wondering whether you’re ready to become a leader, Kraemer recommends asking yourself, “Are you watching the movie, or are you in the movie?” Watching the movie means that you understand there’s a problem. You may even tell others that something needs to be done. If you’re in the movie, you actually do something to effect change.

Applying all of the principles of values-based leadership positions you to be a leader who makes an impact. However,you never finish the journey. Continue to live by these principles and stop every so often to self-reflect, re-balance your perspective, test your self-confidence and practice genuine humility to be the best citizen, partner — and most of all, person — that you can be.