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Jan 22, 2021 2021-01 Accountancy Business Administration Finance

Leighton Lecture 2020: “Leadership is not a destination. Leadership is a journey.”

On November 11, Harry M. Jansen Kraemer, Jr., gave the 2020 Leighton Lecture in Ethics and leadership. For the first time in its 25-year history, the Leighton Lecture was presented virtually over Zoom. An executive partner with Madison Dearborn Partners and a clinical professor of management and strategy in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Kraemer focused his lecture on values-based leadership.

“Leadership has nothing to do with titles and organizational charts,” Kraemer said. “It has to do with being able to influence people. And the only way I know how to influence people is to relate to people.”

For Kraemer, the essence of leadership is combining an ability and an intention to relate to people with a clear set of personal values. “Leadership is not a destination. Leadership is a journey,” he told the more than 770 individuals from around the world who listened in on the lecture. “Every day I’m given, I can be better than the day before. If I can focus on what I can do to be a better values-based leader, that will make all the difference in the years ahead.”

In developing into a values-based leader, Kraemer sees four simple, yet key, principles: self-reflection, balance, true self-confidence, and genuine humility.

Self-reflection for Kraemer is the first on the list because it is the most important. To be a values-based leader means to take time to look back and evaluate your actions and decisions. Kraemer advocated turning off electronic devices and taking the quiet time to ask some essential questions:

  • What are my values?
  • What’s my purpose?
  • What really matters?
  • What kind of leader do I want to be?
  • What kind of example do I want to set for other people?

These can help a person prioritize actions and prepare for future challenges.

Balance refers to intentionally striving to understand all sides of a question. Knowing why others believe as they do may help in determining the best course of action.

True self-confidence is essential for leaders, said Kraemer. To determine whether you have true self confidence or arrogance, leaders should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Have you reached a point in your life where you’re comfortable saying, “I don’t know”?
  • Have you reached a point in your life where you’re comfortable saying, “I was wrong”?

Most people, said Kraemer, cannot relate to people who have never made mistakes. A willingness to admit error and to be able to look to others for help is an important skill for a values-based leader. A strong leader with true self-confidence can build a team where someone – regardless of the issue –will be able to figure out the answer in order to help the team as a whole.

Genuine humility is an important part of leadership. It is difficult to relate to and be influenced by an egomaniac, Kraemer said. A good way to develop and express genuine humility is to look back and recognize those who helped you on your career journey – teachers, mentors, and others who provided assistance beyond your own hard work. No one can do it on their own, and recognition of that is crucial for a values-based leader.

Kraemer’s talk was fast paced, informative, and thought-provoking. At the end, he summarized his suggestions for the lecture attendees: take some time alone, turn off the noise, and give yourself the ability to think about truly important values.

About Harry M. Jansen Kraemer, Jr.
Harry M. Jansen Kraemer, Jr. is an executive partner with Madison Dearborn Partners, a private equity firm based in Chicago, Illinois and a clinical professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s. In 2008 Kraemer was named the Kellogg School Professor of the Year.

He is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Baxter International Inc., a $12 billion global healthcare company. His 23-year career at Baxter began in accounting and included senior positions in both domestic and international operations.

He is the author of two bestselling leadership books: From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership and Becoming the Best: Build a World-Class Organization Through Values-Based Leadership. His newest book, published in 2020, is Your 168: Finding Purpose and Satisfaction in a Values-Based Life.

About the Leighton Lecture in Ethics and Leadership
The Leighton Lecture on Ethics and Leadership is sponsored by the Center for Professional Responsibility in Business and Society and Gies College of Business. This lecture series is underwritten by generous contributions from Richard (’49) and Grace (’50) Leighton.