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Harry Kraemer’s Principles of Values-Based Leadership

On Wednesday last week, I attended a luncheon at the Wisconsin Club put on by the local chapter of the American Marketing Association, and while these types of events often run together in my mind, I can safely say that this one will stick with me for a long time to come.

The speaker was Harry Kraemer, former CEO of Baxter International and author of the new book, From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership.

After hearing him speak, I of course bought the book, as did just about everyone there, and I’m excited to dive into it in the coming weeks.

Harry spoke about what makes a great leader and the importance of knowing oneself, one’s priorities and one’s values, and letting those things guide you each and every day.

His four guiding principles, and the main points I took away about each, without having read the book yet, are these:

Self reflection

Taking the time each day or at least each week or each month to “quiet the noise” and simply sit and reflect on your life, goals and priorities is absolutely vital. If we don’t know who we are, how can we lead others?

Harry said that he takes 20 minutes for self-reflection every night, asking himself questions like “What did I learn today?” “How did I treat people today?” “If I had today to live over again, what would I have done differently?” and “If I’m given tomorrow, what will I do to make tomorrow better than today?”

I found this very inspirational, and I’m vowing to make more time in my own life to quiet the noise, stop the multitasking and take stock of my own life and priorities on a regular basis.


Harry doesn’t like the term “work/life balance” because, he asks, are we not living when we’re working? Of course we are!

Instead, he likes the simpler term “life balance,” and he says we must all acknowledge that we simply will not get everything done that we hope to – in a day, in a year, in a lifetime – and so we must learn the art of prioritizing. Being able to prioritize is a key to leadership, since leaders need to have the ability to identify what really matters.

Perhaps my favorite take-away from his talk was when he circled the number 168 on his pad of paper and asked what significance that number had. I knew it was the number of hours in a week, and another man in the room raised his hand and gave that answer.

I found it funny when Harry commented on how people are always saying things like “I can’t believe our vacation is over” or “Time is flying so fast, where does time go?” He said “it’s basic math, people!” Each day, each week, each year has the same amount of hours in it. Often time goes by seemingly without us even noticing because we squander our time doing things that aren’t important to us and that don’t fall in line with our priorities in life. Again, that’s something that really rang true for me, and he helped me see that I could do a better job of prioritizing my time.

True self-confidence

If you take the time to reflect and you truly know yourself, and if you have your priorities in life straight, then you should be able to attain true self-confidence.

This is the ability to be comfortable with yourself and to recognize your strengths while at the same time being able to acknowledge that you may not always be the smartest or most charismatic person in the room; that you may not always have the right answer; and that you may need to look to others for help sometimes – and that’s ok.

Genuine humility

The last one is fairly simple: never forget where you came from.

This part was very inspirational to me, too. He asked what our answer would be if someone asked us how we got to where we are today. He figured our answers would be “I worked hard, and I’m pretty good at what I do.” And, he said, those are good answers.

And yet, we must all acknowledge that timing, luck and possibly even a higher power or a plan greater than us had something to do with our where we are today, as well. Being in the right place at the right time plays a huge role in people’s success, and great leaders always need to be able to remember and acknowledge that.

He said that when he was the CEO at Baxter International and his office was “half the size of this ballroom,” once a week he’d still walk through the offices below him and past his old cube to keep himself grounded and to remind himself of where he came from. As he put it, “we all started in a cube.”

These principles are so simple and yet have so much logic and importance behind them. I was truly inspired by Harry Kraemer’s presentation and I can’t wait to read more in-depth about his philosophies on leadership.


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