Book Review: From Values to Action

by Gregg on September 8, 2012

Leadership, according to Harry Kraemer, author of From Values to Action, is simply "the ability to influence others." But there is another level, according to the former chairman and CEO of pharmaceutical company Baxter International.

"By word, action and example, values-based leaders seek to inspire and motivate, using their influence to pursue what matters most," says Kraemer, who I heard speak at a company event in July.

To that end, Kraemer builds From Values to Action around four principles:

  • Self-reflection: Consistently and critically self-reflecting will help you decide what matters most, and focus on that.
  • Balance: This is the one I struggle with – being able to view all sides of an issue, and being comfortable with the fact that your viewpoint isn’t the only one … or the "right" one.
  • True self-confidence: Similar to Balance, true self-confidence helps you recognize what you both know and don’t know, and again, become comfortable with with the latter.
  • Genuine humility: Never forget where you came from, because that keeps you grounded, Kraemer says. For me, that’s both a blue-collar neighborhood and the cubicle.

"Leadership is not about the leader," says Kraemer, who’s currently a professor management and strategy at Northestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. "Leadership is about the growth and positive change that a leader can bring about while working with others."

I’ve always subscribed to the theory that there are real, honest-to-goodness leaders, the kind of people you’d follow just about anywhere … and then there are people that are merely in charge. I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to have worked with many more of the former than latter, and I can see how the values of those really great leaders have influenced and inspired me to think hard about how I represent the company I work for, its brand, and pattern my values accordingly.

This is to say that an organization can have the greatest mission statement, well-identified core values and commitment to customer focus, but unless its leaders live their values every day, none of it matters. Kraemer thus offers a roadmap through his four principles to aspiring leaders to do that. The point he makes is that anyone can be a value-based leader – whether you’re in a corner office or cubicle.

The book is broken into three parts – The Four Principles; The Essential Elements of a Values-based Organization; and Leading Your Organization From Success to Significance. Along the way, he applies the principles to the work crucial to a successful brand, like effective communication, motivation, plan execution, crisis situations and social responsbiility. He includes many stories from his time at Baxter and as a Kellogg professor, which I could relate to in my role.

I think the bottom line for me is realizing: Will I be a leader, or merely in charge? And if I aspire to lead, what are my values, and do I live them?

(Here is a well-done, and short, video of Kraemer explaining the four principles.)

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