One of my favorite lines from a business book was written by Harry Kraemer: “Throughout my career, up to and including when I was CEO, I benefited from the fact that I worked with a number of amazing people who were willing to prevent me from doing things that did not make sense.” Oh, the humility!
Since stepping down as chairman and CEO of Baxter International in 2004, Kraemer has been a leading advocate of values-based leadership, which he says is supported by four principles: self-reflection, balance, true self-confidence, and genuine humility. He has written books exploring those principles, including Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2011), which includes that favorite line. Currently, Kraemer serves as a clinical professor of strategy at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, where he was named Professor of the Year in 2008, and as an executive partner at Madison Dearborn Partners, a private equity firm.
Other people’s books have played an important role in Kraemer’s career. “Values-based leadership starts within, developing the self-awareness and self-knowledge that allows you to become your best self. As your best self, you are better able to relate to and influence others, which is the essence of leadership,” he explained to me. “Although the process is highly personal, I have always found insight and inspiration in the thoughts and experiences of others.” Kraemer called out the following three books as especially notable for having “helped me look more deeply at my own actions and behaviors, and how I can become my best self.”
“As your best self, you are better able to relate to and influence others, which is the essence of leadership.”
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis (HarperCollins, 1952)
“A classic of philosophical and religious thought, this book presents a compelling argument for the existence of moral law that governs the behaviors of all people. I read it for the first time many years ago when I attended my first silent retreat at the invitation of my future father-in-law. I was immediately taken by Lewis’s conversion from nonbeliever to believer, because he kept an open mind as he explored the beliefs and opinions of others. In addition to guiding my spiritual journey, Mere Christianity influenced my leadership by providing examples of values-based leadership principles, especially balance (listening to a variety of opinions to gain a broad perspective) and genuine humility (knowing that everyone is important and no one has all the answers).”
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey (Simon & Schuster, 1989)
“One of the quintessential books on leadership, 7 Habits never ceases to inspire me with its depth and simplicity. Covey’s habits, including being proactive as opposed to reactive, beginning with the end in mind, and win/win thinking, are straightforward leadership lessons that can be applied at every career level. For me, these powerful practices serve as affirmations on the path of values-based leadership.”
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster, 2005)
“Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest leaders in history, and Goodwin’s book offers deep insights into his leadership approach. Lincoln knew that he needed to bring together a team of the absolutely best people after he was elected president in 1860, and as he led the nation through the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. And he did exactly that — no matter that those people held very different views or even that they disliked him personally and had opposed his presidency. (Three of Lincoln’s cabinet members had run against him in the 1860 election, including Secretary of State William Seward.) I can’t think of a more powerful role model for bridging differences of opinion and using diversity of perspectives to lead more effectively.”