Business Today

Leading the Way

The book looks at how one can become a good person, and a good leader.
twitter-logo Prosenjit Datta        Print Edition: November 22, 2015

Becoming the Best By Harry M Jansen Kraemer Jr

PAGES: 224
PRICE: Rs 1,368
Jossey-Bass

What distinguishes a people manager from a truly great leader has been a subject of much debate, research and analysis. Multiple theories have been proposed and then debunked. The original leadership theory, the Great Man theory, essentially proposed that leaders were born, not made. At some point, this theory was found wanting, and alternate theories were proposed. These included theories that leaders had specific traits, or that leaders were made because they faced specific situations, or even that good leaders where those who learnt how to deal in a certain manner with their followers. None, however, can satisfactorily explain why some people excel in some situations and go on to greatness while others do not. Is it traits, or a combination of traits and environment, or just the latter?

Harry M Jansen Kraemer Jr, Professor of Management and Strategy at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, proposes the theory of value-based leadership. Becoming the Best is his second book, after the highly popular From Values to Action, which encapsulated his original thoughts on the subject. Kraemer's view is that once you are able to communicate the right values to your people, and you have instilled it in your organisation, you will essentially build a great team - and a great organisation. To be able to communicate the right values though, you first need to understand yourself thoroughly - and also what you want. Unless you understand yourself, you will not be able to either develop the right values or live them. And if you do not follow the right values yourself, there is not much point in expecting your team to do so.

It would be easy to dismiss Kraemer as an academic with his head in the clouds but for a couple of facts. Kraemer has been a leader in the real world - he rose to be the Chairman and CEO of Baxter International, a multi-billion dollar health care company. He handled several crises while in Baxter by living the same values he teaches. He is now an Executive Partner with Madison Dearborn Partners, a fairly large private equity firm, apart from teaching leadership in Kelloggs. So he has and still is practising what he preaches and has risen to the top using those very values.

What Kraemer proposes sounds simple but is extremely difficult to implement. And some would argue that it is not necessary to follow his steps because you could use a different route to the top - and you do not need to be as focused on values as he is. After all, Donald Trump is the very antithesis of what Kraemer's leadership style is, and it has not stopped him from being a billionaire or being followed by a clutch of ambitious people. But Kraemer's way is much more gentle and attractive - and if you can follow even parts of what he teaches, you would end up being a good person - along with becoming a good leader.

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