Harry Kraemer | Gagen MacDonald

Insights & Events / Let Go & Lead / LG&L Interview

Harry Kraemer

Jun 17, 2015

Fast Facts


Chicago, Illinois

Number of employees::

52,000 while at Baxter International Inc.

Previous experiences::

CEO of Baxter International Inc.

First job::

Changing tires at a Goodyear tire store in Minnesota

Leader you admire the most::

Pope Francis

Questions & Answers

What do you think is the biggest difference between leading and managing?:

People spend a lot of time talking about the differences between managing and leading and whether you are going to be a manager or a leader. There are a lot of people who can be managers who are never going to be a leader. But I don’t think anybody can be a good leader without being a good manager. Being able to prioritize, develop people, and set deadlines are necessary skills in order to become a good leader. It’s not one or the other. You have to be a good manager to become a leader. In addition to management skill sets if you’re going to lead you have to be somebody who can effectively communicate, set the values for an organization, get people to work on teams and adapt to change- not just do what you’ve consistently done before. You have to be able to deal with change, controversy, and crisis. It’s not one or the other- you have to be a good manager to be able to lead.

What is the biggest communication challenge for leaders today?:

One of the biggest attributes that leaders need to have is to be excellent communicators. Every single person on the team needs to know what we’re doing and why. Also they should be not only permitted but required to challenge the leader because the leader shouldn’t be someone who’s trying to be right, but someone who is doing the right thing. The leader needs to make sure everyone knows what to do and that takes a lot of time. I think the biggest challenge is time. There are a million things going on and there’s a tendency to just put out one email or make one phone call. If you’ve studied anything about communication you’ll know the average person needs to hear something four or five times before it really sinks in. Communication is critical and the biggest challenge is finding the time to make sure you do it.

Also, if you’re in a global company, English might not be the first language of the person you’re communicating with. Some people listen and learn things better through a voice mail. Some need to be face-to-face; some need to see a video, and some need to read it. When someone asks me what communication vehicles you need to use as a leader my response is, “all of them”.

What words of advice can you offer leaders on how to best engage their organization in today’s dynamic environment?:

When you tell people that communications is key they say “Oh yeah, communication is key; I need to take a Dale Carnegie class. I need to become a better speaker.” But an enormous part of communication – 90% of communication – is listening. You need to be a tremendous listener. If you work for me, you know I’m listening. I’m going to understand what you think. Before I make a decision I make sure I recognize you and respect you. If you make a recommendation for me, either I’ll accept your recommendations or you’ll know why I’m not accepting it and why I’m doing what I chose to do. Often what ends up happening is that you suggest something, then I do something differently and your co-workers say to you “Didn’t you recommend that Harry go North? Well, why’s he going South?” And your response is, “I don’t know. Nobody told me.” What it should be is, “I suggested Harry go North because of these reasons but he chose to go South for these reasons.” Most people don’t have to be right all the time, but they do need to feel respected and that they’re being listened to.

You’ve spoken about the importance of keeping a healthy balance of work and family. You make sure that your employees and you don’t spend too much time in the office. What advice would you give to young professionals who are expected to work long hours in their first job or internship?:

I like to tease people when they talk about work-life balance. Everyone talks about work-life balance but I don’t really understand it. Work-life balance? You’re either working or you’re living? If you’re not living while you’re working, that’s a problem. I describe it as life balance. Most people I know, and I travel all around the world, are trying to balance their life. In my book I talk about what I call the “six life buckets” and they are:

  • Work/career and education
  • Family and friends
  • Spirituality
  • Health including exercise and sleep
  • Entertainment
  • Social responsibility

I look at it as a life balance and each person taking the time to figure out what’s important in their own life. In my book, I talk about what I consider to be the most important principle of being a leader and that is self reflection. This means taking the time to ask yourself: what are my values? What do I stand for? What kind of example do I want to set? By doing this, you can start to figure out what’s really important to you. A lot of people say that they’re having a hard time balancing things. Those people haven’t spent enough time being self-reflective to figure out what they’re trying to balance. It’s easy to say my family is important but if you’re not spending any time with them do you really mean it? My advice is to not confuse activity and productivity. Everybody is active, everybody is running around multi-tasking but people need to stop, turn off all the noise and actually figure out what’s important. And if it’s really important, you better be doing it. Do you want to work 100 hours a week? Is that what’s important to you, or are you doing it because that’s what someone else thinks you should do?

When was a time in your career when you broke one of your principles of self-reflection, balance, self-confidence, or humility?:

I try to spend 15 minutes each night being self-reflective. The kids are in bed I can grab my journal and see what I did today, what I am proud of, what am I not proud of, how did I treat people. When I go off kilter its because I’m traveling. I’ll tell myself I won’t do it today I’m too busy. When this happens I’m breaking my own principle and then I’m not as organized, I’m not as reflective, I start trying to multi task, and it’s easy for me to loose focus on what’s important.

What is the best way to pursue a job opening at a company where you don’t have a personal connection? When following up after submitting an application where is the line between be persistent and obnoxious?:

Even people who don’t think they have connections usually do. If I’m applying for a job, I’m going to find somebody who I went to high school with, that I went to college with, a friend or parent of someone I went to school with, anybody. I will find somebody that I have some connection with who I can develop a relationship with who can help. The way the world works is that it’s just so much simpler if you have some sort of connection, even if it’s a remote connection. Just sending your resume in and being one of a 100 or 1000 sitting around is like asking to win the lottery. Go through your university alumni organizations, find somebody who know somebody. Having connections and having a network is key no matter what you’re doing, not just finding a job. If I’m working on a project, I want to have a couple hundred people that I can choose from to ask their opinion or advice. You can’t ever have a big enough network.

What is your policy on reading/ responding to work emails outside of business hours?:

This depends on how you like to operate. For me, I like to quickly check my email every three or four hours, even on a weekend. Just check it and forget about it, just so when I go in Monday morning I have an idea of what’s going on and I’m not running into a fire. I find it more relaxing just to know what’s going on, maybe make a note, but not get involved, and deal with it when it’s time to work. But everybody has their own way of dealing with things. I’m just more balanced and relaxed when I don’t have multiple things jumping out at me at the same time.

Do you expect your employees to respond to an email you sent on Saturday night?:

I always tell people that as a leader you need to set the expectation and explain to people how you’re going to operate. Make sure they are very comfortable asking any questions. I’m going to create an environment where one of two things is going to happen. If I happen to be thinking about something Saturday night instead of writing it down I’m just going to send a quick email, but I’ll say, “I do NOT expect you to respond to this before 9:00 or 10:00 Monday morning.” If, for some reason, I forget to say that I want to make sure I’ve created an environment where you feel comfortable enough coming to me and saying “I’m at home with my three kids, what is your expectation when you send me an email on Saturday night?” It’s all about creating an environment where you’re comfortable asking, so nobody is left wondering.

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