It was my privilege to speak to a group of about forty or so business leaders at the McKinsey Leadership Forum. Other speakers included my friends Admiral (Retired) Eric Olson, former Commander of the U. S. Special Operations Command, and Beth Colbert, former McKinsey Partner and Head of Office of Personnel Management when I was Secretary, in addition to many McKinsey Partners. I was on McKinsey’s Global Advisory Council for many years when I was at P&G.
McKinsey Senior Partner Ishaan Seth, Americas Leader for the Strategy & Corporate Finance Practice, introduced me. Ishaan went through my biography and then talked about the ability of CEO’s to “adapt, build agility, and lead complex organizations to generate value.” I used my Values Based Leadership as a foundation. I made the point that I wanted to have a dialogue to make sure I met the audience needs. I started by talking about the importance of Mission/Purpose and Values. I asked the question of what the problem was in the VA that caused the Secretary to resign? Normally when I ask that I get answers like demand was greater than capability, or the scheduling system was outdated. But I always come back to Purpose (“care for those who have borne the battle” from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) values (Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, Excellence). Employees had lost sight of VA’s Purpose and Values. So, the remedy was to train VA’s Purpose and Values and to ask each employee to certify their training and understanding each year.
We then talked about the importance of each leader having their own individual Purpose. I talked about my journey to focus on “improving the lives of others.” I suggested each participant should talk with their loved ones and determine their own Purpose. Leading a life inspired and driven by a Purpose leads to a more meaningful life than meandering through life without direction. We talked about each individual’s purpose. I then made the point that creating congruency between the company or organization’s Purpose and that of each individual is the quality of a high performance organization. As one of our P&G principles states, “The interests of the organization and its people are inseparable.” I told the story of Matthew Kelly’s book The Dream Manager. In the book a company hires a dream manager to learn about each employee’s dream and then seek that congruency with the firm. I made the point the dream manager is the job of every leader.
From there I went to my second belief of “everyone wants to succeed and success is contagious.” I talked of my first Airborne Infantry platoon in the 82nd Airborne Division. Many had not graduated from high school. Many had been told they were failures in life. My job was to inspire them, given them a small task, train them to achieve it, help them achieve it, and then move on to a larger, more difficult task. This is what creates a virtuous cycle of success. No one wakes up in the morning wanting to fail.
We talked about the importance of keeping track of one’s schedule. Are we spending our time on what is strategically important, purpose, or simply reacting to electronic devices and other things that cause us to act? Today it is too easy to simply react and wake up months later having accomplished little to progress our Purpose. Today, we are all time starved. We don’t have enough time to do everything. Are we spending enough time catching people succeeding or do we only manage by exception, when things go wrong? Dedicate yourself to catching people succeeding and build these virtuous cycles. At the same time focus on your Purpose, be jealous of your time, and make sure you have time to work on what’s important.
Finally, I reminded everyone that the larger the organization you manage, the more deliberate and intentional the leader needs to be. We talked about employees of large organizations like P&G or the VA may see a CEO only once or twice in their careers. We must think ahead as to what message we want to communicate.
We ran out of time to field every remaining question, however, I gave out my contact information so we could continue the dialogue.
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