The International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) has been around for over 125 years. It is one of the oldest trade organizations in North America. Many of the logistics, warehousing and 3PL professionals that make up its members have grown to lead their verticals in a vast and highly competitive industry.
In keeping with its focus on continuous improvement, the 2017 IWLA Convention featured a Keynote talk by author, professor, and former Baxter CEO Harry Kraemer. The theme: Leadership that Inspires.
In our last post we summarized Kraemer’s 4 Key Characteristics of Strong Leaders:
They are constantly striving to become better leaders.
They can keep things simple and help others do the same.
They use common sense when choosing to take action.
They take the initiative even before they have a team to lead.
These characteristics are essential to develop, but how can successful leaders and executives stay on track amid the stress, competing-priorities, and intense competition of running a 3PL?
In this post, we dive into the 4 principles Kraemer uses to stay connected to his values and lead with confidence, and unpack them so you can test them out for yourself in your business.
There are three to four times more things to do than you will ever get done.
Most people react to growing lists of business demands by working faster, for longer hours, or by trying to multiple things at once. These tactics may work in the short term, but are unsustainable and ultimately, counter-productive. Activity for activity’s sake does not grow a business, nor does it inspire others to work hard for your business’ success.
Instead, Kraemer recommends a self-reflection practice of just 15 minutes a day. Intentional self-reflection creates the space to separate the frivolous from the important. Strong leaders need to be able to see through the static, put down superfluous distractions, and contemplate these fundamental questions:
What are my values?
What do I stand for?
What is my purpose?
What really matters to me? Why?
Asking these questions of yourself isn’t easy, making excuses not to, is. Strong leaders have the willingness and ability to ask themselves honestly at the end of every day: What did I say today? What I was going to do, what did I actually do? What am I proud of, what am I not? How did I lead today, how did I follow?
Developing a clear headspace and understanding of the answers to these kinds of questions helps strong leaders intentionally use their own values to navigate the micro and macro day-to-day decisions, and guide their people and organizations.
2. Balanced attention
People with very strong opinions often have very little understanding of problems that are not their own. Kraemer suggests that a values-based leader takes the time to understand and balance various sides of any story. He or she may not have all the answers, but is still able to recognize the answer when it appears, and makes others feel welcome to offer up potential solutions.
Leadership is not a democracy, inviting answers and solutions doesn’t mean that everyone’s answers will be used. Leaders who have a balanced approach don’t slow down; they are able to make efficient and actionable decisions from a wider perspective.
To bring balance to all aspects of your life, you need to ask yourself: What am I trying to balance? Most people having trouble balancing their lives haven’t figured out what areas they would like to bring balance to.
The major areas people strive to balance are work, family, spirituality, health, entertainment or enjoyment, and making a difference in the world. Once you determine what you want to balance, ask yourself these questions: What areas do you give your attention to most often? Where and with whom do you spend your time?
3. True Self-Confidence
True self-confidence is not just acting self-confident. It’s not obnoxious, egotistical or arrogant. It is integral and embodied self-confidence. This type of self-confidence stems from two realizations:
There will always be people who are better than you at some things, and that’s ok.
You are a work in progress.
The level of comfort you experience answering the following questions will help you gauge if you’ve developed true self-confidence at this point in your life, or if still have some work to do:
When you don’t know something, do you say: ‘I don’t know’?
When you are wrong, do you say: ‘I was wrong’?.
Most people experience fear of judgment or when asking themselves these sorts of questions. But the truth is, staff don’t relate well to know-it-alls or higher-up who never admit mistakes. Leaders who acknowledge what they don’t know, and recognize when they are wrong present themselves as vulnerable human beings. Fearless displays of vulnerability from people in positions of power inspire others with their integrity and authenticity.
To be a strong leader you need to know your job, and how to find answers, but you don’t need to know ‘everything’. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses, and surround yourself with people who are really great at the things you are not so good at. And let’s face it, everyone else knows what you’re not good at, so if you can't put your finger on it, ask around!
If you’re not self-reflective, it is not possible to know yourself. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t lead yourself. If you can’t lead yourself, you can’t lead others.
4. Genuine Humility
When asked the question: “How did you get to where you are in your career so far?” the most common replies by aspiring leaders related to themselves:
By working very, very, very, hard
Because of my specific skill sets
When asked the same question, Kraemer's responded with three key elements that he credits, none of them have anything to do with himself:
Luck: Because sometimes big breaks happen.
Timing: Being at the right place, at right time.
Colleagues: Because it’s impossible to lead without a team
Leaders may read their own press clippings, but they don’t believe them. They know success is as much about circumstance and relationships as it is about individual contribution. As strong leaders experience success, they are careful not to surround themselves with sycophants; every person’s opinion matters–not just those who agree with you.
Cultivating this type of humility is not what Kraemer calls 'false humility'—which is terribly uncomfortable and transparent. False humility is obvious when the things you say and the things you do, do not align.
Practicing genuine humility means you know that you, as the C-Suite strategic person in your business, are no different from the people who clean the office every night. Looking at people in this way, helps you relate to anyone and everyone, and this empathy and connection helps achieve critical win/win scenarios.
Values-Based Leadership Starts Within
Success isn't a simple formula with step-by-step instructions to complete. It is often elusive, requires many failures, and takes time, grit and discipline to achieve. Not to mention a bit of luck and a lot of grace. But Kramer's 4 principles, grounded in connecting one's personal values are a fundamental tool you can use to anchor your decisions and actions, and help chart your course.
Through regular, daily self-reflection, putting your attention where it matters most, embodying vulnerable, true self-confidence, and practicing genuine humility with the everyone you deal with, you can stay connected to your values, and lead your business–and staff–to achieving their full potential.
Ghost written for CEO, originally published on Sep 21, 2017