While it is interesting to “talk about” values-based leadership, it is much more rewarding when you see people “live it”. In this blog post, I’m sharing an email I received last week from a former Kellogg student who’s truly living it. His story demonstrates the power of all four principles of values-based leadership:

Being self reflective and taking the time to figure out what really matters (rather than reacting without thinking)

Being balanced and willing to understand another person’s perspective even when it can be uncomfortable (seeking to understand before you are understood)

Having true self-confidence to know that you are worthy and a good contributor even when others challenge your ability to contribute

Having genuine humility so you can realize that every single person matters, and making sure you help others reach their full potential

As I mention to students and executives, you really need to learn how to lead yourself before you can lead others.

I am often asked why I love teaching at Kellogg so much. The easiest way for me to explain it is to share an email like this one. I hope you enjoy it…and here’s wishing you and your families a wonderful holiday season in whatever way you celebrate it!!!!

Dear Professor Kraemer,

I thought you’d appreciate a recent situation I faced: My team is undergoing some changes, and I have a new boss transitioning in. He came to meet with me last week, and after the pleasantries were out of the way, this was his message:

He feels that the folks in the MBA leadership program at my company (the program I’m in) come into the company with “silver spoons in our mouths.” Many people in the company feel that we get special privileges while those who work for years, who work their way up the hard way, get sidelined while we get the promotions they work so hard for. So there’s definite resentment against us, he made it clear. Additionally, he wondered whether it was worth investing his time and effort in me when most likely I was going to just add my company’s name to my “already strong resume” and look for the best exit. In fact, in my particular case, he felt that another member of my team would have been better suited for the role I got. This colleague has been with the company many years and knows the business a lot better than I do. My boss concluded: “I wouldn’t have done it this way [i.e., put me in the role that I have], but you just have to make the best of what you get.”

Talk about taking the wind out of someone…!! 🙂 Prior to Kellogg, I’m not sure I would have known how to handle this. Having internalized your principles though, I was prepared:

Having continuously reflected on my circumstances, none of what my future boss said was news to me. I realized coming in to my job that I was in a special position, and it would naturally breed resentment from many folks.

Having a genuinely humble mindset, the way I’ve approached the situation is by letting people know how much I value their experience and what I can learn from them. I didn’t come in with my “Kellogg guns” blazing, thinking that I had all the answers.

Being truly confident, I haven’t shied from admitting that the colleague who could have taken my role was far better qualified. In fact, I have publicly said it myself in the past!

So how did I respond to my new boss? Firstly, I thanked him for sharing his perspective with me (I felt genuinely grateful that he chose to be so transparent). I then explained to him that I realized that these issues existed and that I was in fact actively handling the situation with a genuinely humble attitude. I told him that his point about my colleague being better qualified was true and resonated with me because I had said it myself (this blunt revelation seemed to take him aback) Moreover, I am working closely with that colleague and have become good friends with him. In fact, I am taking a genuine interest in helping find opportunities for him to grow in the company as well.

By the time we finished, my boss seemed to have a change of heart about me. He seemed to want to convince ME that I was in fact a great choice for the role because I had a more diverse set of experiences (than the more qualified colleague) and had much more “runway in the company”!

Professor, I honestly don’t believe I could have handled that conversation with my new boss as calmly as I did had I not taken your class at Kellogg. THANK YOU!!