I hope everyone is having an excellent holiday season and getting ready for a fantastic 2015!!!

December is definitely my favorite month of the year. Why? You may guess it is because of the wonderful holidays and family time. Indeed, they are very important, but they are not the real reason. For me, December is very special because it is when I go on my annual three-day silent retreat at the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, about five miles from St. Paul.

People immediately respond:
“What?!?!?!?!! Three days of silence on a spiritual retreat! You must be kidding. Harry cannot keep quiet for three minutes, and you expect me to believe he keeps SILENT for THREE DAYS?! And even if that were possible, why would he want to do it?!”

I admit that it sounds a little bizarre. So let me explain what I do and why: For the past 30 years, no matter where I am in the world, I fly to Minnesota and meet my father-in-law, Tom Jansen, at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport the first Thursday in December, and we travel to the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo. For the next three days, we do not speak a word to anyone, not even to each other. The reason for this relates directly to what I describe in my leadership classes at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management as the first principle of values-based leadership: SELF-REFLECTION. My observation is that most of us run around non-stop so much with our multiple “to do lists” that we totally confuse “activity” and “productivity.” We are VERY active, but are we actually productive? Could it be that we are running around so much that we have no idea if we are productive?

Therefore, I believe the first, and most important thing, that leaders must do is take the time to turn off all of the gadgets and noise, get away by themselves, remain quiet, and reflect on some basic questions:
–What are my values?
–What do I believe?
–What do I stand for?
–What is my purpose?
–What kind of leader do I want to be?
–What example do I want to set for the people with whom I interact?

Many of us take the time to plan for our companies and work activities, so why wouldn’t we want to plan our own lives? It is difficult to reflect on these critical questions if you are involved in a flurry of non-stop activities and constantly talking.

The thought process behind these silent retreats that I attend was started by St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order of Catholic priests 500 years ago. He called this process the “Spiritual Exercises”, that is, taking the time to “examine” your life, and asking yourself the questions you know you should be thinking about:
–Who am I really?
–What do I believe and why?
–What kind of father or mother, or son or daughter, do I want to be?

Here’s a question on which I love to reflect on during my retreats: If a doctor examined me today and told me that I definitely had only five days left to live, how would I react? Would I immediately go into “hyper-drive” and run around like crazy with all of my “unfinished business”? Or would I be at peace, reflecting on what I definitely know to be true, which is that everyone at some point has only five days – we just don’t know when? So why not live my life, and treat everyone with whom I come in contact with the realization that this could be my last five days? For me, it really puts things in perspective and helps me focus on what I believe is really important in my life.

Regardless of your personal spirituality and beliefs, taking the time for personal self-reflection may help you to become a better person and leader. I certainly don’t expect everyone to go on a three-day silent retreat every year, but how about starting the process by taking 10 or 15 minutes a day? And do let me know how it works for you!

Happy New Year from the entire “Kraemer Gang”!!!!

Happy Holidays from the Kraemer Gang!

Happy Holidays from the Kraemer Gang!