March 1, 2023

The Leadership Learning Curve: How to Succeed Right out of the Gate

Use these 5 actionable leadership lessons from Harry Kraemer, former CEO of Baxter International and clinical professor of management and organizations at Kellogg.

Picture of By Stuart Paap

By Stuart Paap

Never Miss an Article or Podcast - Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Whether you’re new to leadership or starting a new leadership role it’s easy to think that the skills that got you to this place will continue to help you succeed. 

You’re likely goal oriented, determined, hard working and an expert in your field.

You’ve mastered the functional role you’ve played up until this point and now you’re ready to lead. You’ve got the title, and you know your new place in the organizational chart.

But here’s the thing: 

According to Harry Kraemer, former CEO of Baxter International and clinical professor of management and organizations at Kellogg, leadership has nothing to do with titles and organizational charts and everything to do with the ability to influence people.

We recently sat down with Harry to learn more about:

  • the leadership learning curve most professionals face in their career,
  • how to fast track connecting with a team,
  • why it’s important to set expectations upfront, and
  • how to lead with deeper values. 

Here’s the top five most important leadership lessons and actionable insights we learned from Harry.

1. Know what your purpose is as a leader

What does it really mean to be a leader? Is it a series of small actions or is it something bigger than that?

According to Harry, “leadership has everything to do with the ability to influence people.” 

In fact, Harry’s entire leadership model is just three words: leadership, influence, relate. 

And, his model makes sense when we think about the fact that all businesses are ultimately people businesses.

A leader’s job is to help people, and Harry believes strongly in starting with convincing people beyond words that as a leader you have no agenda other than to be helpful

So what’s the main goal of being a leader? It’s to do the right thing.

2. 90% of your time should be spent on people and communication

For some it might be a bold claim to assert that 90% of your time as a leader should be spent on people and communication, and Harry admitted he often gets challenged on this by other leaders – even CEOs. 

So what exactly is a leader doing with that 90% of their time? Attracting, recruiting, hiring, developing, listening to feedback and communicating with their team

Harry believes that if you have the right people in the right seats on your team, the work will get done. What a leader really needs to do is cut through and take the time to listen to their team. 


Once people feel like they can relate to you, your ability to impact and influence people becomes unbelievably huge.

Interested in a Leadership Assessment or Custom Coaching?

3. Set clear expectations from the outset and constantly reinforce them

It goes without saying that whenever we achieve a promotion or start a new role we want to start off on the right foot. 

So we asked Harry – how do you get started as a new leader? 

His response? 

Layout and set clear expectations from the outset. It’s these early expectations that can help avoid a major leadership failure later on.

So what kind of expectations does Harry recommend setting?

  • As a leader you make make the final decision on things, but you won’t make decisions without the input of your team
  • It’s okay to make mistakes because that means the team is growing through failure
  • Everyone on the team will have a chance to speak up and share their ideas
  • Everyone is all working together for the same end customer  

Harry believes that when things go south in an organization it’s because leaders didn’t set an expectation early on. 

Expectations quickly become how you operate and it’s important to continuously reinforce these expectations early on.

Harry Kraemer speaks on leadership

4. Know the difference between values and preferences

Harry is known for his four dimensions of values-based leadership

  • Taking the time for self reflection 
  • Seeking a balanced perspective
  • True self-confidence 
  • Having humility 

But what exactly are values? 

Harry explained that values are non negotiable. They aren’t simply preferences, they’re something you’ll never compromise on. 

Simply put, values are what really matters and there are no exceptions. 

He urges leaders and emerging leaders to really think about what matters in your own life. What really drives you and “how do you think about success vs. significance?” 

It’s important to know your own values and those of the organization, which leads us to Harry’s last major take away: take time for self reflection every day.

5. Be self reflective every day

Amongst the cell phone pings, emails and demands of daily life, Harry highly encourages anyone who wants to be a really good leader to sit down and take a small amount of time – even just 15 minutes a day – to be self reflective

Why? Because he believes that if you can’t lead yourself, how can you lead other people? 

Leadership begins with being self-aware. 

Take the time to ask yourself a series of questions:

  • What are your values?
  • What is your purpose?
  • What really matters to you?
  • What difference do you really want to make?
  • What kind of example do you want to set for others?
  • What are you searching for?

Keep learning, keep leading

Did these leadership insights resonate with you? Are you looking to learn more? 

Listen to the full interview with Harry Kraemer on our podcast here: How to be a better leader.

Learn more about Harry and his approach to leadership on his website:

Looking to build your influence? Get in touch below and ask to take our exclusive leadership influence styles assessment, here at Influence DNA.

Interested in a Leadership Assessment or Custom Coaching?

Additional Reading: