published: Jan. 12, 2014, recorded: March 2009, views: 4347
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A West Point start, army career, and a disciplined approach to distilling key life experiences has guided Robert McDonald through his 20 years at Procter & Gamble. McDonald recommends a deliberate system of self-examination that results in an articulation of beliefs, which he sees as essential to strong leadership.
McDonald describes an ongoing process of “getting in touch with my culture, experiences, education, family” to discover his values, which he writes down, and revises over time. He believes that “people in an organization like to work for a leader who’s predictable,” and whose expectations they understand. Some of McDonald’s key beliefs, drawn from such early experiences as the Boy Scouts, and the military academy, continue to hold true to this day. He feels that “leading a life driven by purpose leads to a more meaningful and rewarding life than meandering without direction.” This has meshed nicely, he says, with P&G’s statement of purpose: to improve the lives of the world’s consumers. Says McDonald, “I think my purpose in life is to help other people.”
Some other key beliefs: “Everybody wants to succeed, and success is contagious.” Nobody wants to fail, and a good leader puts people in the right jobs, doing work they are good at. This also means that leaders “take responsibility for things even when they’re beyond our control,” when plans go awry or collapse. McDonald also believes that “organizations have to renew themselves,” which means leaders must provide development opportunities, and recognize that success comes not just from being strong but being adaptable, prepared for change. The final belief he offers is that a true test of a leader’s character “isn’t what happens in an organization when you’re there, but when you’re not there.” Good leaders build sufficient capability around them, so the organization “can withstand your leaving.” Charismatic is fine, but “we don’t like heroic leaders.”
For those searching for purpose, McDonald recommends this practical written exercise: list organizations to which you belong, and their dominant values; note lessons learned from your family, memorable life and educational experiences; then turn this into a set of beliefs.
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