Leading with values and integrity

Robert A. McDonald, 8th Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and Retired Chairman, President and CEO of The Procter & Gamble Company

One of the biggest learnings I have had in my over 30 years of experience  leading in the Army, at The Procter & Gamble Company  and  as the 8th Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs is that people like to work for leaders who are predictable and who operate by principles and values that they can understand and relate to.

The larger the organization you manage the more deliberate you have to be about leadership.  Over the years  there are some simple values that have shaped my leadership.  I share these often with people I work with and  I attempt to live these values consistently. These are the leadership beliefs that are important to me. I hope they can help you develop your own set of leadership values and beliefs.

1. Living a life driven by a purpose is more meaningful and rewarding than meandering through life without direction: My purpose has always been to help people, to improve the lives of others. That defined my decision to be a boy scout when I was young, to join West Point and become an Army Ranger, to work for so many  years with The Procter & Gamble Company and (after retiring from P&G) to accept President Obama’s invitation to become the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. In every single assignment my choice to live a purpose driven life afforded me the opportunity to improve the lives of others and became core to my success.

2. Companies must do well and do good at the same time: It’s not enough to do well financially. You have to do good.  I always believed that at The Procter & Gamble  Company if our purpose was to improve the lives of others, then that became central to everything P&G people did.  Building homes for Habitat for Humanity. Developing the P&G Purifier of Water product  which creates clean and safe drinking water. This helped us save countless lives in markets across the world and positively impact communities. The families we helped could get safe drinking water, could get jobs, could earn a living and ultimately could buy our products.  It became a virtuous cycle.

3. Everyone wants to succeed. Success is contagious: How many people wake up from bed every morning and say I want to fail? No one. My first unit in the army had 30 men most of whom were not graduates and who had been told too often that they could not succeed. My job as a leader was to train them, bring out the best in them, help them succeed.  Which we did together. We need to catch more people doing things right and build those positive experiences into bigger, more positive wins for our organizations.

4. Putting people in the right jobs is one of the most important jobs of a leader: You have to get the right people on the bus and get the right people in the right seats on the bus. In one of my assignments it took me two years to change 14 of the 17 leaders  on the leadership team. Some we were able to get into the right jobs. That made a huge difference. But it takes time, deliberation and understanding of the motivations and strengths of the individuals.

5. Character is the most important trait of a leader: In the army you learn that you always eat last. Your soldiers always eat before you do. It is symbolic and important. You have to put the needs of your people before your own. Author Jim Collins talks about Level 5 leadershipwhere the most successful companies are not always  the ones on the covers of business magazines but the ones  where the leaders always put their organizations’ needs before their own. More often than not you will see these Level 5 leaders having incredibly successful careers.

6.Take responsibility for your actions: On my first day as an army cadet a senior asked me why my shoes were such a mess. My mind was racing for the right answer. One answer could be YES sir. Which would not make sense. The other answer could be NO sir. Even less sense. A third answer could be SIR I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.  So, I used this  third option several times till they sent me to the hospital to get my ears checked. I ultimately understood they wanted to hear the only acceptable answer “NO EXCUSES SIR.” This was the most powerful response because implicit in it was the belief that I would learn from the mistake and it would never happen again.

7. Diverse groups of people are more innovative than homogenous groups: Diversity works. I saw this first hand when I worked for 6 years in Japan leading the P&G business. When I met my competitors, they were all 70-year old male leaders, staffing all male teams. In comparison we were recruiting female leaders at P&G Japan and seeing the tremendous contributions they were making on our business and organization. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone as a hearing aid because he worked with the deaf school to help people who were deaf hear. By getting diverse people together you build on each other’s ideas and this results in greater innovation.

8. Ineffective strategies, systems and culture are bigger barriers to achievement than the talents of people: When things go wrong you need to think about whether the systems and strategies you have created are enabling or disabling your people. Study first if you were at fault before blaming your people.

9.Organizations must renew themselves: Organizations are just like human beings. The first Fortune 500 list was published in 1955. How many of the companies on that first list are still on that list in 2020. Under 10! If you don’t renew yourself, you become irrelevant and you go out of business.  Success is the ability to keep learning, to stay relevant. So training and re-training is critically important.

10.The true test of a leader is the performance of the organization after the leaders departs: A good model to use is the 5E Model of leadership. Do you have the ability to ENVISION, ENGAGE, ENERGIZE, ENABLE, EXECUTE? If you do, and you leverage every one of these “E’s in leading your organization, then your organization will continue to thrive after you depart.

About Bob: Bob McDonald served as the eight United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Prior to that Bob served as Chairman, President and CEO of The Procter & Gamble Company. Bob was born in Indiana and grew up around Chicago. He graduated from the US Military Academy at West Pont in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering. After graduation he served in the US Army for five years, attaining the rank of Captain and earned an MBA from University of Utah in 1978. In 1980 he joined P&G as a Brand Assistant and became Brand Manager for Tide in 1984. Bob became President and Chief Executive of The Procter & Gamble Company  in 2009. Under his leadership, P&G significantly recalibrated its product portfolio, expanding its marketing footprint by adding almost one billion people to its global customer base. From the day he became CEO until his last quarterly results were announced, P&G’s stock price increased approximately 60 percent. Bob currently serves on the boards of RallyPoint, Audia Group, Quotient etc.

Note: The article above was contributed by Bob McDonald especially for the website of House of Rose Professional Pte. Ltd  (HORP)(www.houseofroseprofessional.com). Copyright for this rests with HORP and Bob.  No part of this article may be reproduced or reused without the explicit permission of HORP.