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Journey to silence

HARRY M. JANSEN KRAEMER, JR., is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Baxter International Inc., a $9 billion global healthcare company with 52,000 team members. He’s a clinical professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and author of, “From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership.”

I just got off the phone with Harry Kraemer and my ear is on fire.

Harry’s words sprayed out of my ear piece like a machine gun. Don’t think I’m complaining. I’m grinning from ear to ear. Harry defines “passionate advocate.”

After it was over, my wife told me she wondered why I was laughing.

Here’s what’s funny. Harry spent much of our conversation passionately explaining the importance of silent self-reflection.

Harry’s path to self-reflection began 31 years ago when at 23, he met a girl. More specifically, he met Tom Jansen, Julie’s father.

Tom thought he should get to know the young man that was dating his daughter. So, the second weekend in December Harry landed in frigid St. Paul Minnesota to spend time with the man who eventually became his father-in-law.

Upon arriving, Harry learned Tom had plans for them. I don’t know about you, but it makes my stomach hurt just hearing “dad” had plans.

Tom explained he was taking Harry on a retreat.

I’m thinking skiing, backpacking or some other man-bonding activity.

No sir! Tom took machine-gun-talking Harry Kraemer on a silent retreat at a monastery for three days of personal reflection! Harry told me he hadn’t been quiet for three minutes much less three days.

My palms are getting sweaty just thinking about it.

A surprising tipping point:

When I asked Harry about a tipping point in his life, he started talking about a 10-below Minnesota winter and three days with “dad.” Surprisingly, Harry hasn’t missed a silent retreat in 31 years. Here’s why.

“If you are not self-reflective, how can you truly know yourself? If you do not know yourself, how can you lead yourself? And if you cannot lead yourself, how can you possibly lead others?”

Part 2 of my conversation with Harry: Three Things Strong Leaders Do

Have you found value in self-reflection?

What techniques aid self-reflection?


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