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Harry Kraemer’s 4 Key Characteristics of Strong Leaders

Matt Bio 2

Content Marketing Specialist

The 2017 International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) Convention & Expo is well underway in sunny Palm Springs, California, and this year’s theme is Leadership That Inspires. Monday morning’s eye-opening Keynote talk by author, professor, and former Baxter CEO Harry Kraemer enjoyed an enthusiastic reception.

The atmosphere in the packed hall was palpable as warehousing, and third party logistics professionals and vendors from around the world listened intently, some people even standing at the back.

Kraemer delivered a talk packed with insights into what makes a great leader and how leadership works in practice.  These insights are especially valuable for 3PLs looking to grow their business and emerge as industry leaders in today’s highly competitive last-mile product customization market.

This post outlines Harry Kraemer’s 4 Key Characteristics of Strong Leaders distilled from his own life and experiences as a leading industry executive of a 12 billion dollar company, a father of 5, and professor and mentor to tomorrow’s supply chain executives:

  • They are constantly striving to become better leaders.

Part of the motivation behind wanting to strive to be a better leader continuously is knowing that there’s always something more to learn. Being open to collecting different opinions and perspectives is fuel for this ability to continuously learn and improve.

A leader doesn’t blindly accept inputs from their team, but listens to them deeply and remembers where those perspectives are coming from before making a decision.

  • They can keep things simple and help others do the same

A leader is able to guide their people or other parties, to simplify complexity without getting lost in the roots or the trees. They can see the whole forest, in other words, to have a holistic, systemic view of a situation and ability to put the details into perspective.

At the same time, a leader can deep dive from the strategic to the granular level, where things get complicated when it is necessary. They also know when to zoom out to make informed strategic decisions that consider the bigger picture.

  • They use a lot of common sense when choosing to take action.

A lot of common problems come from people who are overly focused on or invested in tasks that are not all that important to running a business. There’s always going to be three times the amount of work to get done than is humanly possible. In reality, most ‘work’ is wasteful and unproductive and great leaders know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

A leader can identify and prioritize: 1) ‘work’ that is a real issue and needs time and attention to resolve, 2) ‘work’ that creates an opportunity to take advantage of, or 3) ‘work’ that is just noise to ignore. If this sounds a lot like common sense, that’s because it is!

  • They take the initiative and get going even before they have a team to lead.

Leadership has nothing to do with titles or organizational charts; it’s about being able to influence people to do things they would not ordinarily do. In this sense, leadership does not require a defined team hierarchy to be effective. It’s an attitude.

Leaders can connect with and relate to people: colleagues, upper management, customers, prospects–whoever, and based on that connection; they can maneuver through obstacles with respect, get things done and meet the needs of all parties as they do.


The key takeaway from Kraemer’s talk: Leadership is a skill that can be honed and developed over time, it’s not something that you either have, or you don’t.

These characteristics are the hallmarks of great leaders and effective, powerful leadership, but what are some ways of working, that will reliably lead to the development of these qualities? In our next post, we break down Harry Kraemer’s 4 Principles of Values-Based Leadership Success and how you can apply them to your business to support and develop your innate capacity for strong leadership.

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Matt Bio 2

Matthew joined Nulogy as their Content Marketing Specialist in 2016. He develops original research and creates educational and entertaining content to help elucidate the opportunities that digital technology has opened up in the last-mile of supply chain management. Matthew holds two degrees in English (B.A. Hons, M.A.) from York University in Toronto, Ontario.