Are you struggling to achieve your full potential? If so, Harry Kraemer -- who graduated with top grades in math from a small college in Wisconsin and earned a scholarship to Northwestern's MBA program where he worked as a teaching assistant -- can help.

He eventually joined and rose to become chairman and CEO of medical products giant Baxter International, then a $12 billion company with 50,000 people in 103 countries.

Rather than playing golf after retiring in 2004, Kraemer has stayed active in the field. He told me in a March 9 interview that he still teaches executives and MBA students at Northwestern, and serves on seven corporate boards.

He has written books on values-based leadership -- such as From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership -- and offers courses on the topic. If you are eager to learn how to make the most of your life, his four principles of value-based leadership can help.

Here is my take on those four principles.

1. Engage in self-reflection.

Before you can be effective, you must be clear about what you value and how you see your purpose in life. As you gain more experience, you should act according to those values to achieve your purpose.

To guide that improvement, Kraemer engages in what he calls self-reflection. He told me that he spends about 15 minutes at the end of every day writing answers to the following questions: 

  1. What did I say I was going to do today in all dimensions of my life?
  2. What did I actually do today?
  3. What am I proud of?
  4. What am I not proud of?
  5. How did I lead people?
  6. How did I follow people?
  7. If I lived today over again, what would I have done differently?
  8. If I have tomorrow (and I am acutely aware that some day I won't) and I am a learning person, based on what I learned today, what will I do tomorrow in all dimensions of my life that are important (as a father, as a leader, as a son, as a spouse, and as a spiritual person)?

I admire Kraemer for doing this and conclude that this disciplined approach to life is a byproduct of his exceptionally high level of self-motivation.

My 2003 book, Value Leadership, describes seven principles. His questions remind me most of one: Fulfill Your Commitments.

This principle implies that trust flows from telling people what you will do and then doing what you said. His daily self-reflection strikes me as a great way to keep score on how well you are following this principle.

2. Gain a balanced perspective.

When you make decisions and take action, you should do so with a clear understanding of all sides of the issue. For many people -- particularly those who have a strong opinion and a clear idea of the desired outcome -- this approach is a struggle because it forces them to let go of those strongly held views and look at the problem in a new way.

Kraemer invests his time in understanding multiple sides of a story. This suggests to me that he is always eager to learn new things and is not threatened by listening carefully to someone who does not share his views.

I see considerable benefits to this approach. Even if a business leader does not agree with all perspectives on an issue, people will be happier to execute the leader's decision if they feel that the leader understands their views.

3. Have true self-confidence.

As I wrote in January, it is immensely liberating to admit what you don't know, acknowledge and apologize for your mistakes, know your strengths and weaknesses, and build relationships with those who can help you do things at which you do not excel.

This is what Kraemer calls true self-confidence. He told me that William Graham, who was chairman of Baxter, told him when he became CFO that there were only two things he needed to know -- what his God-given talents were and who knew the important things that he did not know. 

4. Act with genuine humility.

Very few successful people are willing to admit the huge role that luck has played in their success. Kraemer -- who works with private equity firm Madison Dearborn -- uses what strikes me as a great interview question to test a potential employee's level or humility.

The question is: "How did you get to where you are so far?" He told me that most people tell him it was hard work and skill. Kraemer said that for him the answer is "luck, timing, a great team, mentors and sponsors, and religious beliefs."

I agree with him -- since as I wrote in Disciplined Growth Strategies, the most successful leaders have great intellectual humility.

Follow these four principles and you'll go far.