On 19 June, 2014, Langrun Gardens welcomed Mr Bob Macdonald, a guest with exceptional leadership skills. Mr Macdonald is the former Chairman, President and CEO of P&G. Under his leadership, P&G’s stock price grew at an annual rate of 3% and total revenue and social benefits experienced great growth, making P&G famous for its strong leadership.
Professor Justin Lin, honorary Dean at the National School of Development of Peking University opened the event by recounting Mr Macdonald’s many roles and achievements including a member of the Commerce Committee and the Consumer Advisory Council, a board member of many world-class companies, served five years in the U.S. Army as a captain and was established the McDonald Cadet Leadership Conference at West Point. With great interest, Professor Lin recounted their similar experience, both having spent five years in the army and gained their MBAs during this time as well as being awarded the rank of captain. Through this shared experience, Professor Lin brought the audience closer to Mr Macdonald, who began his speech amidst applause and anticipation.
This former P&G President and ex-soldier was more affable and approachable than expected. He likened leadership in a company to the influence parents have on their children, emphasising the effect culture, family, education and personal experience have on the formulation of our values and value systems. In the following hour, Mr Macdonald shared his own ten values-based leadership rules.
1. Set targets to guide your life
What is your life goal? Mr Macdonald advised that you should spend time thinking about your life goal, write it down and share with those you love before making certain that this is what you truly want. Your company can also help you find your life goal. He also shared with the audience his own life values– helping people to make their lives better, which are incidentally the same values as P&G.
2. Two criteria for a good company – profitability and philanthropy
Companies need to be profitable, but also need to be philanthropic. Profitability is your responsibility to your investors and shareholders but being charitable is for your consumers. P&G offers its ‘Whisper’ products for females in underprivileged areas to help them avoid awkwardness during their period and to keep them in school. If people are better educated, the economy will develop and more people will buy P&G products. Good companies are profitable but also do charitable work, creating a positive cycle.
3. Build a company culture of success
Much like teaching one’s children, leaders must capture the moments when workers succeed, not the moments they fail. They must encourage successful workers to keep pursuing the next success. Success is contagious and the responsibility of creating this spirit of success lies with leaders.
4. Let employees do the jobs they are suited to
Mr Macdonald believes this is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader. In school, we get the highest grades in the courses we like. Analogously in work, those who do what they are good at can increase efficiency and happiness, resulting in a positive cycle.
5. Leadership characteristics – Put company first and take on responsibility
When Mr Macdonald was a captain at West Point, he would put the interests of the soldiers first, for example eating after had had their full. He also mentioned the great ambitions he read about in a book – to work for the successful growth of a company instead of one’s personal success.
The second characteristic of leadership is to be able to take on responsibility. This means when problems or difficulties arise, not to find excuses and take on this responsibility is the best response of a leader. He has always remembered one of the tenets of West Point: Do the correct but difficult things, don’t do those things that look easy but are wrong.
6. Create diversity in the workforce
Diversity in the workforce can stimulate innovative thinking in the workplace. Innovation is linking points that seem to have no connection, so diversity is important. One must put different things together to create a diverse organisation. Mr Macdonald mentioned the golden rule of diversity is to treat employees in the way they want to be treated.
7. Avoid barriers to success: Ineffective company strategies, systems and cultures
When a company faces problems, before blaming employees, leaders must first see if their own leadership has created a good work system and strategy. When pursuing company growth, leaders must provide employees with an effective working system and corporate culture.
8. Recognise there may be employees not suited to your company
This is very important. There will always be employees who will not be successful in the end. Whilst point 7 focused on the need for leaders to look at one’s leadership, one must recognise that all employees are separate individuals and there may be those unsuited to your company. What leaders must do is to let them find positions they are more suited to.
9. Continuous reformation and growth
It is important to be well prepared – whether a company or individual must continually develop and growth. The success of P&G is down to its capacity for learning. The ‘boiling frog effect’ tells us that in a changing environment, if we do not adapt quickly, we will be weeded out.
10. Whether the effect of leadership is sustainable – when you are not there, how will the company perform?
The responsibility of leadership is like ‘teaching a man to fish’, to make the team perform well even when the leader is not there.
Mr Macdonald’s ten values on leadership are based on his many years of experience, formulated from his time as a leader at West Point and P&G as well as his personal experience. Just as he mentioned in his ninth point to continuously develop oneself with the times, Mr Macdonald cited numerous references and cases and very kindly shared with the audience a list of books he had read.
During the Q&A session, students enthusiastically asked many thought-provoking questions. Mr Macdonald shared his thoughts on balancing family and work; the difference between leadership, authority and power; the unique values of P&G and leadership beliefs suitable for use in Chinese culture.
Mr Macdonald was very well received but, as time was limited, the session moved to the gift presentation for him from NSD students who had taken part in the global leadership conference at West Point.
Finally, Mr Macdonald was presented with a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, an apt present for a former military man.
The session ended in the evening and all who attended had a rewarding experience.