“If you do not know yourself, how can you lead yourself? And if you cannot lead yourself, how can you lead others?"

Harry M. Kraemer Jr., former CEO Baxter International, Executive Partner, Madison Dearborn Partners, Professor, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

Personal Analytics

I believe that effective leaders perform two basic yet complex tasks, managing challenging work and leading people. The most successful executives, coaches and political leaders use a growth mindset and a relentless desire to learn about themselves and others to perform these two basic but complex tasks. The power of personal analytics lies in a leader’s journey to, as Harry Kraemer says, know him or herself, to lead him or herself and to lead others. No different than great athletes knowing their physical skills and using state of the art training methods and analytics to improve their game, great leaders need to know their psychological critical strengths and learn and refine interpersonal leadership concepts through disciplined thought and constant reflection. 

My personal journey with the use of personal analytics began with a letter in 1987. The letter came from my mentor, the first person to hire me as an assistant to the city manager. The letter asked if I was interested in joining a small group of professional local government management CEOs who met on a monthly basis with a Dr. David Morrison, a psychiatrist. I was a few years into my first position as a professional local government management CEO and I knew peripherally about the group. I was honored to be asked to join the group and intrigued by the prospect of being part of it.

Dr. Morrison met professional local government management in the 1970’s while working at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. He presented at ICMA conferences on topics such as managing stress and change and people’s resistance to change and quickly gained a following among local government management professionals and worked with cities such as Phoenix. 

Dr. Morrison was still living and working in Topeka when a group of some of the most respected, experienced and accomplished professional local government management CEOs, including my mentor, first boss and former ICMA President, Stan Kennedy, asked Dr. Morrison if he would meet with them on a regular basis and share his concepts for balancing work, family and self. The relationship was established with a group of 10 and Dr. Morrison would fly to Chicago for monthly meetings. This was the beginning of a nearly 40 year journey that continues today with four groups from the Chicago metro area. 

In 1978, Dr. Morrison moved Morrison Associates to suburban Chicago. His practice, which now includes his son, Dr. Daven Morrison, also a psychiatrist, has a stated mission of keeping senior leaders as mentally healthy as possible while dealing with change and systemic issues impeding the effectiveness of people as well as coping with the competing needs of work, family and self. 

I joined the group in 1987 and for the next 24 years seldom missed a meeting. The only meetings I can recall missing were because of family responsibilities, a crisis at work or travel as ICMA president over those 24 years. The education I received was invaluable to me as a person, to myfamily relationships and to my ability to manage complex work and lead myself and others.

In that room, on those Friday mornings, over those 24 years, I learned the importance of truly knowing and learning about myself and having the courage to constantly evaluate, through disciplined thought, my actions and reactions in all different circumstances with all different kinds of individuals and groups. I learned the importance of trust and building trust relationships. I learned the importance of using emotions as data. I learned that losses are as important as wins because losses teach us about ourselves and others and that understanding the meaning of our defeats is important. I learned about the dark triad of personalities. The narcissists, who are egocentric and believe they are better than others. The manipulators, who are cynical and selfish. The psychopaths, who lack empathy and disregard how their behavior affects others.

Dr. Morrison was an expert at using important psychiatric concepts to help the group work through real-life issues at work, at home and in our own minds. The group worked through important issues like job loss, divorce, difficult times with children, health challenges, crisis on the job and impending retirement. The group also learned how to celebrate success. Through this work, through the personal analytics, I was able to separate my behavior and that of others into its elemental parts and more clearly understand it.

One of the most fundamentally impactful experiences in my work with Dr. Morrison was taking part in the critical strengths assessment which he developed and has used with over 2000 public and private sector CEOs, private sector C suite executives and public sector departmental leaders. This was the ultimate tool to help me truly know myself at a baseline level to help me understand and learn about my behavior and the behavior of others during my interpersonal interactions. This critical strengths assessment is a psychological profile of who we are at the most fundamental level using tested scientific methodology and is much more than the typical personality test.

When I finished actively practicing professional local government management after 35 years at the end of 2011, I dedicated my next phase to sharing what I learned during my career, including my experience in the Morrison Group. In 2013, I partnered with Doctors David and Daven Morrison, Bob Kiely the city manager of Lake Forest, Illinois and Dawn Peters from the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies, to establish and present the Midwest Leadership Institute (MLI). 

The MLI was patterned after the work that Bob Kiely and I had done with the senior executive staffs in our two jurisdictions in partnership with Morrison Associates. We firmly believed that it was imperative that the senior executive staffs work with the power of personal analytics to begin the journey to knowing and leading themselves and leading others. We believed in the long term benefit to them, those they worked with and the overall organization.

The mission of the Midwest Leadership Institute is to present an educational experience with intellectual depth and substance that focuses on the individual as leader. If a participant is willing to search inwardly and think deeply while seeking to learn how to connect interpersonally and emotionally, specific takeaways will be achieved. 

The concepts explored in detail at the Midwest Leadership Institute include judgment, using emotions as data, the power of the leader, the role of selfawareness, ethics, resistance to change, aligning goals, tasks and relationships and balancing work, family and self.

A leader has to lead toward clear goals and let those on the journey know their role in the effort in order to secure engagement. The best leaders can influence and motivate different people to work together toward a common goal amid many individual agendas. Incompetent leadership can result in a corrosive brand of despair which can be especially devastating to any organization. 

To deliver as a leader in clutch moments with frightening regularity we must practice interpersonal leadership built upon a platform of personal analytics. Knowing yourself, learning as much as possible about interpersonal interactions to become insightful judges of human behavior, our own and that of others, will allow us to manage challenging work and lead people to unknown heights.

Midwest Leadership Institute


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