Leadership at McKesson

Leadership Is About Values

McKesson Chairman and CEO John Hammergren on leadership and McKesson’s shared values:

Whether you’re talking about a person or a company, leadership is about values.

My own leadership story starts in my childhood. I grew up in a small town in the Midwest that had a great set of moral principles. It was the type of place where you felt safe, free and supported. That helped anchor me with a sense of personal responsibility and trust, and an understanding of the importance of being kind and helpful to others.

My father was a traveling salesman for a medical supply company and I used to travel with him in the summer when he called on clients. He had developed such strong relationships with his customers that they often invited us to spend the night in their homes when we were in town. My father’s experience taught me that people want to work with people who deeply understand their challenges and demonstrate unwavering commitment to their success. It also taught me that people want to work with people they like! I have carried theses lessons with me throughout my career.

Sadly, my dad passed away when I was in high school, and I had to grow up pretty fast. I helped support myself with a number of different jobs—from bagging groceries in high school to working as a dorm janitor and later as resident assistant at the University of Minnesota. During each of these roles, I came to appreciate that leadership is ultimately about making a difference, in small ways or large. It’s not just the “boss” who leads, it’s the person on the front lines who sees a better way to do things and finds a way to make it happen. Yet it’s up to the boss to create the culture that allows this type leadership to flourish. Only the boss can set the tone for what matters, what’s acceptable, and what’s not.

Whether you’re talking about a person or a company, leadership is about values.

Fast forward to 1999. I was the president of a McKesson division that was a newcomer to the hospital market. We had assembled a world-class team and our division and the company was on a roll. But as people high fived each other over our ever-rising stock price, our leadership team lost focus. We dropped the ball on the real metrics of our businesses – meeting the long-term needs of our customers and our people – and arrogance started to seep into the culture. Ultimately, we made a major acquisition that blew up and our market valuation plummeted, leaving our customers and employees confused and angry.

This was one of those pivotal moments in a person’s career. On a personal level, I was jolted just as much as everyone else, but I felt the responsibility to step up as a leader and do what was necessary to hold onto our employees and our customers. I was named CEO in the middle of the turmoil, and I knew that if we could re-engage our employees mentally and emotionally and focus our team on the customer, there was a chance to turnaround and save the company.

From this crisis, McKesson’s ICARE Shared Principles were born. These principles – Integrity, Customer-First, Accountability, Respect and Excellence – became the foundation for our interactions with our customers, our business partners and with each other. They represent our moral compass and have become deeply ingrained in our culture over the past 15 years.

We lead by having the courage to make difficult decisions and by caring enough to do whatever it takes to help our customers succeed.

Today, each of us at McKesson leads by holding ourselves accountable for the highest standards of work performance and by innovating to make improvements in our area of responsibility, no matter what title we hold—no different than the grocery bagger looking for a better way to help Mrs. Beliveau get her groceries out to her car.

We lead by contributing to a supportive work environment where everyone feels connected and engaged, and where it is safe to confront facts, take risks, and try new ideas.

Values are the foundation for leadership, and the job of leadership is to create the conditions that allow strong values to thrive.

This content originally appeared on LinkedIn, where John Hammergren blogs about leadership, innovation and the health care industry. For more from John Hammergren follow him on LinkedIn.